A forthcoming Novel By T.N.Neelakantan
Mani Shankar is a lonely man. He just gave a send off to Gowri, his wife, who was on her way to USA where their children live. She was one of the latest recipients of a Green Card from the U.S. Immigration Authorities and she couldn’t be away from the U.S.A for more than six months. Mani Shankar was confused about his children’s request to join them as a permanent resident of the U.S.A. He found life there meaningless and purposeless. He had seen enough of that place and his ideas about that land had undergone drastic changes over the decade, when he had been regularly visiting his children. But to help out their children during child delivery and post delivery care, they agreed that Gowri would seek the Green Card status initially, and maybe, he would follow suit later. But he changed his views. He felt his presence there was irrelevant. He liked the children and grandchildren, but to be doing only baby-sitting all the time was not his cup of tea. He had enjoyed freedom and recognition all through his career life and that was not available to him now anymore in his children’s places. He decided to stay back in India and it was agreed that Gowri would visit India once in six months.
Mani Shankar was in tears as his wife waved her hands from a distance, to proceed for the security check at the airport. He couldn’t run to her to have a final hug before she departed, as he had seen in the movies. Movies were make-beliefs without any touch of reality. He is alone now and he felt miserable.
‘What do I do now?’
An impulsive thought flashed his mind. ‘Why not I go to Joshimutt or somewhere and roam around the places?’
Mani Shankar had a great liking for the Himalayas and he was always lured by them. He didn’t even think further. He had his small shoulder bag that had virtually become part of him now and it contained all that he needed – his purse, his debit cards, cell phone, i-pad, his net-book, the Sony digital camera, and MP3 player. They were sufficient for him to spend his time with. He had a brain that constantly manufactured ideas and he never felt bored.
He boarded the suburban electric train at the Trishul station just in front of the airport at Chennai. He got down at the Park Station, walked across the empty road in the mid of night, and reached the Central Railway Station. He managed a reserved train ticket to New Delhi by a morning special train that ran only once in a week and it took longer hours of travel. He didn’t mind, rather he preferred the long train journey to air travel since that gave him plenty of time to ruminate and brood. He is a great brooder, too.
His train arrived at Hazrat Nizzamudin station in New Delhi, late into the evening the next day, after several hours of delay. He didn’t mind it again. What is there to lose? He found a room in a hotel, owned by a former friend, in the Pahar Ganj area opposite to the station. Some shops were still open and he did some shopping, buying a few essential things - two sets of pajama kurta, undergarments, a shaving kit, a backpack, a light shawl, a sweater, a torch light, and medicines for his diabetes. He would miss reading books, but that shouldn’t be a problem with e-books already downloaded to his net-book. He was now ready for his lonely next couple of months.
He was so preoccupied with his thoughts, planning and anticipating his solo sojourn to Joshimutt and he never knew when he eventually slept. The next morning he went to ISBT, Delhi and took a bus to Hardwar. The bus looked like a vintage showpiece and he thought times don’t change things in Uttar Pradesh. He went to one of the Ashrams on the river bank of the Ganges and sought stay there for the night. The next morning he located a bus that was leaving for Joshimutt and boarded it. The bus was another vintage model.
The remaining part of the story is about his stay in Joshimatt and the story of the people he met there, accidentally. There was the adolescent, innocent, lonely girl Sharmilee, a rape victim. There was Sister Beatrice, the nun and the head of a missionary orphanage. There was Somnath pundit, the lonely priest in an obscure remote temple. There was Narayana Panicker, the army man, who seemed to have lost all his contacts with his relatives and community. And there was the rich, doctor couple – Vikram and Sonia – from the far off Ajmere, who were still in search of their only lost child.
Everyone’s story is intriguing and they all get connected through Mani Shankar. Loneliness had a value for him. It was productive, albeit, very painful, too!