Saturday, April 30, 2005

2 Across

Adnan liked going to school. He loved the chalky untidyness of the teacher's coat, the moist feel of the wooden benches in June, and the smell of crisply ironed uniforms in the dreamy monsoon air. Adnan was a boisterous young boy. His tall, strong frame and crisp ruffled hair made him seem to be a person with an athletic inclination. It was true that Adnan did well in sports, however where Adnan really excelled was on stage. The sight of thundering crowds of eager students electrified his pulse and mystified his booming voice, spreading an undercurrent of simmering enthusiasm within the already buoyant crowd. Adnan now on the cusp of manhood really wanted to win 'The Subhash Chandra Bose Public Speaking Contest' in his final year at school. Balancing his academics and his secret meetings with Reema, a 8th standard student at his school was not easy - and to fulfill his burning ambition of winning the competition Adnan really needed to work his socks off, turning every minute into a fruitful effort towards his three objectives for the year.

It was another late June day when Adnan was returning from his evening Public Speaking class. He had to rush to the nearest cafe where he could have a cuppa with Reema and then proceed towards completing his Math assignment. Pedaling furiously he was passing by the local public garden when suddenly his sandal broke. Already being 10 minutes late for his appointment he uttered a sigh of despair. Suddenly much to his surprise he saw seated at the corner a cobbler. Adnan was a regular in this area and seeing this new entry in that previously desolate corner he was absolutely overjoyed. He even sensed divine intervention to solve his already over-burgeoning problem list.

Proceeding towards this god-sent workman Adnan presented his plight in the form of a Nike broken at the side to the cobbler. For a cobbler who did not exist till the day before, he had a pretty neat setup. A PVC cover, a rubber-tyre mat on which he sat and even a small broken foot-high stool for the customers to seat themselves. Adnan handed over his now-broken piece of footwear to the discerning tradesmen and proceeded to occupy the jaded looking stool in the corner. The cobbler had sharp small eyes, a small mouth and strong experienced hands with the wrists almost blue by the excessive projection of the veins. His skin was dark and hair, crumpled and dry. Such was his appearance that if one were ever looking for an example of indistinctness, this would be it. Had it not been for the bright, blue cover that spread out above him, Adnan would never have noticed this quite unremarkable personality.

Without uttering a word the cobbler set out to complete his job. It has been days, Adnan thought, since he sat like this, unoccupied and with nothing to do. He thought about his future - near and far. He thought about Reema. Their relationship still in it's nascency, was heading in the right direction he thought. He really believed in long steady partnerships and this one was something he thought he would cherish forever. Reema is a sensible smart girl he said to himself and if I am to be someone in life I am going to need someone like her. Adnan harboured ambitions of completing his board exams and then probably applying to an American school to do his sophomore years in. He heard the silent clanging of metal to metal as the cobbler sharpened his tools. Adnan noticed a local tabloid strewn near the cobbler's apparatus. Adnan smirked as he thought how the illiterate entertained themselves looking at the half-nude pictures of international models and local struggling actresses in what he termed as 'sensationalism to the core' journalism. He was not surprised to see the page showing posters of latest movies opened and the pages containing the contests and crosswords lying seemingly neglected in another corner.

Among a sea of personal ambitions Adnan couldn't help but notice the pitiful sight the cobbler made. His trousers were frayed at the edges and his dark-checked shirt was stained in a number of places by grease and mud. Even the strong hands had small, almost invisible cuts and those frosted, white lips even in monsoons made Adnan feel as if the cobbler had a physical condition of some sort. Adnan suddenly remembered his quest for attaining the Winners medal at Elocution competition. He thought he could use this cobbler as a euphemism for the country's deep-rooted problems. He could visualise his speech being a sharp direct attack on the country's much hyped value system. He could see himself saying that this deep-rooted belief system which our ancestors say to be our strength was in fact our weakness. Considering the cobbler who had everything a man of success needs. First of all a strong physique. He seemed to be sincere and hardworking and looked to have good analytical and problem solving skills. If the country's education system was any good it would have immediately picked up this extremely qualified individual and equipped him with the necessary skills so that he could improve not only his but also the quality of life of everyone around him.

Adnan thought that people blamed the non-availability of jobs, the corruption of politicians and the lousy apathetic governments at every stage of the administration for their extremely poor circumstances. However they failed to realize it is they who have brought the said people into power and it is their state of mind that the government reflects. He thought availability of jobs was not a problem, however it was the paucity of appropriate high end skills among the applicants that failed to get them well paying jobs which would alleviate their worries. The apathy of the bourgeoisie ensured that the government at the centre was a function of the funding powers of the super-rich and the ignorant ballot of the illiterate poor. He would say that the only way to ensure the nation's progress was to ensure that the poor stop cursing their present situation. The poor had to be made to realize the importance of education, provide them with high quality education and infuse within them the idea of dreaming big to ensure self-progression. The poor had to realize that the only way out was not by voting for a different leader each time in the hope of a saviour but to realize that the nation has enough capability to produce more Mashelkars and Kalams who conquered the world from seemingly poor beginnings. Education was the saviour he would say and proclaim that unless the poor realize the importance of self-help they would never get anywhere.

Suddenly he realized the cobbler pushing his neatly repaired right sandal into his line-of-sight. Immediately emerging out of his ephemeral dream Adnan paid him the five rupees as he still tried to gauge what could have been if every such poor illiterate citizen was ably employed. However soon shoving aside these thoughts he turned to more pressing matters and tried to think of a reason to convince Reema of his late arrival.

Adnan pedaled along as his strong frame gradually faded over the long winding setting horizon. Somewhere near the jaded stool a few papers ruffled in the monsoon air. Amongst them lay the crossword page. 2 across being the only word not filled. Later in the day an eight grader would write 'Barista' in the 7 blank boxes in a separate copy.


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