The Poet and His Muse
Short Fiction - A Simple Story
From my Creative Writing Archives : A Simple Story - one of my favourites. If you are a creative person, especially a writer, I am sure you will identify with this story.
Chotte Lal is in seventh heaven, on cloud nine…call it what you like.
But one thing is sure. This is the happiest moment of his life.
Chotte Lal experiences a delightfully beautiful emotion as he looks lovingly at his own words printed on the top left hand corner of the last page of the newspaper.
Chotte Lal experiences an ecstatic feeling of pride, joy, thrill – I really have no words to describe this unique emotion, but if you are a writer, just recall the moment when you saw your first creative effort in print, and you will understand what I mean.
Chotte Lal reads his poem to himself, slowly, deliberately, tenderly, drinking in each word, drowns his self in his creation, in a state of blissful timelessness, till the bookstall owner roughly shakes him out of his idyllic reverie loudly asking for money for the newspaper.
Chotte Lal pays him, and then, continuing to read his own poetry, walks with a spring in his step towards the running room to share his happiness with his colleagues.
And as he strides down the long platform towards his destination, let me tell you a bit about Chotte Lal, the hero of our story, an Engine Driver in the railways.
Chotte Lal’s father was a humble gangman whose life’s ambition was to make his motherless son an Engine Driver.
Everyday as he looked up from his lowly place beside the railway tracks fascinated by the sight of the haughty engine drivers speeding by, roughly snatch the tokens he held up for them, and then rudely throw their tokens kept in small leather pouches mounted on large cane rings at a distance for him to fetch and hand over to the signalman, his resolve became stronger and stronger, and Chotte Lal's father dreamed of the moment when his son, sitting in the driver’s seat, would pick up the token from him.
The day his dutiful obedient son Chotte Lal was selected as an engine driver, his father was so overjoyed, that he celebrated all night, indulging himself so much that he died of liver failure in the morning.
Now let’s get back to our story and see what our hero Chotte Lal is up to.
Chotte Lal walks into the driver running room. No one notices. His fellow drivers are busy playing cards.
“See. See. My poem has been published,” Chotte Lal says excitedly holding out the newspaper.
A driver takes the newspaper from his hands and says. “Hey, look, there is going to be a pay hike…” and he begins reading the headlines from the front page as the others listen.
“No. No. Not there. My poem is on the back page,” Chotte Lal says.
Chotte Lal turns the paper and shows him.
“Good,” the driver says even without reading the poem, turns back to the first page and begins reading aloud details of the pay hike.
“Illiterate Greedy Dopes. Bloody Riff Raff...! Only interested in money,” Chotte Lal says in anger snatching the paper.
“Oh yes, we are illiterates worried about money, not philosophers like you wasting your time writing poetry,” someone says.
“Why don’t you become a Professor instead of wasting time here?” another taunts.
“Or join the film industry, write poems for songs, sher-shairy…” they jeer.
Chotte Lal walks out in a huff.
But let me tell you dear reader that the drivers are right.
Chotte Lal certainly doesn’t belong here amongst this hard drinking rough and earthy fraternity.
Chotte Lal lives on a higher plane – while his compatriots drink and gamble to pass their time in their leisure and changeover breaks, Chotte Lal reads, and now, he writes.
Had Chotte Lal got the proper opportunity he would be a man of erudition, but as I have already told you, circumstances willed otherwise and poor Chotte Lal he had no choice.
Chotte Lal is a good engine driver. He is happy in his job and content with life. He never gets bored with the long waits for he always carries with him a good book to read. And now he’s started writing - yes, creative writing.
Chotte Lal always wanted to write but did not know how till one evening, while waiting for a signal, the glorious spectacle of the setting sun, the picturesque countryside, the villagers hurrying home, the birds chirping returning to their nests, the endless tracks disappearing into the horizon in front of him, the whole scene in its entirety, inspired him so much that the spark of creativity was ignited within him and for the first time he poured out his inner feelings on paper, and thereby was born his first creative effort, a poem – Waiting for the Signal.
Chotte Lal lives in a typical railway town, a relic of the Raj, with its spacious well laid out railway colony with huge bungalows and neat cottages, amidst plenty of greenery and expanse.
This quaint mofussil town boasts of a newspaper – a four page tabloid really.
The back page of this local rag features crosswords, tit-bits, and creative contributions from readers, which Chotte Lal always reads with avid interest and it was his dream to see his own creative writing printed right there on that page one day.
So he neatly wrote down his first creative composition “Waiting for the Signal” on a foolscap sheet of paper torn from his daughter’s notebook and personally submitted his contribution to the editor who gave him an amused look and said, “We’ll see!”
Chotte Lal waited, and waited, almost lost hope, and now, at long last, his poem had been published.
Chotte Lal walks conspicuously towards the exit of the Railway Station, deliberately stopping by at the Station Master’s Office, the ASMs, the Train Clerks, the TTEs, yearning for appreciation, hoping someone would say something, but all he gets is smiles of forced geniality.
“Useless fellows!” he says to himself, and then begins walking fast towards his house eager to show his poem to his wife and children.
Seeing Chotte Lal walk past his dhaba without even a glance in that direction, Ram Bharose senses something terribly is wrong, for every time Chotte Lal returns from duty he always stops by at Ram Bharose’s Dhaba for a cup of tea and to pick up a parcel of Anda-Bun for Engine, his pet dog.
As always, Engine is the first to welcome him at the compound gate of his home and gives him the customary enthusiastic reception, playful, vigorously wagging his tail, barking, jumping, running – but today Chotte Lal’s response is different – he just walks by – no hugging, no fondling, no baby-talk and most importantly no Anda-Bun.
Engine is confused at his Master’s odd behaviour and follows him loyally towards the door of the cottage.
Chotte Lal rings the bell.
His wife of twenty years opens the door, gives him a preoccupied look, and begins walking towards the kitchen.
“See, See,” Chotte Lal says with childlike enthusiasm, “My poem had been published in the newspaper.”
“Poem...? What Poem...?” his wife asks.
Chotte Lal hands over the tabloid to his wife and shows her the poem – Waiting for the Signal.
His wife gives it a cursory glance and asks, “How much did they pay you for it...?”
“Pay me...? What are you talking...?” Chotte Lal asks puzzled.
“Yes. Pay you. Don’t tell me you are doing this for charity. Or maybe the poem is so third rate that they haven’t thought it worth even a paisa,” his wife says scornfully.
“Please!” Chotte Lal raises his voice getting angry, “This beautiful poem is the fruit of my creative effort, not some item for sale. Where is the question of money? You will never understand the value of creative reward!”
“Creative reward my foot...! This good for nothing local rag prints a poem of yours and you are boasting as if you have won the Nobel Prize...!” his wife mocks. “Why don’t you stop wasting your time doing all this nonsense and join my brother’s transport business – he wants to make you the Regional Manager.”
“I don’t want to go to the city.”
“You want to rot in this godforsaken place driving engines all your life?”
“I like my job. I like this place. I like to read and write.”
“Oh yes, now all you will be doing is wasting your time and your effort writing all this nonsense for free, when you could be earning handsomely if you put in the same efforts elsewhere!”
“I am happy where I am and content with what I have.”
“Oh, sure. You are happy to live in a gutter and watch other men climb mountains!”
“Papa, Mama is right,” his daughter interjects appearing suddenly, “Why don’t you retire and take your pension and then take up the job uncle is offering you as regional manager in his transport business and let us all move to the city...?”
“Here, here,” the father says excitedly, giving the newspaper to his daughter, “My poem is published today. Read it and tell me how you like it.”
“You can read it later. Have your breakfast first,” her mother says sternly, “you’re getting late for college.”
“Take the newspaper with you. Show my poem to your friends, your teacher,” he says.
A horn honks. The girl puts the newspaper in her bag and rushes out. Chotte Lal excitedly runs behind his daughter towards the gate and shouts to her, "My poem is on the back page...it is called Waiting for the Signal..."
A boy is waiting for her on a motorcycle. Maybe it’s her college classmate, her boyfriend, maybe… Chotte Lal realises how little he knows about his children.
His son – he has already gone to the city to work in his uncle’s company. He is obsessed with earning money and has no time for the finer things of life. Like mother like son. He feels sad. It’s a pity, a real pity.
There is nothing worse for a man than to realise that his wife, his son are ashamed of him.
Maybe his daughter will appreciate his poem, his talent, his creative genius, his worth – after all she is a student of arts.
He looks at his daughter. She is talking to the boy, pointing to the rear seat, telling him it is dirty.
Then, she takes out the precious newspaper which Chotte Lal has given her. Chotte Lal looks on in anticipation. Maybe his daughter is going to show the poem to the boy.
Yes, Chotte Lal's daughter does take out the newspaper from her bag. But she doesn't even open it, leave alone showing her father's poem to her friend. She just crumples the newspaper and wipes the motorcycle seat with it and throws it on the ground.
Then she sits on the seat and they drive off on the motorcycle.
Chotte Lal experiences a pain much worse than if a knife had pierced through his heart.
His dog Engine rushes out, picks up the newspaper in his mouth, brings it to Chotte Lal, drops it at his feet and begs for his treat.
Suddenly Chotte Lal realises he has forgotten to get Engine’s customary treat – the Anda-Bun.
“Come,” he says to Engine.
He picks up the newspaper and they both, Master and dog, walk towards Ram Bharose’s Dhaba.
Chotte Lal looks at Engine as he happily cavorts and gambols in spontaneous delight at this unexpected outing.
“And now you have got a Pie Dog, a Mongrel,” his wife was furious when he had got the tiny abandoned pup whose mother had been run over by a train.
First he used to take the baby puppy along with him in his Engine, and his assistant driver named the pup “Engine”. But soon the word spread and he got a memo.
Since then Engine remained home, and whenever Chotte Lal was away on duty, poor Engine was dependent on the reluctant love of his wife who Chotte Lal suspected actually liked the cheerful dog.
They reach Ram Bharose’s Dhaba.
“What happened, Driver Sahib, you didn’t take your usual Anda-Bun parcel...?” Ram Bharose says.
“I forgot,” Chotte Lal says, “Give me one Anda-Bun now, and a cup of tea.”
Chotte Lal thinks of showing the poem to Ram Bharose, but hesitates. The poor guy may barely be literate. And if educated people like his colleagues, even his wife, and daughter, no one could appreciate his creative composition, how can he expect this country bumpkin to do so.
So he sits down and decides to read his own poem to himself – celebrate his own personal victory, and not be dependent on others for his happiness.
He gives the Anda-Bun to his delighted dog Engine who sits at his feet and starts polishing it off hungrily.
Then he sips the piping hot rejuvenating tea and starts reading the poem to himself.
Suddenly he feels a nudge on his feet – it’s Engine, prodding with his paw, looking up expectantly at him, eyes dazzling, making a sound, talking, trying to say something.
“Want to hear my poem...?” Chotte Lal lovingly asks his pet dog Engine, affectionately caressing the dog’s ears.
Engine gets up, nods his head, places it on Chotte Lal’s knee adoringly, and wags his tail.
As Chotte Lal reads his poem “Waiting at the Signal”, his devoted dog Engine listens to His Master’s voice with rapt attention, his eyes glued on Chotte Lal’s face, and his tail wagging in appreciation.
After he finishes reading the poem, Chotte Lal looks lovingly at Engine. Engine looks back at him with frank admiration, wags his tail, and proffers his paw as a “shake hand” gesture.
Chotte Lal is overwhelmed with emotion. He orders one more Anda-Bun for Engine.
Delighted at his Master’s sudden spurt of generosity, Engine gratefully devours the delicious Anda-Bun and looks pleadingly at Chotte Lal as if saying: “Encore.”
“You want to hear once again,” Chotte Lal asks Engine, who again keeps his head tenderly on Chotte Lal’s knee, looks up lovingly at his Master, continuously wagging his tail, listening with rapt attention to his Master’s voice, waiting for him to finish, in eager anticipation for his reward of an Anda-Bun.
Many such recitations and Anda-Buns later, dog and master, Engine and Chotte Lal walk back home.
Chotte Lal looks admiringly at Engine – his sincere patron, a true connoisseur who understands, appreciates.
He gets the inner urge to write, to express, to say something – Engine has ignited the spark of creativity within him.
Moments later, the creativity within him unleashed, Chotte Lal sits at his desk and pours out his latent emotions, his inner feelings, on paper, writing poem after poem, while his darling pet dog, his stimulus, his inspiration, his muse, his motivating “Engine”, sits loyally by his side looking lovingly at his Master with undisguised affection.
And so, the Railway Engine Driver Chotte Lal creates and his "Creative Engine" inspires and appreciates - they sit together in sublime unison - the Poet and his Muse - in perfect creative harmony.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.