The Tale Of The Rakhi Monger

We all are cosmic identities.

We all are somehow related to one another in nature. What we liberate, what we derive, from the chaos that blossoms in our harmony, is Karma. And that chaos is Godly, we term it- fate and brush it off with the sway of our hand as if it is some sort of degenerate, the thought of whom is repulsive enough in itself. We forget that true beauty lies in embracing fate. We forget that. It shows itself, every now and then, we ignore it. It goes away, we start missing it. There are many people who tend to do otherwise and one of them was a jolly old man whose name eludes me, whom I have never met, but yet he dwells in my memory. I don’t know much about him, but all that I know is ample enough to define him.

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When people have experienced a lot, when people have observed a lot, then people have a lot many stories to tell. Perhaps, this is the reason why old people are always full to the brim when it comes to stories. They have a lot many to tell, and my grandfather always used to say, that one lifetime is never enough, for if you live it flamboyantly, you don’t have much time left to tell people about your life and if you cease to live your life and become a slave to oppression, hell you have nothing worthy to tell the people about. He belonged to the former sort and hated the people who belonged to the latter, but he tried hard to tell me as much as he could. The protagonist of one such story was the jolly old man whom I mentioned earlier. With a beautifully painted bone china cup in his hand and a stick resting beside his chair, my grandfather had proclaimed that this jolly old man was one of a kind. Yes, one of a kind, for no trade used to appeal to him for long. He was a fishmonger when my grandfather first became acquainted with him, a few days later he owned a tea stall- the venture failed and he was next working as a waiter and then he found solace as a peon. But not for long. Innumerable trades, master of none, enthusiastic about every prospect that life held for him. The way my grandfather put it forth, the more he put it forth, the more it convinced me, that he somehow took pride in that man’s ventures. But all over the course of years, during which my grandfather had the privilege to know him, my grandfather observed that every year, there was a period of time, when he always dived into a particular trade – he donned the cap of a rakhi seller, whenever the festival of ‘Rakhi’ arrived. A month before ‘Rakhi’, this jolly old man would quit whatever work he was indulged in, and exhaust all his savings in setting up a rakhi shop, that always seemed laden with the cheapest collection that one could have had ever witnessed. My grandfather would always chuckle when he narrated the part that symbolized the cheap nature of rakhis. But he always added, that since he and many others were fond of the jolly old man, they always bought a few rakhis from his shop. According to my grandfather, they cost nothing to us, but he (the jolly man) was always paid with happiness and nothing could beat that. It was during these moments, my grandfather put his cup aside, empty, half filled – it didn’t matter and used to straighten his spine. That was actually a cue for me to pay ample attention to his story, for intriguing aspects were bound to follow. After the festivity of Rakhi was celebrated, the next day, what would one expect of the jolly old man? Upon clearing his throat, my grandfather would continue: That he would shut down his shop, sell his rakhis to a third party and indulge himself in the inviting prospects of some new venture. And true to his nature, the jolly old man would shut down his shop, and true to being the apex vagabond, he used to dive into another venture, but – My grandfather always used to pause at ‘but’. He was all familiar with ace storytelling tricks. But, my grandfather would continue- the jolly old man would not sell his assortment of rakhis. This was the moment when I got perplexed. Why would he do that? If he wanted to venture into another trade, he surely needed the money, if he needed the money, he had to sell those rakhis, because no one would buy a rakhi after the conclusion of the festival! I always used to blurt out my thoughts, loud and wide in front of my grandfather, whilst he used to calm me down with the brush of his hand. I still remember how large and white his palm used to appear to the little me. Then he used to smile. A Godly sort of smile. A knowing smile. Then he continued. He told me, that he never realized that the old man didn’t sell his rakhi to the traders who desired them, until one day, he himself witnessed him, doing otherwise. What otherwise?, I used to wonder. But not for long. The answer approached my ear steps before the question arrived on the tip of my tongue.

One day, whilst my grandfather was taking a stroll, a day or two after Rakhi, he noticed that a hoard of children, the ones who spent their day on the roadside while their parents engaged themselves in meager jobs that concerned manual labor, making their way, joyously behind a ragged tattered-battered jolly old man. To my grandfather, that scenario appeared as if, it was an excerpt from the story of the Pied Piper, with the old man bearing an appearance to the Pied Piper, with the children following him as if copying the rhythm of his steps. This was unusual and my grandfather found it to be unsettling. The roadside children were seldom that happy, while the jolly old man barely took any interest in children. He barely took any interest in anyone actually. Or their opinions – my grandfather would add. These very thoughts propelled my grandfather to follow him and the hoard of children. What happened next came to me as a surprise? It had also come as a surprise to my grandfather when he had witnessed the old man’s action with his naked eyes. When my grandfather was narrating me this tale, I could only play a victim to my imagination. From behind a very old and desolated wall, my young grandfather witnessed the jolly old man distributing rakhis to the children – taking bulks and bulks of the cheap collection that he owned out of an untidy sack and handing them to little ones who excitedly grasped which so ever rakhi they liked. This act continued till the old man emptied his entire sack at the disposal of the children, while the latter hooted and cheered his actions and the former took more pride than Hendrix, with a sack in his hand instead of a guitar, but with a synonymous form of satisfaction. I wondered whether my grandfather ever solved this mystery, whether he traced the old man’s action to its roots, whether he ever deciphered the reason why people tend to behave in ways that are perfectly normal to them but are strange enough to the people who are observing them. As a matter of fact, my grandfather did. Perhaps, the virtue of restlessness runs across the generations of my family. I am a restless soul, so was my grandfather. He had not even waited for the children to leave but had approached the old man demanding the explanation for his actions. Not because there was anything of interest for me when it came to those rakhis, but because he was intrigued. As it turns out, as it spirals out, like from a whirlpool of water, like everything and every incident that’s suspended from a story, untold and unheard – the jolly old man had a story too. He once had a sister, he told my grandfather, before Independence, before partition. During those days, he had a wife too. And they constituted one happy family, and as life was in procession, he married her off to a trader. My grandfather didn’t quite very clearly remember, in which trade did the suitor of the old man’s sister specialize him, but it didn’t matter. What actually matters is that when Independence approached and the partition took place, the old man’s sister and her husband, found themselves on the other side, while the old man and his wife were still in India. Since that day, the old man told my grandfather, he has neither seen his sister nor heard from her. It’s nothing but a long painful ordeal, it’s nothing but everything just like life itself. According to the old man, even after his sister had got married, she always visited her brother and sister in law with a Lumba rakhi (Bhaiya Bhabhi Rakhi), every Rakhshabandhan. But her disappearance put a stop to that. At this point, my grandfather would ease himself back into his chair, barely sitting, rather lying down. He would conclude, stating that the jolly old man used to believe, that a rakhi was a very important souvenir, that a brother received from his sister and hence, he found it unethical to sell the discarded rakhis. How can one break something so precious, so pious, back to pieces? Better give it to people who can’t afford one, better give it to a sister who would willingly cast it upon the wrist of her brother, whether it’s Rakhshabandhan or not? Better give it to those, who would adore it, who would not think of making a profit from it but rather cherish it, believe in its essence, if only for a while, and pay respect to it. This was his way, to pay tribute to his lost sister. This was the moment when my grandfather would feel all weary and tired and hush my verbal advances, and drift off, perhaps in his young days, where the jolly old man was perhaps indulged in some other trade, while he was riding his bicycle, beneath the clear blue of the sky, that has always remained same, unaged, bright and bearing a clear conscience, witnessing innumerable stories that have transpired beneath, concerning infinite number of people, accounting their infinitesimal incidents, that shall perhaps forever be recounted as immortal memories of bonds cherished from the depth of one’s heart, for after all we are cosmic identities, after all we all have embraced fate and at some point or the other, discovered the true beauty of life.