Three Encounters of the Ordinary Kind


Rajesh Kumar Sharma


On our elder daughter’s birthday this month, we thought of taking her out for dinner. It was past eight when we left home. The weather was pleasant, the moon almost dazzling in the clear sky after days of clouds and rain.


Our first stopover was the Kali Temple. Shruti wanted to thank the goddess and seek her blessings on the occasion.


There is a small temple of Hanuman in the premises of the Kali Temple of Patiala. It was a Wednesday and there was no crowd. As I shut my eyes in relative solitude, I heard a man’s loud voice. He was talking to the god.


I opened my eyes and began the ceremonial circumambulation around the shrine. The man was still talking. He had either not noticed me, or did not care.


“I wished to carry Ganga-Jal from Haridwar and offer it to you, but I have no money. They give me 250 rupees only and make me sit the whole day. . . .”


He was ahead of me and was almost running. His words were running away with him, and were soon out of my earshot.


He was a young man, of twenty five or so. Short, lean, angry and sorrowful. Under the smoked temple lights, I could only catch his profile. He appeared hungry and desperate. Perhaps he wanted a better deal by arousing the god’s famous sense of justice. Or he might have wished to make an offering of his anger and be done with it.


An hour later and the dinner over, I was pulling out my seat belt when a fifteen-year old face loomed over the windscreen with a hand running a dirty rag across it. The windscreen was already clean. What was he doing?


I want food, he quietly said. There was dignity in his manner, and he seemed ashamed to be telling me he wanted food.


I may not recognize him if I should meet him again. Yet I cannot forget him either. He returns like a dream, in gray and black. Like a miniature apocalypse laced with strange pathos.


That afternoon I had stood in a shop, buying slabs of stone for the house I am building. Two young men had suddenly appeared as I had turned to leave the shop after making the payment. One spoke incessantly and cheerfully. The other looked on, hesitant and unsure. A marketing guru and his disciple? The guru looked frail and wasted. He was selling cheap perfume spray made in China. If the shopkeeper and I bought a set each, he would earn the required three points to meet the day’s sales target. He looked as if he would waste away in three days if he did not have the will not to.


Some people can squeeze happiness out of a crushed toothpaste tube.


That night I went to sleep wondering how many more encounters of this kind might be lurking around. It had been an extraordinary day for encounters of the ordinary kind.


Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Department of English

Punjabi University, Patiala (India)


Words: 501

October, 2005