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.