Monday, February 15, 2010

A Call to the Edge

“I think this is a conspiracy at work,” whispered the man in the seat next to me on the bus.
Startled I turned to understand what he was saying.
He repeated, “It is a conspiracy!”
“What conspiracy? I am not sure I understand what you are saying,” I said looking at him.
“These floods. The sea has entered the city somehow!” he said.                
“It is these heavy rains,” I said wondering if he had had too much to drink.
“No it is not just that” he continued. “How long have you been in Mumbai? It always rains heavily on and off. But have you seen anything like this?” he asked.
“Yes, you are right – as a matter of fact I have not seen anything like this. But I understand it has been one of the heaviest rains ever” I said.
“Pah!” he continued. “Look at the water below – it is flowing like a river in spate on the main roads, highways, everywhere! I can understand vertical accumulation of water but see what is happening. I am telling you it is the sea!”
At this point I had to admit that I was challenged. This man was right – I had never seen rivers of water gushing around the city even in the heaviest of rains. In fact, I had never seen anything even remotely like this. And yet, the conspiracy theory was ridiculous. I was thinking of a logical response, when there was a sudden scream.

Everyone turned in the direction of the scream. A lady pointed to the water and asked, “Is that someone in the water?” Most people turned pale, staring at the water and unsure on what to do. The crowd inched forward hesitantly. There was a burst of lightning and as the light fell on the water, it was clear it was a bag floating in the water. There was a sigh of relief and a nervous laugh, all around.

At this time, evidently irritated by my lack of support for his conspiracy theory, the man seated next to me, rose from his seat and sat down in the seat in front of me. He sat next to another gentleman engaging him in conversation immediately about his conspiracy theory. The other man listened to him intently and then retorted assertively “You are wrong! We are being punished! In fact a local astrologer has forecast this – do you know that”? They continued to argue their respective positions for some time –

“An entire city would not be punished for the deeds of a few!”
“We have ignored the laws of nature for too long and this was bound to happen!”
“I have heard from a few good sources – this is indeed a conspiracy. We have to find out how the sea was let into the city and push it back if we can!”
“The astrologer who has forecast this says it is a warning to mend our ways. He has mentioned 26/07 explicitly!”

Finally after some more argument, a stalemate ensued – both sticking to their positions, and having little more to say.

After a while, a group of fireman entered the bus. The leader of the group made an announcement “As you can see, the rains are continuing. We are monitoring the water level around this area and as of now there is no cause for concern on this bus. It is safest for you people to stay on the bus rather than moving around. We will be around this area and you have nothing to fear. We have also tried to make some arrangements with local residents who have been most eager to help. At the moment we can accommodate around 15 people in the building adjacent, till tomorrow morning. First preference would be given to women and children. Those who wish to avail this can follow us”. Around 5 people stood up ready to follow the firemen out of the bus.

“No reason to panic” the fireman continued. “Sing some songs, maybe”!

Everyone laughed nervously. The firemen then left with the group of women and children who had chosen to stay at the adjacent building.

The rain was showing no sign of abating and the water was now lapping the footboard of the bus. Though advised to the contrary, it was clearly preying on everybody’s mind on what would happen if it continued raining. There were already rumors of several people dying in the floods in the city. However, the professional approach of the firemen had no doubt soothed many nerves, and the tense atmosphere, which had prevailed till then, did lighten.

An old man entered the bus. He was wet and shivering. He stood next to my seat and asked, “Is it Ok if I sit down next to you?”

“Sure, please do” I said wondering why he should ask. It was probably because he was drenched.

He sat down, clearly nervous. He continued to fidget, at times rubbing his eyes, and at other times looking around quickly. I had worries of my own, my phone being non-operational and unable to contact family. I prayed that no one else in my family had left home on this day. However, seeing his continued unease, I asked him what his problem was.

“My granddaughter is out at school. I was going to fetch her. But I cannot make it past this point. She must be so worried” he said.
“I am sure she is fine” I said to reassure him “Under the circumstances it is best she stays at the school. I am sure the school authorities will not let the students out anywhere in this rain”
“Yes, I guess so” he sighed “How about you? Have you called home?”
“Well, I haven’t been able to call home. Phone not working” I said
“Here, take mine and call,” he offered kindly. “Mine is one of the few in the city which works I understand!”
“Thanks a lot!” I said and called home with his phone. My father was out in the rains. All others including mother, wife and kid were at home. I thanked him once again when I was done.

He gazed out after a while and his eyes opened wide with concern. I followed his line of sight. Perched on top of a ledge precariously around 25 feet away was a dog. Clearly frightened, it was yelping in fright knowing it was very close to being dragged into the water.

“We must do something”, the old man exclaimed loudly. A few more heads turned towards him.
“Are you mad?” one man asked. “The dog is far away. We have had human beings dying and here you are wanting us to risk our lives for saving a dog”
“No, no, no, no, no!” the old man replied. Suddenly he said with tears in his eyes “Oh God! You don’t understand! It is a test!”

He suddenly leapt from his seat and ran out of the bus, wading through water, which was now waist high. Alarmed, me and 3 other people followed him quickly. It was dark and walking along water rushing downstream was a frightening prospect. We reached the dog in a few minutes. One man lifted the dog and we asked the watchman of a building close by if we could leave the dog inside the building and he agreed. We walked alongside the old man slowly. No one spoke till we returned to the bus.

The old man spoke up, his eyes moist “I am sorry. I never meant to inconvenience all of you.”

“No” we replied together “You were right to do what you did”.

As I sat down on the seat again, I reflected that the old man was right – it was a test, and if wasn’t for him so many people including me would have failed. I wondered how many times a day we are tested?

I turned to the old man and said smiling “You must message me once you meet your granddaughter tomorrow”.

“And you when you meet your father” he said promptly.

The next morning I received a message and sent one back.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Focal Point

“He specifically asked for the three of you to be here” said Tarun’s wife Payal looking very disturbed.

“What is wrong, Is he very ill?” I asked her concerned. I had just entered the hospital with Rishi and Meera. The four of us worked together at Medusa publishing and came over to Khanna hospital after a call from Payal. She met us outside Tarun’s hospital room. It was a Friday afternoon.

Payal replied, “Actually, as per the doctors he has recovered from his knee dislocation, and in fact he is due to be discharged this evening. At around 2 am he woke me up, and seemed distraught. He was not very coherent and told me it was a bad dream and went back to sleep. He woke up again at around 4:30 am and said – I saw her face, and she said - Focal Point. He was very agitated and mumbled – What can be the message? He next asked me to call the three of you. We did not go back to sleep after that”

Focal Point? What can that mean?” Meera said “Did he say anything further after that?”

“I did ask him about it” said Payal. “He was quite calm after he was awake. He said that he had seen a dream in which the three of you also figured, and it was probably related to an incident from long back”.

“Let’s meet him….” Rishi said. And gesturing to Payal, he said “Tarun was always a funny guy. So don’t worry. Let us find out what this is all about!”

I wondered what incident Tarun could be referring to but could not come up with anything to explain this. Tarun was awake and reading a book. On seeing us, he smiled feebly. As he kept the book down, I noticed it was “Crime & Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was ironic since looking at Tarun’s face; one would think he was enacting the role of the central character Raskolnikov from “Crime and Punishment”. His face was creased with worry and he was very restless. Only there was no crime!

“What’s up” said Meera and in an effort to lighten the mood said cheerily “Have you seen a ghost or something?”

“I have seen ghosts myself a few times” quipped Rishi immediately, and continued, “It has no such effect. In fact seeing ghosts used to cheer me up! Hey, Tarun. What’s up, man?”

Tarun said, “I have to tell you something. Maybe it is nothing, but it is difficult to explain”. He now looked pensive and continued “Before I tell you about my dream, I want you to recall that rainy night around 7 years back when the four of us saw that young lady”

“Oh, that!” Rishi guffawed with laughter “You mean the 11th time you fell in love and danced in the rain! I forget the name of the girl though”. Rishi turned to Payal still laughing “I didn’t realize he has actually told you all this! Our friend Tarun was a big big big ladies’ man! The envy of the rest of the gang!”

Tarun looked at Rishi, his mouth open. “No Rishi, look…” he started.

At the start of this wild tale, I was a little concerned that Payal might actually believe Rishi’s wisecracks. But there was little chance now, as describing Tarun as a ladies’ man made the tale too far fetched to be taken for fact.

Meera looked at Rishi and said smiling, “Come on, let Tarun finish. We can then tell Payal all about his escapades!”

Tarun looked relieved and said “I am talking about the time we had gone to Ooty on a business trip 7 years and lost our way in the rain. Do you remember?”

I now understood the incident he was referring to, and tried to mentally piece together all the events of that day. We were returning after meeting a business contact when we wandered off in search of our guesthouse after alighting from the bus. We walked here and there till we were totally lost among a vast stretch of trees with not a soul in sight. It also started raining steadily after a while. We noticed a cottage in the distance and walked over. The door was slightly ajar and swung open as we knocked on it. Our sight fell on a young lady sitting on the floor with her eyes closed. It looked like she was deep in meditation. So as not to disturb her, we stood without speaking. It was another 20 minutes, before she opened her eyes.

She stood up and gestured to us to come in. “Please sit” she said, “I am Chitra. Please relax for a few minutes, I will then tell you how you can get to your place”.

“How do you know we are lost?” asked Tarun startled.

“Well, people get lost here all the time” said Chitra dismissively.

“We were watching you for a while” Meera confessed. “You were deep in meditation. Do you do it regularly?” she asked.

“Well, yes. I meditate everyday. I find peace with it, and I learn so many new things everyday”

“Interesting” I said. “Though, I am not entirely sure what you mean by learning new things everyday?”

“I discover new things about myself and others everyday. The fact that we are manifestations of one source offers such exciting possibilities for understanding, communication and collaboration.” Chitra said.

“Good God!” exclaimed Rishi “One would think this is a gathering of 80 year olds chatting”
Meera glared at Rishi. She spoke “What you are saying is interesting. We read this all the time but it is nice to see you actually practice it”

“I definitely want to share my experiences with many others at some point of time in the future” Chitra said.
Rishi spoke up again “And, do you do anything else besides this?”

“Oh, I am in final year Masters of Arts” Chitra laughed. “My parents are away to meet some relatives and will be back soon”

“Let me make you some tea” she said. Meera joined her and they returned after a few minutes with cups of tea. The tea was good.

After exchanging some pleasantries, I indicated we had to make a move. We got directions to our guesthouse and left her cottage.
“How did she trust us and let us in without any suspicion. We could very well have been burglars!” Tarun said.

“That is true,” said Meera “She was so sure of what she was doing”

“Well – the presence of a dashing young man like me obviously reassured her,” said Rishi immediately.

As I reconstructed the above episode, I sat scratching my head wondering how this could be related to Tarun’s dream. Meera was thoughtful as well. Rishi was pretending to chase a fly, but it was clear he was curious too.

“Please go on” said Rishi to Tarun, “All of us recall that incident”.

“I had this dream in the middle of the night” began Tarun. “It is difficult to describe but it was as if there was a blue light which was slowly dispersing, expanding and I saw what looked like spinning balls. I then saw the face of the young lady – Chitra, whom we saw so many years back. I heard her say: The essence of my experiences, Focal Point. At this point I woke up – it was around 12:30 am in the night. I tried to shut my eyes and sleep again. I think I must have dozed off in a few minutes. The same sequence occurred again and I woke up. This time I tried to tell Payal what I had seen but it was difficult. Remarkably, I saw the same dream a third time after falling asleep again. This time I heard the young lady Chitra add softly – Focal Point, Please do your part. I woke up then with Payal, and could not sleep after that”.

All of us sat thoughtfully as we heard Tarun’s narrative. He continued, “I thought I should call you. I am not sure what to make of this. Maybe it is nothing….”

Meera said, “The way we remember things can be strange. I myself have recalled some episodes after years. Chitra did mention sharing her experiences, so that fits with a simple memory recall. I suppose the rest is the brain putting together a dream. Of course, the phrase Focal Point is curious”.

“When you were describing the vision, it immediately struck me as being a description of the big bang leading to the creation of the universe” I said thoughtfully.

“The most striking thing in the whole dream is at the point where you say she mentions - Please do your part. What can that mean, if anything” said Rishi, looking serious for a change.

“Don’t tell me you believe in mystic experiences, Mr Old Man”, I chided Rishi.

“I believe there may actually be a message here”, said Rishi looking serious.

“But we don’t understand what it can mean” Meera exclaimed. “What can Focal Point mean? Also what part do we play?”

“The vision Tarun describes can probably be labeled as Focal Point, as everything seems to start from and dissolve to a point. What can all this mean to us though?” I said.

“Maybe, it is a call to us to watch out. I think events may just play themselves out….” said Rishi. This was a new side to Rishi we were all seeing.

I stood up and walked towards the window. I took a heavy breath and found that Payal had walked up besides me. She spoke softly ““Do you think we can ask the doctor about this?”

“Yes, why not?” I said. “Let us do it now”.

The two of us went in search of Dr Sharma. He was sitting in his room, and thankfully was alone. We narrated in brief about Tarun having a dream, which was connected to an event 7 years back. He listened carefully and then said, “During the operation and after, Tarun had to be given painkillers and sedatives. This one particularly….” he waved a wad of tablets at us and continued “is known to trigger and bring to the surface some long term memories”

“But what Tarun saw has parts which are not memories but some new events” I said.

“I understand” Dr Sharma replied, and continued, “It is quite usual during dreams for the brain to introduce unreal events, with actual episodes – which may be either in the recent past or the distant past. This is the result of various experiences and desires. This is quite complex but has been reasonably explained by medical science”

“So you think there is nothing to worry about?” asked Payal.

“Of course, not!” laughed Dr Sharma. “Tarun is a healthy man. He can now go home. There is absolutely nothing to worry”

We returned to the room relieved. “Mystery solved!” I declared to Tarun, Meera & Rishi and then repeated the conversation we had with Dr Sharma.

“Oh, Ok” said Tarun sighing.

“It is back to work from Monday, man!” I said smiling. If you had hoped to take a few more days off – forget it!”
I noticed Rishi still looked thoughtful as we left, and was unusually quiet.

“Hey, Good morning!” Shiv, my boss at Medusa Publications, greeted me on Monday morning at my desk. There is this book you need to review and send in your recommendation if we can publish. I read it briefly and have called the writer over since I found it to be very unusual, and wanted to discuss this in person before we make a decision. I need to go out for a meeting urgently though – so please do it. You can also ask Tarun to join in if you want. The writer is waiting at the reception”.

“Here is the draft”, he said handing me a sheaf of papers and walked away.

I stared at the title, gasped and then reached for the phone. Tarun, Meera and Rishi came to my room. I showed the title to them - “Focal Point” and the sub text below, read “Experiences with the universal consciousness”. Only Rishi seemed unmoved - he had obviously anticipated Tarun’s dream to have some relevance.

A few minutes after I had called the reception, Chitra walked in.
She looked at us, smiled and took a seat. She looked up at us and asked, “Have we met before?”

“You know we have! We will do our part!” I said smiling and continued, “We discussed your book – Focal Point and will recommend for it to be published. We request you to allow us to write a foreword….”