(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
It’s… it’s done!!!
Ravi felt a flutter in his heart again as realisation hit him for the umpteenth time. He had finally accomplished it.
The years of struggle are over!
His right hand squeezed into a fist and his feet kicked off the ground, as he punched the air with every bit of energy in his possession. He’d never felt excitement like this before, in twenty-five years of having been alive.
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 to the market street, on not a particularly busy morning. The smell of cigarettes, fruits and fish returned to his nostrils, and the light chatter of sellers and buyers reached his ears once more.
‘Please hold your pose,’ the voice said again. ‘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 getting back to the proud pose he wanted copied on canvas.
Across the dusty street, the painter went back behind easel and canvas and resumed the artwork, leaving Ravi stupidly smiling at the view from the other side: a thin column of cigarette-smoke rose above the canvas; a curious old-fashioned umbrella hung from the easel, by its curved handle; and the lower half of the painter’s attire showed from beneath the setup. 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 as Ravi stared at the unchanging scene, until he couldn’t bear the lifelessness of it any further.
‘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 that the bubbling excitement in his heart refused to leave him. 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 immediately regretted it. What had he been thinking?
The sound of brush on canvas paused, and with it, the whole street fell eerily quiet. The silence lasted for an uncomfortably long time, until the artist finally muttered, ‘It is dangerous to speak such things, sir!’ Getting back to his work, he 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? And that would 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 when his hair would be long and grey. He would spend hours resting under a banyan tree every day, while little children would sit on the ground 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. Everybody would love listening to 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 then rolling away. ‘WASN’T THAT TOO BOLD?!’ he snapped. ‘It hasn’t been one whole chapter into this story! What a name to drop, sheesh!’ 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. 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 pointed 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 set up.
A device advertised on this booth’s wall immediately caught Ravi’s attention. ‘Wow! What is that?’ he said wide-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… Hey! Where do you think you’re going? I’M NOT DONE HERE!’ He shouted, realising that his subject had walked away.
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 continued, pointing to one, ‘but add another ten thousand and you also get a backlight, so you can work even when it’s dark!’ So saying, he pressed a button on the other that activated the said backlight.
Ravi’s half-open jaw spoke for how impressed he was. ‘Wow, I’m sold! Money is not an issue. I’m definitely taking this one, with… the light… wait…’
As he reached down the back-pocket of his trousers, Ravi felt his heart skip a beat, for his fingers failed to find any trace of his leather wallet. When he turned towards the rest of his stuff, a second shock awaited him — his luggage was gone too. Desperately looking around for help, Ravi realised that the painter and his easel had also disappeared; only the canvas lay abandoned on the street there.
But no proud portrait of Ravi adorned the thing. There was just a large smiley face with its tongue sticking out, on one side, and a hastily scribbled note on the other, that 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!’