“25% water cut!” Patvardhan grumbled while polishing the brass nameplate on the door of his ground floor flat in Dadar Hindu Colony, till it burnished like gold. “So much rain and the damned municipality imposes 25% water cut! This BJP-Shiv Sena government is a total loss, if you believe me.” People might have believed him, if anyone would have been present. He was alone and soliloquizing.
“Aho, Patvardhan! Stop grumbling early in the morning. Baba Ramdev says that the main cause of ulcer is getting angry on empty stomach. It also increases the blood pressure.” His neighbor Mr. Joshi advised, while lumbering bags full of vegetables and flowers, which he bought from Dadar market. Patvardhan gave him a sour look and cursed all godmen in general, Baba Ramdev in particular. Mr. Joshi went away laughing and shaking his head. Patvardhan continued to polish his nameplate, which proclaimed proudly, ‘Dr. Arvindrao Patvardhan, MA, PhD’.
15 years ago he had taken a voluntary retirement from his position as a senior professor of History in Ruparel College, because he was tired of the hectic routine of life and wanted some peace. Retirement is like those beautiful and distant mountains. People forget that they seem beautiful just because of their distance. On closer inspection, the heartless rocks are revealed. Patvardhan was very happy during the first month post his retirement. After the first month, he didn’t know how to whittle away the huge chunk of time he was left with. It was then that he discovered his hidden talent. He always was a great storyteller and had led an eventful, animated life. He merged talent with experience and started to write those stories. He became a writer. A writer, whose works were never going to see the light of the day, but they were enough of a reason to look forward to the next dawn.
He had a fixed routine, day in and day out. Each morning he woke up at 6am, a habit he was unable to get rid of even after 15 years, and read the Times of India over the morning tea. Then he left for a morning walk. It was supposed to be a 4km walk every day, but he always cheated and took a shortcut, terminating the perambulation in 1km. After returning from his walk, he sat on his writing desk and wrote till noon. There was no pattern in his writing. Sometimes he wrote poems or stories, then he veered off at a tangent to write a synopsis of current political mess. He wrote whatever came to his mind. As no one was going to read it ever, he wrote what he wished without any fear of libel. All his neighbors and friends made an appearance in his stories with their real names. Many scandals of the conservative Hindu Colony, which would curl the beards of the Devil, were chronicled on his desk. Of all the various genré he wrote, fiction was closest to his heart. He specialized in writing short stories.
At four in the afternoon, he went to Shivaji Park and sat with other retired friends discussing their myriad grievances and issues with their families. He returned by 7pm to play with his three years old grandson, Nimesh, for some time and watched cartoons with him. Patvardhan loved cartoons. They don’t require any complex logic to enjoy them and aren’t a strain on an already overburdened brain. He had his dinner by 10pm and called it a day. He always stuck to this routine. But, today was different.
He woke up at 7am with a heavy head and chest. He immediately realized that it was just a bout of common cold. He called out to his son, Arun, for hot water and plucked a few tulsi leaves to put in his morning tea. He left for his walk at 8am, instead of the regular 6.30. Instead of going towards Five Gardens, he crossed the railway bridge and went towards Plaza Talkies. The new Marathi movie by Mahesh Manjrekar had released. Patvardhan hated these new movies. Plaza talkies was built by his favorite V. Shantaram. Now, that was a real master, he thought! A virtuoso. Producer, director, actor, you name it! He married four times. That was the only thing he didn’t like about him! Patvardhan’s wife died in a car accident 10 years ago, but did he remarry? He always believed that a man should be as virtuous as the woman he desires as his mate. It’s a two-way street.
He saw a kid of 14 smoking a cigarette under the Dadar bridge and asked softly, “Son, is your father aware of this new passion?” He was gratified after seeing the mortified expression on the kid’s face. He threw the ciggie in the gutter. He was happy to see that in spite of the onslaught of western vulgarity, Indian culture of respecting the elderly, though unknown, strangers still prevailed. His lungs hungered for the long forgotten urge for nicotine, but his wife had asked him to smoke only after asking her. He quit smoking 10 years ago because he couldn’t seek her permission anymore. Nowadays kids lack that romance, which made them keep their words, he thought. He remembered fondly how she had scoffed him when he told her, “You are my dream! When I close my eyes, I can’t see anything, except a gossamer mist! Suddenly the frail mist is torn by a dazzling light. Kajri, you are that light! You are my love!” He smiled wistfully, remembering how she had laughed. She called it ‘Gutter Romance’ and screamed in mock horror! “Ewww! You have some kind of fever? What will your students think if they hear you talking like this? You really are cheesy, Arvind!” She secretly enjoyed the romance, but made fun of him for days. She was so practical.
A taxi honked its horns. Patvardhan looked at the driver, who quailed before the eyes which could discipline a classroom full of rowdy students.
He returned much later. He was writing a short murder mystery and was worried about the murderer. People believe that a writer must have great imagination. It’s nothing like that. A writer just needs imagination enough to begin. After that, usually the story is self-propelled. At least for Patvardhan. As the story develops by itself, all the writer needs to do is to capture and polish those elusive ideas which nibble at the back of his brain.
Today he came home and instead of sitting on his desk, he slept. He again called Arun and asked him to get the cough medicine for him. Arun was a software architect. A mild bearded fellow. Patvardhan always blessed God for giving him a rich family. Money never makes one rich. It’s just the love of people around you which enrichens you. Patvardhan was richer than Mr. Gates.
In the afternoon, he went for his daily meeting with other retired guys. As soon as he reached, he was hailed by everyone. Once again his old friends were cribbing about the way their children treated them. Patvardhan was always amazed at the way human psyche traumatizes mundane events! What’s a small squabble? Love is the key to all those locks of human psyche. After the daily ritual of cribbing, the conversation veered towards politics and literature. These were the fields in which Patvardhan could rule the roost, and he did. He regaled everyone with his ideas and synopsis. He left at 6pm, as he was feeling uneasy. His friends were concerned. Some of them suggested home remedies for cold. Patvardhan coughed dryly and waved their well-meaning advices away. He walked back to his home and opened the door with his pass-key. He was the only guy in his friend circle, who had his own pass-key to his home. This gave him a feeling of freedom and happiness. Childhood and old age are similar in many ways. Happiness and grief are associated with small things, which no one cares about during the younger days.
His chest felt constricted. He was going to call out to his daughter in law, but decided against it. After all, it was just a common cold and it’s not considered fatal. He laughed at himself for getting paranoid. His grandson came hopping to him and he lifted the bubbling child. Nimesh was trying to explain the adventures of his first day in the pre-school, but was restricted by his limited vocabulary. Patvardhan laughed and tried to be an attentive listener to the energetic child. When he failed, he simply hugged the chattering kid, who screamed when Patvardhan’s two days stubble scratched his soft cheeks. He decided to shave daily hereon. He released the kid gently, who scampered away, shouting in the sweat pidgin of childhood, mixing up of Hindi, Marathi and English. Patvardhan smiled happily.
He went to his desk and resumed the novel he was writing. There’s a difference between professionals and amateurs. A professional has a clear aim and a well charted path like an organized steamer, which always sticks to schedule and never fails to reach its destination. An amateur blunders like a fishing lorcha in the never ending ocean of arts and caroms off many ideas. They usually end up at a totally different coast than the desired one. The professional writes for his living, whereas an amateur writes for his own pleasure and isn’t bound by any rules. An amateur doesn’t only write fictions, he lives them. The fictions become facts for him and he goes on embellishing them. He himself becomes one of the characters of his creation, imparting one of his traits to each one of them. Patvardhan had started this as a short story, but later on it took the form of a novel. Now he was happily adding chapter after chapters, heedless of its length. After all, who was going to read it?
He felt a stabbing pain in his chest and stood up. He called out to his daughter in law. The house was dark and silent. May be, she had taken Nimesh in the playground and forgot to switch on the lights. “I should do it,” his detached mind thought. He stood up and sat down heavily on his writing chair, trying to control his hyperventilation. He rested his head on the sheaf of writing papers, covering the last lines of the chapter, which was going to remain unfinished forever…
‘…and Nimesh asked, “Baba, can fishes fly?” Baba laughed and said…’
Four days later, the Times of India had a small piece of news in their City section on page four.
History professor dead
By a special correspondent.
Dr. Arvindrao Patvardhan, a retired professor aged 64, was found dead in his Dadar flat. His decomposed body was discovered when he wasn’t seen for many days and someone went to look for him. He died of a massive heart attack.
Dr. Patvardhan lived alone and had no visitors since the death of his entire family in a car accident 10 years ago. Police has found many volumes written by him, which have certain material which may point to…