Sometimes dreams seem so real. You wake up in the middle of the night and start wondering which world is real and which is the dream world. In fact there is a very thin line of difference between the dream world and the real world. I particularly love the twilight zone – that dreamy state between sleep and wakefulness – when every moment seems so pronounced, when every wish comes true, when a lifetime of events transpire in a few seconds and you float in an ocean of repose and serenity.
But not that evening when the nine-year old boy bumped into me as I was walking back home. I stay in a hilly area and some of the slopes are pretty steep and the terrain is undulating in general. So you can’t really see something unless it’s upon you – and on that particular day, Poka was upon me – Poka – the nine year old boy – the bad boy of the neighborhood, the black sheep of his family of daily wage workers; Poka, who always played hookey from school, Poka who never liked wearing shirts and who preferred walking barefoot, the same Poka who neighborhood kids were told to stay far away from and the same Poka who generally left a trail of disturbance wherever he passed.
I don’t know who was more surprised when he bumped into me.
“Bffuuu ..”, I grunted. He paused for a few seconds, glared at me with his fiery eyes – but his expression changed momentarily, a questioning look came into his eyes and he paused for a few moments.
“What’s the matter? Can’t you see where your’e going?”, I asked him and not in a very polite way. This wasn’t the first time that Poka was running away from something – there were plenty of complaints against him in the neighborhood.
He didn’t answer but gave me a strange look as he resumed his running – I couldn’t recognize the look at that time, but later – much later I realized the look as that of one misunderstood, a look of pain and anguish, the look of someone who is not able to communicate with the world or relate to this world like we do.
And then as he ran away, I heard a commotion – a huge hue and cry in the direction from which Poka had come running. And within a few minutes I heard the sounds of the footsteps of people running and finally saw a group of community people running towards me – some middle-aged men, a few young lads and a few kids.
“Oi … Mr Oi … did you see Poka?”, asked Mr Somak breathlessly. “That Poka has kidnapped our cat and run away – we saw him coming this way .. “
“Kidnapped your cat? Huh ??”, thats the only thing I could manage to say. And then I remembered seeing something in Poka’s hands while he was running – and that could definitely be a cat. But I also remembered the look in Poka’s eyes as he had made the sprint past me.
“I think he went that way”, I said and I pointed to the direction which Pokar was supposed to have taken. The wrong direction.
“But why would he steal a cat? I’m sorry .. I mean – why did he kidnap your cat?”, I couldn’t help but ask.
The “cat-search” group started moving in the direction towards which I had pointed. As the group moved forward, Mr Somak dropped back a little and told me in a low voice – “I think he’s trying to get back to us. A few days back we accused Rikon (Poka’s dad) of fraud. Anyway, I have to move on – you know how worried my wife is without the cat – she’ll cry all night and won’t sleep unless Tudlu comes home safe and sound”.
As soon as they left, I decided to investigate the matter on my own. I took the direction which Poka had taken and walked along the dark winding road. It was pretty dark and the road-side lamp-posts instead of illuminating the path actually illuminated small pockets of the road and made the other portions of the road darker, if that’s possible.
I had a pretty god idea where Poka would have gone and knew exactly how to deal with him. No scolding, no punishment, no reprimands – they never worked anyway. If indeed Poka had stolen the cat, I would first try to get Tudlu back in pristine condition to his rightful owners, without Poka getting affected in anyway; then try to understand why he stole the cat and then as a punishment make him do community service – as the Community Leader, I could do as much. Poka had to realize that as a member of our community, or any community for that matter, he needed to abide by certain minimum rules and standards.
So I climbed over the wall of the children’s park (which was locked after 7:00 pm) and walked towards the tank-end along the shadowy paths when I heard a mew and saw two pairs of eyes. Poka and Tudlu.
“Poka .. don’t be afraid. It’s me, Oi.”, I said gently and started walking slowly towards them. Neither of them moved.
“Don’t run. Just give me Tudlu and tell me what happened”, I said and switched on my pen torch. After 7:00 the park lights were switched off and except for the moon-light there was no other source of illumination.
As I inched even nearer to them, Poka said, “You can have him”, and handed Tudlu to me, quite reluctantly – in fact even Tudlu was unwilling to come over to me.
“Okay. So tell me what happened”, I asked gently. Things were going fine – Tudlu seemed unharmed and okay and Poka seemed very calm. The lull after the storm, I believe.
And then nine year old problem child Poka started with his tale. And when I heard the story, I felt ashamed of myself – ashamed of myself as a human being, as a judge of character and as a Community Leader. Poka narrated slowly and in stutters (he had a slight speech deficiency) how 3-4 days back he had heard Tudlu meowing in a strange way and how the right side of the Tudlu’s face seemed to have swollen. Apparently no one in the Somak family had noticed that the cat was meowing in pain and that it had stopped eating.
So Poka had gone into the Somak’s house (by climbing over the wall) and discovered that the cat had a fish-bone stuck in it’s gum and was not able to get it out by itself. So when he had tried to remove the fish-bone from Tudlu’s gum, he was seen by the security guard and chased away when he had tried to explain the situation. He had been barred from entering the Somak residence and how had not been allowed to explain why he had done what he had done. And then he decided that the only way to help Tudlu the cat and stop its pain was to remove the fish-bone, somehow, and if that entailed stealing the cat, he would do it. And he had done it – he had stolen the cat, removed the fish-bone and subsequently when someone saw him with Tudlu and raised a hue and cry, he picked up Tudlu and started running towards the only safe place he knew – the tank-end of the children’s park.
The cat started fidgeting in my hand and jumped out and ran to the grass and started chewing selected blades of grass – a sign that it was on it’s way to recovery. Let Tudlu enjoy his grassy delight – I had more important matters to deal with.This was time to act and not to talk.
I went near Pokar and held him closely and then patted his head. And then along with Tudlu, who had once again stationed himself in Poka’s arms, we started walking home, after scaling the park walls. This was no twilight zone – but it was a moment of peace and serenity.
That day I made a promise to myself about Poka and all other Poka’s of the world. Now was their time to dream.