Sandeep Girish Bhatnagar

Jayant walked home from work at the Olympus Film Production and Distribution Company. He moved down the street at an easy pace, a smile playing on his lips as he winked back at the occasional fairy who flew down to greet him before returning to her street lamp. They all knew him and were very fond of him. ‘Whatever you may say,’ he thought, ‘fairies are fairies. You can’t get anyone friendlier than an honest-to-goodness fairy.’ He stopped at the zebra crossing, in the shadow of the large building that housed the new mall. A huge bear, with a shaggy coat and an extremely amiable expression on his face, waved out to him from across the road. Jayant waved back. 

“Hi there, buddy. How are things with you?” enquired the bear.

“Fine,” replied Jayant as a cheery grin spread across his face. The bear was one of his closest friends and they often went on late-evening drives down the long and winding road that traversed the enchanted forest. ‘One can always trust a bear like Bhaloo,’ mused Jayant, ‘Plenty of savoir faire but so down-to-earth when it comes to his friends.’ 

“On your way to the café?” he asked the bear.

“I’ll drop by later. Hubert’s got an appointment with his mechanic,” replied the bear and motioned towards a car that was morosely following him. Hubert the car wore a downcast expression. He was a vintage, two-seater, 1957 Ford Thunderbird, just the kind of car a bear as flamboyant as Bhaloo would drive. The car’s red paint turned an orange tinge in the light from the street lamps and his chrome fenders gleamed as if they were on fire. There was no doubt about it, Hubert had chic and he knew it. So even though he was friendly with the other cars, he knew where to draw a line. You’d never find him hanging around with other vehicles, passing the time of day in idle chatter.

“So much to do, so much to see,” Hubert always said. But today, he was definitely not his old debonair self. Something was

“What’s the matter?” Jayant asked with concern.

“I get this pain down my rear axle when I apply the brakes,” replied the car in a hoarse voice. “Nothing severe but as they say, better to make sure. There’s also a touch of weakness and a sore throat.”

“Of late, he has been complaining of breathlessness,” added Bhaloo as he fondly patted Hubert on the bonnet.

“Probably, just case of overdue servicing. He’ll be fit as a fiddle once his engine oil has been changed,” said Jayant.

“True. Catch up with you later,” said Bhaloo giving a thumbs-up sign and with that the two of them resumed their journey towards the garage, where the mechanic was waiting for them.

Jayant watched them for a while. Bhaloo did a little dance step and swayed to the rhythm of a reggae song that wafted over from one of the thatched cottages that lined the road at the far end, towards the enchanted forest.

Jayant walked on, taking in the serene surroundings as he strolled past. Magical creatures sauntered home from work, mostly elves, for it was an elfin village, though there was also a sizeable population of pixies and fairies. A couple of leprechauns and a family of gnomes had moved in last summer. There was a centaur, too, but he was very old and rarely left his cottage. Occasionally, one could spot him standing on a mountain peak, gazing down at passersby. He was a truly majestic figure, with long, flowing hair and strong muscular legs. Jayant liked the Centaur, who often visited him on Sundays for lunch and to listen to recordings of crooners like Paul Robeson.  Last Sunday, they had argued good naturedly as to whether Robeson’s voice was a baritone or deep-bass. At long last, they decided to class him as a bass-baritone. 

Jayant reached the café just as the moon climbed over a hill in the distance and lit the sky with her soft enchanted beams. The café was of the open air kind and was tastefully lit with dim lights to fit the season, autumn colors mainly.  The place was packed with magical creatures refreshing themselves before going home. Waiters, in gay uniforms and smiling faces, served the clientele in the manner of aristocrats receiving honored guests at home, with just the right amount of noblesse oblige that makes one comfortable. Children ran around joyfully, for this was their hour of fun and they aimed to make the most of it.  Among the revelers, Jayant spotted his friend, an elf named Paul, at one of the tables. The little creature, who appeared to be lost in thought, looked up for a moment and a smile appeared on his face as he saw Jayant.

“Hey, there!” exclaimed Jayant as he moved towards the elf. “What’s up? You seem quite preoccupied.” The little elf was an artist and worked with a firm that catered to the scenic effects that make up the seasons. At one time, Jayant, too, had wanted to become a commercial artist, though he was more interested in creating record album covers. He had attended an art class, where he had first become acquainted with the elf. While Jayant had not carried his hobby to a professional level, his friend soon established a name for himself in the world of art. Paul the elf had always wanted to become one with nature. He started off by doing sunsets and worked his way to clouds and stormy skies. From there, he moved on to trees. There was something about trees that appealed to him, a sort of basic instinct. He soon specialized in painting the leaves of trees with the hues of the season. There is something very satisfying in working on trees. It requires a steady hand and a vivid sense of aesthetics. Painting autumn colors on a leaf is not easy. One has to know just how much of red and brown to apply to give the viewer a particular feeling, one of elation because of the approach of the festive season and a tinge of sadness at the passing of the year.

The elf greeted Jayant most effusively and motioned to him to take a seat.

“Where on earth have been?” asked the elf. ”I’ve been trying to get in touch with you all day.”

“Busy at work,” replied Jayant as he glanced around him. He saw a family of brownies seated at a table a short distance away. They seemed to have moved in recently. Two young brownies, a boy and a girl, joyfully ran in circles around their parents as they played tag. Jayant laughed at the sight of the mother brownie trying to restrain her unruly brood, only to have the boy slip out of her grip. Their order soon arrived and the children rushed back to their table to devour pastries and cakes from colorful little plates. The waiter also placed two glasses of fizzy drinks and two large cups of coffee on the brownies’ table. 

“I have done this new portfolio for the Scandinavian Coastal Conifer forests of Norway,” remarked the elf. “They had a particularly mild autumn last year and so we plan to give them a much colder one this time. The color schemes one can experiment with in this environment are really astonishing. I plan to exhibit my work in Oslo next week.”

“Nice,” replied Jayant as he examined the portfolio of sketches that lay on the table before him.

All of a sudden, a witch swooped down, wailing like a banshee.


The little children clapped their hands in glee and pointed at the figure shooting across the sky. Their parents gazed after her and smiled indulgently.

“Kids. They need to let off steam once in a while,” said the elf.

“Young blood,” agreed Jayant as he watched the witch tear across the sky writing her name in white luminescent smoke.

She spelt out ”Wendy” in a manner that would have made a calligraphist proud.

“Bravo!” shouted the two as the witch topped the exhibition of aerial acrobatics with a vertical circle and a breathtaking dive towards the ground, pulling back inches before she touched terra firma.

The witch took of her pointy hat and acknowledged the applause most graciously. She received many pats on the back and some of the children asked for her autograph. She was in her early teens and in all probability had only recently got her flying license. Her long her streamed like the tail of a comet as he zoomed away. Had the red baron seen her performance, he would most certainly have nodded his head in approval. In all probability, he would have inducted her into his Flying Circus. 

Jayant was trying to attract the attention of a waiter when a yellow submarine sailed past. He waved back at the excited faces that gestured to them from the portholes. He liked the yellow submarine and he loved the little Nowhere Man best of all. ‘Where on earth was he, the Nowhere Man?’ thought Jayant and then he saw him, peering out at the scene below from a porthole towards the after end of the submarine. He seemed to be quite happy now.

Jayant continued to wave in the direction of the submarine till it was a mere speck in the distance. It really is fun waving out to people, for it joins you to them by and invisible bond of friendship.

As Jayant re-seated himself at the table, he noticed that Bhalloo had joined them.

“How’s Hubert?” he asked.

“Getting an entire servicing routine done. He should be back tomorrow, strong and vigorous as ever,” replied the bear as he took a sip of honey-flavored milk.

“Do you think he will be able to make it to North Pole next week?” asked Paul the elf.

“Why do we need to go to the North Pole?” asked the bear as he looked up at the stars that twinkled merrily above them. He was an amateur astronomer and could identify most of the constellations.

“Have you forgotten? We’ve all volunteered to help Santa’s toymakers,” replied the elf as he playfully slapped the bear on the back.

“Of course, of course,” said the bear. “Now, I remember. Of course, Hubert can make it the North Pole -- and the South Pole, too, for that matter. Okay, now tell me: What do you call a ferocious polar bear who wears ear muffs?”

Before his friends could think up an answer, the bear chortled:

“Anything you like. He’s not going to hear you.”

Jayant laughed heartily at the simple joke. 

Just then, someone shook him and he woke with a start to see a young lady anxiously peering down at him. She was speaking to someone. Jayant tried his best to focus on what was going being said.

“When we returned home, my husband and I, we found the door locked,” said the lady to a serious-looking man with a huge walrus mustache, who was seated across her. “We rang the bell frantically but there was no response. So my brother-in-law broke down the door and we found my father lying there on the floor, in the middle of the drawing room, with a beatific smile on his face, almost as if he had found a crock of gold.”

Jayant tried to listen to what the young lady was saying but could not grasp the meaning of her words. He seemed to be in spotlessly clean room, a window of which overlooked the city below. He could not, for the life of him, make out where he was. ‘Where the hell am I?’ he thought as panic began to grip him. He did not like this place. It was not where he wanted to be. Who were these people? Who was the man behind the desk and who was this young lady who seemed so concerned about him?

 “What’s your name?” asked the mustached man.

Jayant tried to remember his name but could not. It was on the tip of his tongue but seemed to elude him at the moment. Now what could it be? He thought and thought but could not figure it out.

“Who am I?” asked the doctor

Jayant decided to humor the man, whose mustache he found quite intriguing. He glanced at the stethoscope around his neck and the BP machine beside him and guessed that he was a medical practitioner.

“A doctor,” replied Jayant, making a valiant effort to focus on the man before him. He smiled indulgently, for he was slowly recovering his poise. He had no idea where he was but there was no harm in being cordial to the person before him. Imagine not knowing who one is?

The doctor proceeded to test Jayant’s pulse, blood pressure, sugar levels and then got down to his reflexes.

“Stretch out your legs,” he said.

Jayant did so.

Now replace them on the footrests of your wheelchair.

Wheelchair!  Jayant noticed that he was indeed seated in a wheelchair. What the hell was going on? Who were these people? Perhaps they were only part of a bad dream.

“I see he is being treated for dementia. Who is his psychiatrist?” asked the doctor as he glanced at the file before him. “Hmmm …. Let me call him.”

He dialed a number on his cellphone but could not connect.

“What’s his age?

“Seventy three,” said the young lady. “Surely, he is not old enough to have dementia,”

“Dementia usually occurs after the age of 65. In rare cases, it even affects younger persons,” explained the doctor. “From what you have told me, he appears to have become subdued and withdrawn with lapses of memory, mostly of recent events.”

“But doctor there are times when he appears to be normal and articulates his thoughts clearly,” protested the young lady.

“The human brain is a very complex organ. What goes on there is most often a mystery. However, he appears to be in the early stages of the disease. Let him take these medicines, morning and night, and I will see him again after a fortnight. We may need an MRI scan.”

Meanwhile, Jayant had returned to his friends in the enchanted village. The bear had by now imbibed a large quantity of milk and honey and was becoming boisterous. All this talk of the North Pole and Santa Claus had brought out the Christmas spirit in him. He began to sing in a deep baritone:

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Jayant, too, joined in, for he simply loved Christmas carols.

The doctor was astonished by the virtuoso performance put on by his patient, so much so that he too joined in. His face -- at least whatever was visible from behind his huge mustache -- was lit up by memories of an orphanage, where he had spent the early years of his life before being adopted by a childless couple.

“What did you say his name is,” he asked, his face animated.

“Deshmukh. Jayant C. Deshmukh,” replied the young lady, somewhat startled by the doctor’s strange behavior. She was getting up to leave the premises before the doctor went totally crazy, when the doctor smiled and placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.

“I remember him,” he said. “He used to visit our orphanage along with a group of volunteers during Diwali and Christmas. At Diwali, they distributed sweets and brought crackers for us to burst. They even enacted scenes from The Ramayana. And at Christmas, they organized a party for us and taught us to sing carols. He used to sing the first verse of Silent Night and then urge us to join in. I remember everything so clearly. His distinctive baritone, the way he holds the low notes, almost as if he were a bear.” The doctor had gone back in time to his days at the orphanage when any friendly gesture seemed to be

 “My father is a great admirer of Paul Robeson,” said the young lady as she, too, returned to her childhood. She truly loved her father and could not bear to see him in so sorrowful a condition. “He used to own all of Robeson’s records. He would call his friends over on Sundays and they would listen to Old Man River,  Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, Stand Still, Jordan, Shenandoaha, ………  ”

The doctor clasped the puzzled old man in a warm embrace. Tears were now freely streaming down his face. An orphan is not likely to forget any show of affection towards him, even after the passage of years. 

From the window of the doctor’s clinic came the sounds of the city: horns and the screeching of brakes being suddenly applied and the unmistakable sound of metal hitting metal, a regular smash up. Voices raised in acrimony spoilt the calm of the late evening.

Inside, however, there was an early Christmas party in progress. The doctor tried to get his patient to remember him. Jayant, however, stared before him without saying a word. Even so, somewhere deep in the labyrinth of his mind, within his very soul, he was awakening. His mind was going back to the days when he went out of his way to make life pleasant for those less fortunate than himself.

The mind, as John Milton once observed, is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.

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Sandeep Girish Bhatnagar studied literature at the University of Bombay (Mumbai) and plans to carry out research on aspects of Indian Writing. His work has been published in various literary journals such as Himal, Euphony, Shakespeare (a magazine), Kavya Bharati and Avatar Review (an online journal). He is also a professional seafarer and holds a Foreign Going Master's Certificate of Competency.
For more of his writings, check the Archives.

©2016 Sandeep Girish Bhatnaga
©2016 Publication Scene4 Magazine




October 2016

Volume 17 Issue 5

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