Saturday, November 30, 2013


(Robin Mitra)

The dazzling beauty of Jal Mahal, as the sun prepares to retire behind the Aravalli hills, is a sight to behold. Half submerged below the static waters of the lake, the palace with its double storeyed arcade topped by a centric cupola reflected the last vestiges of sun into the waters below. I had taken the tour to this royal city to capture that very moment of supernatural beauty for my new coffee table book on the lesser known palaces of Rajasthan.

It was about four in the evening when I got off the bus plying between Jaipur and Amber fort, one of the three grand forts which outline the formerly princely state of Jaipur. This particular fort which houses a graceful temple built by the king who established the kingdom, Raja Man Singh I is a “must see” on the itinerary of any tourist to this part of the world. Having had my fill of forts and palaces for the last three days, I decided to spend some leisurely moments at Jal Mahal.

Having shot several scores of photographs of the wondrous structure from every possible angle in natural light, I found myself seated on one of the carved red stone benches and relaxing in the cool environs of a not- so- busy tourist destination. The soothing breeze of a mid October evening got the better of my fatigued limbs and soon my head lolled to one side.

I didn’t realise he was sitting beside me till something pushed me. It was my bag carrying the camera and other peripherals as someone had made a little more space for himself to perch his considerable bulk on the bench placed on the promenade.
“You are new here?” It was more a statement than a question in a youthful voice belying his age. I looked at him and took him in closely. He was massive at well over six feet with closed cropped hair and handlebar moustaches closing in on the jowls. With his eyes set deep inside his bushy eyebrows, he looked more as a younger version of Asterix with the built of Obelix. His fleshy and almost pink lips parted in a smile to show his perfectly aligned teeth.

“Yeah,” I said nodding, not too comfortable with the prying questions of a stranger which I knew would soon intrude into private territory.

“Hmm Nikon SLR and that too with Nikkor lenses. Not bad. Must have cost you a small fortune.” He added an open ended query waiting for further ingress into a conversation.

“Tools of my trade.” I replied with a half smile trying to sound disinterested and not sounding rude at the same time.

Acha, you are commissioned by some foreign magazine?”

“Not really. I usually publish my own books.”

“I see. I am Kanwal J. Singh. Friends call me KJ.” He said proffering his hand.

I took his hand without any enthusiasm and my palm vanished in his huge paws. “Sam Edwards. Nice to know you.”

He had by this time turned sideways and rested his considerable frame against the handrail of the stone bench. With his shrewd apprising eyes he could have been a counsellor if not for his massive moustaches. He looked fit enough in a black Armani polo shirt with a pair of well worn jeans and brown loafers.

“I usually spend my weekends here and then walk up the IAF station just further up this road. Got a few friends there.” He said with another disarming smile.

I nodded but didn’t offer any comment hoping he would take the cue and either leave me alone or at least stop trying to converse.

“You are habitually tacit or have you become so after your wife’s death two months back?” His sudden question jolted me out of my reverie.

“How do you know about my wife?” I asked incredulously.

“I am an astrologer, a palm reader and sometimes I read faces. Your’s is very clearly showing recent grief and also confusion about what you should do next. Your thumb and its length is telling me your diplomatic skills and the love for good things in life while your long fingers show your artistic talent.”

I was stupefied hearing the exact description of the recent turbulences in my life and my general nature. I softened a bit to this garrulous fiftyish man chatting me up with no seeming self interest.

I had heard a lot about astrologers and the like in India and really wanted to know if anyone could foresee the future. Almost all the columns I had read on the net or in magazines would give vague predictions which could suit anyone in any situation. To me, these seers played around with their words and the emotions of their clients. But what intrigued me was, how could this new acquaintance of mine know about the recent demise of my wife and my aimlessness in life in general. He had whetted my appetite enough. But I was wary of some of the pundits charging astronomical fee for their indulgence.

“Sam, you think a bit too much before taking any action. That’s your big fat problem in life. By the time you have thought it over, the value and flavour of the moment is gone. You are at crossroads of your life where you want a few directions but are unable to ask me thinking of what I might charge.” He said with a twinkle in his eyes.
This stumped me. This man is a mind reader too. I should be more careful what I think of in front of him.

“This is amazing. But how can you read my mind?”

“By aligning my thoughts with yours. To do that I should first stop my chain of thoughts. This comes through long hours of meditation.” He explained.

“Hmmm. Which means you can easily find out what I want to know right now.”

“Absolutely. Your query is what you should do next. Whether you should continue with your present line of work or shift towards the more glamorous fashion photography. Incidentally Sam, your present business partner  isn’t going to be with you for more than two months.”

I stopped smiling at this sudden revelation from the man reading me like a newspaper now. How could he know so much? I started becoming uncomfortable and interested at the same time.

“Look Sam, you need not be afraid of me spilling your beans. Whatever I know and tell you is confidential. I can’t break your trust. An astrologer can’t be seen as a gossip shop.”

“Alright. I would really be thankful to know how to proceed in my life now. My wife was my guiding light but I am at my wits’ end after I lost her. I now go back every evening to my empty apartment and don’t know how to spend the night. Every night has become so meaningless and unending. I keep waiting for the first light of dawn so that I can get back to my office and start the day. But this can’t go on forever.”

“You are right. This can’t go on forever. Let me have a look at your right palm.” He said taking out a chic pair of spectacles from its leather case.

I stretched out my right palm for his inspection after wiping it clean of perspiration. He took my palm in his cool right hand and bent it a bit towards himself.

“Your wife died in labour. So you are now haunted by this double loss of your wife and child.” Then tilting my palm towards one side, he said, “I foresee a definite favourable happening in your near future. You will be happy and fulfilled in your personal life.”

Taking out a white tablet phone, he looked at me saying, “Please tell me the date, place and the exact time of your birth.”

Tapping on the screen of his Samsung, he entered the data which I gave him although I wasn’t too sure about the exact time of my birth.

Soon the screen metamorphosed into a number of diagrams with numbers and names of planets.

“This is interesting. A job offer is on its way for you right at this moment. It is from a well known…” He was cut off mid sentence by a shrill tone whistling “Colonel Bogey”.

“I am sorry. It’s my mobile.” I reached into my trousers pocket for the phone and saw a Mumbai  number blinking on its screen.

“Hello.” I spoke into the mobile set.

“Is it Mr Sam Edwards at Pinewood Studio, Carter Road?” The voice of a cultured woman.

“Yes, I am Sam. Who is calling please?”

“I am Joshna calling from Medusa Publications. We have gone through your latest work, ‘The Waterfalls of Western Ghats’, and would like to have your inputs in our next venture on River Ganges. Would you be able to spare some time for us?”

Spare some time, I thought? For the correct price, you can have all my time, dear lady. Don’t sound over enthusiastic though, my instincts told me.

“I am out of Mumbai at the moment. Why don’t we meet on Saturday at my studio? Will eleven in the morning be suitable for you?” I heard my voice say on the phone. Today was Wednesday and I would be home by Friday. I wanted the publisher to meet in my office so that they would know by its location and ambience that their price has to be right for a person working out of an upmarket locality. It was not a small windowless, dingy place but one which afforded a view of the Arabian Sea from its 34th floor window.

“Of course, Mr Edwards. We shall be there at eleven. Have a great day.” The line went dead.

I was elated. My mind was already envisioning the various places I would go to shoot the river which was lifeline of Northern India. And suddenly it dawned upon me. Even as the phone was about to ring, KJ had predicted it. This was getting bizzare. I was stunned at the reach of astrology and this person’s command over the subject. At that moment, I decided never to deride an issue about which I had no knowledge.

“That was just remarkable, KJ.” I blurted out, in more appreciation than he could fathom.

“That was my good luck too.” He smiled, humility written all over that weather beaten smiling face.

It was getting late. The street lights had been in business for some time now and the tiled walk on which we were sitting was awash with the amber light of strategically placed halogen bulbs.

I had now warmed up to this man, who had captured the drift of my life for a moment. Suddenly he looked up from his tablet and said, “You are shortly to become a father of a four year old. You will adopt a male child.” He looked up and smiled broadly. “This is the answer to your loneliness and your future. Once you get the taste of fatherhood, the present dissatisfaction with your life will be over.”

This was a day of revelations. In about an hour this giant of a man had dissected the throes of my private life and provided with a solution at every obstacle.  Suddenly, the months of disenchantment seemed getting dissolved. He had shown me a way ahead where I could be happy and contented, the way I always envisioned my life to be. Not perfect, but enjoyable, unpredictable but satisfying.

“You know KJ,” I said with tears of joy brimming my eyes, “I have never felt so light in a long time. You made it happen in the midst of the darkest clouds. I will never forget this day. Or you.”

“Come, come, my sentimental friend. You were destined to know these facts today. I was only the vector.”

I reached for my wallet. “I need to know your charges, KJ. I guess I will be the biggest billboard of yours for life.” I was about to extract a few thousand rupee notes when he stopped me short.

“I don’t charge for my time, Sam. This is divine knowledge and cannot be exchanged for pieces of silver.” Then he flipped his tablet towards me and pointed at the screen. “Could you please come to this address tomorrow morning? Make a small donation for this place at the front office. Whatever amount you feel is correct. There is no lower or upper limit. It’s your will. And don’t forget to take a receipt. This place houses destitute kids. ” Then he added as an after thought, “You will get IT relief too, on your donation.”

The surprises for the evening were never ending. Would anyone not make a neat amount by selling the secret trove of information my new friend possessed? Yet, KJ seemed to remain untouched by the lucre of worldly pursuits.

Having exchanged our mobile numbers, I stood up and held out my hand which he did not take but  folded his hands into a namaste  and said with his now trademark smile, “It’s almost six Sam, and your bus is waiting for you.”    
I turned to see the bus to Jaipur braking to a halt at the stop where  I had alighted earlier in the evening. I sprinted to catch it lest the driver speed away not having seen anyone at the stop. As I found a seat at the window, I could see the back of the  hulking figure of JK looking  into the waters of the lake.

There was a spring in my step as I got off at a busy bus station at the heart of this royal city steeped in the reminiscences of the past, but eager to lap up the goodies of a globalised world.

I slept like a sloth bear that night after a long time, unafraid of the night and woke up late but fresh the next morning. The sun was already streaming in its golden rays when I was served breakfast in bed. One of the trappings of a major tourist destination is that they spoil you. The cut throat business of garnering tourists makes every hotel worth its salt treat their guests like demi Gods.

The hotel already had a taxi waiting for me at the front door which I had booked before falling asleep the previous night. The driver wove in and out of the busy traffic with practised ease on Mirza Ismail Road, the arterial road of Jaipur and soon reached a suburban part of the city which was still coming up. We passed a few huge unfinished malls on the way and finally reached the guarded gates of a private housing colony. The sentry at the gate tapped on my window and bent down. “Address please.” He said in heavily accented English.

I gave him the name of the orphanage KJ had shown me the previous evening on his tablet. He then directed the driver to the location and soon we were passing through tree lined roads and streets with manicured gardens and remote controlled gates. The taxi stopped in front of such a house.

“Ashram”, was all the simple granite block said at the entrance of the steel gates leading to the house. I stood in front of the house unable to find an electric bell when the gate suddenly opened to reveal a burly uniformed guard.

“Where is the office?” I asked him.

He stepped back and waved the car inside the compound and I followed on foot.
The reception was small but elegant. The middle aged lady manning the office stood up and smiled. “Good morning. How can I help you?”

“Good morning, ma’am.  I wish to make a small donation to this orphanage.” I said.
“Thank you sir,” she beamed. “If you kindly refer to this place as ashram and not an orphanage, all the children here would be very happy.” Her affectionate smile robbed her words of any offence.

“Of course.” I smiled back trying to assuage any hurt feelings.

She took out a receipt book from the drawer and flipping open to a new page, handed it to me along with a ball point pen.

I looked down at the book and counted out five thousand rupees and filled in my name and address and the amount. She signed the receipt and returned it to me.
“Sir, would you like to have a tour of our ashram? Most of the kids are away to school now. Only two are resting in the sick room. Would you wish to meet them or see our other facilities for the children?”

“Thank you for the offer, ma’am but I am on a tight schedule. I would be definitely coming back in a month or two and then will set up an appointment with the kids.” My mind was already thinking of the predictions which KJ had made a few hours ago.

As I turned to leave, the lady spoke up again, “Sir, can you kindly tell me who directed you here to help us out with such a generous donation? Mostly people come here, see the facilities, promise a lot but never return to help the children.”

“Oh yes. Last evening I met a gentleman who told me about this place.”

“I would like to have the name and address of the gentleman who has been so kind to us so that we can send him a token of appreciation” She looked at me with pen in hand, ready to write in an open diary.

“I met Mr Kanwal J. Singh last evening and we got chatting. He recommended this ashram for making a donation.”

The lady stared back blankly, her demeanour changed, her smile frozen. Shock was written all over her. “You surely are joking, sir. How could you have met him?”

She pointed behind my head at the wall at a freshly garlanded huge painting of KJ. “Air Commodore Kanwal J Singh drowned exactly a year ago in the Jal Mahal lake.”


Dr.Lecter on call said...

I KNEW something spooky was coming up! :))
Amazing work, though. Simple, honest and kept me thoroughly engaged.
The writer has sprinkled a few gems of his vast knowledge! Would love to see more :))

Anonymous said...

Very tightly written...interest of the reader is maintained throughout .

Richa Singh said...

Crafty. Plot was crafted perfectly. A lot of imagery too used. Though I did expect the end somewhere, I loved the build up to it.

And you know fiction is addictive :D lets hope it gets to you too! Looking forward to more stories from your side :)

Mallika Biswas said...

wow...spell bound.....u do have talent....waiting for more to come

Archie said...

Nice on Sir. The character of Sam Edwards feels very real. I am sure many would be able to relate to him. Also the story quite grippy. Would love to read a lot more of your write ups.