June 5, 2010
Roshan was in Dubai traffic police office in Al Quoz for renewal of his driving license. On his way out from counter, he saw a young man waiting in queue for the learner’s license. His face appeared familiar, but Roshan failed to recollect his memory. He had been living in Dubai with his family from last 20 years. There was nothing new in occasionally bumping into known faces from homeland. In this particular case, the young man responded like a complete stranger during brief eye contact. The thought of approaching and greeting him was discouraged. He stepped out of the door.
He was greeted by sand storm while rushing towards his car. The strong winds carried loads of sand and dust, there by reducing the visibility. The weather turned tempestuous surrounded by dark clouds in the sky. The ignition was turned on after stepping inside the car. Thick drops of water trickled followed by heavy downpour. The clogged memory seemed cleared up by the flow of water.
The heavy shower took him back to the memory lane. He was reminded of the journey where he was caught in a thunderstorm in Yellapur a town in Karnataka, the southern part of India. The trip was disrupted by the breakdown of his car. He remembered the boy’s name.
The man who looked familiar had close resemblance to Devraj!
*** *** *** ***
The year was 1985. Then Roshan was working as an internal auditor for an export house with their head office in Mangalore and branches spread out in Hubli, Karwar and Goa. He was given a car and a driver for his frequent visits to branch offices. Roshan had the penchant of travelling and on his way, he would look for tourist spots in proximity. It was September and he was on his way from Hubli to Karwar. The branch manager of Hubli had categorically mentioned about ‘Magod Falls’ a sightseeing location close to Yellapur. The route plan was discussed with the driver.
The journey had begun in a cloudy afternoon. They were greeted by the drizzle. Gradually pitch of the rain turned heavy. The drive continued at slow pace due to turbulent and stormy weather. They stopped at ‘Kavade Kere’ a picturesque lake in about 60 acres of area. He spent some time in clicking some scenic photographs. The driver assisted him with an umbrella.
They carried on with their ride. ‘A sturdy vehicle could have been a better option to traverse through the mountainous terrains than their normal car.’ Roshan strongly felt so.
“The road condition isn’t suitable for the car. Shall we cut short and move towards Karwar?” Roshan advised.
“We are not very far. Let’s make it.” The driver was charged up.
The downpour had slightly lessened. They reached Magod falls at 5:30 pm. The beautiful falls amidst dense growth of evergreen forests plummeted down into a rocky ravine from a height of 650 ft. River Bedti gushing down in two leaps offered a scenic look. Roshan was in his elements with his camera. He clicked photographs and spent close to an hour at the height.
By 6:30 pm, they had begun their way back from Magod falls. On the way to ‘Kavade Kere’, they experienced sudden unevenness in the ride. The driver stopped the car and checked the tyres. The right rear tyre was found flat. The driver opened the storage compartment and removed the spare tyre along with tool kit. Roshan looked around as the driver placed the jack to lift the corner side of the car. They hoped to continue the journey by next ten-fifteen minutes.
By then he saw a young boy with his school bag walking towards the car. There were no houses in the vicinity. The boy’s solitary presence in the midst of the forest surprised him. The boy stepped closer and inquisitively looked at them.
“Who are you?” Roshan inquired with scant respect.
“My name is Devraj.” He replied with great enthusiasm. “ I am in grade seven, studying in Yellapur government primary school. What’s wrong with your car Sir?”
“The tyre is punctured. It should be fine in next ten minutes.” Roshan answered.
The driver was on verge of replacing the tyre as Devraj marched closer. He curiously observed until the driver finished his job. The tool kit & the flat tyre were positioned back in the storage compartment. The driver came back to his seat and turned ignition key. The engine remained silent without any reaction.
“I believe the battery is down.” Driver’s voice turned feeble. “Please give a hand and push the car. I will try by shifting into gear.”
Devraj assisted Roshan while forcing the car down from the hill. They pushed the car without any great effort as the road descended down to ‘Kavade Kere’. The visibility had reduced as chirp of the birds indicated dusk.
“What shall we do?” The driver sounded helpless. “The battery needs to be replaced. But how could we arrange a battery?”
“Devraj…” Roshan looked at the boy.
“Yes Sir?” The boy showed immense enthusiasm.
“Where could we find an automobile spare parts shop?” Roshan put his query.
“You may find one in Yellapur.”
“When is the next bus?”
“I had come by last bus. The next bus should be tomorrow morning at 7:00 am”
“How far is Yellapur?”
“About 10-12 km from here.” Devraj informed.
“We are caught in the jungle.” Driver looked nervous. “A night is in front of us.”
“Both of you can stay at my house and by morning you can go to Yellapur by early morning bus”
“How far is your home? How big is your family? I don’t think it is right in our part to take shelter at your place, more so we are strangers.” Roshan reasoned out.
“I live with my parents and a sister.” The boy informed. “I am sure, my parents would not object. We love to help people in their difficult times. Don’t worry.”
Roshan exchanged glance with the driver. Driver’s body language suggested his acceptance. Roshan picked up his toiletry kit, towel and night dress from suitcase and packed in his leather bag. Devraj led them during the walk of two kilometers. They reached a small settlement, which did not have electricity. Devraj’s parents delightedly accepted and entertained the unknown and unanticipated guests.
They followed Devraj and enjoyed their bath beside the well. The supper was ready with a mix of traditional corn bread, vegetables and yogurt rice. A flat mattress was arranged for them to sleep. Roshan lied down and dozed off after a while. Next day morning, the balls made out of finger millet were served for breakfast, which were delicious.
Roshan thanked them and vacated the place along with driver. Devraj too accompanied them, as he had to go school. The hospitality extended by Devraj and his family members touched Roshan’s heart. He knew that the shelter for the night given by them would remain imprinted in his memoirs. His stirred soul was emotionally overpowered by their generosity and kindness. He offered a gift of cash, which Devraj did not accept.
They reached Yellapur and found the replacement for battery. By the time, they returned it was 11.00 am. They resumed their journey to Karwar.
*** *** *** ***
The downpour had fizzled out within few minutes. The familiar face in the driving license office resembled the traits of Devraj. Roshan turned curious. He stepped out of the car and came back to driving license office. The man earlier on the queue, was now missing. Roshan’s eyes rummaged around. Finally, he saw the person walking out from washroom. He went ahead and faced the man with a probing look.
“Are you Devraj?” Roshan did not waste any time.
“Yes.” He was surprised. “Who are you? How do you know me?”
“I am Roshan.” He reminded him. “If you recollect your memory, sometime in 1985 our car had a breakdown near Yellapur and you had offered us shelter for a night.”
Roshan narrated the episode by recalling every part of the occurrence.
“I have not forgotten the incident.” Devraj smiled. “But I failed to recognize your face. My father is no more. My only sister is married and living in Hubli. I am married too. I have two kids and my mother is living with us in Yellapur.”
“Wonderful.” Roshan replied. “I have been living in Dubai past twenty years. If you need any help, please let me know. What are you doing in Dubai?”
“I am working in a laundry shop in Al Shaab area.” Devraj informed. “I thought I could change my job if manage to get the driving license.”
“I can understand.” Roshan agreed. “There is great demand for drivers in this city. You may have my card. My mobile number is indicated. You may call me whenever you wish. Once I would like to take you home for lunch or dinner.”
Roshan handed over his visiting card, collected Devraj’s contact information and vacated the place. Their reunion had occurred in an unexpected coincidence. Several years had passed after the last meeting, but even today, he could feel the weight of the gratitude factor. Such was the impact of the shelter extended by Devraj.
Roshan’s life had taken a different turn from last twenty years after shifting to Dubai. His marriage with Sunita had paved the way for two boys, elder Russell and younger Immanuel. A furnished 3-bedroom apartment with a luxury car was given as package while changing into a new job about twelve years back. Sunita had worked during the initial years of their marriage and then she altered her role as a homemaker with complete dedication in looking after the growing boys. Taking care of two cute Pomeranian puppies was her added responsibility and third bedroom was allotted for the comfort of dogs.
Devraj called Roshan couple of times after their last meeting by chance. Roshan assured to call him back as he was engaged in clientele meeting. By evening, his exhausted state did not inspire him to call him back. He had hoped to invite Devraj for lunch or dinner. His family normally would eat in restaurants during Thursday evenings. Friday was reserved for church activities where he was active in prayer group and spiritual committee. Festive holidays were set aside for picnics and family outings.
His wish to invite and entertain Devraj was left unrealized.
The winter passed and then came the hot summer. Summer in Dubai could be a fierce thing. Temperatures hover between 42 and 45C, sometimes touching a scorching 50-degree or more. The locals and the expats generally preferred their holidays in July and August. Roshan too had done his flight booking for a family holiday in August.
The month was July. Roshan returned from his office on a Sunday evening. Sunita’s eyes were glued to the TV screen in watching her favorite serial. The boys had occupied the study tables. The loud bark of the Pomeranians continued for some time. Roshan had just begun his first peg after a refreshing shower. His mobile phone woke up. He picked the instrument and entered his bedroom.
“Hello…” He cleared his throat on his way.
“Roshan Sir, I am Devraj.” The voice suggested some kind of distress.
“Yes Devraj, how are you? Is everything okay?” Roshan inquired.
“I am in some kind of problem.” He was worried.
“You know, I am staying under bed space terms in a villa which offers sharing accommodation.” Devraj explained. “Recently government has introduced restrictions on sharing accommodation. The municipality officials had warned us about 2 weeks back to comply with the new regulations. Our electricity was disconnected yesterday. Darkness could be managed with candlelights, but life has become hell without AC. I didn’t know that the heat in Dubai could be so unbearable.”
“Here the law is always stringent. You are aware of this.” Roshan scolded him “This is negligence. Anyway, I will check in my circle for economical accommodation if available. Do not worry. God is great. He will show some way.”
Devraj hesitantly thanked and disconnected the line. While dropping the cell phone over the bed, Roshan was bothered by weird uneasiness. The yapping from the Pomeranians continued. He was annoyed by the high-pitched barking noise.
“Could you please make them calm down?” Roshan frustratingly appealed his wife.
Sunita walked towards their dog’s room. Roshan sipped his drink and pushed the sliding door. He was struck by extremely hot breeze as he stepped out to the balcony. The high level of humidity unsettled him. He rushed back to his bedroom and pulled the sliding door. Surprisingly the dogs had turned silent.
“How did you manage to bring peace in them?” He was curious to know while failing overcome the unfamiliar inner bitterness.
“The AC of the dog’s room was off.” Sunita informed. “They too are sensitive to heat. I just switched on the AC. That’s all.”