The free bird

Mind – arguably the most powerful, yet mysterious conundrum of nature. My mind takes me on fascinating journeys at times. On this lazy Saturday, I have been lying on my back on the sands of the Marina beach, seeing nothing but flocks of birds flying past. Like a video clip put on a loop, the birds kept coming. My mind kept humming the Lynyrd Skynyrd staple, Freebird. It’s been long since I visited Chennai. I remember coming here long back, for my cousin’s wedding. Now, years later, back again to fulfil a forgotten rendezvous with my longtime friend, Ramanathan.

Time crawled by. I had lost count of the birds. The sky in the backdrop went from a pale blue to a dazzling purple to a fiery reddish-orange hue. My mind had set off on a voyage of its own, meeting among others, Carl Sagan, that Hendrix guy, and that Johansson lady.

“Hey Aravind!” It was Ram. His zesty voice woke me up from my reverie. See you later, Johansson.

“What’s up?, ” I asked, propping myself up on the sand. “Did you finally decide to let me know why you dragged me here, of all places?” I was irked that my fantasy date had come to an abrupt end.

“Have you heard this quote by Henry Beston?” Ram asked, completely ignoring my question, “’The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.’ That’s true, isn’t it?”

I hated rains; my mind has always associated rains with staying indoors, power outages and thunderstorms. And what was that wind in primeval woods? That creeps me out. Sound of ocean on a beach? Yes, majestic, I agree.

“Henry who?” I asked, not making an effort to conceal my discomfort. The dosa-chutney and sambhar-vadas that we had had seemed a long time ago. My stomach was rumbling now.

“The sun is about to set, Aravind. The waves, the clouds, the sun – they make a fine imagery, do they not? The waves would devour the Sun anytime now.”

How very poetic. Darn! Now I am hungrier.

“Really?” I asked, exasperated, “You brought me here to show me the sunset? I have seen my share of sunsets in life dude.”

Ram went into a fit of laughter when I said this. A few bursts of laughter and some coughs later, he controlled himself and said, “And yet, each one is different, right my friend?”

I wasn’t amused at all. He saw my glum face and said, “We’ll go soon buddy, the dinner is on me.”

“Better be,” I said, and laid back on the sand.

No sooner had my eyes traced a flock of birds out of the horizon than Ram called me again.

“Get up Aravind, I want you to see this.” His voice had suddenly become mellow and trailed off. He stared into the distance, as if something had instilled a divine peace in him and had transfixed his gaze.

I got up and looked where he was pointing to. A group of children were running along the shoreline, laughing all along. They looked so happy, as if they had everything they wanted in this world. If it was not for their torn clothes, I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I saw, captivated, as the group rushed to a Kulfiwala and bought themselves kulfis. How happy they were.

Kids running along a beach
Kids running along a beach

“Are they not the ones who were selling conch shells and glittering stones over there?” I asked, “You even bought a shell from them!”

“Yes. They are the same ones. Do you see how happy they are?”

I nodded my head in agreement. They were indeed happy.

“You know why they are so happy?” asked Ram.

“Because they bought the Kulfis?” I said, half-expecting Ram to burst out laughing again.

“Because they earned those Kulfis,” Ram corrected me. “You see Aravind, they spent their day collecting shells and beautiful stones on this beach. Then they sell it to people. They earn their treat, my friend. That’s dignity.”

I somehow didn’t feel hungry anymore. I sat there, my mind going through what had transpired in these last five minutes.

“How did you know what they were going to do?” I asked.

“I come here on weekends Aravind; and not so much to see the sunsets.” he replied with a smile.

I was still trying to understand what it all meant, my mouth half-open. It was like I had a thousand questions in my mind, but somehow couldn’t find the words to verbalize them.

“Come, let’s go,” said Ram, as he helped me up.

As we walked back, Ram stopped near a hawker who was selling some fancy bracelets and chains made of shells and studded with glittering stones. He took a pair of chains and paid for them.

“Those look beautiful. Is it a gift for someone?” I asked, trying to poke fun at him.

“Those kids will be back tomorrow, looking along the shoreline for shells and stones. They would be expecting to find a few beautiful and vibrant ones, like the ones in these chains.” Saying this, he winked at me and put the chains in his pocket.

I was at a loss of words. I felt enlightened, and at the same time, I felt a great sense of pride. I wanted to give him a hug. Instead, I just smiled and said, “Let’s go Ram, you must be hungry. The dinner is on me.”

This is a work of fiction and was originally published on 1HundredWorks. The prompt for the story was the picture above, clicked by Akhil Kalsh.

Here are the other posts based on same prompt:

16 thoughts on “The free bird

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  1. That was some story! Always the less fortunate are happier than us… amybe they could see so much in small things… and there should be more people like Ram around.

    1. You are right Sheethal, finding happiness in whatever we have is a good thing. Sadly, not many can do that these days… and yeah, people like Ram is what keeps the flame of hope burning.. 🙂

  2. WOW! Such a lovely read early in the morning. Beautifully expressed. Wish everyone could do their part in contributing towards someone else’s smile. The best investment ever. 🙂

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