THE YOUNG MAN AT THE CLUB - PART 1
“Can I join you Sir?”
I looked up and saw a young man in his mid thirties presumably half my age, standing and smiling at me. As I nodded he settled own on the chair and placed his mug of beer on the table and looked at me.
“You are alone sir today. I usually see you with a group of friends sitting here and talking. Sorry but I have at times overheard the discussions as a word or sentence would rouse my curiosity. I have watched you and found that most of the time you are a listener and would participate only when the talk veers away from the mundane everyday gossip to questions of the reality of our existence. I have nurtured the wish to converse with you and found the chance today. I hope you don’t mind.”
I come to the club though not very frequently to meet my friends. Usually the topic of discussion would drift away to the good old days as we settled down to languish in each others company. Today of course I had come in earlier and was waiting for them to turn up. But I also liked to sit with a mug of beer in one corner of the room and watch the others. This was for the first time I realized that someone else was also watching me. That happens I guess, for when we are bored with ourselves we watch others. I was not upset but in fact welcomed the opportunity to get into conversation with someone much younger and perhaps one who is in tune with the realities of present times.
I said “Not at all. I think it will be a welcome break for both of us. You are young and totally immersed in building up your life, your work, your family and your interests, I am sure. I am retired and totally immersed in myself. We are separated by a generation. Isn’t it? Looking at you across this table I can visualise what I was thirty years ago.”
“Exactly sir, but when I look at you I can imagine where I would like to be thirty years hence” and he laughed.
I liked that laughter. There was something genuine about it. The way a person laughs is perhaps the closest indicator of his actual self. He said that he was working with a software solutions company with global operations and as such had to travel abroad quite often. I told him that I was a retired banker having spent my entire career in this country and had gone abroad only to visit my daughter. I added that he should be happy he has had the opportunity to see more of the world. I said that I did envy him that.
“Yes, that’s true, but after a time you start feeling drained of all your energy. I am not really grounded anywhere and sometimes I feel like a gypsy. When I listen to you people talk I can always feel the stability with which your lives have been moulded. I envy that.”
I looked at him and realised that this was not the normal young man of his times – aggressive and ambitious. There was something sad in his demeanour and in the way he spoke. Something was bothering him.
Suddenly he asked “Do you believe in God sir, do you pray?”
I said “Yes, I do believe in God and I do pray. But frankly what do you mean by pray? If you want to ask whether I recite some prayers standing in front of the pictures of Gods, go to the temple and ask for favours from him, I would say yes I do all that.”
“What do you get of it? Do you get any tangible result?”
“If you mean whether he grants me all that I want, the frank answer is no, I do not know. I do not know that the things that happen are because he has granted me or they just happened. In any case, I still pray.”
“But why do you pray at all if you are not sure?”
“That is because he gives me hope and that I consider as a tangible result.”
“What about your children then? Do they also follow what you do?”
“Oh no, they follow what they want. It is a different world that they are growing up now. They are too occupied building their own lives professionally and personally, to think about God and religion and such things and I agree that’s how it should be. One finds one’s own answers to the questions in life if and when they arise. They are as old as you are and that’s why I am slightly surprised at your question. You see I belong to another generation and it has not been easy to shake of all the beliefs that I have grown up with. But in the process I have shed a lot of the baggage of my predecessors and I have let my children do the same. I am awake to the demands of this changing world and what was God to me must be different now, though the basic questions of life will remain and you will find your own Gods and give him a new form. But why did you suddenly ask me this question?”
“Sir like your daughters I have also grown up shedding all that you described as the baggage of the previous generation. I have never really felt the need for a God or that my life is controlled by external forces. I did well in my life and did not face any adverse situations and may be that was a factor. But over the last year or so I have been plagued by a sense of unease. May be the way I have lived without any anchor just floating by, wherever the tide takes me, has contributed to this. I really cannot understand whether this is how it is and this is how it will be.”
He was a troubled young man, but I refrained from asking him what it was, for that would have been an intrusion in to his private space. But I knew that he had a lot more to tell. As I sat there in silence for sometime I saw that my friends were trouping in from the far side of the room. I knew that this conversation could not continue now and I did not want to sound abrupt, so I looked at him and said –
“Sorry we cannot continue the conversation as I can see my friends have just arrived. I know you have a lot to share and I will only be too pleased to listen to you. We shall definitely continue our talk another time after all we can meet here like we did today. But if you really feel like talking to someone, as I can see that something is troubling you, you are free to come over to my house to continue the conversation. I have a lot of time in hand. Just give me a ring and check up before you come. Bye for now and all the best.”
I gave him my phone number and address and shook his hand. My friends arrived when he just left.
The young man was still in my thoughts when I reached home. I thought that was just a brief encounter between two people over a mug of beer. The ambience and the beer must have done it all and I was sure that he would be back to his usual routine the next day. A good conversation and that was all. But I was surprised when after a few days I received a phone call from my chance acquaintance, the voice at the other end asked –
“Sir, can I come over this evening to your house if it is not inconvenient and if you are in the mood for a conversation?”
“Sure, come over.”