Ravi hitched up his backpack and left.
He had come to visit them ten days ago. They lived in a village fifty kilometers away from Nagpur.
Dawn was just breaking in the east. The sky was flushed with promise. For no reason at all, Ravi felt braced. Today is the first day of the rest of my life, he murmured to himself. He walked faster, taller. He felt one with the dawn.
Once he reached the main road, he sat down on the curve of an ancient neem tree which served as a bus- stop.
It was early summer and the tree had shed its foliage. Its nearly naked branches sported masses of delicate white flowers. The nests birds had built in the nooks of its branches were exposed. The birds twittered on, regardless.
He had no idea when the bus would come. The service was hopelessly erratic. One just sat and hoped for the best. Ravi felt the stirrings of an old peeve rise in his throat. He quelled the tide determinedly. In one year, he promised himself solemnly, I’ll buy a car and will never sit like a country bumpkin wasting my time like this.
Ravi had decided to get a job as soon as he finished his graduation. Like most of his peers, he was clueless about his own abilities or interests. When someone asked him what his career plan was, he could never go beyond ‘a good job’. What that good job would be, which talents of his could be of interest to a prospective employer, he had no idea. All he knew was that he wanted a good job. Any job was a good job if it gave him a hefty salary. Period. The job was just a vehicle that would get him to his destination of a lavish lifestyle. He didn’t bother himself with any other thought. He was rather proud of his lack of fastidiousness.
He didn’t know the market place or its requirements. He didn’t know enough to ask himself what abilities he possessed that a company would pay him a ‘hefty’ salary. Certainly, it had never occurred to him that the the employer’s requirements needed to be aligned with his capabilities before anything resembling a salary could happen. His mental state was that of unset jelly syrup. He was ready to be poured into any container and would take on its shape uncomplainingly. And not too firmly, that, either. He had no idea that he had set the stage for disaster by letting the random vagary of chance take the reigns of his future.
In that spirit of ignorance, he prepared himself for campus placement interviews. He would have preferred attending all of them, but that was not possible. He could appear only for six interviews, his placement coordinator told him. Unfettered by any ignoble bias or preference, he randomly selected six companies. He congratulated himself on his pragmatism, very pleased with himself.
Of the six interviews he appeared for, Ankit- the HR at a prestigious private bank, had hinted at the ‘heftiest’ compensation package. Ravi had frozen on to Ankit with all the droll genius of a limpet. In subsequent daydreams of his life ahead, he saw Ankit falling upon his neck, weeping in relief, the moment he walked into the bank’s head office. He was scheduled to reach Pune and present himself at the bank at ten am on the next day. The journey would take almost twelve hours and he was getting late. He knew he wouldn’t be able to reach Pune even by late evening. A secret anxiety gnawed at him surreptitiously but he managed to shoo it away. It crept away and bid its time.
Five hours later, Ravi still waited. He was tired and fed up. Three buses had passed by. One was going to Jaipur and the other two were going to Pune but did not stop when he waved his hands frantically. When the second bus bound for Pune whooshed past him, leaving him covered in dust, he picked up a stone and threw it after it in impotent rage.
The memory of his graduation day rose in his eyes. His secret anxiety reared its poisonous head and jeered at him. ‘What use is your brilliant academic record now? Will it help you get to Pune? Even if you get to Pune, what of it? What makes you think Ankit will deliver on his promise? Boys like you are so much societal debris- unlovely and dispensable. You are destined to be ground into the tar roads of success as life rolls over you with its giant wheels. You might gleam for a short while, if you are lucky. Then you will sink into obscurity forever. And you plan to buy a car in one year! ‘
The voice of his anxiety cackled on and on. Ravi couldn’t take it anymore. He had to silence that voice anyhow..! His desperation ran rampant. He made up his mind to board the next bus if he had to lie down on the road to stop it.
He began pacing furiously. His feet pounded the road hard enough to send a jar shooting into his head. He had a raging headache.
When he heard the vroom of another bus he ran towards it, staying in middle of the road. His teeth set on edge, he was determined to board it come what may. The bus screeched to a stop. While the driver and conductor heaped invective upon him, he plunged into the haven. Only when the bus moved off again did he permit himself to acknowledge that the bus was packed to double its capacity. The undulating mass of humanity stank. He stubbornly focused his mind on his relief and ignored the rest.
An hour later, he felt calmer. The bus had emptied somewhat and he had found a place to sit. The breeze smoothened the headache out of his crumpled brow. He ate the food his grandmother had given him and slept.
When he woke up, it was nearly eleven. The bus was moving sluggishly.
“Why haven’t we reached Pune yet?” he asked the rustic sitting next to him.
“Where!?” the rustic asked in disbelief.
“Pune, where else?” Ravi snapped at the rustic in annoyance.
“Babu (Sir), this bus is going to Jaipur, not Pune. What’s wrong with you?”
Open mouthed, Ravi stared at the man.
“Jaipur!!” His somnolent anxiety tore into him with devastating malevolence. He sat stunned into immobility. Jaipur..!!!
Hardly aware of his actions, he rushed over to the driver.
“Bhaiya (brother), I want to go to Pune, not Jaipur. Can you not turn the bus around? I’ll lose my job if I don’t reach Pune latest by ten tomorrow morning. There is still time. Please…” Ravi was hysterical and out of control.
“Have you gone mad? What kind of an idiot gets on to a bus without finding out where it is going? Aren’t you the maniac who forced me to stop by running in the middle of the road?”
“Bhaiya please, I will lose my job. I am begging you.”
“We are about to reach Jaipur in a couple of hours. You can go to Pune from there.”
“By then the interviews will be over bhaiya, please help me.”
“You should have planned better. You can’t just board a bus without knowing where it will take you and then argue with the driver to take you where you want to go! What nonsense is this? Go now and sit down. I don’t want to argue with a fool like you.”
Like a dazed man, Ravi walked back to his seat and broke into racking sobs. What had gone wrong? How had this terrible thing happened to him? What about his dreams… his car? Oh God… he was better off dead!
When the worst of his tempest had abated, he saw a glass of water being pressed upon him by a gnarled hand.
“Babu, what were you thinking? You cannot take decisions about your life so thoughtlessly! Life is difficult enough when you plan for it with prudent care. Even with all the planning in the world there will be times when random chance will throw a spanner into the works. But to hand the center stage of your life to it on a platter!!
“How will you ever get ahead if you select any random vehicle that happens to come alone and trust it to take you to your destination? This way you will reach a place where you never wanted to go, like now. Don’t feel bad now. What has been done cannot be undone. Life has a way of teaching us lessons. Sometimes she is not gentle but she can be effective- provided you heed her. In future, make sure the path you choose will take you to the destination you wish to reach. Make sure you select the right vehicle to board. Don’t ever throw yourself to the mercy of random chance again.”
Ravi nodded mutely. The night had taught him something vitally important and he was grateful.
A new dawn will break again soon, as resplendent with promise as ever.