Finding is such pure joy. And how rare, too! It had been several years since I had picked up anything when I found a penknife, a Hindi thriller and a five rupee coin, the last named beaming at me from below the seat of a ramshackle bus plying in our very own metropolis. Recalling that Elvis ditty ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’ I closed my eyes, stiffened my sinews and commended my soul to God before picking up the coin glistening in the errant sunbeam which had chanced through one of the innumerable slits in the roof. Nobody noticed. The conductor did raise a quizzical eye brow but that was about all. The term ‘conductor’ through over use has lost its semantic substance. The fellow is basically a logistics manager and with training can outsmart any sophisticated route operator. Even a funambulist might take a cue from the number of jobs he juggles while on board the boneshaker. This perception is wholly reserved for our country. Now coming back to the treasure trove -the Hindi thriller was a disappointment- not a patch on the Col Vinod and Capt Hameed era whodunits. Hindi detective fiction since then has been on the decline, virtually on the ‘endangered species’ list. Such a sorry state is inexplicable considering the vast treasure of Indian fiction available in genres like Sorcery, Witchcraft, Tilism, and detective fiction. ‘Chandrakanta’ and ‘Bhootnath’ had once fired the imagination of generation of readers and also contributed immensely to the popularity of Hindi language. These works of Devaki Nandan Khatri have outlived the copyright regime and are in the public domain since the early 60s. That is why they were churning out Chandrakanta serials decades ago paying scant regard to the original text and plot. But perhaps I am digressing.
In a life time frittered away looking at the mirror I scarcely noticed the ‘sixpence lying at my feet’. I was never much of a chance finder. At times one does strike a gold mine but the instances are so far removed that they vanish like the may snow drift. Once while waiting to get my vintage Ambassador car serviced I came across an unclaimed copy Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. I was familiar with the works of Maugham and therefore happy to add to my collection of Moon and the Sixpence and Eyeless in Gaza. The neo-intellectuals in my college days would talk of Camus, Kafka and Maugham in the same breath. Perusal of their works was considered the hallmark of intellectual prowess and was a sure passport to the local salons where deipnosophists abound. Photograph of Camus in a trench coat and fedora with a cigarette dangling loosely from the corner of the mouth, looking very much the Bogart of the noir genre, was one of the most widely reproduced photograph of the time.
God’s largesse did not end with the book. This time it was a crumpled hundred rupee note with remnants of superfine khaini , the closest western variant being the snuff, much in vogue among the aristocracy of Europe in the days of yore. This bonanza came my way while going to Ranchi town from my college campus at Mesra. It was not one of those savoury trips one looks forward to but an undignified exit due to hostel vacation orders. As the college had been closed sine die it was being hotly debated whether to push homewards or to foregather in some cosy pastoral retreat for some good times together. It all depended on the pelf and riches.
Emboldened by the find I decided to join the merry revelers, home being at ‘Lands End’. Though I put the money to good use I still haven’t been able to figure out what made the fellow to ‘crumple it’ and to tuck the promissory note under the seat. Perhaps he was a chance finder like me and had acted the way he did to avoid detection by fellow passengers. Of course he would take the booty away while disembarking. Another plausible theory was that he has merely stored the surplus khaini there for a rainy day quite forgetting the king’s ransom in the form of a crumpled note.
I might add, that now and then, perhaps a ball pen, pocket comb or a sparsely populated purse or some such trifles, no matter how well supplied one may be with, cannot be acquired without a thrill. Think of a Blackbury or a Rayban thus found. We all live and learn. A defeatist may venture something like “it takes all sorts”.
The essence of finding something which brings to us unalloyed joy is half unexpectedness and half uniqueness. There being no aposematic forecast, no intuitive premonition and the ‘gift’ coming to you by chance: no one is to be thanked, no one to be owed anything. “Something for nothing … ” Ay, there’s the rub…”. Shakespeare has put these things so beautifully. To look for the thing is to transform the whole plot-to rob it of its ‘sublime suddenness’-perchance to become even concerned or greedy.
In its larger context we may use the word discovery-something akin to Columbus discovering America or was it the West Indies. Our concern for trifles and small findings are at once so stimulating and pure joy that to meddle with it would only appeal to a killjoy. Yet there are people who have an unsavoury sense of the sport!
I recall the small rustic game or charade being played out by stringing a purse or paper money (bill or note) or any such desirable object which the casual walker gleefully stoops to pick up. The pranksters conveniently hidden from view have a field day as they pull the string leading the unsuspecting wayfarer on a merry chase. There are many clever variants which the fun-seeking lads have in their repertoire. In this cyber age of ours such diversions may seem blasé. But for a country whose half the population lives below poverty line there may still be some relevance left in such innocuous and simple pastimes.
One common thread which runs through this serendipity is the absence of haste. My once rural seat and current urban dwellings present contrasting styles in time management. Reckon a simple activity like breakfast. Absence of haste is anathema to modern spirit. For most commuters it is always charged with disturbing quiet. The unnerving scenario of buses disappearing round the corner and the cacophony of traffic jams brood over the chota hazri , transforming mild God-fearing men into wild harpies as they sprint out like bats from hell. Down at the rural seat the meals are leisurely and indolent- a perfect epitome of laid-back country life of a cultured man. It is a breakfast of ease and languescent mood, a meal of ‘soft murmurs and rustling papers’.
Circumstances afford little options. This harum-scarum age of ours has everything excepting time where brutish bolting of food is the in-thing. However, a quiet leisurely, laid- back meal by the crackling logs in winter has its unwavering charm.
Let’s take a little time off for ourselves.
“We look before and after
And pine for what is not”