It is I, a "rajpath" as they say. I had to suffer the same fate as Ahalya who was cursed into becoming the unfeeling being that she was. A snake of stone, God knows for how long I had to sleep still and simply stretch, stretch, and stretch like there is no tomorrow till I found my way through the green miles of mountainous plains, brown meadows lain against lifeless plains uniting and dividing borders at the same time. With the forbearance of a deathless dead I have been gently kissing on ashes and dust, waiting for an end of days. For what seems like an eternity I have been here, resting in a vicious cycle of morbid restlessness. Not a minute of respite I could afford to grow one strand of grass on the stony wasteland I call my home; not a minute to spare so I can grow a wee wildflower of bluish hue at one corner of my crown, nor can I speak though I see it all feelingly. Footsteps— footsteps all over my ancient bones — millions of them repeating in a cacophonic nightmare. But it is also true that I can read their heart as I trace their feet. I know who is going home, who is leaving, who is out for work, who is back from work, who is about to start for a festival or being carried to the cemetery. The ones who are happy — truly happy with their lives— are bound by affection and esteem, have a certain air to their light trots and with each step, they plant a seed of hope as if every course they choose on their way feels favored and sprouts floras of all sorts. And those unfortunate ones with no home or no hopes to live by are desperately lost for I feel the utter weariness their heavy treads seem to tell, wondering just what might be the point of living a life after all. Their hardened pace further flattens the already dried skeleton I loath to call my own.
For all that, I can never claim to hear all sides of a story. For hundreds of years have I been keenly listening to laughter and songs of so many, but it is never quite the all of it, you see! I long for the rest of what I missed but by then the storyteller is gone. I have lost count of the fragments of unheard stories that died along with my dry dust every now and then. Hold on, did you hear that? Someone just sighed in silence, "If only I could say what needed to be said!" Wait, please! I will listen, I promise! Even if they don't! But the walker doesn't look back, leaving behind the story and also me half-fed, vainly searching for clues. That one nameless man and his unheard tale keep me awake till the dawn sneaks in with another newcomer and their share of secrets.
Everything comes to an end on its own accord, but I do not see mine. Not one footprint can I hold onto for long as it is soon replaced by the next and leaves no trace whatsoever behind.
I am not a destination, however, and have never been. I am just the medium you choose as a part of your journey. I do not offer the comfort of a home one seeks, just the route you have to cross to reach your address. I am the one miserable surface of concrete you carelessly tread, never to stay; suffering an existence ever-cursed and condemned by you for an effort ironically I have to make at your convenience. The hardly audible bits and pieces of your household jokes, laughter and merry songs disappear into nothingness till they reach my cold distant cemented ears, as if I am the last one to appreciate the life that you live, let alone deserve it!
But then again, perhaps it is not a complete loss after all. It's the little children who seem to enjoy my company the most, the bringers of joy and hopefulness. They play with my dust, utter little sweet things and their light feet fluttering like butterflies all over my rigid frame suddenly seem to fill me up with a yearning for a life I never had. Ultimately, they leave, too for all do.
And I do have to admit here again that I am familiar with each and every pedestrian that walks me by and I know them for who they are. I wait for them and imagine what they might be doing at home the day they are not over here. I clearly remember those beautiful pair of sad anklets shying away from the crowd with her lips pouted and big bright eyes complaining to the evening sky as she would pace fast along my pavement. I recall her standing often beneath that big banyan which stands still at my left end. Well, there was another who used to hum to himself before making his way straight towards the crowd. He never looked at anyone, never took a break and stopped whistling only when his feet would touch the backyard. Once he had left, the girl would have done the same, ever so softly as if not to awake anyone. When she would be closer to my side, I knew it was the nighttime slowly covering the earth leaving trails of its cold wet touch upon us. Soon it would be way past the twilight and the entire place was deserted.
The evening breeze would then softly stir the evergreen blooming bamboos, gentle yet lasting. And I could feel her slight nervous steps every day and every month till there was a time when she disappeared into thin air. A beautiful Falgun afternoon it was towards the end of the month with hundreds and thousands of young and raw mango buds about to bloom and burst in the open air. She was there but not he. The girl went back home very late at that night. Just as some dry dead leaves would occasionally fall from the tree and let me know the change of seasons, I could sense her teardrops caressing my concrete chest as she left. The next day she was here again but not her companion. That night, she could not walk very far and fell into my lap of dirt surrendering to the inevitable. Who might you be, dear girl, and where are you from seeking refuge in me, the last place on earth to be at such an ungodly hour? What is it the universe is planning, placing you here with me? I wondered.
That was the night I met her for the last time.
Hundreds of stories like these have lived and died with me, and I have tried to keep track as diligently as it is possible. But of course, there are too many. They come and then they leave, never to stay.
And oh, the heat of the summer, if only you had known what I am talking about! Every time I breathe, I tend to forget that the sky is blue, blackened and soiled with my foulsome dirt. Be it the rich, the poor, the happy, the morose, the young, or the ancient, all but just drift, drift and drift away in the sandstorm made of their own feet till there is no sign of their existence left on my broad unkind stomach. Neither I smile, nor I mourn. No nostalgia for the past, no hopes for the present and no plans for the future, I have only got the newest cascade of human feet to entertain. Now who dares to claim a footfall the echo of which will survive the end of times, you ask? The sighs and whispers you so cautiously hide as you make your way on me, will they survive in the airy emptiness you are leaving behind, or will they mark the shadow of the new soon to replace the ghosts of your once told stories? Can the airy nothings survive the weight of the air itself? If you ask me, I will be the wrong one to answer, for all I know is that I am here and now, because I have to be.
The translator is Lecturer, DEH at ULAB. She is also Sub Editor, Star Literature Page.