Friday, 9 January 2009

A footnote

You said that you met him on a pleasant summer morning. And I guessed it was this meeting that had brought this radiance to your face and not the fresh mountain breeze. You had just stepped into your office, you continued, and there he was. Hard to miss in his crisp khadi kurta and dhoti, a dignified old man, you assumed quite correctly, in his eighties waiting in line. You asked your assistant to let him in before the others because I know you still defer to quaint traditions of respect and humility.

As he walked into your chamber some strange impulse made you bend down to touch his feet. And when you looked up you could almost see tears in his eyes. You apologized for making him wait, you said, even though you as always had come on time. He needed a favour and he had come to you because he knew your late father, in fact admired him, and had heard good things about you. You were embarrassed and immediately said it was no favour but just the job you had been sworn in to do. It was something for his recently widowed niece. A ration card or some such official document.

Then you called for tea and talked with him about days and people too astonishing to be believable. Of children struggling to uphold their dignity even before they learnt to write. Of nineteen year olds swifter than a leopard in a blink melting into the night. Of disguises and camouflages so realistic that you could fool your own reflection. Of networking and organizing hundreds in an era before cell phones and facebook. Of men and women holding their bodies as shields while lathis broke on their backs but somehow their spirit never died. Of a time so fantastical and a people so glorious that you thought you had surely read about them in some book.

At this point the others interrupted emphatically. You should write about him. It’s such a marvellous story and Republic Day is just around the corner. Or wait it would be more suited for Independence Day. Did you take his picture?

You kept silent and gave a rueful little smile. After a while you said the man had only one regret. He had wished a blow had felled him some sixty years back. At least then he would have died in hope. And not become a relic, something to be dusted and polished twice a year and paraded before an indifferent crowd. Or worse forgotten and left to languish. Merely a marvellous story. Not even a footnote in history.

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