A walk in the Park
The gentle musical notes of the cell phone sound jarring. This is followed by a poke in the ribs, a minute later, which is even more so. I reluctantly open my bleary eyes. It is still dark in Mumbai, at six am. The lady of the house is insistent, I cannot turn over and go back to sleep. The ritual of the dawn torture is to begin, the morning walk.
Although my heart continues to be a juvenile delinquent, time has broadened not only my vision but my waistline as well, and my corporal body is no longer in tune with my spirit, but is showing annoying signs of aging. These morning exertions were my way of trying to keep the doctor at bay.
Once we enter the park however, the lush green surroundings, the venerable old gnarled trees, the refreshing sea breeze, the soothing sounds of bird-call and invigorating sight of pretty ladies in jogging gear flitting around uplifts the mood and energises the soul.
Suddenly an explosive sound sends the birds flapping in the air. It is the laughing club, violating the copyrights of Ravan and Bollywood villains of yore; they go Ha Ha Ha, belly laughing their way to health, and frightening children, dogs and the weak of heart.
We next pass the yoga freaks, trying to attain three improbable postures before breakfast, the Ta-i-chi nuts fighting in slow motion with invisible opponents, the meditation gang catching up on their morning nap pretending to elevate the soul and perhaps body too, the fitness addicts sweating and grunting superciliously at us podgy huffers and puffers, the bird watchers ogling our poor feathered friends, intruding on their privacy, the dog walking domestic help flirting with each other and the ominous chanters, who are joined by a musically inclined man’s best friend, who joins in the resonant Oms with a tuneful howl.
In short, the usual flora and fauna in any open space in any city in our country, at this time of the day. All of you who participate in this morning ritual are familiar with it.
Another interesting feature I observe is the expression of my fellow walkers. There are those overburdened by the cares of the world early in the morning, and mope as they walk. The angry old men scowl at everyone. The jolly good bhakts yell Jai Sri Ram at everyone they pass. The Casanova leers good morning only at the ladies. Those in love go around with that rapt attention to their neighbours’ spouses while their bitter halves glare at the world, the garrulous pontificate loudly to all within earshot, oblivious of the bored looks of their captive audience, and the serene few walk along with their blissful expressions, living in their own world of inner peace. I am sure you all know and recognise these species.
The unique feature in our bit of green is an old gentleman, who all by himself sings morning ragas, playing the tabla, accompanied by a recorded tanpura for scale, eyes shut, trained voice, and walkers stop by for a while to listen, before moving on. The laughers, talkers, grunters, chanters, nothing disturbs our serene singer. This is the background music to our walk I really look forward to.
But one day a new sound pleasantly intruded. Someone was playing a harmonica with great skill. The tune was a classical devotional. Then a mellifluous voice joined in.
We found a group of senior citizens sitting in a circle where a gentleman was playing the harmonica, while a lady was lending her voice occasionally. They had eyes only for each other. The rest watched in silence.
They had a wide repertoire. The tunes moved to filmy bhajans, classic hits, and then romantic numbers from the fifties. I realised that these would be the songs of their youth.
My imagination whirred. Was this an unrequited love from a bygone era? Neighbours of old, who couldn’t speak of their hearts then, are meeting in their twilight years reliving old memories? Or just fellow walkers who yearn for each other, but age, decorum and societal norms keeping them apart, expressing untold thoughts through music?
Whatever their story, I wished them every happiness. They made this morning even sweeter than the rest.