I today tell a strange story of the towering aspirations of the insignificant, of an unexpected revelation, of a resolute vow that almost overwhelmed my heart by its simplicity, innocence, iron grit and unbending determination.

It was an ordinary evening, of course, wintry in its texture and desolate in form. I believe extra ordinary events happen on the least expected occasions. Though my flat is just a five to seven minutes walk from the metro station, I generally take a rickshaw to cover the distance. My “little luxuries” I call it, completely ignoring and blissfully denying the age-induced exhaustion which sweeps over me as I descend the steps of the station building.

That fateful evening as I plonked down on the seat, the rickshaw waddled on. Most  of the times I am more than conscious of the strain I put on the puller considering the amount of space I consume on Mother Earth and the pressure I exert on her bosom by my girth. This time I felt guilty and positively so as my eyes per chance traveled to my driver’s feet. They were naked. The edge of a coarse dhoti lapped his ankles as his sturdy legs paddled on. I bit my lips. In this severe cold I was being relentlessly pulled by a man who was not sufficiently clothed to protect himself from the vagaries of Nature. Criminal! I mentally reprimanded my own self to have hired him, to be bundled in a galore of warmth while he was not, to not able to ask him why he was bare feet lest I hurt his self esteem which was peculiarly dear to the social stratum he belonged to and last but not the least to have burdened him with my enormous bulk which he was now compelled to carry like Sindbad the Sailor, who as the story went, had once shouldered a man to carry him a distance but was saddled with him forever as he refused to get off his back. But the man seemed oblivious of my discomfort. He cycled on humming in a deep, sonorous voice. Happy and engrossed on his own. Having an ear for music, I was highly impressed by his soulful and melodious lilt. The journey was otherwise uneventful and I was dropped home safe and secure.     

The next evening, I detoured to the nearby shop to make a few routine purchases. Fatigued with additional bags and packets, I hoped that I would get a rickshaw as even the most contemptible conveyance as the “rick” was sometimes very hard to get. But I was lucky. It was almost Godsend. I saw an unoccupied rickshaw coming from the opposite direction. The roads were ill-lit but as the vehicle came near I realized to my surprise that the puller was the same one whom I had met the evening before. As I hopped on, the question popped out of my mouth like misdirected popcorn.

“Why are your feet naked?” I asked

 His answer was a bouncer.

“I am under a self pledged oath!” He said.

“What oath?”  I was a bit cautious in my probe, not knowing how to take this conversation.

“You see I am writing a book but I cannot finish my work as I have a query which is still unanswered. I ask all my passengers to tell me but they say I have to look on the net.” Obviously the man did not have the resource or the opportunity to look up the net.

“What query?” Curiosity drove me mad.

The man rattled off something about the biblical story of the Tower of Babel which he said he knew but it failed to provide the requisite answer. His Hindi was well modulated, pure in diction and flawless in pronunciation, rich in expression and lucid in narration hinting at clarity of thought associated with the well read. How educated was he? But it was rude to ask. I refrained. The din of the traffic did not allow me to hear him clearly. As we turned into my block, away from the main road, I asked him again, “I don’t get it. What are you looking for?”

His reply zapped me, “You see, I am looking for the origin of alphabets. How the letters came into being and who thought of writing them as they are today!”

An etymological quest!!! I was speechless.

“Yes, the day I am satiated with the right reply, I‘ll break my pledge and put on my shoes”. He continued.

The comparison that leapt to my mind was instantaneous. In my office I find a coterie of the most professionally qualified men and women openly demonstrating a well nurtured aversion and apathy towards anything new – be it the latest tech or an upbeat policy, imbibed by our Company. Shrugging their shoulders and shaking their coiffure, they present their resistance in such glorified vigour that retrogression is elevated to the stature of fashionable in no time. Consequently, there are many quick and ready to toe their line. In exact contrast to this, is our peon Sompal who is so tech savvy that more than often it has become habitual for us to turn towards his unofficial and more than adequate assistance when the designated department fails to provide timely service.

I wonder why the Authorities do not make cyber technology easily accessible to the grass root dwellers better still include it in their literacy syllabi. I strongly feel that visual mode has greater and deeper impact on the masses and can draw more of the illiterate populace to electronic learning who otherwise may shy away from inked words and printed pages.

Perhaps education makes us more skeptical. As the rickshaw halted in front of my flat, I tried searching a gleam of the crazed mind in the eyes of the knowledge seeker, the superciliousness of a braggart in his smile. To my utter relief I found none. I silently promised myself to Google search on his query and keep print outs of the findings handy in my bag to hand him over whenever I chance upon him. Life is made up of paradoxes. Those to whom facilities are readily available shirk from broadening their mental vistas and those who thirst for knowledge are not endowed with the means to do so.

The next day in office in between work I Googled diligently on the origin of alphabets – there were information aplenty but in English. I am yet to find a site which elaborates on the search in Hindi. In case, anybody is aware of such a site do please let me know the link just to help out a less-privileged learner. Remember a knowledge sharer always ends up enriching his own kitty.

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About gc1963

A working woman with interests in reading, writing, music, poetry and fine arts.

14 responses »

  1. I will try Geeta Ji. The origin of alphabets ! A peculiar query. However the more peculiar and highly strange thing is the curiosity in a rickshaw-puller (writing a book !) to this much extent that he has pledged not to wear shoes until he gets the information.

    Geeta Ji, it again proves the English saying – ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’. Unbelievable incident narrated by you. Anyway the world is full of oddities. His query is a smaller one as compared to the query emerged out of this incident regarding the oath pledged by him.

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  2. vimala ramu says:

    An interesting situation put in a very gripping style of narration. Your choice of words is incomparable. I wish you a brilliant literary career., No, I foresee one.

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  3. gc1963 says:

    Mathur Sahab, I knew you would. Your sincerity is incomparable. And you are right! There are so many questions which remain unanswered in this piece. I have narrated exactly the way the incident unfolded. Perhaps it is better not to seek too many clarifications and just stick to the fact that the impoverished lot can also be intellectually inclined and give our more than 100% to the noble cause of digging out the desired information for the hapless. Thanks for reading this piece and your honest opinion.

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  4. gc1963 says:

    Vimla Ma’am, I feel so discourteous calling you by your first name. You are a great source of inspiration for me. You have taught me that the autumn of life can also be resplendent with hope and optimism. Your encouragement keeps me going. With heartfelt thanks.

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  5. “Perhaps education makes us more skeptical. As the rickshaw halted in front of my flat, I tried searching a gleam of the crazed mind in the eyes of the knowledge seeker, the superciliousness of a braggart in his smile. To my utter relief I found none”

    Reading this, I could only visualise the rickshaw puller’s guilelessness. It is so difficult to find guileless people these days.

    Etymology is a huge huge subject, and one can only TRACE the origin – and not the originator, I think. The origin of Hindi letters, I am not sure – Have they come from sanskrit?
    But there are quite a few scholars in the Tamil language – Prof.Nannan, for one. And there are some books on the origin of Tamil language. But all these are in book form – not YET on the net. However, you can see the following link :-
    http://www.thanini.blogspot.com/ for some information of linguistics by Shri Gopalakrishnan – I am sure you will find very helpful hints on your quest.

    An afterthought – it is only in North India that Rickshaws are still available. Many south indian states have either banned them, or there are no takers to either take or pull a ricki. 🙂

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  6. Sonal Shree says:

    Very strange but at the same time, the spirit of quest is quite motivating. But I feel one should never take any pledge that endangers him/her. God forbid yet I cannot help thinking what if he tramples upon a snake. In case anything happens to the man, who will live to complete the book! Strange are the ways of some.

    I can just wish him best of luck.

    You are indeed blessed with a terrific command over language. I wish you best of luck and hope to get an autographed copy of a book authored by you soon.

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  7. gc1963 says:

    Omji, elated to find you here. As civilization progresses human heart becomes weak. Vices like suspicion, apprehension, doubt and the likes make us insecure and we falter in our trust in our fellow human beings. Thanks for all the information. I will definitely look up the blog link given by you. As I write this I remember how the rickshawwallah raised his fingers and wrote the Hindi alphabets in air “ka, kha , ga” and asked me innocently ,” I wonder who thought of writing “ka” like this ?” I was absolutely dumbstruck and at the same time touched in an odd way which brought a lump to my throat. Perhaps I was a little brusque in giving him money so that he would go away and would not ask me further questions as I realized my incompetence at that point of time. Even I, the so called educated urbanite, did not know the answer to his question. It is surprising that we who take pride in participating in intellectual discourses never think of taking time out to find answers to such basic query.

    We have cycle driven rickshaws in the capital. In certain areas they are not allowed to ply. But the hand pulled ones are still available in Kolkata. It is a mental and emotional torture riding them – almost medieval being literally and forcibly “carried” by emaciated frames perspiring profusely in the muggy heat of tropical afternoons.

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    • Your description of how exactly the man asked you the origin of Kha and your reflections on the same only reminds me of the
      anecdote told by Sri Sri Ramakrishna, about the vedic scholar who took a boat across the ganges and asked the boatman whether he knew the 1st veda – on getting a no for an answer, he said, “quarter of your life is wasted” – he then asked the boatman whether he knew the second veda, and when he got another no for an answer, he said, “Then half of your life is gone! – and again he asked whether the boatman knew the third veda, and when he again got a no, said, “then three fourths of a your life is gone” – Just then the boatman asked the vedic scholar whether he knew swimming and getting a no for an answer, said, “then your whole life is gone, for the boat is sinking because of a leak” and then jumped off the boat and the vedic scholar was drowned, etc – In that context, Geetaji, there are a NUMBER of vedic scholars in today’s world, smugly beleiving that whatever the internet churns out is as truthful as the vedas – little knowing that there are numerous boatmen available – who know much better at swimming the cross currents of life!

      But in today’s world, one has to be a bit cautious of the boatmen too!

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  8. gc1963 says:

    Dear Sonal, the biting cold of that evening was worse than snake bite. But I believe one chooses the extreme driven by passion. His insatiable thirst for knowledge drove him to take up a difficult and painful resolution like that. Can you imagine how single minded he must be to the point of being obsessed I should say.

    Thank you very much! You all make my day with your beautifully worded comments which motivate me to no end. I do not know whether I’d ever be able to author a book but I have penned my gratitude on FB towards friends like you who do not even know me personally but still go out of the way to help me in every possible way from finding quillpad to initiating a bangla blog. I send a kiss in the air for you!! God Bless You with all the happiness there is in this world.

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  9. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Yes, I suppose what you say is absolutely correct. I will keep that in mind too before getting carried away, sentimental fool that I am.

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  10. Dear Geeta,

    You should consider yourself fortunate for being able to go through such rare experiences when you encounter the unbelievable – a rickshaw puller asking such a query for writing a book. Gosh! my book is yet to come out!

    Humour apart, it was nice to read your write-up filled with realization which we educated people so much need in todays’ world.

    Shail

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  11. gc1963 says:

    Dear Shail,

    This experience has taught me to dream big. I am in the same boat as you are. But faith is the secret of achievement. One day we shall rise above our constraints and spread sun shine through our words. What say you?

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  12. Deeptangshu Das says:

    As usual, I loved this one as well… Very thought provoking……

    The best aspect of your prose writing is the wonderful alliteration
    and the musical use of words…. You capture minute details, as if one is ‘reading’ a ‘painting’….

    Like

  13. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Thanks Deeptangshu once again!

    Like

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