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(1)While reaching Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport Terminal No 3 to catch Pune flight, Abhijeet is stressed. He never has the right idea of when to start for airport; because he never understands how much time it will take for him to reach. After the formality of Security Check, when he enters the lounge, the flight delay announcement welcomes him!
However, Abhijeet has no option but to wait. He has a cup of coffee, finds an easy chair and with stretched legs opens the book gifted by Paromita. He is stunned by the line which is carefully marked by Paromita. It says, “Surely, this comes of wandering and ‘t is the curse of inquiring spirit!” It is definitely Paromita’s work; she has penciled two words, “attention here” – it is clearly her handwriting.
Abhijeet glances at the cover. The book is ‘Shaving of Shagpat’. The author is George Meredith. Abhijeet feels irritated and angry. But he also is surprised. Why has Paromita given him this particular book? Why she underlined these words? He browses the book for more such marks, but there are none. Is she accusing him of wandering? Or is she referring to her wandering? Does she expect stability in their relationship? What exactly does she mean? He is not sure.
Abhijeet closes the book and thinks about George Meredith’s statement.
By no means can Abhijeet be labeled as a wanderer – yes, he moves a lot, but that is with purpose, which is part of his job. Right from childhood, Abhijeet has always set himself clear goals to achieve. While entering from Primary to Secondary school, he aimed at getting admission to a school known for admitting only limited students with very high IQ; he had that. During the transition from school to college, he aimed to opt for Science stream (which meant a good score in the board examinations) and he did that. The next goal was to study in Indian Institute of Technology followed by Indian Institute of Management – which he did with flying colors. The luxury of the high profile job (with one of the World Mining Giant) he enjoys today is a cumulative effort of all the hard work he had put to achieve those goals.
However, Abhijeet always has been attracted towards wandering. The term ‘Wandering Monk’ to describe Swami Vivekananda’s travel caught his attention first when he was in school. A youth called Narendra Datta transformed into ‘Warrior Monk’ through the Wandering throughout the country was a miracle. Then he also has read about the Prince Gautama wandering and attaining ‘Bodhi’ – thus becoming ‘Buddha’. And who can forget that young monk traveling length and breadth of the country not once but four times and becoming one of the greatest teachers for humanity - Shankaracharya! All the three people walked, they did not have luxury travel, but they had glimpses of life, which one cannot have in the airline travel. And the Africa returned Barrister Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi traveling through the country by railway and becoming Father of the Nation!
In all these cases, the transformation seems to have come through wandering, through hardships, through interaction, through realization, through giving up comforts of life. All these people seem to have attained peace through wandering! They not only achieved peace, but achieved a purpose of life, they motivated others, and they in the process became ‘icon’ for millions! Then why is Meredith objecting to wandering? – Abhijeet thinks. “You are wrong, Mr. Meredith. The inquiring spirit always leads to peace and happiness. Only thing is you don’t know that.” Abhijeet says to himself.
Abhijeet of course knows that the wandering does not necessarily have to be physical. He has read enough of ancient Indian literature to understand the subtlety of wandering, the subtlety of journey. He remembers Nachiketa’s travel to the abode of Lord of Death (Kathopanishad). Abhijeet recalls Savitree’s travel with the Lord of Death. There is an interesting narration of Bhrigu, the son of Varuna making a wonderful journey to understand BRAHMAN. Bhrigu did not wander outwardly; he sat at one place but what an inward journey he made. The story interestingly says that when Bhrigu realizes that Bliss is Brahman, he does not come back to his Father. (Taittiriya Upnishad). Kenopanishad starts with the question ‘by whom’ (केन) and it describes journey of different Gods in the pursuit of Realization. None of these journeys are physical; mostly they are at a very subtle level. All these journeys end in peace, happiness, satisfaction, purpose.
(2)Abhijeet comes out of his trance due to sudden mobile ring. For a moment he wishes that let it be Paromita. But it is Vinay.
“Bad news Abhi”, Vinay’s tone is very sad.
“What is it Vinay? Are you ok? Any problem?” dozens of questions flash through Abhijeet’s mind.
“Kale Sir passed away today morning. He was in the hospital for a week. He was wounded in one of the tribal protest marches. Couple of days ago, he was remembering you. He was talking about some promise you had given to him. I tried to call, but you must be traveling, I realized.” Vinay explains.
Abhijeet does not know what to react on this.
“What was that promise about?” – Vinay breaks the silence by asking awkwardly.
“Oh! Nothing of any consequence to Kale Sir anymore,” Abhijeet tries to cool down Vinay.
“You know Abhi, you killed Kale Sir,” Vinay’s accusation stings Abhijeet. His heart burns.
“But Vinay…” he tries to explain.
“You and your bloody Mining Company! We will not forgive you Abhi, we never will ….” Vinay disconnects abruptly.
Abhijeet blankly looks at the cell phone. For a moment he thinks of calling Mr. Bhattacharya – the Maharashtra Company in-charge. But only in the meeting last week, the Maharashtra team has presented ‘All clear, everything under control’ picture. Abhijeet sighs. His sudden interest in Mr. Kale the activist would raise eyebrows of the Management. He does not want any more accusing calls. He switches off the mobile.
(3)Abhijeet feels like crying. He feels helpless, he feels lonely. Kale Sir was not very old, might be around 60. He was physically and mentally active. He was mentor to so many youngsters like Abhijeet and he was friend of tribal communities too. Abhijeet realizes that now when he reaches Pune, there would be no Kale Sir to meet, no more appreciation, no more advice, no more ideological discussion. He remembers Kale Sir’s politeness, his love, his concerns, the price he had paid for his values.
And yes, the promise! Abhijeet feels guilty when he remembers that discussion with Kale Sir. When did it happen? About five years ago. And Abhijeet has not met Kale Sir after that discussion. No doubt he is always busy, but for the first time Abhijeet realizes that he had purposely avoided Kale Sir for the last five years. He has hardly been in contact with his friend circle associated with Kale Sir. They invited Abhijeet for number of meetings and events, but Abhijeet never was free.
Abhijeet still remembers that Sunday. He was in the clouds after receiving the offer letter from the Mining Giant. He touched feet of Kale Sir and in a beaming voice told him, “Sir, Mission Accomplished.” Kale Sir smiled. However, when he heard the name of the Mining Company, his happiness vanished. He slowly walked back, sat in chair. In a moment he looked very weak, shattered to the core. Abhijeet wondered about the sudden change.
“Abhijeet you are intelligent. Now you are grown up, no more a boy, so you don’t need my advice,” Abhijeet was terrified with this statement of Kale Sir. Why was he not happy? If Kale Sir is not appreciating, does it mean that the choice was fundamentally wrong?
“No Sir, I always look forward to your advice. Is it wrong to accept this offer? But it has so much potential. Do you have some other ideas for me?” Abhijeet was again a 10 year old boy mesmerized by the goodness and wisdom and love Kale Sir showed to all his students.
Kale Sir slowly walked to his desk. He pulled a file from the drawers. He handed the file to Abhijeet. There were number of newspaper cuttings in the file. Abhijeet’s eyes moved from page to page. It was a disgusting news – news covering how poor people were forced into some action they did not want to participate, how the poor were exploited, how the police force and government machinery was ruthless to the tribal population. Abhijeet’s palms were sweating, his eyes became misty, and he could not read further. He looked at the offer letter in his hand – the same Company name appeared hundreds of times on those pages – as the ruthless Mining Company against poor! He looked helplessly at Kale Sir.
Kale Sir was thoughtful. He knew he could influence Abhijeet’s decision. However, he always had a belief in self –decision; he never liked to force people. Kale Sir knew by experience that a person taking decisions by his/her conscious choice is much more determined and inspired- than working under some kind of force, even moral force! Kale Sir also thought that a sensitive person like Abhijeet might be able to influence the policies of the Company – not to a great extent though Abhijeet was highly intelligent and had the tag of IIT and IIM – but even small changes would lead to big changes.
Kale Sir smiled. He came near Abhijeet, patted him on the back. He said, “Abhi, this is one of your life chance, so, I won’t ask you to give up, not before trying, not before exploring,” – Abhijeet heaved a sigh of relief when the meaning of the sentence reached him.
“However “Kale Sir continued, “I want a promise from you.”
“What is it Sir?” Abhijeet politely asked. If Kale Sir wants some donation for the organization he is involved in – he could manage that.
“Abhi, take your time. Try to establish yourself and I am sure you will do a good job. But after a certain time if you are convinced that the Company is working against the Poor – would you cease to be on the side of those who exploit? Would you walk off the comforts? Can you give me this promise?”
“Certainly Sir, It is my promise. I think one year is enough time to understand. I will come back to you after one year Sir,” Abhijeet promised.
Kale Sir smiled again. He added, “Abhi, realization has no timeframe – it happens in a moment. Be open to that moment of realization. Don’t shut down yourself because you have decided to take a specific path. There are always other roads and other journeys that one can choose and enjoy. Do not sell your soul to anyone - that is the promise I want from you.” Abhijeet nodded though he only partially understood what Kale Sir meant.
After a cup of tea Abhijeet walked out of that home never to return.
Abhijeet was away from the city for last 7-8 years and was not aware of the developments that had taken place around Kale Sir’s life. But he got it from Vinay, Nishant, Paromita and the gang - Kale Sir was involved in a mighty struggle with the Mining Company Abhijeet was going to work with. This made Abhijeet feel guilty for a while. But at the same time he decided that he will never discuss his relations with Kale Sir in the Company. Pune is big enough city to pretend that you don’t know someone you don’t want to know.
(4)Initially Abhijeet was caught in a dilemma – every time he was in the ‘big’ meetings, the newspaper cuttings flashed in front of his eyes. But the Company always had 'other' stories. The CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) head took the new recruits under his wing. They were showed the mobile health unit, the Anganwadi food program, the support for income generation activities by Self Help Groups of women, the training for the youth ….
Abhijeet was overwhelmed by the amount of good activities the Company was doing. The Company was spending billions of rupees annually for the affected areas. He noted that once he should invite Kale Sir and show him all that good work of Company. And there was a bigger question too – that of development. This country needs industrial development, it will make us self-reliant, it will boost economy, and it will create so many new jobs. Environment concerns? Never mind, we will plant millions of trees, we take all precautionary measures. Agricultural land? It was rain fed and the land was not very fertile. The Tribal, whose land is acquired in the area are being paid loads of money and they can live happily hereafter. And anyways, the tribal also do not want to stay in the forest, don’t they need better amenities? The argument was right too.
Slowly the routine overtook. The targets, the deadlines, the media campaign, the meetings with various government machineries, the work with local NGOs, briefing journalists… so much needed to be done. Company provided all the facilities – you name it and it was there. The Company campus was much more luxurious and comfortable than home! Abhijeet joined the game fully. He enjoyed evolving strategies to counter opposition. His marketing skills were asset to the Company – Abhijeet could sell any idea with his wit, charm, politeness, flexibility, knowledge - he could easily win people to his side.
Abhijeet went on the ladder fast. Now he could not return back to Kale Sir. He has met many people like Kale Sir and he was convinced that they are fighting a lost battle. Abhijeet wanted to be on the Winning Side. If at all he leaves this Mining Giant, he will go to another bigger Company, on a better package and designation.
(5)This sudden news of Kale Sir’s death has shaken Abhijeet completely. Kale Sir was a middle class person staying in a city. What had he to do with Tribal communities? But Kale Sir had a tremendous sense of justice, human rights, equity. It was Kale Sir, with whom he had visited Tribal hamlets and understood what poverty means. It was with Kale Sir that he had understood ecological balance. It was with Kale Sir that Abhijeet learnt ill effects of Capitalism. It was with Kale Sir that he had experienced generous hospitality of the poor. It was while moving with Kalre Sir he had discovered that preliminary knowledge of Sanskrit helped him to understand many Indian languages.
What took him away from Kale Sir? When and why did he choose another path? When did their roads separate? What were his attractions? How could he forget the suffering millions ? How could he forget the oath taken on Sinhgadha to work for the society? How could he take himself away from his best friends like Vinay and Nishant? How could he find happiness in materialistic affluence? Why did not Kale Sir directly ask him ‘not to accept the job with this Company’? Why did Kale Sir not force him into the activities he was doing?
Abhijeet smiles to himself. He realizes that he is trying to put the blame on Kale Sir for no reason. It was Abhijeet’s choice and he can’t escape the price of his choice.
Abhijeet keeps on thinking. Flight is announced. Abhijeet boards. He feels alienated. What is he doing here? Does he need such a luxury in life – the cost of which is being paid by the poor? Can he still go back? Can he give up these comforts, name, fame, money? Is he ready to wander in search of a purpose? Is he ready to repay the debt of Kale Sir and of the society at large?
What about Aai –Baabaa? (Mother and Father) They would actually be happy if Abhijeet resigns from this Company. They have not been comfortable about it. Aai even once tried to convince him to give up the job. Baabaa never says anything but is hardly proud of Abhijeet’s achievement. They never use Abhijeet’s money. Till today Abhijeet never bothered about it – he labeled it as Generation Gap.
Abhijeet’s eyes again become misty. His parents, his Kale Sir, his friends.. everybody gave him the freedom to exercise his choice. He made a wrong choice, but they did not give up hope. He realizes that they all are waiting for him to come back, to explore another way of living. Abhijeet realizes that to be on the 'right side' is much more important than to be on the 'winning side'!
(6)Abhijeet needs to take Parmonita into confidence. If she wants to move away from him, he will have to accept it. It is only 5.00 in the morning. Should he call Paromita now? No, it would be better to send a text message.
Abhijeet texts her: “Going on a new journey.”
To his utter surprise, Paromita replies “I am ready.”
Abhijeet wonders, why Paromita is awake at these early hours. Then he remembers that the death of Kale Sir must have shattered Paromita too. Did she expect this message from him? At this hour? Is she expecting this particular decision from him? He has never asked any question to Paromita but has assumed certain things. But he knows that assumptions and guesses can all go wrong.
Abhijeet texts again, “Submitting resignation today. Would meet Vinay and others at about 10.00. Usual place.”
Paromita texts back, “Glad to be with you.”
Paromita again. “Welcome back Abhi. I was looking forward to this moment. Will do this journey together and am all excited about it.”
Abhijeet knows that he does not have to say Bollywood hero style “I love you” to Paromita. He does not have to ask the stereotypical question of “I want to marry you, would you?” to her. This is the journey they have already decided through their golden silence.
Abhijeet feels very light. He regrets that he should have taken the decision earlier so that Kale Sir would have been delighted. But what is done can’t be un-done. The greatest tribute one needs to pay to the dead is through action.
He comes out of the room. The reddish Sun is glowing in the east. Birds are chirping. Breeze is cool. Sky is light blue. Trees are dancing. The road is empty. It is Peace, Silence and Bliss everywhere – outside as well as inside.
A journey has to be made; howsoever difficult it may sound. One cannot reach the destination without making a journey. One cannot have the purpose achieved without making a journey. Abhijeet is all ready for this exciting journey – back to his roots.