Ashish Bhandari

Unkempt bookshelves, papers with notes scribbled on them and antediluvian furniture stuffed with books that lay beneath layers of dust were the proud possessions of that murky little room. Termite infested wooden ceiling looked vulnerable even to a thud on the floor. Cigarette stubs rested on ash-covered and frayed newspapers with oil blotches, which I reckon were used to wrap "pakodas." The ambience was quite unsettling to a person used to neat and cosy confines. That was my neighbour’s room.

I had this encounter when my cricket fanatic brother sent his ball spinning across the fence. To his dismay the ball dropped inside the open window of the hitherto unexplored territory and I was asked to get it. I sneaked into the villa like a burglar, without making so much as a tweak of a noise. Though my conviction told me not to creep in like I did, I nevertheless did enter it. I immediately noticed that it was about to collapse. I had my heart in my mouth when I saw an old chap holding a broken cup fit for the bin. Our eyes locked and I was greeted with a grin.

But this was not so revealing a rendezvous. Anticipating a rebuke, I was, however, amused to see him directing me to a shabby rug. Then he walked out asking me to keep waiting. Apprehensive as I was, I could not help but scrutinise the room. I was left bemused by the chaos and speculated it to be a possession of a no ordinary man. I surreptitiously looked for the ball but it was nowhere to be found. One moment I thought of relinquishing the mission and escaping, but on a second thought I contemplated to stay. I now wanted to know about the man. Soon after, heavy footsteps followed and the man entered with "pakodas" wrapped on a stale newspaper and offered me some. My reservation against relishing street food notwithstanding, I reluctantly picked up one and munched on.

He relished them in the mean time. As I acclimatised to the room, I could see wrinkles on his face. Those spoke of age and loneliness. Then he grabbed a paper from the floor and handed it over to me. His spontaneity was beyond my imagination. I finished reading it and was left startled. Those were the figments of a prolific writer who never came to the limelight. Perplexed by the treatment, I handed him his asset and headed home. I did not want to dig much into his solitary life. I thought I will not broach the subject of the ball, to reciprocate his hospitality. Back home my brother could not stop sulking.