The deafening Thunder was THOSE old men laughing!!!

An early morning, rushed packing for a 12 hour journey in a rickety old hawking bus which at every hole and bump in the road seemed like it would dismantle in just as many places as the number of screws and bolts holstered in its peeling red cream body, take a last deep breath and finally retire…through the smoke coughing city to the small towns with red roofs and chicken on the streets to the beautiful lanes colored black by the shadows of the gateway-forming weeping willows on both sides to finally, their destination…Happily standing brightly colored huts….red, yellow, green, blue….like all the colors stand there solid, individual but united with beaming faces, in the backdrop of the shore of the ocean having secret conversations with the rocks…It was a long day…All six of them were in high spirits…After all it was the beginning of a short unplanned vacation, away from their work and family and all the craziness of Bombay, in a motel on the shore of a beautiful beach…Lazing around, belly up… pretending to be dead on their respective hammocks to the sound of the ocean thrashing at the rocks 5 feet away from them, was all the music that one could need to collect fragments of sanity and attempt to make it whole…The sight of the blinking sky and still night were perfect partners to the music of the water…
The morning matched in its beauty with the night…at the crack of dawn, the colors of fire came out of their shell and flowed in all directions, covering the sky and melting slowly in the blue of the water…the reds, oranges, yellows, blues, greens and whites dancing around forming shades and shapes, mimicking each other, blending, integrating, separating again…to stand at length and watch them amuse themselves like that was as refreshing as the only urban counter part of a litter of puppies playfully tearing at each other and rolling over and biting one another oblivious to everything around as you stand at the red light between bellowing horns waiting to get to the next red light on a busy Monday morning…

Silhouette of men in wrap around bottoms and strong torsos in their rocky wooden boats spreading out their fishnets over the broad of the ocean slowly sinking, cutting its way through the water forming small perfectly geometrical square-ish shapes on the surface…The way they throw the net in the sky covering the sun for just one-third of a blink of the eye was the perfect component to complete the picture of the morning on a coast…

They get dressed and walk the busy streets bustling with local turbaned men at small, dainty clustered chai shops, bhel stalls, pani-puri stands and hay-shed restaurants with fish, prawns, fish, crabs, wait! Did I mention fish…small families with kids running around and getting lost in the crowd and parents running around in search of them, how many of them find their own and how many end up with someone else’s litter is anyone’s guess!…The sight of the blood-red crabs, shiny fish-skins, the circling firkis boastingly overflowing with bright colors giving you an insight into the direction it would be easier to walk in…tiny roads, scooters and cars honking in a battle to establish that the road is made for them and not pedestrians…it is amazing how the same things in a big city can suck out all your energy but here, it was different…it could all be put in the background…

“I cannot eat meat or fish…may we please look for something that I won’t feel like is moving around in my belly” is what started this journey into the busy streets looking for a food joint…After half an hour of walking from one corner of the town to the other and actually measuring the size of this coastal settlement in footfalls, they found a joint which said ‘Idli, Dosa, and Poha available here’…

“Oh! Heyy, there! I bet we will find something for you there”

She walked in with one more of them and walked out as fast as her rumbling stomach had driven her in!

“Wassup?”

“Ummm let’s find another place, or I could just stay hungry for three days, it doesn’t matter”

“What happened though? Did they not have any thing vegetarian?”

“I just don’t want to eat here is all” she said with a grimaced face twitching in all directions.

The rest of them peeped in to see what the issue could be. Was it not clean enough, the food not hot enough, the veggies not washed enough? Nope. The place didn’t seem to have any of these issues. Anywho, they began the circling walk from one end of the street to another, yet again, like a new place would magically appear this time around.

One of them couldn’t contain himself and asked what the problem with that place was to the other friend who went in with her. She hesitantly told him, “The cook was wearing a white kurta and a taquiya!” None of the other friends heard her hushed statement. But there was a loud thunder in the skies just then…

They all stuffed their tummies with fish, crab, kokam and whatever else they could find and walked out with pot bellies, all set for a full day of making love to the water and sand…She sat in a corner not even looking at them…

The days dedicated to sand graves and digging waters and the nights to the alcohol, campfire, sounds of the ocean and random laughter, three days flew by them and it was time to go back to their pseudo lives…Once again they woke up early, did the hasty packing and rushed to the rickety bus still huffing and puffing but alive, waiting for them…They sat in and realized they had forgotten to carry water in all their haste…And as the GODS would have it, She was the first to get uncontrollably thirsty…All of them were sitting apart in this dark, depressingly clustered bus so she went around the bus asking them for water…A kind lady looked at her with a warm smile, “ Here, love! Have some of mine, you seem really thirsty”.

“NO! I do not want this” she said and turned around with the same twitching face and disgust in her eyes…And the skies rumbled and roared once again…the woman was travelling with her 5-something daughter and wearing a burkha…

Waiting for their ferry to take them across the ocean back into Bombay, the six of them sat around in a circle in an attempt to calculate their expenses for the weekend…As they sat there doing the math, waiting for the boat to get to shore, She self-righteously declared,” Our holy books say, if I pay for your sins of eating fish, it is as good as me gifting them to you and I become an equal sinner”. She said this with all sincerity and belief! This time the roar was as loud as an echo in the depths of a massive and empty rock cave…they stared at her blankly and went about their business…

With her head held high in the arrogance of being the most scholarly in the matters of the world that was so far hidden in the clouds, it had started to get dubious about its own existence, she strutted on the banks, all this while the thunder growing louder and snout-ier…

They reached Gateway of India and were walking the handsome streets of Bombay at night…

Just then a beautiful 5 year old beggar girl with a heart-warming smile and tattered rags for clothes happened to be walking the same lane…They couldn’t just walk past her, they went to her and sat her down…started talking to her…one of them went up to a nearby stall and brought her some food…She sat with them and told them stories of the street and tales of the day…even introduced them to her sickly stray dog…she called him ‘Chikoo’ she said because they became friends over a chikoo…They had to ask her to shut up so she could open the box and eat her food…She opened the packet, looked inside and said,” this is too much, I cannot eat this, I have a small stomach…why don’t you take half of it back”. When they said they couldn’t do that, she neatly folded a piece of paper kept on her side of the street, emptied half of the food and kept it on that and neatly arranged the other half in a box, ran up to an old uncle with a stick and handed it to him…”I am sure he’s hungry”, she said…she sat back down and made chikoo sit next to her…They sat next to her till she and Chikoo finished their dinner…

“Where do you sleep at night”, She asked her.

“That green white building there, Didi”, said the child without looking up.

This time the skies didn’t make a sound. The child was pointing to the Dargah…

She walked off into the night, sat in a cab, got home and slept…

She was a teacher… !!!

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