“What are you thinking of so deeply?” Anita asked her husband as they were walking up the narrow street leading to the school where they were going for a walk-in interview for teaching jobs. The bus that took them from the suburban rail station had dropped them at the foot of the hillock that was majestically crowned by the school building.
“I was thinking of our destiny,” answered Sridhar. “I’ve just a few years left for retirement. You have a few more years. And here we are hunting for a job.”
“What is in your destiny, no one can take away. What is not in your destiny, no one can give you.” She laughed glumly. She was repeating exactly what Sridhar had told her the other day when she grieved the death of the school where they both had been working for years.
Their school was founded by an industrialist. He now wanted an amusement park in its place. The city needs relaxation, he argued. People who were not very kind to him said that the school failed to bring in as much profit as an amusement park would.
Sridhar shared his wife’s gloomy laughter. “This street strangely reminded me of my village and my walks to my school and back home,” he said. “Wild shrubs and brambles with carefree flowers on the sides. No traffic. Only the hum and buzz of some insects and the rustle of the leaves. Rustic serenity of kongini blooms.”
“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness...” Again Anita was teasing him by quoting one of his favourite lines from Thomas Gray.
“I was thinking whether we could give up this job hunt, return to our village in Kerala and settle down there.” Sridhar ignored her taunt which was actually meant to liven up his spirits.
“I’m ready,” she looked at her husband eagerly.
“But we can only return to the place. Not to the time.”
Sridhar’s heart was roaming the streets of the village of his boyhood days when Anita asked him what he was thinking of so deeply. His memories had conjured up pictures of farmers pedalling the water wheel, women carrying water in pots balanced on their heads as well as hips, children throwing sticks to fell mangoes from the trees... Ready to let go the water wheel when a howl for help rises in the air, let go the pots and sticks... Letting go.
“Destiny can only move forward?” Sridhar could not make out whether it was a statement or a question.
“What is destiny?” he asked his wife in return. “Who shapes it? The industrialist who converts a school into an amusement park or the economist who computes the worth of human life in figures of profits and losses or the Man-god who draws the Lakshman rekha for human potential or the politician who dangles all of them and us on puppet strings?
Sridhar and Anita had reached the school. “You stand outside,” the security guard ordered looking at Sridhar.
“But...” he explained that he was a candidate too.
The guard looked at Sridhar’s grey hairs and laughed. “At this age? Moreover,” he chuckled, “only ladies.”
As Sridhar fiddled with his smart phone while he waited outside for Anita to come after her interview, the ring tone sang John Lennon’s lines: There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.