|AN IMAGE EMBALMED
The school exams were over. I lived a bored life in a cocoon of comfort, doing private nothings and indulging in strange delusions. I was thirteen, an awkward age and what I thought or did mattered little to any one else.
In my unpredictable life, I had a compulsive urge to surrender to irrational thoughts and feelings. Weird imaginings overflowed from occasional streaks of insanity like molten lava from a volcanic eruption.. I remained for the most part wrapped in myself, insensitive to the world outside.
Yet my insensitive eyes could not be totally blind to some glimpses of shooting pain, loneliness and emotional outbursts of others. I guess these have left a scar on me.
My balcony at Pali Hill overlooked the sea on one side and the narrow dug up Pali Mala Road on the other. “Tofa Tofa, laaya laaya” rang a screeching sound one afternoon like a painful ad jingle , intruding into my treasured moments of peace and privacy .I came out only to sculpt a little angel swaying in the middle of the street . This barely nine year old babe played on a miniature drum striking it with all his spite. He continued this unending, unrehearsed melody, painful to my ears and wasted on a sleepy side road.
“Main Bhairu hoon, Bheeru nai” yelled the angel a song later, adding that Manu his friend had tagged to him the label of a coward..
My impatient hands chose to quickly close the windows and shut out the noise. In that mood I would not have acted differently had it been Lata Mangeshkar with a tanpura although the so called elite would have come out in full force from their house to swing to her bhajans.
Just then curiosity took the better of me and as I peeped out there was Heeera, our Bhairu’s mate and mentor, lifting her left foot , on an aluminium plate , moving the right foot too and moving in circles as one possessed. Her intricate steps and near pefect rhythm more than matched Bhairu’s music. As she swung her little plait, Heeera danced with a zeal that I as a student of dance did never have. Not a trace of self pity on her face, no melancholy in the monotony of Bhairu’s lines.
Looking down I asked,” Bhairu, where are your parents.” And added rather foolishly, “ Do they let you do this?”
Grabbing his little drum and clutching on to Heera’s choli with the other, Bhairu was moving swiftly down the street.
I flashed a crisp one rupee note for them and repeated the question expecting the sniff of money to do the rest.
Looking up to the heavens Bhairu said, “ My parents are out there twinkling like stars.When we grow old we too will go and shine. I have heard it is a heaven with plentiful Dahivadas, Panipuris which Shyamlal the kanjoos denies us.We will then be forbidden from entertaining these crowds. Crowds! Hee! Hee! Our market is any way down. It is all break dance now. Heera wants me to study but we don’t earn enough”
The icy cold Heeera wore a frozen visage. The look of royal sympathy on my amused face angered her. I offered one more crisp note. “You have come to stop us haven’t you? A public nuisance you consider us? We are here to be recognized for our singing, some direct lifts from films and some original compositions of Heera, Bhairu and Manu.” She added, “We do live in our special dreams as you do …someday a music director will come to us .and with a little training we will be on the stage to receive a standing ovation. Heera’s voice will be not a croaking frog ‘s voice but a nightingale’s.” With a sudden contemptuous look she added, “please give your worthless notes to beggars. We aren’t beggars, we are artistes. Chalo Bhairu”. What an outpouring of silent anguish!. Nothing could have so forcefully shown me the worthlessness of my own existence.
Looking back through the long tunnel of time , Bhairu’s Dum Dum and Heeera’s De De Pyar De have come back to me as sweet, sad melodies in moments of utter melancholy.
I have not met them again. Several years later, I did run into a familiar figure one grey evening. It was at a wedding reception in Bandra. As I moved to wash my hands after dinner I heard a voice call out “O Manu, jaldi aa”. Yes, it was Manu, now grown up, shy and strangely quiet, cleaning vessels at a furious pace. I walked up to him and asked
“ Where are Heera and Bhairu”?
Heera was married off to an old man. And Bhairu? Opening his arms wide open and looking up he said, “Wo Chala Gaya , Chala Gaya”.
Perhaps, Bhairu was up there, with Dahivadas and Panipuris which Shyamlal never gave him , twinklig like a star and forbidden to sing.!
Bhairu and Heeera, your angelic persona has filled a vacuum in my heart. Thank you Bhairu, thank you Heeera for lifting a torch beyond the streets of Pali Hill.