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Opinion » musings

Posted at: Mar 21, 2017, 12:43 AM; last updated: Mar 21, 2017, 12:43 AM (IST)

Between pearls & pebbles

IP Anand
EXCUSE me, if I am not mistaken, are you Mr Walia?’ ‘Yes, I am, but you...’ He looked at me intently. His expressions suddenly changed and he uttered in astonishment: ‘Oh...ho...Indi...ji? Oh teri ki!’ He clasped me in a tight hug. We were meeting after 45 years — in America. The loving and lively Manpreet Walia, my school mate, had turned into a sober-looking gentleman. He was running a real estate business in California. Our chance meeting ended with a warm invite to visit his home.

On the appointed day, I reached his residence. It was on a foothill and looked royal. His hospitality overwhelmed me. Though confounded, l tried to ignore that there was no one else in the big house. We talked and laughed, reminiscing high school days. I reminded him how once when all were discussing where we would go during summer vacation, he had confided that he would go to his ancestral village and spend days lying under shady trees in the open air. Though we ridiculed him at that time, it never faded from my memory. I often referred to him whenever I discussed in class Pope’s Ode on Solitude: ‘Happy the man... Content to breathe his native air,/In his own ground.’

The flashback, however, was cut short by his eagerness to impress me with his affluence. He took me around his sprawling house and showed me his rooms adorned with costly decorations and souvenirs purchased from various places. No wonder, as children take pride in treacle toffees, he was proud of his precious possessions. Conceitedly, he spoke of his business acumen and socialising skills. He had fantastic stories to tell about his travels and shopping sprees. But to my wonderment his wife or kids never figured in any of his narrations.

While chatting, however, there came a reference to his wife who had been a model and had left him long ago. He had two sons and a daughter, but none of them had any contact with him. I enquired about his parents. At first he tried to evade it and then casually disclosed that his father had expired and mother was in an old-age home. I was dumbfounded. ‘You know Indi, here in America, old parents are a big problem. When in Rome...do as the Romans do...he-he,’ he averred with a hollow laugh. This paradigm change in his values and views stupefied me.

Whether character played destiny or destiny was character, the irony of fate was, the person  who once craved for solitude on native ground had landed in loneliness in a foreign country. I felt pity for him and others of his ilk, and was reminded of an Urdu couplet: ‘Chaman ke rang-o-bu ne is quadar dhokha diya mujh ko/Ki main ne shauq-e-gul-bosi mein kaanton par zaban rakh di’ (colours and fragrance of garden so betrayed me that I put lips on thorns in my fondness for kissing flowers).

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