Dr Abhisek Bhakat
Festivals bring excitement and happiness in life which tends to get pretty boring and monotonous time to time. The urge to do something spontaneous, wear something new, eat special cuisine, have fun filled rendezvous with dear friends and spend quality time with family- all come rushing in to make festive season joyous and fulfilling. Holidays are numbered in a common man’s calendar of hard work and toil but the reinvigorating influence encapsulated therein is indispensable for survival. Lucky indeed are those who have both money and time to celebrate the festivals with their near and dear ones. This story is about a research scholar named Unmesh living away from family, who is not fortunate enough to reunite with his family on the occasion of Diwali. The only occasion he looks forward to for the whole year is the grand celebration of Diwali. In his twenty five years of life he has never spent the occasion in a place where he is not surrounded by his kith and kin. But this year it is a whole new, though unwanted experience for him which is necessitated by the ever broadening demands of his research life. Though he is sincere and studious and competent scholar ready to make all the sacrifices required for his dream project, his progress is not satisfactory. His decision to stay back in Bilaspur for the purpose of uninterrupted flow of research work is necessary and commendable as it comes at the cost of personal happiness.
25 years old, Unmesh hails from a small town in West Bengal who is busy in his research work nowadays. As a person he is amicable, honest and reliable with a touch of egoism. This egoistic and thoughtful nature has been the source of his discomfort and dissatisfaction lately. Reflective nature is essential in each and every research scholar undoubtedly but in Unmesh’s case it is the excess of it which is proving to be the chief hindrance in the path of progress of his thesis writing. This is not the only reason why he is lagging behind the scheduled time as his boat of research has been rocked by the unavoidable and unwanted events like illness, surgery, preparation for competitive exams. Last but not the least there is prolonged writer’s block which is faced by each and every research scholar at some point of their research. Does this mean he has no fault of his own? Is he not to be blamed at all for this disadvantageous situation he is unwillingly in? No matter what the others think, at the core of his heart he blames himself for allowing the diverging concentration to pare down the enthusiasm for research work and thus slowing down the advancement of his dissertation. Being pricked by his own conscience, he has now resolved to turn things around and get the derailed wagon of his research back on track at the earliest. He has been backed throughout by Mr. Neelkanta Chakraborthy, his research guide. During his masters Mr Neelkanta started the slow process of infusing the kind of confidence in Unmesh which is essential for higher studies. Had it not been for his guide, Unmesh would never have ventured into the tricky world of literary research which promises vast scope and endless possibilities. Even at present thorny situation, when his own confidence and self-belief is crumbling, Mr. Neelkanta is backing him with unwavering patience and inspirational words. Unmesh has purposefully decided to skip this year’s Diwali visit to keep the distractions away and bring complete focus on his studies. Let there be focus, and there is focus — it is not as simple as it sounds because mind, which gets affected by tiniest of things, always plays strange games. Mental peace and resolution fly out of the window at the rise of psychic conflict and unremitting tug of war.
Unmesh moved in this present flat couple of months ago, hoping for a calm and tranquil ambience which is more conducive for the intellectual activities. This flat is actually not a single separate flat like most of the other flats of Lake View Colony. This two storied building consists of two identical apartments on each floor. The apartments are very ingeniously engineered as each of them has the privacy and independence despite being overarched by the same building. Unmesh shares one of the rented apartments with his friend Sujal and a senior chap. The advantageous location of the colony is because of its distance from the bustling area of the main market. Residents of this colony who are mostly the employees and students of the Central University give it a distinguishing feature. Generally undisturbed atmosphere of the colony is further boosted up during the season of Diwali, the most popular Indian festival, as the outsiders of the place go back to their native places.
Unmesh is the only one staying back in the two storied large flat during this Diwali. The absence of any one within the earshot gives him all pervasive silence no doubt but somehow he fails to summon infallible concentration. Quite strangely he has not been able to bring complete focus on his writing even after being on his own. This inability to do the desired work crops up from intense loneliness, sagging confidence, fleeting memory and above all gradually receding sensitivity to absorb small occasions of happiness in life. Life is replete with awkward situations when one has to decide between path prescribed by hardcore reason and path desired by the heart. The basic difference between the two is that the logical way brings lots of wealth, comfort but the path chosen by heart brings mental peace and personal contentment. In Unmesh’ case heart has always been dominant over reasoning of mind until of course this point of his life. Here his choice of doing what he ought to do rather than what he really wants to do is burning him with repentance inside. Though from outside it looks like he is in the most peaceful situation any human can ever expect to be in.
His friend Sujal reserved two tickets for Howrah almost three and half months before the festive Diwali season begins, being totally aware of the multiplied plight of the passengers during the peak celebration times, caused by stark unavailability of tickets and overwhelmingly crowded compartments of the trains. Like every human being, Unmesh is also in hot pursuit of happiness but quite frustratingly very definition of happiness gets changed time to time. At the time of booking the tickets he was waiting eagerly for the moment of retreat to arrive but things in between have not gone the way he would have liked. The series of unexpected events has taken a heavy toll on both his mind and body. His research work also receives serious jolts from these uncalled for events. So as a natural consequence his research work is behind the scheduled time and he gets reminded of the fact repeatedly by his guide Mr. Neelkanta Chakraborthy. Unmesh realizes fully well that all the factors outside are more or less favourable now and his success now solely depends on his ability to confront his inner demons successfully. In one hand there is disrupted thesis writing which calls for uninterrupted attention and on the other hand there is the strained heart which longs for healing through joyous moments shared with near and dear ones. Here he feels that he has made a mistake by letting the cold reason tower over the warm desires of heart. Quite gingerly he has persuaded his friend to get his ticket cancelled as in a way it is ignoring the care and affection showered on him by his friend Sujal. But he can’t help it because it’s a question of doing justice to his fundamental identity as a research scholar. What is a research scholar if not immersed in research wholeheartedly?
Other residents of the flat left for their respective native places the day before yesterday, leaving the whole building to Unmesh. Since the departmental works will remain suspended till the end of the Diwali vacation, there is virtually no obligation on him to go out and spend (read waste) his time at the university department which is crippled by scanty stock of useful books and poor infrastructure. Only saving grace there is the willing co-operation and able guidance of all the professors (well almost all of them) who’ll also not be coming to the department. Other research scholars also have judiciously decided to go back to enjoy the festival to their hearts content. So there is no one to be seen around for the next one week, not that Unmesh has the habit of seeing them regularly. The kind of introvert Unmesh is, rarely indulging in the social networking apps like facebook, whatsapp or hike, he is indeed left with uninterrupted privacy and complete freedom to utilize his time to his advantage. The hardest thing in this world is to have rein over the restlessness of the mind which fluctuates from one topic to another within the fraction of a second. Unmesh is bearing the brunt of his agitated mind which in inundated by the pathos of not being able to celebrate the occasion with lots of sweets, clothes, crackers and friends back home. With only one day to go for Diwali, he is doomed to spend it with distress and grief never experienced before. All those pains would have been worth undergoing had he been able to make significant progress in his thesis. Now he is in a situation where his heart is refusing outright to dump the sadness and be workable for the research. He is ensnared by the gloomy anxiety of painful passivity which is not alleviated by cheap escape routes like watching movies on the laptop or listening to favorite music. Forget about the high ideals of contributing to the society and making others happy, his inactivity to do something for the solace of his own mind crushes him from inside. He is thinking about these things, passively sitting on his chair beside the window on the first floor of his flat. At this point of time his drowsy numbness gets jolted back to awakening by the shrill voice of a little girl below on the lane.
He observes from the window of the first floor that the girl is wandering down the lane to sell her earthen lamps. She has a basket full of it on her small head which is supported by a rather delicate neck. According to the assumption of Unmesh she is not more than ten years old who is, at the age of playing with dolls and going to school, forced by poverty of the family to earn some money. What a pity? An innocent blossom like her is getting tarnished by the harsh realities of life so early. She is chanting out rhymed lines which are probably taught by her parents to sell the indigenous product. There is a queer attractive quality in her voice which draws attention of people instantly. Unmesh is no exception. He also observes the intent and sincerity in her eyes to cajole people into buying her product. The aura of innocence about her whole appearance makes Unmesh feel pity for the poor girl. On this weather-wise pleasant November evening the girl is trying her best to coax people out of their flat to have at least a look at her product. The colony has assumed a deserted look in the absence of majority of its occupants and those who are there are not at all interested in buying earthen lamps. There used to be a time when the festival of Diwali was unthinkable without the lightening up of earthen lamps all over the house. The definition of Diwali has gone through a drastic change with the advent of cheap and colourful chains of led light. At present Diwali is celebrated in most of the families without the earthen lamp of wick and oil. The earthen lamp is replaced by the electric bulbs, led lights. Everyone is opting for the easier way to lit up their houses with a mere push on the switch instead of a more time consuming way of enkindling individual lamps. Quite obviously her sincere efforts are yielding little fruits. Unmesh watches her disappearing at the next turn of the lane in the colony. He feels saddened by the girl’s hopeless situation and also thinks about buying some of the lamps. Then again what use they are of to him? He suddenly discovers a strange similarity between his own condition and that of the girl. They are both tied to their respective jobs without the desired success. It is not that they are not trying hard enough; still somehow success is eluding them. As Unmesh is absorbed in such thoughts, darkness descends on his lonely flat on the eve of Diwali. He is at sea regarding his research and possesses least amount of mental peace but hunger of the body hardly cares about these inner tempests. He must go to the market to buy vegetables and other necessary items for cooking before it is too late.
At night after dinner Unmesh sits on his chair and tries hard to study for the second chapter of his research work. Since he is living alone for last few days he shuts all the doors of the flat to avoid any kind of stalking by the petty pilferers. During Diwali the number of small thieves increases as they start looking out for anything they can lay their hands upon for the purpose of gambling. Unmesh has bolted the entrance door of his block from inside and switched off all the lights except the table lamp in his room. In the light of the table lamp he usually continues study till late in the night. But tonight the whole building seems sinister with the all-pervading air of melancholy. The flat no F-22 of the lake view colony seems to be moping in the bleak and desolate landscape. Though Unmesh is at his study table his mind is fleeing again and again to his home. He can’t help thinking about the delightful activities back home in the anticipation of the festival of lights. All his efforts to bring his mind back from the amazing world of lamps, candles, lights, fireworks, crackers, sweetmeats to the world of dialectics, theatre and plays, are bearing no fruits at all. This constant struggle in his mind makes his senses dull and tired, initiating the process of being numb. Being worn out by this never ending conflict he lowers his head on the table lit by the light of the table lamp. Only dull light of the table lamp is creating a semi dark atmosphere in the room. Almost asleep! Suddenly chilly sensation of fear runs through each and every organ of his body when he perceives the touch of an icy hand on his left shoulder. It’s impossible! No one can be here at this hour except him. Then whose hand is on his shoulder. Before he can summon up courage to look backward to see whose hand it is, hand is vanished from its presence. This unnatural happening is enough to run cold shivers down his spines. Never ever he has felt the presence of any supernatural being around him in this mansion before. He has spent several nights alone here without any incidents to fear about. His dizzy mind could not figure out what the hell is happening all of a sudden.
To make things worse the light of the room goes off due to untimely power cut. He is left with no option but to brave the evil force of the night in the pitch dark room. He wipes out the beads of sweat that has gathered around his forehead with the back of his palm. He has nothing to lit up in such a terrifying situation- no matches, lighter, torch even his phone is dead (he is utterly surprised to discover it as moments ago the battery charge was almost full). His terrified mind simply does not know what to do. He finds himself at the mercy of the unknown forces taking control of everything in a moon less pitch black night. He remains seated anticipating the worst. The dreadful images from all the horror movies he has watched haunt his mind inscrutably. The only difference is that in horror movies there is just about enough light to spot the deformed face of the ghost but here the room is too dark to see even his own hand. Suddenly he feels a gust of cold breath against his ear which gradually is taking the form of whispers. He cannot understand anything of it. Unmesh is petrified by the sheer supernatural horror of the incident. Someone is talking to him in this darkness whose presence cannot be seen but only heard. The hypnotizing whispers coming in a rhythmical manner transports him to a state where he can feel one with the queer entity, where there is no need to use verbal signs to communicate. He feels that he has left his gross corporeal body behind to attain a superior level of consciousness. He can feel the consciousness and vive of the surrounding without much of an effort. This new found breadth of consciousness empowers him to realize how happy the flat no F-22 is for his presence this Diwali. This is for the first time in ten years since its construction; it will not be abandoned and locked in darkness on the festival of the light. He is amused to know the house has high hopes of being lit with lights, lamps and candles like other houses in the neighborhood. The house boasting to the other houses, that thing will be totally different this time around. This Diwali F-22 will not remain shabbily in darkness because there is someone to make amends to all the injustices done to her all these years. The students compare her to a whorehouse for moving forward with new tenants every year but no one talks about how the tenants treat her with apathy, taint her body with litter, abuse her walls. He also learns about innumerable other complaints the house has regarding both the tenants and the owner. The non-verbal communication gradually gets so deepened that he starts struggling to keep himself conscious. Next, the chirping of the birds together with the golden rays of the sun welcomes him in the morning. He finds himself lying peacefully on his thinly furnished bed. He feels a new zest for life this morning. He has learnt hell of a lot last night but wait how? Was it real? Was it a dream? Or what was that? Never mind- he has found out the best thing he can do this Diwali in the absence of anybody else.
New morning brings new enthusiasm and new courage to change the pathetic situation which has been poisoning his life lately. Through the fretful night of bone chilling terror and detached analysis of the problem finally solution has dawned on him. He realizes his fault in expecting personal happiness from others and prioritizing the world of thought over the world of fruitful action. He also has suffered from too self-centered existence where he never cared about how others are doing. Now he realizes that only thinking about happiness does not provide moments of happiness. One has to work accordingly to gain happiness in life. He is clear in his thinking about how to fill this Diwali with jubilation and gratification. This Diwali he will go beyond the narrow boundary of individual happiness to ignite the pure lamp of helping others.
After having breakfast he decides that he will embellish the whole building with the earthen lamps in the evening. He will give the flat a pristine look which will be quite different from the nearby houses decked with electric light. He puts on his blue denim and t shirt and without further delay goes out in search of the earthen lamp. Actually he is searching for the same poor little girl to buy her earthen lamps and provide her some smile. He roams around for a while as he does not know where exactly she would be selling her goods at the moment. At the same time he is sure that he will be able to spot her as the locality is not too vast and population here is also not too high. He is not wrong in his presumption as he catches a glimpse of the poor creature after a while. He calls out for that girl from a distant position as he is overjoyed to find her finally. The girl responds to his call and comes near him. The sign of wonderment is evident in her eyes as she rarely comes across a person with so much enthusiasm for buying earthen lamps. The girl stops her usual rhythmical lines and says- how many lamps do you want? They come at a rupee a piece. No bargaining babu.
19 NOVEMBER, 2015