‘Are you from this place,’ an old trembling voice, asked from behind, forcing Akash to turn around to find out if the question was meant for him.
Akash’s eyes moved from staring at the bright artificial lights enveloping the small town in front, from the hill at least a few thousand feet above, and housing a tiny, forgetful and almost nondescript village to the old man.
The shimmering beauty of the lights and the liveliness of the illumination in the town below prevented Akash from even blinking his eyes, least he misses the ravishing beauty that a night could bring and the man-made brightness could enhance.
A short man balancing himself on a stick, which looked as ancient as him, stared back, his eyes appeared even bigger than they really were behind the thick lenses, and in the light of the bright halogen shining above their heads; the wrinkled cheeks sunk inside the dentures reflected the vast experience he had on this planet, and the considerable influence age had on his body, and on the once young and handsome face.
The last remnant of pink hues on the cheeks though still showed itself whenever he tilted his head under the light, to examine Akash more closely, who towered above him, at least a foot taller, Akash’s small eyes, squinted as he tried identifying the old man who dared to inquire about him at a time when most people prefer to rush back in the comfort of their homes.
The time, after all, was already 8, and no one dared to still wander around at this time of the day, especially when a leopard or some other wild animal on the prowl could immediately decide to make a meal of you.
Akash nodded his head, the expressions on his face indicating his inquisitiveness about the man who posed him this question.
‘Who’s son,’ the earlier trembling voice, gained strength as he posed another question.
He meant who was Akash’s father.
Akash paused for a moment, still trying to identify the old fellow, he looked familiar, the voice too sounded as if he had heard it before albeit in a different tone and pitch, but his mind still struggled to recollect when and where.
‘Ram Singh Rautela,’ replied Akash, his words emanating slowly from his mouth, as he continued staring at the man, hoping let his mind answer, who he was speaking with.
‘Ram Singh Rautela,’ he murmured for a while, giving a head-to-toe glance to Akash and nodding his head slowly. His eyes now fixed at Akash’s face, as if trying to match it with his father’s whom he probably knew.
‘Gadiya Gaon (gaon-village),’ he asked moving a little closer towards him.
Akash’s great grandfather shifted from Gadiya village a small village in far off Rudraprayag district to ‘Falani’, the village he was standing in now, but everyone here still considered their family from Gadiya even after staying there for over 80 years.
Akash nodded his head, happy, his credentials have been accepted.
‘But didn’t you go abroad,’ he asked after glancing at the sky and then bringing fixing his eyes back on Akash’s face?
Surprised, Akash never knew people would even remember him even after 20 years.
It took him two decades to return home, but he was still known here came as an immense surprise to him.
The thought that no one even knows he exists in this world in the place he currently lives in, gripped him with strange nostalgia and homesickness even though he was standing in his native village.
‘Yes,’ he replied slowly, hoping for the man to introduce himself too now.
‘You still don’t remember me,’ the old man, understood Akash’s dilemma.
The trembling hands of his moved inside the woollen trousers pocket to retrieve something. Placing it on the palm of his hands, he stretched to show it to Akash.
A bright orange candy, sat comfortably in the palms of the old man, while the eyes still stared at Akash as he suddenly travelled back in time, memories of childhood dancing in front of his eyes, as he reminisced having these candies in plenty while roving around the entire village.
‘Natthu Tau (uncle),’ he spoke with a sparkle in his eyes, the hands immediately reaching out for his feet, the smile on the face reflecting the happiness he felt upon discovering who the man was.
The old man hugged Akash as he smelled familiarity and warmth, something he realized he missed so badly all these years staying away from this place.
Akash’s eyes stared at the wrinkled face of the man in front of him requesting him to visit home.
‘I won’t leave this village now,’ suddenly Akash thought as ‘Natthu’ still tried deciding on if he should go with Akash at this time now.
Seeing the dilemma, he was in, Akash urged him again.
‘Please come with me.’
The pleading worked as he replied after thinking for a few moments.
‘Let’s go,’ the hollow mouth with a few dentures still intact managed to speak in an excited voice.
Akash face beamed as he slowed down himself, to walk along with an old acquaintance he never thought he would meet like this again.