|| Summer Woes ||

Summer has laid anchor at Jamshedpur. It has already reached a maximum of 108 degrees Fahrenheit. For a few days rain had seemed imminent. It only rained in some faraway places. Late in the evenings, cool breeze blew, bringing relief from afar. But, here at Jamshedpur, we have just had stifling heat under partially overcast sky that grew gloomy in the afternoon, but cleared up by the time we woke up from our siesta.

For a few days my wife and I went for a walk in the evening. But, with the heat becoming unbearable at midday, when she returned from her school she was drained. The siesta got longer and longer, and finally, we were left with very little of the evening to find time to go out.

So, last couple of days I have been leaving home in the morning with her, as she drives down to her school. She drops me someplace on the way. Up to this point the road, passing by a slum, is bereft of any shade. But, from there, I can walk for miles under the cover of large shady trees, avoiding the blistering morning sun. I have been going up to the Xavier management institute. It takes an hour to and fro.

Today I told my wife I would go into the park. She said that was a great idea. The park has a very busy road passing through it. On its right are rolling grassland, flowering trees, water channels with fountains, and various flower beds. Hardly a place for a walk in a hot summer morning! On the left of the road, however, there is a stretch of straggling trees, with a trail. This is where the morning walkers throng. My wife and I are fond of this particular stretch, which feels so close to nature.

A little past the midpoint of this trail we pass a dog kennel, and then the horticultural garden. At its gate the trail turns right to the edge of Jayanti Sarovar. Just after the dog kennel, a narrow deserted lane takes off to the left. Running between two low walls black with dried up moss of the last rainy season, the lane climbs gently, and finally disappears from sight.  I have often said to my wife that we should explore the lane, but she has never liked the idea due to the desolate look of the lane.

Today, as I came near this lonely lane, I saw two walkers turn into it. I followed them, staying a little behind. Over the low wall on my left, I could see the grounds of the dog kennel with the training area for the dogs, all very colourful and shipshape. Just after that came an area set aside for composting dry leaves and sundry refuses of the woods. On my right, the low wall of the horticultural garden ran uninterrupted, enclosing a forest of ancient tall shady trees, entwined by various vines and creepers. From the just ended spring, most trees had fresh looking new leaves of all shades of nascent green. But the vines and creepers were leafless, probably waiting for some rain. A cool breeze blew, gently swaying the trees. Apart from the faint sigh of the breeze there was no sound. I passed a tall tower with a cluster of wireless antennae, looking down upon a small lifeless cabin. Then the forest took over on both the sides. There was complete silence that absorbed even my footfall. I had a heady feeling of being taken somewhere else by the shifting, drifting breeze. Did it remind me of the USA? Probably! That is where I had come across such pervasive and persuasive silence.

Ahead, the lane turned slightly, and then started a gentle descent. The forest on the right gave place to a well tended garden of evenly spaced random flowering trees. This must be the rear of the horticulture garden. On my left, close behind a tall wall, some new buildings of the Xavier institute appeared– all brand new, with pastel coloured anodized aluminum façade, tinted glass windows and stainless steel balcony railings. Now the tree cover was gone, and I walked in the sunlight, rendered mild and milky by a cloud cover. The lane suddenly dipped low and then rose sharply, meeting the Marine Drive running beside Subarnarekha River. Ahead, my predecessors turned back. After passing them, I too turned back.

Walking back, it felt different. Now with the wind blowing from behind, I began to perspire, and the dense shadow of the trees did little to relieve the heat. Then I felt something buzz right in front of my face, and that something whirred in a wild macabre dance. It was a fly! I swung my hand to drive it away. It ducked my thrust and landed on my head. I felt its faint creeping movement. I brushed my pate, and it flew off, reappearing in front of my face. I shook my head, swung it sideways, and flailed my arms. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not get rid of it. As I walked, it kept pace with me, and hovered around my head, sometimes landing and creeping in my hair, which by the way is cropped close. I took out my handkerchief and wiped my face, hoping absence of sweat would dissuade the fly to leave me. But nothing helped.

Feeling miserable, I emerged from the lane onto the trail. Now, there were other walkers and my flying companion had a choice. But, it refused to part ways and kept up with me. It had already identified my nape as the right place to practice landing, crawling to a halt and taking off. I thought desperately what else I could do other than this Saint Vitus’ dance to get rid of the fly, being now convinced that otherwise it would come home with me.

Then I realized I could, of course, sprint and leave the fly behind. (Any idea, how fast do flies fly? Can I do better?) But, I had not run for a long time, not even done a short dash such as people do to board a train in motion. Already, I had walked more than my daily quota, and my legs were weary. I did not know how far I would have to run before I was able to shake off the fly. But, one thing was certain. I would have to put some walkers between the fly and me. Moving on about a hundred yards, while deliberating on my misery and deliverance, I saw four persons, wide at their middles, walking abreast about thirty yards ahead of me.

I broke into a sprint. OK! Actually, my body surged ahead, while my legs pulled back. But, I was moving faster. As I was about to level with them, I realized that I could not dash past them through the narrow strip of the trail’s breadth left free by their combined width. That would be sort of rude. I slowed down and caught up with them. That was still good. I mean if the fly was still with me, now it had a choice of some more men, fatter and sweatier than me.

Just then, one of them said, “Don’t you think the crowd is thin today?” And, another replied, “Oh, that is because the ‘morning school’ has started today. So, people who have school going children must have come early.”

(When the temperature soars, the civic administration in Jamshedpur advises the schools to start school by 6:30 AM and end by 12:30 PM – that is ‘morning school’).

I received this news with a blow on my chest. My wife had left for her school in normal time. Did she not know? She would have reached one hour late, she who never takes leave or reaches school late, except when very sick. My immediate reaction was to call her up. But, for one, it would be of no use now, and for another, I do not like to use my mobile in the vicinity of other walkers.

With a lingering unease, I suppressed my anxiety. I diverted my attention to what I would do reaching home. The first thing would be to take out the clothes from the washing machine and hang them out for drying.  And, there was a bit of a problem there!

For a few days now, a sparrow, probably male, has been using one of the clotheslines as its perch. It sits there all day, chirping raucously. At first I had taken it to be one wanting to build a nest. My split air-conditioner has its pipes coiled just behind it, making it an ideal spot for nesting. Every spring, I have been thwarting the attempt of sundry birds – sparrow, mynah and others that I do not recognize. But, they usually came in pairs, carrying dry grass and twigs in their beaks. Last year, I had a difficult time driving away a very insistent pair of sparrows. But, this time it is a single unencumbered sparrow. Its shrill chatter sounds like “come on, come on, come on …” Probably, it calls its mate who must have given up the nincompoop partner unable to protect their nest.  I have tried to drive away the lonely male. The first time, it flew off, and flew back immediately to reclaim its perch, and resume its constant chatter. Then it saw me and hovered for some time. It went away and it came back. I gave up.

I now knew that back at home from my walk I would find the sparrow, chirping away in its harsh tone. I would feel bad shooing it away while putting out the clothes for drying.

Meanwhile, I realized that the fly was not bothering me anymore. It was gone!

One problem after another … that is life!

© mikupa / 24 April 2015