The first rays of the sun tore through the clouds and burst forth with all their might. The night put up a struggle and was unwilling to leave. Strands of day and night adorning the dawn sky lit up the struggle. Below on earth another encounter witnessed the divine play of light above. It was an encounter of unequal foes – life and the will to perish.
Chetan was lying on a bench in the park. The park was surrounded by roads on all sides, rather one busy road and three narrow lanes – two of the lanes joined the road and the third lane was narrow and lonely. The bench was along this lane. The park was thickly populated with trees – so many that neither could he see the boundary walls on the farther sides of the park and nor could he discern the presence of another person. There was path that had been hemmed out from this thick outgrowth and ran parallel to the boundary walls on all the sides.
He had escaped from the hospital. He didn’t know what he was doing and where he was going. He watched the sky with a child-like expression of wonder and a moribund stillness. He felt blank. He felt empty. He was wearing a gown given him in the hospital – he had nothing but the gown and his underwear.
He could see a tent at the edge of the park. An old hag became visible as the sun started gaining in the encounter - she was sitting outside the tent. She wore a ragged gown which had been stitched together from various pieces of dull, faded clothes. The gown was too big for her and made her look bigger than she actually was. From the opening of this gown on the top a face emerged that was dark, ugly and wrinkled. Her hair was grey and dusty. Her eyes were sharp, piercing and a strange madness in them – a penetrating ferocity.
She was trying to light a fire with some twigs that she had collected. He looked around and found a saucepan beside her. He imagined tea in the pan and the smell of tea wafted its way from his mind to his nose. He longed for a cup of hot tea. One year back, at this time he was demanding tea at home and his mother was preparing tea at top speed. She had to prepare tea for Chetan, coffee for herself and her husband and then get ready to leave for office. Chetan liked tea more than coffee – he preferred coffee only before serious studies. He used to like tea more than coffee – now he liked nothing, wanted nothing and yet missed everything – he felt that it was this feeling which was the weakness of his soul and life sowed the seeds for this weakness. The dream suddenly dissolved in his tears – tears not of sadness or nostalgia - and when the drops fell on his cheeks clearing his eyes of the dream, he could see the old hag lifting the pan from the fire which was now burning vigorously.
He lifted himself from the bench with much effort. His leg where he had been operated hurt him and walking was difficult. The fire and the food provoked him to draw near. He was attracted as though by some invisible force. He had completely surrendered his mind to his body and his body moved instinctively towards nourishment, towards the burning fire of life.
The old hag saw him approaching and her features became taut. She guarded herself, her pan and her tent with a maternal ferocity. As Chetan limped forward, she clutched a branch which was shaped like a club and stared constantly at Chetan. Chetan was too feeble to speak and approached without a word. Without any warning, the old hag got up, ran towards Chetan swearing incessantly. He was shocked and paralyzed at this sudden revolt. He saw the club descending on him and the thorns in the branch scratched his head leaving a bleeding gash behind. He fell on the muddy ground with a pain piercing his leg. A stone had abraded the bandage from his leg and his wound now lay open to the brutality of nature all around. The old hag could see a deep wound stretching from his left knee to the middle of his calf muscles. Half the leg had been scooped out and the raw flesh was visible. The wound looked fresh although there was no blood. It seemed as though blood was tired of oozing out. There were stains of blood all over the wound and she could see the faint outline of his bone in the middle of the wound. Chetan was crying softly as the sunlight, having won the battle against night, sought its next victim in his leg.
The hag saw his leg and felt nauseated. She went back to her tent muttering constantly to herself. Chetan’s head was bleeding at two places - near his left temple where the branch had hit him and on the other side where his head had landed with a thud on the ground. The pain in his leg was moving slowly upwards and he could feel the excruciating radiating pain. In agony, he kicked his left leg with his right leg. His right toe touched the wound and he yelled out in pain. His head was throbbing as blood dripped from over his eyebrow and mingled with his tears on his cheek.
He felt as though the pain from his leg wanted to meet the pain from his head and his chest and torso prevented the meeting. He felt a tug of war being played at the two ends of his body. The sunlight had become harsher and he could feel each ray clawing into the two ends of his body. He could not hear his own wailing increasing in intensity. The old hag heard it and ran away from the park with her pan. There was nobody in Chetan’s vicinity. Then the wailing ceased and Chetan saw himself in a different place. In fact he saw himself in two places – lying in the park tormented with pain and standing in his house just out of bed. He knew that one Chetan was a reality and the other a dream. How he wished it was the other way round. He tried hard to concentrate on the dream. The other Chetan was now static and slowly he could only see the events of his past unfurling in front of his closed eyes...