A FAILED DESTINY (NKP01)
By Adya Agarwal Gupta
A simple knock on the plain wooden door broke the fascinated trance of the young boy. His legs under a thin material, which he called his blanket, he was peering out of the window, watching as the sun scanned the periwinkle and turquoise sky. The sky mesmerized him, taking him to a whole new world.
Just then, a gentle voice called out to him.
“Ashok! Awake yet?” She called out.
“Yes, amma! I’m coming.” Ashok courteously replied, as he sighed, leaving the captivating morning light.
Throwing his tunic off, Ashok slapped a towel on his right shoulder and rushed out to the lake for a bucket of water. His father and the other villagers were doing the same, though most of them were coming back to collect their second bucket of water. Though Ashok had thin legs, he had a lithe body to prance around. Heaving the bucket to a place behind his crooked hut, he dumped the icy cold water on himself. This was his quick shower, as he dried himself with the poorly attended to towel on his shoulder.
The mynah birds chirped. Grass tickled Ashok’s legs. This was the daily life in Kindra Village, Andhra Pradesh. Running upstairs, he found his tunic still lying on his bed. It was whatever he found first that he wore, as the Reddy’s couldn’t afford any more expensive clothing. Though they didn’t have many privileges or the best cottage, the family was content with their life. Ashok would do whatever he pleased, after his short session of meagre schooling. In the jovial village, education was scarce, making schools a leisurely pursuit. Mr. Reddy would work the entire day for the family, cleaning and fishing in the lake and clearing the trees. Farming was also one of his jobs, though he despised working in the fields. This barely got them two meals a day. Mrs. Reddy was a housewife and thought very little of herself. She helped around the house and taught Ashok all the knowledge she could.
Sitting down on the dusty, faded rug, Mrs. Reddy would pace the room and start asking Ashok questions. These questions would remain the same, as Ashok only had one book to look at and a bent notebook with a tiny pencil, that was found floating in the lake one day. To most children, even one reference book is a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, but there weren’t any more children in their part of Kindra Village. Most were thirteen-year-old young men trying to work somewhere respectable to make a living. Not Ashok. At least not yet. Ashok loved his life in Kindra Village. It was a place of glory and beauty. It’s lush green plants and the muddy bluish-brown lake was all he could have ever asked for!
Ashok didn’t do the labour the men did, as he was one year too young to start it, but two years too old to play with his boyhood toys. Instead, Ashok often made his way to the thatched roof on the top of their crooked hut and sketched what he saw beyond him. The fields, stretching endlessly, and the lake, water rippling pleasantly. He sketched his father lightly, noticing him walking flawlessly on a thin, dangerous line of straight mesh across the lake. The Village Council couldn’t afford a footbridge with a walkway, so a thin streak of mesh attached to two trees on either side of the lake was their ‘bridge’. Ashok hadn’t seen when his Father first walked across it, but only wondered how they managed to do it so swiftly and flawlessly, yet carefully. It was like tightrope walking every day, only a few feet above the water. Dangerous work. Slowly, his days would pass by. He’d draw to his heart’s content, and then greet the happy villagers. The ladies would chat amongst themselves as they sat on the ground, rolling out rotis and cooking them to perfection. He’d pass by them slowly, as he made his way to the gift shop. An elegant lady named Diya Noor, who deserved much more than a plain gift stand, set it up but the ladies in Kindra Village either did nothing or owned a shop. Ashok would stop by to buy discarded paints and broken pencils, with the two rupees he would have saved over many weeks. All his years of growing up, each and every birthday, was spent at the gift shop, greeting Diya and buying whatever art supplies he could afford. His twelfth birthday was a glorious one, where he bought more discarded colour pencils than he had ever done before. It was the last birthday that he would buy these things, for the next year was his thirteenth year.
Thirteen, that menacing age. The men would normally start their labour at fifteen, though many would have an early push at thirteen. Mr. Reddy was one amongst the many men who started at thirteen. His intentions were to make Ashok follow the same path. Many times, he would look up at the roof and admire his son. Little did he know that Ashok was not waiting and watching to learn what the men did, but was sketching the scene. Doing what he admired the most.
The usual ritual at Diya’s shop brought a grin on Ashok’s face. Near his crooked hut, though, he saw a hand waving and beckoning vigorously. Ashok emptied his pencils into his pocket and went closer to the hand. His Father.
“Now, Ashok. Come. We’re going to start today!”Mr. Reddy gave Ashok a slight push and pointed to the water.
Ashok tried to conceal his apprehensions, as he forced a smile and walked back to the hut to gather his chappals (slippers). His head was bent sadly.
“What do I do? All I know is to draw. I will surely drown. I’d be a disgrace to the family. It may not be so bad. I have to do this, for appa.”
Ashok thought mournfully as he slipped his smooth feet into his ripped grey and white chappals. The sole was almost broken, and slackened his pace, but it was comfortable and normally sturdy. The torn boy walked slowly back into his father’s callused hands.
“Appa, I’m scared.” Ashok breathed, as he stepped towards the mesh and tried to grip it slowly.
“Go on! You can do this. Everyone eventually does.”
All Ashok longed for was the comfort of the thatched straw roof and his trusty notebook and the new pencils.
Taking a deep breath, Ashok gripped the mesh with his fleshy hands and they tingled slightly. His feet wobbled. His lips went dry and his breath was slipping away slowly. His eyesight was failing. The figures of swaying trees blurred. Suddenly, everything darkened.
The next voice Ashok heard was of his Mother’s, as she asked him to wake up. His head felt heavy as he looked at his leg. A bruise had blossomed. Swollen plump. Scarlet scratches all over. He looked over to his father who continued stoically doing his own work. He knew then that this is the way it would be. Deep inside, Ashok knew that if it wasn’t today, his father would ask again the following day. Anger boiled inside him as he thought furiously about his failed destiny.
The next day, Ashok sighed heavily and limped up to the mesh once again. Resolute, Ashok pushed himself up. Mr. Reddy held Ashok up as he got on and gave him a little push to start. It was a little wobbly at first.
His conduct got steadier and steadier. The lake was shimmering silver in front. The blue water angels were floating happily. It was as if one got up and urged Ashok on.
It was like a whole new world. In front, a giant forest took shape. Majestic trees took form. Ashok blinked a few times as he reached the other side. “Good job, Ashok!” called Mr. Reddy who then started to cross the rope.
Ashok felt something stir in him. He felt happy all of a sudden, and started laughing. He had crossed the rope! Heaving buckets onto his shoulder, he watched his father and followed him carefully. It was fun now! His first day of a new life. He could cross the lake. He could sketch this gorgeous forest scenery. But this was not an art adventure. Instead he was surrounded by the stench of dying fish and eyes that pleaded and gasped for one last breath before they left all hope of life. As he continued doing what his father showed him, he panicked that the end of his sketching had dawned upon him.
“Appa? When all do we work?” He hopefully asked.
“All day, everyday. 6 morning, we start. 8 evening, we finish.”
Ashok’s jaw fell. Tears welled up in his eyes. His life was going to be this? Only this? Even making rotis was better than this.
Dejected and hopeless, Ashok went over to the lake and followed his father in fishing, his mind blankly crying.
For the next three years, this was his plain, tedious life. The only thing that had kept him going were the nights. Ashok, unlike the other young men, would neither hang out with the other young men nor sleep till late into the night. Instead, he sought his old scraps of fabric that he treated and sketched the various fishes he had encountered that day. His delicate fingers sketched them slowly and carefully. After finishing these drawings, when Ashok was satisfied, he would finally rest his head and sleep.
Though most of the time Ashok would wake up early and on time, there was one morning where he just couldn’t get out of bed. Despite all the nudges and calls from his Mother, his fatigue had got the best of him.
Moaning tiredly in his bed, Ashok woke up, to greet the sunshine already bright outside. Checking the time, he gasped and quickly rushed outside to begin his work in the water.
“Why are you late?” Mr. Reddy asked him suspiciously.
Being as truthful as he was, Ashok didn’t think of hiding the facts from his father.
“Appa, I was up late sketching the different, different fishes.”
The normal, jovial expression on Mr. Reddy’s face turned plain, then his face and expression hardened.
“Work is worship. Art is a plaything. The musings of a lazy mind. Remember it’s the work that feeds our family. Be clear, it will be a disrespect to me as your father and mentor if you shirk work. Also, the sketching must stop. And we will speak no more of this” With these strong words, Mr. Reddy walked away to attend to another villager.
Ashok was left wondering what he could do. He would have to give up his art? It was the only thing keeping him happy through all of this labour. The art was his happiness. It wouldn’t do to displease his father, though, and whatever his duties were, he would fulfil them. Sighing, Ashok shoved his pile of fabric in a lonely corner, not to be picked up again for quite sometime.
His art was gone, as also slowly, his personality. His life was an unclear haze in the distance. Ashok lost weight as quick as ever, as he ate less and talked less. Gone were the days of spontaneous smiles and happy times. Now, silence had taken over him. His eyes were sunken in, his expression blank and sullen. Nothing could heal him like his art did, it was a bruise that refused to close up and heal. There was nothing left for Ashok to live, as the source of his life was gone. Even Diya noticed it, as he would gloomily pass by her store. Instead of his discarded art material, he would buy thick ropes to tie to his buckets. It pained Diya, as she no longer heard his happy voice as he tried to make conversation with her.
One day, Diya confronted Ashok as he was leaving.
“Ashok, what it wrong? Where have you gone?” Diya asked, concerned as ever.
“I miss my art. Appa won’t allow it. He says it’s a distraction and as their son it is my duty to work hard and bring the food. He is right. But those drawings would keep me happy. I was happy while I could do both but Appa has forbidden me. I’m tired, helpless and I hate it. But I musn’t be ungrateful. I must carry on!”
Diya sighed. She couldn’t do anything to help him. Thinking about all he had just said, an idea nestled in her mind, like a young bird in its nest.
“May I see these drawings? Do you still have them?”
Ashok sprouted a smile, something that hadn’t been on his face for an eternity.
“Of course! Wait one moment, I’ll get them.”
Ashok rushed to retrieve his fabric sketches from the lost corner in his room. Handing them to Diya, he proudly dusted his hands.
“101 of them, in the entirety. What will you do with it?”
“With your permission, I’ll sell these in the city. Maybe that will bring more money than fishing? Then, your father can live in peace. Even retire!” Diya hopefully exclaimed.
Days passed by, and Diya did not mention the sketches any longer. Ashok was too shy and scared to ask her about them. They must have been useless. Who would buy the listless doodles of a barely literate fisherman in the making?
One day, Diya approached Ashok. A big smile was set on her face, as she handed him an envelope. Inside the envelope, there was more money than Ashok had ever seen in their entire lives! Diya had managed to sell the sketches successfully. And there was more. She had managed to get a contract for him to make more! Something stirred in Ashok, once again. The same feeling of happiness he had felt when he had started working. The joy, the victory and the glory. He would not need to work the mesh any more. No more stench of the fish that clung to his needily to his skin. He could take care of his father and his mother and have his art back. Life would resume, once again. It would be good. God was being kind again. Late, but still great.
He laughed happily, as he rushed back to his cottage and wore his best tunic. Walking outside, he searched amongst the crowd of men to find his Father. The men were all chatting amongst themselves loudly. A look of slight worry was on their face as they crowded around the entrance to Kindra Village.
“What happened?” Ashok asked gingerly, curious to know what the commotion was for.
“Haven’t you heard, Mr. Reddy fell from the mesh and hit his head on a rock. He was bleeding terribly!” One villager called back to him.
Ashok frowned, puzzled. Mr. Reddy? That was his father! As the pieces fit together, Ashok was shocked. He collapsed onto a wooden bench, clutching his heart.
The noisy siren sounded, flashing it’s colours brightly. The doctor stepped out, walking to Mrs. Reddy and Ashok solemnly.
“Mrs. Reddy. I’m so sorry, he couldn’t have survived. It was hopeless.”
Mrs. Reddy fell to the ground, screaming and crying uncontrollably. Ashok just sat there stunned. Thoughts raced like fast moving traffic. He had once lost his art to find his father. And today as he had found his art again, he had lost his father. Forever. He never picked up his pencils again.
What an amazing story, Adya! I couldn’t wait to know how it would end once I started to read. I love your vivid style, which is as picturesque as your exceptional illustrations. So proud of you. Keep it up!
Thank you so much for your kind words and support. I would like to clarify, those drawings were not mine, though I would love to be able to draw like them one day. I found them on Google Images and thought it would help reinforce the story. Once again, thank you for your encouraging words and I’m very glad that you enjoyed the story!
I was fully engrossed as I read the story. In particular, you have described the emotions of Ashok at various times very well. His character, fears and joys took shape in my mind as I read.
Thank you so much! I am so happy that you enjoyed the story and the emotion came through. These motivating comments really mean a lot to me and make me want to write even more! I’m looking forward to your insight on my other stories and poems. Have a good day!
A lovely story so beautifully written, was totally engrossed. Your vocabulary is superb keep writing
Thank you so much for your generous comments! I’m
Glad you were engrossed in it and enjoyed it so much. I hope that you enjoy the rest of my stories and poems as well, and I’m definitely looking forward to your insight on them too..
Adya I am your cousin Anika.. I read your story and really liked it.
That’s brilliant! Thank you so much, and I hope you enjoyed reading my next two posts. Have fun reading, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to your further insight on my stories.
An amazing story! So touching and the characters are so beautifully etched out, even those that barely have a role in the narrative. Keep writing, keep inspiring us.