‘There he goes again! Pagal buddha! (mad, old man)’ the Blacksmith guffawed
‘What I wouldn’t give to see what’s in that bag he carries’, added the Shopkeeper, swatting away flies.
‘Who are you’ll talking about?’ looked around the customer at the Tea Stall.
‘That old man walking there,’ pointed out the Blacksmith, picking at his teeth.
The customer turned to see a man with a white beard, wearing a loose-fitting Kurta Pyjama and carrying a bulging cloth bag in his hand walking in the direction that leads to the outskirts of the village.
‘Who is he? Where does he go?’ asked the customer.
‘All we know about him is that his name is Popat!’ they all guffawed.
‘He moved to Mula many years ago and keeps to himself.’ added the shopkeeper, handing the customer a glass of Tea.
‘Why haven’t any of you ever asked him where he goes? Or even followed him?’ asked the customer, carefully placed the glass of Tea on the table before him.
‘We have followed him many times. He just keeps walking and walking. The first time we followed him, we got tired of walking. The next time we followed him on a cycle. He stopped in one place finally. We found it strange, as that place was just open land, with nothing around.’ answered the Tea Stall owner.
‘And what was he doing there?’ the curious customer asked.
‘He kept walking around the land, picking up soil, talking to himself. Sometimes he would dig here and there too. I thought there has to be some treasure there, so I took back a few friends the next time I went,’ continued the Tea Stall owner
‘Then?’ the Tea before him was getting cold as the customer was all ears.
‘We stayed back till he left for the day and then we tried to dig too. It was just hard, barren soil! Saala chutiya! Time waste it was! Tchah!’ he wrung his duster and began wiping the counter.
‘You think we haven’t tried to talk to him? How much we tried! We also invited him to our homes, for festivals. Saala! He doesn’t say a word. Just stares!’ the Blacksmith paused his teeth picking to add.
This sleepy hamlet of Mula had curious residents with great imagination and a lot of time on their hands. The Monsoons brought this place alive only for 4 months a year, as tourists from nearby cities drove here on the weekends to enjoy the cool weather and the beauty of the Waterfalls the rains created.
The business these villagers did in those 4 months was enough to last them for the rest of the year. A few local shops and a school were the only other attractions. With so much time on their hands, each one wanted to know what everyone else was doing, probably because none of them did very much themselves.
Which is why Popat stood out like a sore thumb. Ever since he has moved here many moons ago, he had not exchanged more than a few pleasantries with anyone. A few years ago, he even stopped nodding back as a courtesy. No one knew where he came from or what he did. He even bought and lived in a house at the edge of the village, away from everyone.
Every day, at the crack of dawn, Popat left the village on foot and only returned as the lights began to go out for the night in the windows of all the homes.
Years passed and the villagers got tired of investigating about him and poking fun at him, more so because he never responded. They just decided to ignore him.
One fine day the villagers realized that they hadn’t seen Popat walk by for the past few days. After some discussion and deliberation, a few of them decided to make their way to his home, only to find him dead as a doornail.
Popat was cremated by the villagers.
Time went by and they had forgotten about him when one day a government official came looking for a, ‘Mr. Popatlal Tewari’. It took the villagers a few minutes to realize that they were talking of their pagal buddha Popat.
He had been conferred an award, the official informed the residents.
Award? What for, they asked? The official thrust a folded open newspaper towards them.
‘The Indian government has conferred the Environmentalist of the Decade Award on Mr. Popatlal Tewari. This prestigious award is being given to Mr. Tewari for selflessly and relentlessly working on a wasteland he personally purchased 20 years ago.’
The newspaper article was a detailed interview, with Popat looking unrecognizable in the pictures, wearing a smart suit. There was a picture with his family too. ‘My wife committed suicide and I blame myself for that.
They looked at Popat’s picture, and then at each other.
‘I was an alcoholic and beat my wife up mercilessly. I also cheated on her many times. One day I beat her so badly that she lost her hearing and the use of her left arm. I did not stop, nor repent, even post that.’ the interview read.
‘I had a very good job as a Soil Conservationist because of which I traveled a lot. One day I came home to see my wife hanging from the ceiling fan. She left behind a note, blaming no one. Even in death she was forgiving. My children stopped talking to me after their mother’s death. That was the time I realized what it was to be lonely.’
In the family picture, Popat was the only one smiling. His wife and children stood behind him with blank faces.
‘I resigned from my job, sold all my assets, and moved to a sleepy village where no one knew me and I knew no one. I bought a large tract of land that I got for a throwaway price as it was considered barren. I worked on it single-handedly for all these years, until my vision started sprouting through the soil. This is what I have named ‘Usha Garden’, after my wife, Usha. This is a self-sustainable mini forest that will bloom and stay green all year round.
I lived it the hamlet Mula for so many years. Getting to Mula is the only way to get to Usha Garden. I gift this land and forest to the people of Mula. I hope the government creates a path, and thus economic opportunities, for the inhabitants.
While I lived, I only took things for granted and destroyed people and relationships around me. Working on Usha Garden was my penance, and I hope I have created something that will bring peace, joy, and beauty to the world.’
This is my 3rd Post for #MyFriendAlexa with Blogchatter
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