When Ravi saw the big, white, growling things rushing towards him in immense enthusiasm, he was scared out of his wits. He ran, with eyes almost blinded with fear, towards Seeta. But then, the big white things played a trick. They suddenly fell down at Ravi’s feet. In utter humility, they sped away, respecting his need for privacy.
Ravi was suddenly mystified. Why this double-crossing?
Then they rose again in fierce vengeance. Ravi froze in fear. Surely, they had now realized that the one they had paid obeisance to, was a tiny powerless creature. Now they would carry him away to their home far away.
Panic again seized him. However, again they came and went.
Soon Ravi realised that this was their idea of play. They came, pretending to be huge and monstrous; and at the last moment, they fell down, humbling themselves, and sped away, weak, gurgling in confusion, as if they had expended all their energy in making a fancy show of themselves. He ran on the hot sand to stand on them as they crashed down on the shore and sped away. They splashed on his feet. He laughed at their play.
It was nice to get wet on the hot day. It was winter, but in India, even winter days are quite hot. Ravi shook the water off his fur and ran towards Seeta, in glee. It was nice to be in this strange place, with yellow soil below and the mad blue giants playing about, as if showing off to the blue sky above what they could do!
Seeta danced around Ravi, and he wagged his tail and tried to lick her. Now Seeta ran, and Ravi chased her happily. There were so many people around, much more than Ravi had seen in his short life. The place was vast, the sky was huge. Ravi looked at the white things drifting lazily above, and the white things going mad below with playfulness.
Panting, Seeta and Ravi started walking towards what looked like a black giant in the distance. “This is a new world,” Ravi thought. He wanted to explore and find out what secrets this place held.
They walked to the steps where many people were sitting. Ravi noticed that most sat in pairs, smiling and cuddling with each other. Ravi went up to several of them, wagging his tail. He made lots of friends. Many of them stroked his fur. Some fed him a few biscuits. Some laughed as he ran about and chased his tail.
“Come back, you show-off!” Seeta called out, laughing. It was as he was galloping towards her that he saw something different.
A girl, with a sack on her back, was walking down the stairs. She wore a dirty shirt and dirty pants. She was selling snacks.
The strange thing about her was her eyes. On the beach, there were many people who had dishevelled hair. However, this girl’s eyes were not shining as with the others. Instead, they were wide and blank, as if she was being forced to do something she didn’t want.
Ravi was puzzled. Why was this girl looking different than all the others?
Ravi went up and nuzzled at the girl, wagging his tail. The girl did not give any reaction. She just went on. It was certainly strange. Ravi had expected her to be either happy or angry. But she just went on without any reaction.
Curious, Ravi started looking around more carefully. Was everyone happy? Or had he skipped over the little details? He started looking around more carefully as they walked towards the black monster.
A circle of young and old men and women were sitting together, having snacks. A few children were running around happily. Ravi felt tempted to run around with them and make them happy, but he was confused to see the others, who looked strangely out-of-place. He noticed their faces. One old woman was jabbering non-stop, looking pleased. The other was looking as if she didn’t know what she was doing there. She kept looking left anxiously, but she wasn’t looking at anything particular. Another man talked angrily to a woman sitting next to him. A young man kept looking at a young woman sitting at a little distance. “It’s a little strange that the children who are running around these people are not noticing their strangeness!” thought Ravi, as he trotted on.
Two young men and two young women sat, talking. One man talked loudly and happily, cracking jokes and laughing to himself now and then. The second man smiled at his jokes and talked. But now and then, he would screw his eyes and look far away to his right, distractedly. One woman sat silently, looking smilingly at the first man, and nodded now and then. The other woman was very strange. She tried to hold the hand of the first man and leaned towards him, but now and then she would anxiously look away to her right. “Why is she distracted if she is holding his hand and trying to please him?” Ravi found it very strange.
An old couple were sitting, hand-in-hand, under an umbrella. The old man was whispering something to the old woman, while listened and nodded. She did not speak much. A little further off, a couple were sitting. Ravi saw that the odd girl selling snacks go up to them: they bought two cakes. They too, didn’t look carefully at the little girl, whom Ravi found so strange. They just took the cakes and started eating. The young woman ate the cake strangely. She bit the cake and looked as if she was on duty, not a holiday. Ravi thought that she didn’t look like that she had just got food; instead she looked as she was on a hurry to eat it and then go somewhere.
On their way, Ravi noticed another dog at a distance. Ravi barked welcomingly at him, but he stepped back and started going the other way. He was thin and his eyes held the same expression as the girl who was selling snacks. “What’s with that expression?” thought the puzzled Ravi. “A lot of these people look like they’re not happy to be here,” thought Ravi, “then why are they here?”
The black monster had grown large by now. Close up, it looked like a huge house made of black stones. It was a fort that had controlled a large portion of this part of the coast almost four hundred years ago. To Ravi, it looked certainly intimidating. Even the wind did not trust it, it blew with all its strength against it, but the old fort said nothing and stood nonchalantly.
They started climbing up the rugged stairs. Peepal trees had grown into the cracks of the stone walls. Ravi thought that they probably felt very safe, nestled in the corners of this invincible black giant.
Up on top, Ravi was alarmed to find the wind blowing like mad. He barked in Seta’s lap as she carried him to the roof.
Here, there was again a strange man. To start with, he had long fur on his face that was totally white. The fur was longer than even some strange dogs Ravi had seen on the road, who did not talk to him and had things around their necks. He wore a woollen cap and was sitting beneath a large banyan tree growing out of the stones. The tree liked to talk to the wind. He was proud that he had grown on this immoveable rock far above everything else. As the wind tried to uproot him, he just rustled his leaves.
“Hello, Granddaughter!” said the old man. Seeta ran up to him. “This is Ravi!” she said, “He’s a baby yeti!” she whispered.
The old man inspected Ravi. “Certainly a fine yeti!” His eyes twinkled.
They sat on the parapet. Below, Ravi could see the sea striking again and again on the rock steeply rising. Was she angry that this huge obtrusive rock had trespassed into her play-space? Or was she mocking it for being immoveable, showing how she could move in million waves, making circles on his rugged surface? Or was she impressed at his strength, since he rose immoveable, nonchalant to the challenges of the wind?
As he said in Seta’s lap, and as she chatted away to the old man, Ravi saw the little odd girl climb up the stairs to the roof, the little girl who sold snacks.
She sat on the parapet, her expressionless wide eyes gazing at the sky. The old man was looking intently at her. Surprised, Seeta also looked at the girl.
For a moment, the girl glanced at the threesome. The old man beckoned the girl towards him.
The girl came, confused. “Why don’t you sell us some cakes?” The old man smiled. Confused, the girl rummaged her sack and produced two cakes.
“Why don’t you give us four?” The old man said. Surprised, the girl took out four cakes.
The old man handed a cake to Seeta, took one himself, gave one to Ravi and offered one to the girl. “Why don’t you have one too?” He smiled kindly at the girl. For the first time, Ravi saw the girl smiled. Her wide, confused eyes seemed a little nicer.
Munching on the cake, the old man started telling stories; stories about mountains and seas and far-away lands. Ravi saw all the people he had passed-by on the way here, down below, together. Some of them were happy, some sad, some anxious, some absent-minded. Some were happy to be there, some were anxious, but few of them looked out to see what the people they weren’t with were feeling. “It was strange,” thought Ravi. Some of them didn’t even look carefully at the people they were sitting with.
Soon, the world turned orange. Flocks of birds started for their homes, making a huge din. Seeta and the cake-seller-girl were now chatting: about where they were from, what their families were like. Ravi saw the old man looking below at all the people below. Families were packing up, ready to go. Ravi saw the family he had seen, with the two old women packing quite noisily. The man was still irritated about having to pack everything. The children still did not notice anything wrong. The couples, who had been glad when Ravi had gone to them, were still there. Some of them were walking near the water.
When night fell, Ravi was surprised to see the big white monsters behave in quite a different way. They no longer challenged the white puffs above; instead, they mingled far away into the blue that was above. They had changed their colour and even allowed the sky’s stars to be reflected on them; there was now something quiet about them. Even when they roared and growled, it was as if to listen to the silence that arose when they fell quiet.