The Camping Trip

Dhurandhar Sharma was a 15-year-old boy who lived with his parents and grandmother in a very inconspicuous lane of a modest town near Sitapur. The restlessness of adolescence had long set in his life. Having an unusual name did not help in alleviating it. He could clearly give the credit to his grandmother who had given him his name and also the ever-lively spirit of life. If one were to observe her, one could only be a little surprised as the Sharma household was hardly anything one could be excited about. Her own son had become only a clerk in the local bank close to their house. In spite of his frugal existence, was a pious man and believed in being satisfied with his monthly earnings. He had support from his wife who had come to terms with her reality and was making the best for her family. Everyday her husband would go in the morning and return home in the evening with vegetables and groceries. 

His father was reluctant on sending him to the school camping trip from the day it was announced. The reasons were many, but the main one being the extra grand it would cost them. 

“So what? Can’t you spend it on him? After all, it’s only once a year?” asked his mother.

“We have a lot of other expenses to look into and also, your medicines don’t come for free.” He replied.

“I will not have them this month, but let my Dhurandhar go.”

“It doesn’t work that way mother.”

“Of course, it does. Does it really matter if I live another day? I would be much better gone. It will save so much trouble for you all. But alas! It’s not in my hands, at least let him enjoy with his class mates.”

Her son couldn’t argue much; also, he couldn’t compromise on her medicines. He would have to silently forego of his own (recently he was diagnosed with blood sugar condition and was on tablets). He hadn’t disclosed this to anyone as there would be unnecessary tension. Diabetes is not a serious condition, a lot of people in the world had it. Also, a month of not taking medicines would not hurt him too much. He agreed, much to the rapture of his wife and his mother rather than his own son.

Dhurandhar couldn’t sleep that night. The trip was still 15 days away but he had not been out like this anytime. It was like a dream to go the mountains and sleep in the jungles. It was a wonderful gift from his family to him. He wasn’t able to take his smile off even in his sleep.

His grandmother was a little more thrilled than him. There was Vani ki Devi temple on the top of the mountain that they were supposed to climb. It was small and relatively little known to people; but she had very vivid memories of that temple. “Even if it is not very famous, by no means it lessens its importance. They say that Devi is jagrat (alive) and is very rewarding to anyone who goes to her with a pure intention. I have been there many times.”

“Then, why didn’t you ask for a big house? “Dhurandhar asked breaking her chain of thought. 

“Well, I have had everything I had asked for. I was blessed with a child and everyone in the family was in good health and then the child got married and everyone was happy when the child got a child. What more could one ask for? I got everything and more in my life.” 

Upon hearing her reply, her grandson was bewildered. For sure, he would not want a child soon or anytime in the near future. Maybe, if at all he remembered to ask for something at that time, it would be a scholarship, he wanted to get into a university; but the possibility was bleak, owing to the stiff competition among the sheer large numbers of students appearing for the exam. This automatically cut short the chances of Dhurandar making it to a scholarship. Bright he was, sincerity ran in his blood; but what he couldn’t afford was the expensive tuition classes everyone around him was easily able to avail. He had dreams of studying in a reputed college.

 At school, he could feel all around him the pulse of the class as they were all going together, everyone was making plans. He by nature being a quiet person, only heard what the other students were fancying. More than anything, it was the freedom they were looking forward to.

Finally, the day arrived. They assembled at the school early in the morning. From there, a bus was to pick them up and take them to the hill. The bus journey was a smooth. Dhurandhar couldn’t hear himself think as there was too much chatter all around. Even at 6 am the teenagers had so much to talk about! Four hours later, the tempo remained the same. They reached their destination at exactly 10:15 am, the children literally burst out of the big vehicle and gathered at the foot of the hill, at a designated place. Dhurandhar was the only one alighting there. The other children wandered about on their own. The teachers in charge were furious. Upon summoning the students, they gave strict instructions that, if insubordination continued, then whole trip would be called off. Everyone had to obey. It had to be only this way and no other. 

The whole group was silent for a while before a few started guiltily saying “Sorry, it won’t happen again.” After a few minutes of students repenting, the teachers were appeased. The air was cleared and they all decided that team-work was the name of the game. 

The daylight was low, as the sun was covered by meandering clouds. This made the task of climbing the hill, richly peppered with flora and fauna, delightful. A gentle breeze made its way downhill giving a few people goosebumps. They started their journey from the foot of the hill, slowly and steadily. The overexcited ones charged ahead along with the teacher heading their group. Dhurandhar was walking in the middle while the really ‘smart ones’ were just ahead of the teacher who was monitoring the rear-end of the group. Apart from them, there were hardly any other people around. They were walking on the tar road. Soon, the bus that was stationed for them at the foothill appeared be distant. They were all carrying back-packs as a night halt was in the tow. 

Dhurandhar was walking with his set of friends. They were all mostly from highly-placed families in the society. As the hormones were racing, there was some bit of drama happening. While his schoolmates were chatting on random topics, he couldn’t help noticing their sparkling rucksacks, fancy-coloured water-bottles and expensive shoes. Though nobody mentioned anything in open (they were all well-bred courteous students). Everyone noticed Dhurandhar’s torn back-pack and Bisleri water bottle, socks that had lost their elasticity and muddy old shoes. No matter how good the other person was, he could feel the difference in his class and theirs. It was his first camping trip and, even if he wanted, couldn’t have got brand new things. They reached the top of the hill and visited the temple. Everyone got a chance to pray comfortably in front of the goddess. He joined his hands and prayed silently for everyone in his family and that “May he get all that he wants.”

It was evening. They decided to visit a few shops and the lone eatery before they went onto the site to set up camp.

There was one big shop, a restaurant and a few ice-cream carts, biscuit & candy carts. In between the shopping area and restaurant, he saw an old bearded man in rags who had displayed guavas on a torn cloth. The guavas were six in number and were still unripe. The big shop next to the restaurant had a lot of things on sale – from fruits & vegetables to toys and grocery. As it was a tourist spot, it was quite wise to set shop there. People would generally end-up buying things they otherwise wouldn’t. As it was late afternoon and the evening was setting in, Dhurandhar could feel it getting nippy in the air. All the students went past the old man to that glittery shop. He pitied the old man who was looking at everyone passing him with hope.

“Beta, pls buy these guavas, they are very fresh and will be ready-to-eat by tomorrow.” The man gladly spoke with him as he stopped by.

“How much for all of them?”

The old man was stunned. He was trying to sell at least a couple since morning; and here comes a boy asking for all!

“Are you sure, son.. you want all?”

“Yes…give me all.”

The man started fidgeting for a bag and finally after two minutes he found one in which all the guavas could fit.

“Son, please don’t mind, but this is an old bag, a little torn but can hold all the fruits. It is my bag and I am giving it to you. I do not have bigger plastic bag.”

Dhurandhar saw that old dusty bag. He accepted it smilingly and paid up. With all the guavas, it had become a little heavy. He left the old man and started towards the restaurant where his other classmates were already seated at their tables. He turned around and noticed the old man as he struggled to get up, pick up his tattered cloth and started to leave. Dhurandhar felt happy that, thanks to him, the old man could go home early. As he approached the eatery, he saw a man sitting at the cash-desk counting notes. Another man, rather well-dressed, sat right opposite to the cashier, reading a book.

He approached the cashier. Pointing to the retreating figure of the old fruit seller, asked,

“Does this man live around here?”

The cashier looked up and replied,

“Has been here even before I was born. I see him every day. What’s the matter?”

“Nothing at all.”

Dhurandhar sat at a table with his fellow students. After their supper they set up tents. In the night they all danced and made merry around a bonfire. The night below starry sky, on the mountain top was something he had never seen before. They were all instructed to be in their respective tents. They all slept like logs as they had gotten up in the morning rather early.

It was a dream that woke him up. Though he didn’t remember the dream, a pleasant feeling lingered. He didn’t know why he was happy. As he packed his back-pack, he remembered the old bag full of guavas, he picked up one and saw, it appeared still unripe. Strangely, he felt that the bag was a bit heavier than before. He found it odd. Alone in his tent, he started removing all the guavas; he noticed something still remaining inside, he further dug into it and removed a big neatly sealed bag. He opened the contents …he was amazed to see a pair of brand-new pair of sports shoes. He was stunned. After he shook himself out of the stupor, he tried those shoes on, they fit him perfectly. So, he decided to wear them on the way back. He put the guavas back excitedly and decided to go back to the old man. 

He made his way to the centre of the marketplace. Everything was there as the day before; only the fruit seller wasn’t there. He looked around but he was nowhere to be seen. He then approached the eatery owner,

“Where is that old man we spoke about yesterday?”

The cashier looked up cluelessly,

“Which old man?”

“We spoke about him… he sat there yesterday?” 

“What old man sitting there? Nobody sits there. I was talking about my father there.” The cashier pointed to his father who, like the day before, was reading a book.

Dhurandhar tried to calm himself, and went to his fellow classmates,

“Which old man are you talking about…we never saw anyone sitting in the middle of the marketplace.”

 They never saw him because for them he wasn’t there.

 While walking downhill, everyone saw his new shoes… 

“Hey Dhurandhar, what lovely shoes you are wearing!”

“Hey Dhurandhar… very nice shoes.” He was beaming. 

Back at home, his parents were shocked at the sight of his new shoes.

“Relax …there was a ‘try-your-luck’ shooting stall there. If we shot more number of bottles, we could win shoes.”

“Oh! my boy ….Mera veer Dhurandhar…. jeet ke aaya naye joote!!(My dear grandson has won new shoes)” His grandmother was so overwhelmed.

He just looked at her lovingly…

“Daadi!! if only I had known … I would have wished for something more important…” Dhurandhar thought. 

He didn’t share with anyone anything about the old man. That evening the guavas were ready and they all enjoyed the ripe fruits.

“Isn’t it an irony ? God doesn’t tell us when he is granting our wish.”

It isn’t that he wasn’t happy, he loved his new shoes … but he was regretting the fact that he had the opportunity, but missed wishing for something big. But he thought, on the other hand, at least, he could see the baba. His classmates didn’t see him at all.

Thinking all this, he slept. After a few days, one morning he just decided to check the old man’s bag that he had kept neatly folded in his cupboard. He straightened it and then dug down to re-experience the thrill of finding the shoes…. Instead, he felt something, something like a paper; he extracted it and stared at it. It was a formal document … a document of his school …saying that he had won the scholarship from his school and below was the Principal’s signature dated a week hence. He broke into a cold sweat. He was holding a paper he really wanted from his heart.

     Suddenly, the pieces came together in front of his eyes…

His wish…what was his wish? To get new shoes?… NO. His wish that day in that temple was “ … may he get all that he wants at the proper time”.

What was it that was happening to him? Was his wish really being granted… not just once… but many times…. !! He remembered his grandmother’s words….”you get all you wish for… if you sincerely ask…” So his wishes were being granted! He looked at the old torn bag … for a long time and smiled…someone somewhere in some world was being really nice to him.

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