(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
It’s… it’s done!
Ravi felt a flutter in his heart again as realisation struck him for the umpteenth time.
My years of struggle are over!
His right hand squeezed into a fist, his feet kicked off the ground and he punched the air with every last bit of energy. He had never felt excitement like this before, not in his twenty-seven years of life.
School, graduation, post-grad, even PhD—they’re finally behind me! I’ve done it!
‘What are you doing, sir?’ a voice asked, puncturing Ravi’s enthusiasm and transporting him back to the real world, back on the market street. The smell of cigarettes, fruits and fish returned to his nostrils, and the light chatter of sellers and buyers reached his ears once again. It wasn’t a particularly busy morning.
‘Please hold your pose,’ the same voice told him. ‘You’ll ruin the portrait!’
Ah yes, the portrait. That was what he was here for, and didn’t he deserve it? A grand portrait with which to celebrate the end of his student life.
‘Sorry, my bad,’ Ravi mumbled. He fixed his tie, dusted off his royal-blue coat and adjusted his glasses, before returning to the proud pose he wanted copied on canvas.
Across the dusty street, the painter he had commisioned got back behind easel and canvas, resuming the artwork. This left Ravi stupidly smiling at the view from the other side—a thin column of cigarette-smoke was rising above the setup; a curious old-fashioned umbrella hung from the easel, by its curved handle; and the lower half of the painter’s attire showed beneath the canvas. The twenty-something artist was wearing a green kurta, over off-white pyjamas, and a pair of traditional sandals.
Quite some time passed by in silence, with Ravi staring at the unchanging scene, until he couldn’t continue to bear the lifelessness of it.
‘How much longer?’ he groaned; not that he was in any hurry—the train back to his hometown still had two hours for departure. No, it was just the bubbling excitement in his heart that refused to leave. He would have bounced up and down the street if he could, but the painting was taking way too long.
‘I wish these portraits could get done at the press of a button,’ he ended up saying. And he immediately regretted it.
The sound of brush on canvas paused. With it, the whole street seemed to have fallen eerily quiet. The silence lasted for an uncomfortably long time, then the artist muttered, ‘It is dangerous to speak of such things, sir!’ Getting back to his work, the painter added, ‘I’ll be done soon.’
‘Well… make it quick.’
Ravi took a moment to relax. He did his best not to think of the horrible stories he’d heard about “instant-art”. Looking for a more pleasant subject of discussion, he tried, ‘You know… getting done with studies is great; but it is just a stepping stone to fulfilling my father’s dying wish.’
‘Oh?’ the painter remarked. ‘And what would that be?’
‘To be a genius in the field of literature! One whose stories will be loved by all and told through countless generations!’
As he spoke, Ravi could picture himself fifty years in the future. He imagined how his hair would be long and grey. He would spend his days resting peacefully under a banyan tree. Little children would sit before him, begging him for stories about magic and adventure. The teenagers behind these kids would protest, desiring instead to hear of romance and action. And beyond them, the audience would be comprised of young adults also, and older people still. Every soul would yearn to hear his tales.
In his most confident voice and with a flourish of his hands, the present-day Ravi announced, ‘They will know me as “Guru Ravi Nath Thakur”!’
The painter’s brush actually slid from his fingers, pattering on to the street and rolling away. ‘Wasn’t that too bold?’ he snapped. ‘It hasn’t been one whole chapter into this story! What a name to drop!’ Fumblingly retrieving the fallen brush, he continued, ‘Besides, can you be that confident with good degrees alone? How are you any different from the rest?’
‘Oh, believe me, my qualifications do matter,’ Ravi scoffed. ‘And add to that money, which I have a good bit of. What else could I need?’
‘That’s all well and good, sir, but what about knowledge of the outside world?’ The seriousness in the artist’s tone had gone up a notch.
Ravi’s brows knit slightly. ‘The outside world?’
‘Yes, for example, I see you’re still using notebooks to jot things down.’ He was pointing to Ravi’s side, where a trusty little diary, complete with a clipped pen, lay neatly atop his suitcase. ‘Sir, the world has moved on to advanced gadgets that make these tasks much easier!’ This time the painter motioned to another section of the market street where an electronics stall was prominently set up.
A device advertised on this booth’s wall caught Ravi’s attention. ‘Wow! What is that?’ he said starry-eyed, even as his feet began to carry him there.
Unaware of Ravi’s departure, the artist continued from behind his setup, ‘Indeed, and if you’re clueless about such things, how do you plan to make it big? One needs to keep up with the developments in one’s field, sir. Study books only help you so far; they get outdated every year…’ Realising that his subject had walked away, he shouted, ‘Hey! Where do you think you’re going? I’m not done here!’
But Ravi had already arrived at the electronics stall, where the middle-aged shopkeeper promptly broke into his sales pitch. ‘Welcome, sir! Intrigued by the MorsePage, I see. Incredible device, this. Two comfortable buttons are all you need to type and store your notes and documents. Something urgent pops up? Simply save your work and switch to the new one. You can load it up later and continue from where you left. It’s that simple!’
The man laid out two of the devices in front of Ravi. ‘It starts from twenty thousand rupees,’ he said, pointing to one, ‘but add another ten thousand and you also get a backlight, so you can use it even in the dark!’ Saying this, he pressed a button on the other device that brightened up its screen.
Ravi’s half-open jaw spoke for how impressed he was. ‘Wow, I believe I’m sold! Money is not an issue for me. I think I’m definitely going to take this one, with the light… Wait!’
His heart skipped a beat.
He had reached into his trouser’s back-pocket, but his fingers had failed to find any trace of the leather wallet that should have been there. He turned toward the rest of his stuff… and a second shock awaited him. His luggage was gone too. Desperately looking around, Ravi realised that the painter and his easel had also vanished; only the canvas lay abandoned on the street there.
But no proud portrait of Ravi adorned the thing. There was a large smiley face on one side, its tongue sticking out, and a hastily scribbled note on the other side, which read:
Guess you weren’t ready for the outside world after all!
Shaking with shock and anger, Ravi screamed like a madman, ‘That painter! I’m going to kill him!’