KEEPER OF REFLECTIONS.

Daljeet sat on the bed and reflected on his life. He realized that his life had been a tragedy as when he was only two years old his father died of an unknown illness. He could not remember him, not even a hazy recollection of him. He had a sister and a brother and he could remember those but sadly they were also taken away by the same disease and no one could do anything about it.

His sick mother was lying on a bed next to him coughing heavily and having difficulty in breathing. Why his life turned out to be such a disaster full of misery of all kinds? They were living in a small rented two roomed house with a small courtyard attached.

He used to go to school when his mother was well and doing part time job after schooling but had to withdraw from his class eight, as he had to look after the sick mother and also he could not afford the fees. In order keep him and his mother alive, he had to search for any menial job he could find. He went to work for the local sweetmeat maker where he had to clean all the metallic equipment associated with that profession. Big greasy cauldron or karahis in which the various sweets were made and cooked. Wheat, maize and gram flour being used and made into barter and from which different combinations for sweets took place, cooked in hot oils or in sweet sugary liquids.

This left lot of grease, sticky sweets and remnants of cooking oil and when left overnight turned into loads of obnoxious smell of putrefied matter. It was a highly unpleasant job but he had to do it in order to earn some money. Hallwai’s unskilled employees had to start like this and slowly worked their ways up. Other part of his job consisted of keeping the premises clean and tidy. He started this work very early in the mornings and went home when the evening darkness took over. He was also given free food for himself and her sick mother and he went home during mid- daybreak for an hour. He was glad to have this sort of job as long as it kept the wolf away from his door and starvation.

Festival of diwali came and that was the best season for selling more sweets. He was glad to be working during the festivities as the sale increased ten folds. He spent hours in arranging the trays full of sweets on steps around front stall in an ascending order. It looked a marvelous display with varieties of sweets and savories. Jalebis, gulab Jamans, badam burfies, peras. kalakands, basins, rasgulas etc. He was afforded the privilege of covering each tray of sweets with gold and silver leaves. These costly leaves came into sort of booklets arranged with extremely thin delicate metallic leaves wedged in between paper sheets. These were so delicate that even an accidental breath blew them away. As he was covering the sweets, he felt like a craftsman creating some delicate compositions. He enjoyed this somewhat sophisticated job and loathed to go back to his ordinary job of utensil cleaning. Slowly he worked his way up to be one of the assistants of the halwai and he was now in his twenties. But soon the festival was gone and his sad little life returned with all its boring routine.

It so happened that the economic situation in the country began to deteriorate due to high inflation and soon the government raised the interest rates. The people and businesses that had borrowed heavily could not afford to pay back and as they defaulted, the banks lost on their investments and so a general recession ensued. The sweetmeat seller could not afford to keep much of his workforce and many employees including Daljeet were made redundant.The condition of his mother began to deteriorate and she began to spit great amount of phlegm and sometime with traces of blood. She began to feel weaker and weaker and one day when he came home during lunchtime with some food, he found her dead. He ran to the neighbours crying and screaming for help. They took pity on him and arranged the funeral for her dead mother. He saw her funeral pyre burning before him and then collected the ashes. The neighbours arranged the journey when he had to go to a holy place with bundle of his mother’s ashes and cast o these on waters of a river considered holy. Neighbours realized that the grief he had to bear was too great for a person of his sensitivity and advised him to go to a famous temple afterwards where God willing he might be able to find some peace in his life.

As he went to the holy place in the mountains large. He became a person without human ties and without any happy memories, just a sort of robotic entity without any deep feelings or any inclination for any action. He fell into deep depression with numbness of body and soul. Somehow he dragged himself out and started his journey to the city of Mansrover with its famed golden temple. The bus was overcrowded but he squeezed himself in to find a place. He had no concern for himself or for his comforts, so it was not a big problem; He got down at his destination and took a rickshaw to the temple. The rickshaw driver was jostling its way through the crowded streets full of people and vehicles of every sort, rickshaws, tongas, scooters, hand carts, bullock carts, bicycles and whatnots but he took little notice of those milling crowds. The rickshaw took him to a stand near the temple and from there he had to make his own ways walking through a labyrinth of narrow winding Streets.

The temple was surrounded by high walls with four grand doors at each entrance, each pointing to four points of space- east, west, north and south. There were marbled stairs leading to the entrance at the top and slowly he climbed and pushed the high door open. Suddenly numbness of his body and his gloominess lifted and he felt entering a new world where his grief becoming of lighter shades. The golden temple struck him with its great splendour and charm and he gave himself over to it. Moisture gathered into his eyes washing away all the encrusted dirts of days bygone. He spent the whole day contemplating that glory and returned to his town in the evening.After returning home he felt extremely lonely and in order to get away from it, he tried to find a job but no one wanted him. Someone he knew was offered a night watchman’s job, which he turned down as of unsociable hours. As Daljeet was desperate he took that job himself offered by the resident’s association; they wanted someone honest and reliable to do the job, guarding their homes against petty thieves and burglars.

His duty started at 10pm and lasted to 6am the following morning. Every each hour of his duty he walked round the boundary enclosing the said properties shouting “Khabardar! Be aware! The hour is now 11o‘clock.” “ Thieves be aware” etc. People felt safe in their beds that some one was there guarding their properties and also they were kept informed of the time of the each hour of the night. He took his charpoy or rope-stringed bed with him and rested on it between each round. He was alone but bore with it. After some time a stray dog began to visit him, sitting there looking at him as if sight of each other gave solace to them. He started bringing food for the dog too and encouraged by it the dog stayed there the whole time during his duty hours and he was glad to have some company. It was during winter period that they needed a watchman and his period of employment came to an end after few months at the start of summer season.

There was nothing left to hold him there anymore and he wanted all his emotional ties with that place to be broken as he sought refuge some place where he could find some meaning to his existence. He headed for the golden temple again. He boarded the bus and tried to join in the hub of humanity with their laughter, tears and talks. He found a place near the window to sit and looked out and lost himself in the panorama of passing sights. There were tall tree planted on roadside casting pleasant shadows of their leafy attires. Beyond the trees he could glimpse fertile fields planted with all sorts of crops, green with formations of different a colours and shapes. Here and there a farmer was working in the fields accompanied with his pet dog and children playing their noisy games, busy with their frolics unaware of worries the time would bring onHe reached the city and hired a rickshaw to take him to the temple and was delighted to behold its golden domes and the tall gates again He went around the temple walking on the marbled stones, leaving his shoes in the deposit room. The marble under his feet was cool and soothing. He bought some parsad from the stall to be taken to the temple as an offering.

The temple was situated amid a beautiful lake as he walked on a causeway connected it. Every few minutes he stood there admiring the view and the reflections of the temple within the pond. He went to the inner court and gave parsad to the priest and the priest added it to the common collection, from which he would take some and distribute to all the devotees and pilgrims as they came along to pay their respects.

He sat there listening to hymns of guru and it communicated with him at his personal level. He went to langar, the common kitchen and ate the foods offered. He was satisfied and did not want to go anywhere. He spread his blanket outside the gates and soon was in a deep sleep. The keeper of the door found him sleeping with his sad face and twisted body inducing compassion in him. The keeper woke him up and took him to a vacant room in the complex and there he slept till morning.

When the doors opened, he was anxious to feel again the marbled steps surrounding the pool and wondered at its ethereal beauty. The sound of hymns reverberated in the space. He extended his bare arm and touched the water of the pool. The dazzling golden reflections of the temple became visible down the water and he tried to touch it too. Suddenly he felt something unknown beyond his comprehension- something vast but humanly soothing and felt that he was at peace. He was in two worlds, one of the golden domes and one of the temple reflections. He could spend his days holding them together.
He was the keeper of the reflections.

Durlabh Singh© 2008.

KEEPER OF REFLECTIONS.

Durlabh  Singh

London, United Kingdom

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