Chapter : 1
I met Dr. X under strange circumstances in a café. I was there to eat my dinner and as such, I had selected a café nearer my home in the northern suburb of the city. It was a clear, cold and moonlit night. I was palpably hungry, but I had dropped my wallet, rather misplaced it, somewhere on the way. This I discovered after having gulped down my food consisting of lemon coriander soup, American chop-suey, garlic chicken and darsan. I was sumptuously full and startled by the discovery of my empty pocket and just didn’t know what to do and how to proceed. Almost by chance, I sighted Dr. X, who was eating on my next table and looking at me half-absentmindedly. It seemed he was smiling at me, at my puzzled and bewildering actions having discovered my position as a penniless man. After a few moments, Dr. X actually looked at me intently and asked me if I wanted something. I explained to him the situation I was in. To my utter embarrassment, he asked for my bill, paid it in cash almost instantaneously along with a tip. While I was relieved from a major chaos with the restaurant manager and owner, I was at a loss: How to react to Dr. X in a situation where he had saved me from disgrace and rather helped me to restore my dignity. I went closer to him and confirmed to him that I would pay him back his dues the next day early in the morning at his residence and therefore, I asked for his contact details, which he readily gave and added, “But please don’t go away Mr. Y, I would like to talk to you.” I sat down in a chair opposite to him on his table and waited. He said looking into my eyes, “I have had my food, let’s walk and talk”.
The conversation started thus, as we walked through an abandoned half-lit backstreet along a canal.
Dr. X : Do you feel old, Mr. Y?
I : How do you know my name? By the way, what is your name?
Dr. X : I know your name through one of your friends who is a chess teacher in the Evergreen Chess Club. He is known to me from my school days. Nowadays, I meet him rarely. Once, he mentioned about you that you were his colleague for some time and showed me a group photograph of a picnic where you were there too. By the way, my name is Dr. X. I am not a doctor. I am doctorate in law, but I am not a lawyer even. Coming back to my original question: Do you feel old nowadays?
I : What a strange question? I have never thought about it really. But, can I ask you something?
Dr. X : Go on.
I : Is it in line of your profession to ask that question randomly to people?
Dr. X : Not really. I ask this question to specific people, but you are more inclined to ask me – whether I am exercising my right over you having saved you from a tricky situation.
I : Well, I cannot assure you that such a thought didn’t ring a bell at the back of my mind. But, I don’t mind having a talk with you because when I will return home, I have nothing to do excepting a few practical household chores and then, doze off to sleep. I am a lonely man. By the way, I don’t have a family.
Dr. X : Thank you for being frank with me. So, I think, we can proceed with the conversation. Please answer the question that I asked you. Do you feel old nowadays?
I : Why are you asking me this question?
Dr. X : You were a Casanova at a point in time. I had learnt from your friend – you must have been very youthful, charming and efficient in those days. But, do you feel you have changed somewhat?
I : What makes you feel that? Am I no longer youthful, charming and efficient? Do I look old?
Dr. X : Well, you do definitely look older than what I had seen in the photograph. But that’s not the point. The point is: What do you feel? Most of the times there is a great disconnect between what we look and what we feel. You must be knowing about that.
I : What else do you know about me?
Dr. X : It is not as if I know much, but I know something like your love of poetry.
I : There was a time. There was a time. There was a time.
Dr. X : Are you lamenting? Are you old? Are you finishing? Are you on the verge of extinction?
I : There is a time and place for everything, Dr. X. You should know that man loses his strength over a period of time. There is a time when he feels he has led a wasted life. He is living a life, which he didn’t want. But, he knows, he cannot return and reconstruct.
Dr. X : What did you want to be?
I : I don’t know.
Dr. X : What are you now?
I : I don’t know.
Dr. X : But, you know there is a mismatch.
I : Yes. There is a great mismatch. There is an ocean in between the two. I never stood up for myself. I became what others wanted me to be. I never worked hard for what I wanted to be. I have led a wasted life, Dr. X. Surely a wasted life!
Dr. X : Do you feel the same strength for women, as you felt earlier?
I : Surprisingly, they do not charm me any more. I am becoming more and more lifeless, Dr. X. I am aware of death most of the times.
Dr. X : You are a successful man, Mr. Y!
I : Stop calling me a successful man! I hate that farce! I can almost see death staring at my eyes.
Dr. X : You mean, you feel as if you would die soon!
I : It’s not as if I would die soon. But, I can see totems of death in my mind’s eye – my wife who died so early. I had spent fifteen years of my prime time taking care of her. She was sick in bed for too long a time, but it didn’t eat away my youth because I slept with other women during that time. I was responsible to my wife, but I enjoyed my body behind her back. I see my wife nowadays standing still looking at me from within a frost-bitten jungle. I often see the hooded-man from the Seventh Seal. I also see the expressionless face of a boy-monk staring at me from the banks of River Sindh at Ladhak as if calling me to another world.
Dr. X : You certainly do not fear death, I can assume this.
I : Well, there was a time when I feared death. I no longer do.
Dr. X : So, you are deeply aware of your mortality, Mr. Y?
I : Yes, I am.
Dr. X : So, you do feel certainly old, Mr. Y?
I : Yes, I do. I feel my time is up and I do not know what to do next.
Dr. X : By the way, this is my house. Will you care for a cup of tea?
I : I am not feeling like having one now. I will certainly meet you tomorrow morning and pay you back the amount, I owe you.
Dr. X : Do not come tomorrow morning. Please come in the evening. We can pick up the conversation from here.
I : Okay, I will.
Who is this Dr. X, by the way? How does he know about me so much? Do I look that old? He was almost sure I feel old. Do I look pent up? Do I look disinterested in life? Could he have stolen my wallet to help me later and pick up a conversation with me to give me a jolt and pass on a signal to me that I have not been able to quite fathom completely? I should have visited Dr. X’s home in the garb of finding out minuter details about him.
At one level, life seems to have stopped for me and at an another level, life seems to be endless and relentless. Would I have faced the same fate of emotions had I had children of my own? I have never been able to take care of myself very well. How would I have taken care of my children?
I frittered away my time at school, college and university. I never took my studies or my passions or my hobbies seriously and didn’t pursue anything with conviction. I was a floater and reached wherever time took me. I became good at my profession – marketing insurance products almost by default and chance because I was good with words. But at the same time, I was not serious about my job too.
One thing that I was serious about was – women. But they do not charm me any more. Life stops for a man when women do not charm him any more. Could this be because I have grown a deep hatred for women because of my sick wife? God only knows why I had to marry a chronically ill woman. I never loved her, but I exhibited my sympathies for her. I pitied her. How many times I have wanted to kill her failing at my cowardice every time! She was otherwise beautiful with a good face and big eyes, but she was a thoroughly frail woman, unaware of the tricks of love-making.
Could Dr. X be an emissary of my wife planning to avenge my sins and unfaithfulness that I committed repeatedly behind her back? I cannot believe Dr. X to be a random event in my life. He definitely seems to fall into a pattern. A pattern that I am unable to unravel.
I will definitely unravel this pattern and this will fill up my life for some more time!
.….to be continued…