“The greater the storm, the brighter the rainbow.”
My foot slipped as I tried to walk slowly in this patch of land. But I could not see properly in this dark surrounding.
Luckily my father behind me, caught my hand and pulled me up. I smiled at him gratefully as I straightened up. I adjusted my backpack and pulled out a water bottle from the side of the bag and took a swig of water and looked around me.
We – me and my father were doing our regular trek on a small mountain hill, which was far away from the maddening crowd.
Most of the weekdays our busy and hectic schedules rarely gave us time out for anything – me with my Business Administration Course and daddy is busy with the hotel. But then both of us loved our work.
After mom, dad always spent more and more time at the hotel and I honestly do not grudge it.
Truth be told, I encourage it.
Daddy needs the hotel – it is something which would keep him busy all through the day and not let him think about what he had lost in his life.
He has done everything that he could to make sure I never missed my mom much.
But then, there were times when I felt inadequate that I could not do much for my dad.
That was where the hotel was helpful.
Not only did it give him something to do with his retired life, dad was doing something that he really enjoyed.
After mom, dad discovered that left to himself, he was a very good cook – another skill which he used liberally while running his hotel.
But despite all this, some days we just take off.
Staying in a busy city and working 24x7 is a complete stress builder. Both of us need some time off and that is where our short ‘trips’ come into play.
The locations that we choose for our trips are definitely not something that can be found on maps. We mostly resort to backpack travel and over the years it is something that both of us have come to enjoy. A lot.
No matter how many places that we visit, we usually end it with this trek – the trek to the temple at the top of the small hillock that we were climbing.
We have been to this hillock at almost all times of the year and as far as I can remember, the place has exactly three weathers – hot, hotter and hottest. Added to this, there are occasional bursts of unpredictable cool showers from the skies, no matter what the season of the year.
The hot and wet climate and the rich soil of the village made sure that the entire path until the start of the hillock is filled with cabbages, capsicums, tomatoes and just about any kind of greens that I can imagine. The greenery of the village is such a stark contrast to the concrete jungle that I am accustomed to, that that alone is sufficient to give me a sharp vertigo.
This time too the trip was special. After the other picnic, for the first few hours that I came to the village, all I did was stare out at the ground. After that, I scooped up the mud in my hands.
Feeling the wet mud run through my hands was….
I have seen my dad do that before and I never understood it.
But now I understand it… it brings in… a feeling of being one with the earth. It is a feeling which one cannot explain… a feeling of coming back home.
After this, we got ready for the trek.
On the top of the hillock was a small and beautiful temple. The hillock was steep, sharp and climbing it, really tested the stamina if anyone was to get to the top on foot.
Naturally, there was another path leading to the top by the roads for cars and thankfully the cars were allowed only from nine to five during daytimes.
Needless to say, neither me nor my father prefer the vehicular travel – it was too boring for our tastes.
Usually our treks start very early in the morning – around four or slightly later. The place gets too hot during the day which was the reason for the untimely start of the trek.
At this time, in the backdrop of the dark sky, the only other sound other than our breathing is the cooing and the chirping of the birds and the occasional bandicoot or the early waking up squirrel which raced across the path probably in search of its nuts or some other even more important thing.
The sun seemed lazy today and to me it seemed like the sun was in two minds and given a chance it would have gone back to sleep.
But then duty calls. Even for the sun.
The sun was pushing its way slowly through the horizon and the sky had a faint purplish tinge.
Watching all this, I had to admit to myself that it was indeed a beautiful world.
As usual, we had started the trek at four today too. I squinted looking at my watch. We had been climbing for an hour and half. We would reach the temple in half an hour.
I took a deep breath and put the bottle back again and started climbing.
Shaking off its initial laziness, the sun was now coming up rapidly and it was becoming more and more bright.
‘This is life!’ I heard my father breathe beside me.
The sunlight reflected off his bald head as his eyes were twinkling.
No matter what, my dad’s face never lost its smile. Another thing which I must definitely appreciate in my father. He has this never-say-die spirit and no matter what I know that my dad would be there for me.
I was thinking all this and looked at his eager face and smiled.
Around us, the world was slowly waking up and was starting its day. The birds had started shrieking with more vigour and it was joined in by the slight wind which was picking up speed.
There, as I was watching these things I was thinking something very strange… something which made me smile. ‘Dad, we are going to a temple….’ As I spoke I pushed through a throng of bushes growing on the rough rocky hillock. ‘Will we be able to see God there?’
I have no idea where that came from. Probably it was the time, or the mornings or the hillock. Whatever the reason, the question automatically made its way to my mouth.
To be even more honest, I was not even paying attention to what I had said. I was more focused on the rocky path and the faint light from the skies.
My father crossed the bushes and came and stood beside me. He pointed out at the bottle in my backpack.
I pulled out the bottle for the second time and passed him the bottle.
I waited while he drank the water.
‘Even if you do,’ he said handing me back the bottle, ‘I seriously doubt, whether you would recognize God.’
It took a few seconds for me to register that Dad’s sentence was addressed to me. Then, I rolled my eyes. ‘Dad! I was just joking. I did not think God was going to pop out here and talk to us.’
My dad stopped and looked at me lifting his eyebrows, ‘That is your problem. You do not believe.’
I gave up. When my dad was in a mood like this, no matter how the conversation started, it invariably resulted with me wanting to pull out my hair in sheer exasperation. Because that was when, my father gets this really bad habit – of answering any question with a question of his own.
He could have ignored my question. Better still, he could have actually answered me. But no, daddy was not in a mood for anything simple. He had to ask a question.
Right now, I was not expecting to understand the answer to this question because my belief was not going to change anything. I mean, what was I supposed to believe – that a luminescent and more powerful being was going to appear before me?
I shook my head stifling a sigh.
My father looked at me with his twinkling eyes, ‘Well seriously kid, if God appeared before you, how would you know?’
I frowned. My father was not going to let the matter drop. I really had no choice, other than to play along. ‘How can I not know? We have pictures at our home, don’t we? Won’t I recognize any being who appeared before us?’
My father actually sounded happy with my answer. Which was what told me that my daddy was going to talk for a really long time. But at that time, I really did not regret it. It seemed perfect.
I was right. Dad did talk.
I was wrong too because Dad did not talk for a long time.
‘Now baby, you have hit the nail on the head. These pictures that you speak of, they are what people have imagined God to be.’
He stopped talking as he was looking at the sunrise. He had a reverent look as he closed his eyes, savouring that scene before us.
‘Look there and tell me what you see?’ He said pointing at the sunrise.
A faint purplish hint, a red sky – a small sun at the horizon and the faint chirping of the birds as background music…. I admit it was beautiful. And it was not beautiful in the normal sense of the word. It was special because of how it made me feel.
I was struck by how beautiful it looked and did not say anything for sometime. I figured out that whoever the Higher Power was, was the best artist ever – to do something like that and do something like that everyday – Wow!
‘Only God could have created something like that,’ I said softly.
My father chuckled once more and shook his head. ‘No baby, God did not create that. That is God! Each person has his own idea of how their God should be. Each one of us imagines God differently. An image that inspires us. Something that drives us forward.’
The words seemed perfect. At this spot with the sunrise as our background. It explained a lot about things which I had never thought before this minute.
‘Everything created from the heart, with a true effort - that is God! That is why whenever we do anything with all our heart, it always gives the best result. Have you ever noticed a child looking around? The child does so without inhibitions, with her whole heart, with faith and belief. That is why children are so enjoyable to be with. They are the closest things we can get to see how God would be.’
I did not say anything. There seemed nothing to be said. I looked around. From where we were, the road could be seen. I saw an oil smudge on the road. It must have been from one of the hundred cars which probably came up the hillock, yesterday.
The sun which had climbed up rapidly now was shining on it. The oil smudge lit up with the colours of the rainbow.
As I looked at it, words thoughts, emotions clashed inside my head.
I remembered my science teacher's words – We can have a rainbow only when we have sun and rain – Two opposite things which together make a beautiful thing.
I smiled pointing at it, "Rainbow, dad!"
My father was distracted from the sun gazing as he frowned as my sentence and he looked at where I was pointing. "Rainbow?" He asked looking confused.
But I knew that my dad would understand.
When my father saw what I was pointing, he laughed but he did not say anything.
"A rainbow can be made only when there is sun and rain, dad!" I said quietly.
My dad said nothing
For both of us, losing mom had been the most impossibly difficult part of our lives. I was not even sure whether we could ever look beyond it. After her, everything seemed dark. I was not even sure we would push through. Both of us needed mom. Her smile and her optimism was what had kept us together. My dad was a workaholic and I unfortunately inherited that from him. Left to ourselves, both of us would have been completely lost in our work because neither of us spared time for anything else.
Naturally that was where mom came in. She taught both of us to smile take some time off and just sit back and relax. She was our stabilizing factor – the one who kept us firmly grounded. When she was around, I have never remembered being stressed or even worried.
But without her….
I was surprised with my daddy.
But he had changed. I thought that after mom, dad was going to close himself up.
But the truth was that my dad pretty much did everything that he could to make up for my mom.
My dad is the reason I don’t miss my mother that much.
That was the reason we started these backpack trips. After mom, dad decided that we needed to get to know each other better.
And the trip was the best idea he came up with. That was what bought us together again.
That is why I knew he would understand my comment on the rainbow.
‘That is exactly how we are made, too. Our experiences – the good and the bad taken together. You cannot wish away the bad, because then you would lose a very important lesson that you have learnt from it,’ I told him.
My dad smiled at me, ‘Probably your image of God is a rainbow.’
That was a curious sentence. But it made a lot of sense to me. But I kept silent because I could not think of anything to say.
We walked forward and within twenty minutes, we had made it to the top.
We came out of the temple and had the breakfast which we had packed.
After some time, we then started the downward descent.
My watch read seven thirty as we had almost reached the bottom. The sun was becoming warmer and warmer and I was glad for the hundredth time that we had completed the trek before it had started blazing.
We came between a thick shade of trees, when suddenly out of nowhere, there came a sudden shower of rain.
Trust me, I am normally not a very big fan of the rain. But the pleasant shower at that time was... divine.
Both of us took shelter under the trees, getting wet slightly, as we watched the rain. Me and my father were too full of thoughts to talk and felt very comfortable in the silence.
The rain stopped as abruptly as it had started and the sun slowly came out peeping out of the dark clouds.
My father was walking before me as I was looking down, careful not to trip over the stones. It was slightly slippery in this patch.
I was about to turn left, when my father abruptly stopped looking up.
Unable to stop in time I collided with him. But he did not even notice. He just pointed up with a dimpled smile on his face.
I did not understand, as I saw where he was pointing and then I was flabbergasted.
Right before me was one of the clearest rainbows I had seen for a long time.
A Night Out
“The things of the night cannot be explained in the day
Because they do not then exist” - Hemingway
Arpit hated the gun in his hands. It was heavy and strange. But that was understandable. He was a top software engineer in the local firm and he was always found hunched over a computer…
Guns were really not something that the boy of twenty one had seen much of. Despite what his father did for a living.
Arpit had tears in his eyes as he remembered how many years back his father had reluctantly taught him to use the weapon.
Hold the gun firmly and keep your left hand under your right hand for support.
Stand in a comfortable position with your right foot forward.
Look at the target and calm your body.
Take a deep breath and then fire.
Though his father did not want to teach him anything about a gun, Arpit had seen the weapon and had then pestered his father to no end.
His father had never been able to refuse him anything.
The man who had raised Arpit.
The man who was now lying dead in the hospital, with a bullet wound….
Cursing himself angrily, Arpit looked out of the car that he had just stopped and saw the other man who was getting out of the car that he was following, get out of the other vehicle.
The boy was seething with anger as he saw the other man. Otherwise, normally the appearance of the other man would have sent Arpit gasping.
Because the other man who got out of the car was a small man. There was absolutely nothing about the man which stood out. He just merged with the crowd and became one of them. Other than the man’s twinkling gray eyes and thick wavy hair, that is.
Even in the darkness, the light from the street lamp was enough for Arpit to see the short man’s gray eyes.
The man had short sharp movements and walked fluidly and wasted no unnecessary movement as he locked the car door.
Arpit saw a seedy and shady hotel in front of which the man had stopped his car and blanched.
The hotel looked anything but livable. In fact, the engineer that Arpit was, the young boy could not even figure out how the hotel was standing. The ground floor was rickety and seemed like it would fall down anytime.
There were a total of four rooms in the first room and one of the balconies in the first floor had a portion of the wall broken, the curtains were torn and the windows were all skewed…..
Not that Arpit was thinking of any of this consciously. He was looking around the road leading to the hotel. Admittedly, there was nothing else to see at one o’clock, in the night.
To any casual observer, there was nothing at all, except for a boy in his early twenties who had a raging heart and a loaded gun.
Arpit turned his attention to the other man who had now entered the hotel.
Arpit could see the man’s silhouette as he thumped on the hotel desk. A few seconds later, Arpit saw a sleepy man presumably the hotel manager, walk towards the desk.
After that, Arpit lost sight of the two men.
Arpit’s nerves were frayed badly as he kept staring at the hotel, waiting.
This was the place. He looked at the gun in his hand and his hands trembled even worse.
From the dashboard of his car, Arpit pulled out a small photograph. This was one of the very few photographs he had of his father. Mr. Barnal Kiral was a man who laughed till his eyes crinkled and he found everything in life beautiful. Despite that this was the only photo Arpit had of his father where his father had been laughing. He had clicked the photo at the spur of the minute and had had a beautiful photo to show for it.
A tear stained the photo as Arpit was shaking even worse. He dropped the photo unable to look at it and savagely cursed himself. He did not want to cry and show that he was weak… He wanted revenge...
With great difficulty Arpit controlled himself as he turned his attention to the hotel again. He saw that the lights of a room in the first floor of the hotel had come up. He also saw a rough silhouette of the other man inside the room as he was walking inside.
The boy was rudely shaken out of his reverie as his heart beats shot up almost uncontrollably as he heard another car behind him. Arpit was so lost in his thoughts that he did not even see the other car come up from behind.
The other car just honked loudly and drove inside the parking lot of the very same seedy hotel that Arpit had parked. But then Arpit ignored it as he turned his attention to the first floor hotel room again.
The light in the first floor hotel room was on for a few seconds and then there was darkness.
A cold darkness.
The man was sleeping peacefully after what he had done….
Arpit just could not control himself as he savagely pulled the gun closer to him.
Strangely enough, it was at this time that something that his father had said came to his memory. Guns can never solve any problems. Just create terror. Nothing else.
No! Arpit told himself. He took a deep breath and controlled himself. What he was doing was not an act of whim. He was doing this because it was necessary.
For a brief second, the boy wondered who the man he was going to kill, really was. His father had never told him that. ‘I work for a man with many names. Considering what we do for a living it is necessary. But I work for him because he respects life. He does not believe in violence and does not even keep weapons of any kind. Because he believes that weapons take away life – An act that can never be undone.’
Despite what his father did for a living, the boy’s father was never frivolous about life. In fact Arpit had never even heard his father talk about life or death.
And this man was responsible for killing my father, the boy thought angrily as he pulled on the muffler he had brought from his home and put on his gloves, and he got out of the car.
He looked at the hotel again and saw that the man's room in the first floor could be reached by jumping on the parapet at the side of the hotel.
The foolish man inside the hotel room, had kept his window open. Arpit was feeling viciously gleeful as he walked towards the side of the hotel not noticing the basic fact that no one seemed to have gotten out of the other car which had come inside the parking lot of the hotel.
As he was walking and despite his trembling hands, he still checked whether the safety catch of the gun was on… just as he had been taught. He then slipped the gun inside his pocket. He did not know where else he was supposed to keep the gun.
But there was no doubt in Arpit’s mind that he was going to kill the man in the hotel room.
The man inside the first floor hotel room, went by many names. But today he was just plain, old Shyam Karthick. No one knew whether that was his real name. But for today that was his name.
Shyam pushed the window open as he heard the noise from below. He then walked towards the bed and was lying on it.
Shyam was trying to figure out who could be following him.
There was something about this job.
Right from the time, Hari had approached him giving him information about the stone in the museum, to the actual steal, Shyam was feeling uncomfortable about it.
Shyam could not help but feel that he was going to regret this steal. In his line of work, instincts went too deep and in his own case, Shyam found that his instincts had been almost honed to perfection. At forty, Shyam was an extremely well to do thief and until now the police had no clue about any of the thefts that he had carried out.
That was the very same instinct which kept Shyam on his toes during this job.
Something was just not going right and Shyam could not believe that the scrap that they had had with the cops today was just because the breaks went against them.
Shyam was not asleep. Far from it.
He had kept his window open and he was just waiting.
A few seconds later, he heard someone climb inside his window.
‘Don’t make any stupid moves!'
The voice was absurdly young and the muffler and gloves actually looked ridiculous. It took less than a second for Shyam to know that his assailant was a boy and that further added to Shyam’s confusion.
It was obvious that the speaker was too much influenced by movies to actually sound threatening.
But despite that Shyam felt uneasy. The anger that he felt from the speaker was real. Far too real for comfort.
That was very odd for Shyam. He did manage to piss off people a lot. But then the people that he pissed off were not the kind who got angry enough to bump him off. His ‘marks’ just did not have the guts to do things like that.
But then this boy was different. The boy was angry. But he was terrified too. Far too much.
Shyam said nothing as he got up slowly and looked at the masked boy and took a deep breath as the boy pulled out the trembling gun and pointed it at Shyam’s forehead.
‘Yo….u ha….ve fiv….e seconds to say go…...odbye to your pathetic li….fe.’
The boy said stuttering badly. The gun in the hands of the boy shook even worse as the boy yelled, ‘Five seconds to reflect on your pathetic life.’ The boy repeated savagely and it was obvious that he was struggling to control himself.
That was when Shyam had a glimmering of an idea of exactly who the boy could be….
‘Five.’ The boy said adjusting the weapon to point it at Shyam.
‘Four.’ Arpit continued as his voice trembled even worse.
‘Have you ever even used the gun before?’ Shyam asked the boy calmly. ‘And how do you have this gun?' Shyam asked again as he saw the weapon properly in the dim light.
Once Shyam saw the gun, then the thief knew that something was really, really wrong.
The boy’s grip on the weapon tightened as his hands were shaking even worse.
‘SHUT UP,’ Arpit yelled and the man wondered whether the boy was going to pull the trigger out of fear. ‘SHUT UP! SHUT UP!’ The boy swore angrily but looked incapable of pulling the trigger.
Shyam smiled mirthlessly. ‘If you really want to shoot someone, it would really help if you remove the safety catch from the gun.’
The gun shook dangerously as Shyam got up from the bed in a swift movement and stepped forward as the gun moved in an arc crossing him. The older man hit the back of the gloved hands real hard.
The boy let the gun go shouting in pain as the gun fell on the floor with a clatter. Shyam kicked the gun away from the boy.
Other than a ragged breathing, panting and whimpering from the boy, nothing was heard from the room.
‘Why do you want to kill me, Arpit?’ Shyam asked finally.
The boy nearly bolted away from the room, whimpering half in rage and half in fear. He seemed to realize the utter futility of the muffler and nearly ripped it off as he stared at the man in front of him.
Shyam stared at the fresh face of the boy in his early twenties with the mad, popping, black eyes and the boy was panting hard and Shyam felt a stab of pity for the boy.
Somewhere, in some corner of Shyam’s mind it registered that the boy looked exactly like Barnal. A second later, the implications of that statement struck Shyam. Which was when Shyam almost panicked.
Not a twitch in Shyam’s face betrayed what he was feeling. But the fact was that Shyam was very close to getting terrified. Obviously, he had known he was being followed. But Shyam did not know by whom or for what. Now seeing that it was Barnal’s boy who was following him, Shyam did not know what to think.
The boy swiped angrily.
The punch was not even aimed anywhere near Shyam. Shyam did not even bother catching the punch as he bent down and kicked the boy hard on the feet. The boy did not even know what hit him as he collapsed on the floor, struggling to breathe. He was terrified and pushed himself back and was trying to get away from the man.
‘Stay down!’ Shyam said as he was getting up and studying the boy. ‘I know that you have a knife in your back pocket. Please do not use it and just tell me how you managed to track me.’ Shyam said urgently.
‘HE DIED.’ Arpit yelled in rage, cutting back a sobbing breath. ‘My dad died,’ Arpit screamed trying to get up and falling hard because he was actually crying. ‘Because you left him to die.’ The boy whispered in a hoarse voice, staring at the floor angrily, thumping his hands hard on the floor.
He died. Because you left him to die.
The news hit Shyam real hard. For the first time a profound sadness consumed Shyam.
The older man did not have many friends. With the kind of life the man led, that was a necessity. But the boy’s father – Barnal, was a friend. A really good friend.
Shyam studied the boy before him and suddenly remembered how Barnal never stopped talking about his son. Arpit was his father’s pride and joy – the boy who was a topper in class and had managed to get employment in one of the biggest firms in the city.
The very same boy who was now before Shyam with a gun in his hands and the boy was out to kill Shyam.
Shyam was thinking hard about the things which happened an hour back, when he had dropped Barnal back at the latter’s house, after that very dangerous steal at the museum. It was dangerous because the cops had almost got on to them. Shyam was worried about the quickness with which the cops had operated, which was why Shyam had asked Barnal to lay low for a few days.
Shyam was driving away from the city, when he had realized that he was being followed. Hence the detour to this hotel.
This hotel was definitely not in the top ten of Shyam’s favourite places, but it had its uses and Shyam used this hotel specifically for contingencies like this. And with all this, Shyam could not understand how the boy had managed to track him. Barnal was very firm on keeping his personal and professional life separate.
‘Who told you about me?’ Shyam asked in a slight whisper as he was focusing on hearing. It was important right now.
‘Dad never told me about you.’ Arpit said talking to himself in a small voice. ‘He said that he worked for a man who called him for small jobs here and there and after every job, dad had a lot of money. But then, today when I was walking out of the hospital, I overheard three people who had come to see my dad. They were talking to each other that you were the one who hired my dad for jobs and that you were responsible for killing my father. And twice I have heard dad speak about this hotel. So I thought you would come here.’ The boy said letting out a shuddering breath.
‘Get up,’ Shyam said as he pulled the boy up. Arpit felt something heavy in his jacket as Shyam pulled him up roughly.
‘Window!’ Shyam said pointing at the window behind him. ‘We are in the first floor. I want you to jump out of the window and go onto the parapet and down to the ground floor and then keep walking. If you have come by your vehicle, get inside and drive away. Away from the hotel. As far away as possible,’ Shyam told the boy.
‘Wha....?’ Arpit asked the man looking shocked and angry.
‘Climb out the way you came in, boy,’ Shyam snarled angrily. Arpit was looking blankly as Shyam demanded sharply. ‘Do you understand?’ Arpit shook his head looking slightly less angry but more confused.
‘I am a thief,’ Shyam told the boy, ‘And whether you believe it or not, your father is a friend. One of the best friends I had.’ Shyam shook his head. ‘I would never hurt him. After our work today, he was fine and I got him home and asked your dad to lay low.’
Arpit snorted angrily as Shyam ignored the slight throbbing in his hands where he was hurt just an hour back, when he and Barnal were escaping the police.
‘I had a feeling that we were betrayed and I wanted to figure things out,’ Shyam continued. Arpit shook his head angrily as Shyam said. ‘Your father was evidently followed.’
The boy shook his head again, refusing to believe Shyam.
‘I knew you were following me for the past half an hour.’
‘That is impossible...’ Arpit murmured trying to infuse some life into his voice or at least trying to make sense of something that the man was telling him.
But Arpit’s words died in his throat as he realized that looking at Shyam’s piercing gray eyes, it was impossible not to believe Shyam.
‘I came into this place because I wanted to see who you were and...’ Shyam picked up the gun from the floor and pointed it at the door and he removed the safety catch of the gun.
The sound of the safety catch coming out was loud. But it was completely drowned by the sound of the door bursting open.
The boy whimpered falling back, nearly screaming.
As usual Shyam did not react and the gun in his hands did not even waver. The older man nodded his head studying the people who had come inside the room.
‘...And because Arpit, you were followed.’ Shyam told Arpit, as inside the room came three men looking huge and they had three very big guns in their hands. Really big guns. And all of the guns were pointing at Shyam.
Arpit definitely did not notice that Shyam had stepped in front of him almost as if making sure that the new comers did not notice the boy.
No one even noticed Arpit, who was looking stunned and numb. But Arpit knew the three people. They were the people whom he had overheard at the hospital.
‘You were supposed to kill the boy!’
The person in the middle told Shyam.
The speaker was Hari, a security guard working at the museum.
At six feet, Hari looked huge and his muscles bulged out from his shirt. But it was his face which caught people’s attention. Hari had a perpetually sly look… almost as if he was always looking to mercilessly crush another person for his own personal reasons.