It is 7 pm. The sun has long set in this eastern seaside city. We are at a bus stop, the evening rush hour blares and glares its aggressive way past us as we cower against a wall. There is no footpath, no shelter, nothing to dignify the daily wait of dozens of commuters. Divakar waits with us, clutching his stick as close to himself as possible, so it doesn’t get in anyone’s way.”What number is it?”, he asks every once in a while. His ability to discern the roar of a bus over the general din is amazing.
When the right bus arrives, Divakar tries to apologise and excuse his way in, but the mass of bodies jammed on the footboard does nothing to help. The whistle is blown and the bus leaves, without him. Until a friendly hand hauls him in, Divakar will wait, patiently and cheerfully. But today, I am nearly at the end of my tether. He has waited more than an hour, while four uncaring buses have left him behind. “Do you know who this man is?” I want to scream. “Can’t you see he needs help?” “How dare you push him!” But it will only embarrass him. So I bite my tongue. Several times over.
A few days ago, Divakar managed to squeeze into a bus, only to step on another passenger’s foot. Perhaps overwrought from a long, difficult day, the passenger burst into a string of abuses, shoved Divakar around, and, emboldened by his apologetic manner, punched him hard. Frail Divakar could take it no longer. “I am very sorry sir, I truly am. But I cannot see. Please forgive me.”
In the silence that swept over the bus, a woman called to the dumbstruck passenger. “Apologise to him, you fool. If he curses you, seven generations of your progeny will be born blind.”
Yet another bus arrives, and this time, Divakar makes it in. He waves in our general direction and we wave back. He would expect us to.
Harsha’s parents are sitting silent and anxious when Divakar enters. They can barely bring themselves to be polite to the man who encouraged, in fact instigated their son to quit a Masters course at a leading institute, to pursue what he loved best – music. What kind of teacher ruins a student’s life? But an hour later, Harsha’s mother is insisting Divakar have dinner before leaving. His father is almost smiling at the man’s ineffective refusal.
Divakar teaches Humanities at a technology-centred institute. In a campus where human problems are addressed through better and better technology, Divakar makes it his job to (gently) suggest that the real solutions may lie not in the realm of what we can make, but what we can do without.
With greater strength of character than any of us can gather, Divakar lives his beliefs. He has refused campus accommodation so his aged parents can spend their last days in a home familiar to them. He can afford both a car and a driver, but chooses to change two buses and then walk a bit to get from home to work.
Harsha is not the first student Divakar has led ‘astray’. There is Raju who quit a month before finishing his thesis, to go teach tribal children in a forgotten forest. There is Manasi, who refused an investment banking job and went back to classical dance. And so many, many others.
It is 7 pm. The sun has set, but the sky is bleeding a dark purple. Strange. We are on a quiet street in a middle-class neighbourhood west of the city. We ring the bell at a low, rusty gate. A woman comes out smiling and lets us in. “He is very tired,” she whispers as she leads us to his room. “He hasn’t even had a spoon of water in a month.”
Divakar is lying in bed, his head propped up by a few pillows. He has four tubes going into and out of him. I can see each vein, each finger bone; there is a well where his cheeks used to be. “How was the concert?” he asks feebly. It was excellent, sung by a man twice Divakar’s age. A concert he would have attended in better times. We tell him it was good, careful not to use superlatives, they seem out of place here.
We ask him if he has been listening to the concerts on the radio. He shakes his head. “I can’t concentrate,” he says. I almost smile. Music has never been a background activity for Divakar–it is necessarily centre-stage, never something to disrespect through inattention.
A colleague of his arrives. A couple of students have come along as well. The boy says nothing the whole time, the girl tells Divakar the albino blackbuck calf born recently to the only herd on campus is doing well. He is happy, but the tubes don’t allow him a smile. They leave behind a CD for Divakar. Dhrupad. Good choice, bad timing.
We sit, listening to him breathe. It is from his silence that we know he is in pain. The nurse comes in, helps him up, removes the glucose drip and replaces it with something else. “Morphine,” he says. “It helps me sleep.” We rise to take leave. “I am not giving up, you know.” Divakar slowly turns his head to face us. “I will admit, I wish this hadn’t happened. But now I will fight it. Until the end.” He is rasping from the exhaustion of speaking. He takes a few slow breaths, and smiles. “I will see you in Mysore, soon.”