“Let me tell you my part of the story. Listen, and don’t interrupt”, Prasad said and Amrit nodded.
“I am a retired public sector executive. On the night of your accident, I had just arrived from Bombay and was on my way home from the station. A friend had come to pick me up. We heard the sound of your crash and speeded up. We barely missed getting hit by a truck that came hurtling at us wildly. We skidded off the road trying to avoid getting hit. It took us a few minutes to get back on the road again. We saw your car from almost two hundred meters away; it was on its side. We also saw a bike rider standing alongside with his ignition on. He seemed to be waiting. Just then we saw another man run out from the other side of the car. He was carrying a huge bag, holding it awkwardly. Now I know it was because the bag was torn. Something dropped from the bag but they had seen our headlights so they left hurriedly. We came to your car and saw you squashed and bleeding inside. Immediately, I called up another friend who owns the hospital you were taken to and he promised to send an ambulance immediately. My friend who was with me meanwhile called up the police control room.
“While we waited, I walked around to the other side of the car to see if we could somehow pull you out. There, I saw a packet of some white stuff. I picked it up and showed it to my friend. Just then my friend noticed something glittering. The guy who ran away with the bag had dropped a few gold bars. We knew we had got entangled in something definitely criminal and unanimously decided to leave immediately before the police arrived. Without being aware of it, I pocketed the two gold bars I had picked up and we drove away.
“Your treatment started immediately because of my friend. It was I who paid for your treatment when I saw your mother could not raise the money. I am only sorry I didn’t pay all of it, but I really couldn’t lay my hands on so much cash so quickly. Don’t worry”, he held up his hand to stop Amrit from saying anything, “you don’t owe me anything. A year later, when this whole thing blew over, I sold the gold bars we picked up that night. I was compensated. There is still some money left from that, which I would like to give you.
“In the hospital you were frequently delirious. From what you said, we could make out what had happened. Are you aware that you had recognized the truck that hit you…?”
“What…!! But I don’t remember it at all..!” Amrit said shocked. “Whose truck did I say it was…?”
“It belonged to the fleet of your boss’s brother. My doctor friend told me it was not surprising this particular memory was wiped out of your mind. It happens. This shows that your accident was not an accident. Whether it was your boss… or his brother… who tried to kill you, we will never know. Personally, I think it was the brother. It was he who sent the two men to pick up the bag once the accident had happened. This means, he must have set up a watch nearby.”
Amrit was literally hopping with ill-concealed excitement. “The brother lives barely two meters away from where my accident took place. I know they can see the road clearly from their terrace.”
“Well… that was it then”, said Prasad. “Were the two brothers close…?”
“Outwardly they were close”, said Amrit. “But in truth there was an intense rivalry between them.”
Prasad nodded as one more piece of jigsaw fell into place. “The brother grabbed the drugs and gold. For all we know, it might have been he who got them killed too. Do you think it possible…?”
“I really couldn’t say”, said Amrit thoughtfully. “It might well be as you say. Tell me one thing though, why did you stop…? Most people hate getting mixed up in a road accident.”
Prasad didn’t speak immediately. Then he took a deep breath and said, “You are right. People don’t like to get mixed up. I told you I had returned from Bombay that night. I had gone there to perform the last rites for my only son who was a victim of a road accident. Had someone rushed him to the hospital just half an hour earlier, he would have been alive today. He was only twenty, exactly your age that night.”
The words, spoke simply and without a trace of bitterness, lay suspended between them. Amrit didn’t know what to say. The eyes of the father remained dry, focused on a private vision of his own. It was Amrit who shed the tears in his stead. Once again, the pain belonged to them both. The bond between them grew stronger. Prasad rested his hand on Amrit’s head and smiled at him. It was the most poignant moment of Amrit’s life. He had never felt so much a part of another person, never felt such acceptance.
“Babuji”, whispered Amrit, “was it you who got me that job in Bangalore…?”
“Yes, it was I”, Prasad said his voice low too.
The river was the only one that spoke while both sat silent… wrapped up in a common destiny. At last Amrit spoke.
“You have given me life. You are more my father than the one who gave birth to me. The love you have shown me tonight is something I have never seen nor heard, let alone experience. I KNOW you loved your son too. How is it that you are able to speak of his passing with no pain…? How is it that you not angry with God…?”
“I am not angry because God gave me a chance to heal. That night, I was bitter and angry with God and the callous world. I blamed myself for sending him out to study… for buying him a bike. I stopped when I saw your blood on the road. I didn’t have a single kindly thought in me when I stepped out of the car. I hated the world until I saw your young body drenched in your own blood. In that moment when I should have been upset and confused, God let me experience His grace by giving me an insight. God was giving me a chance to heal by letting me become an instrument not only to save your life but to spare another parent the agony I was myself going through that time. It was a moment of choice for me. I could remain bitter with the world and revenge myself on it by walking away as others had walked away from my own son. I was also given a chance to experience the callous indifference that other drivers must have experienced when they saw my son bleeding his life away. I was healed of my bitter anger in that moment. I could not feel bitter with others for feeling exactly as I had felt a few minutes ago. It was my choice to help you, because it was I who was driving that night.”
“How can you say it was your choice…? It was by chance you came then. It was fate you came to save me.” Amrit expected Prasad to agree.
“No Amrit”, Prasad said shaking his head. “It was perhaps chance that brought me there in that moment. Yet, in that moment of chance, I still had a choice- to stop and help or not. I made that choice. I am glad I made a wise choice, not a bad one. I know this is not easy for you to understand.”
“Yes…”, said Amrit. “I don’t understand. Please can you explain…?”
“Let me ask you”, said Prasad “do you love Ma Narbada…?”
“Yes of course I do. She is our mother”, said Amrit with reverence.
“I am sure you can swim, right..?” Amrit nodded.
“If you leave your body loose and just float, what would happen…?”
“The current would carry me downstream”, said Amrit.
“Does she forbid you from swimming…?”
“You know she doesn’t”, Amrit replied.
“In that case, if you swim along the current, will your progress be faster… than if you just float…?”
“Yes”, said Amrit.
“Can you also swim upstream if you like…? Have you tried it…?”
“Of course I can swim upstream. In fact I love doing that. It makes me feel powerful. I like pitting my strength against the flow and winning”, Amrit said smiling.
“Do you think Ma Narbada gets offended when you win this way…?”
“No of course she doesn’t. I am her child, and a mother is always happy to see her child win”, Amrit replied smiling.
“That is how it with God too. He gives us a destiny which is like the path the river follows. The current of the water is your fate. He gives you the power, will and equipment to swim, which is your ability to make wilful choices. By deciding not to swim, you abdicate the responsibility of choices in your life. You prefer to drift wherever the current of fate carries you. Do you see that piece of land…?” Prasad pointed to the small island in the middle of the river, dividing it in two for a while before it merged again.
“Yes I do”, said Amrit. “The current on that side is swifter. And there are many rocks there too. We never go there to swim. It is dangerous.”
“Yes, I know”, said Prasad. “But when you float, it is more likely that you will float towards the fork which flows faster. If that happens, what will happen to you..? Will you get hurt…?”
“Yes”, said Amrit. “There are rocks on that side. Moreover, the current is rapid. It would batter your body.”
“True”, said Prasad. “When you swim and navigate the river with an aware conscious intention, you have many choices. You can sit by the bank for a while to let your body rest and gain strength. You can steer clear of the worst of the rocks. You can even go ashore and build a raft for yourself, can’t you..? You can go upstream if you choose. You can help someone who is drowning. There are so many choices. But to choose, you must decide to take the responsibility of choice. I am not saying, you will have a perfectly smooth journey, but surely you will have a smoother journey than you would if you just allow yourself to be carried along. From what you have told me of your life, you have always floated like a log of wood- or a dead body. There was only once you decided to swim. Can you tell me when..?”
Amrit say silent, plunged into thought. Then he replied, “It was when I decided to save money and put myself through a driving course.”
“Exactly”, said Prasad, pleased to note that Amrit was following him perfectly. “And did your life improve because of your wilful choice…?”
“Yes it did”, said Amrit. “But I am in trouble today because of it.”
“No”, said Prasad. “You are in trouble because you began to float again. Life will not permit you to escape the consequences of your choice- even if it is non-choice that you chose. You cannot renege on life. It will throw you on the rocks and batter your body. Life is not merciful, it is neutral and just. This brings me to another point.
“Your choices must be aligned with the laws of the universe. The roots of your choices must be deep into the principles that the laws of the universe are devised to support. If you violate these principles, you will be treated accordingly. Tell me, what should you have done when you found your master was a crook..?”
Again Amrit was silent for a while. “I should have left the job and found another”, said Amrit with wonder. “Why did I never realize this before…? I could have saved myself a life time of torture and pain.”
“Yes you could have. Since you are a driver, I will explain it this way. There are two distinct forces that drive your life. Your fate- as it is meant in the negative sense- and your will or the choices that you make deliberately and consciously. If one force is weak, the deficit is compensated by making the other strong. When your own will and choices don’t drive your life, your fate will have a field day. The moment you take the steering wheel of your life in your hands, your fate has to follow along powerlessly. In the process, you forge a new destiny for yourself and not live the helpless default life of a powerless being. There is no point in regretting the past. The past happened in order to teach you the lesson you have learned. It will help you to make better choices in the future. Tell me, what are you going to do now…?”
Amrit sat silent, thinking deeply. Prasad waited patiently, knowing well that a skill takes time to become familiar to the first time user. Moreover, sifting through the debris of many years is not an easy job. At last Amrit looked up. His eyes glowed with a new determination.
“The first thing I will do is to ask my good for nothing brothers to get jobs. If they don’t, I will ask them to leave the house and fend for themselves. I am not going to bear the burden of their lives. I have given them enough chances. Is that a right decision…?”
Prasad smiled in delight. “Yes, it is. I think it more than likely that they will toe the line when they see that you mean it. What else…? I have over 1.5 lac rupees left from the sale of the two gold bars. You are welcome to use the money.”
“Really…?!!!” Amrit’s eyes were shinning. “Then I’ll be able to clear both the loans at once AND return twenty thousand to my boss in Bangalore…!”
Amrit thought for a while.
“Babuji…”, he asked hesitantly, “will you help me to buy my own taxi…?”
Prasad placed his hand on Amrit’s forehead in blessing. In the same instant that the sun broke through the horizon letting its first ray hit Amrit’s head in benediction. The long night was finally over.
The river flowed serenely on, carrying within her the secret of the still upheaval she had borne witness to through the night.