The following is an excerpt from the chapter titled “Bhimbetka” in the book Rewind and Play by Tarun Gautam:
Raghav’s flight landed at Indore’s Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar airport. He always liked the first few hours when he arrived in India. That’s the time when he felt a deep sense of optimism about India’s future. To Raghav, India was like an elephant on skates. Though it was colossal, there was now a spring in its step.
He caught a taxi and headed home to Saket Nagar. On the way, he asked the driver to stop by the famous Sarafa Bazaar. He had never done that on any previous trip but today was different. He wanted to let in the memories of his childhood flood his mind. He didn’t want the driver to spend too much time there. All he wanted was a glimpse. It was evening and the streets were teeming with people, mostly families wanting to enjoy good street food.
Sarafa Bazaar was a busy jewellery bazaar during the day and street food court at night. When Raghav was young, during festivals, his mother would drag the family out for jewellery shopping. She either bought something new or exchanged some of her old stuff. It was only later that he found that most of those transactions were actually meant for his future wife. Little did his mother know that though her daughter-in-law took the jewellery to the US, she would hardly ever wear any of it.
It had been six years since he had lost his mother. But somehow, he missed her more when he was in India. Even his father seemed to miss her more when they came home.
Raghav’s father, Tarana and the kids were elated to see him. The boys were eager to see what toys their father had brought them. They kept asking him about the neighbour’s dog and if they would get to walk him when they got back.
Raghav spent the next week overcoming his jet lag and answering questions every few hours on what would he like for his meals.
“Papa, I heard from Tarana that your consulting is going well,” said Raghav.
“Early days, beta. You know how demanding consulting can be,” said his father.
One afternoon, when everyone was asleep, Raghav decided to go to the garage.
His father’s garage was very different from his neat and organised garage back home in the US. There were old boxes piled haphazardly on top of each other. One corner was occupied by an old, rusty washing machine and his father’s broken harmonium. Another corner had a huge pile of old newspapers. Raghav was tempted to start cleaning the garage but he decided to focus on the task at hand.
Raghav opened a trunk and pulled out plastic bags full of books. He did the same for a few more trunks. With bundles of books around him, he sat down on the floor to look for his diary. He went through each pile carefully.
He found old semester project reports, autograph books, an expired university swimming pool ID card, old photographs and a few half-used diaries. He picked up the bundle of diaries and sat down on the floor. Most of the diaries contained class notes; only a few were his daily diary. He opened one of his daily dairies. The writing seemed familiar but at the same time strange. Time had taken a toll on his handwriting, too. The handwriting in his diary was neat and tidy whereas today he only scribbled “to do” lists on any sheet he could get hold of.
He quickly scanned through the diary. But no luck with those lines he was looking for. He picked up the next diary. The result was the same. He went through three more diaries and still nothing. He started from the first diary again, this time reading through it carefully. He even tried to correlate the dates but the search was a failure.
His neck began to hurt. He stretched his legs and started wondering where his diary could be. The fatigue and the heat in the garage made him drowsy. He pulled out an old newspaper lying around, rolled it, put it under his head, and closed his eyes.
It must have been about an hour when he heard a few voices in the background.
“Papa, papa,’ shouted his boys, looking inside the half-opened garage.
Their shouting woke up Raghav. He woke up slowly, feeling well rested. The boys looked at their father with a surprised expression wondering what their father was doing on the floor.
The lines he wrote suddenly came back to him. “All decisions in life are made from the head or the heart. Knowing when to use what is a journey called life.” Today the absoluteness of these lines made them seem like a formula created by a scholar. A formula that was correct but also reflected the naivety of the scholar’s youth. Over time, these lines seemed to have acquired a different meaning. Giving human beings a head and a heart seemed to be the universe’s way of complicating their lives. Lives in which they can ponder whether they were right or wrong in the application of the formula but have few opportunities to change the outcome.
That evening, Raghav sat down with his father for evening tea. “Papa, I was thinking about your idea.” “Which idea?” asked his father, picking up a biscuit. “The one about educating people about India’s history?” “Yes, what about it? You were saying it was not worth it.” “I gave it a second thought. Maybe if we build a game around the concept, kids will find it interesting,” said Raghav with a hint of an apology. “Hmm… I thought it was a good idea. Let’s plan sometime next week to discuss it in detail.”
“Papa, in the corporate world we always say the deadline was yesterday. Let’s start work from today,” replied Raghav.
“Okay, that’s even better,” said his father, with a laugh.
For the next few weeks, Raghav was busy contacting people in his network with a gaming background. Once he got some direction, he started work on the design. He had no prior experience in designing a game and relied mostly on his intuition.
He turned the guest bedroom into his project office. The wall was now covered by a couple of whiteboards. He also got a table set-up for his laptop and printer.
In some time, he was able to create the design of the game. He was quite happy with the screen layouts but realised he needed to put some historical context into the design. He wondered which monument or archaeological site he should choose.
One morning, Raghav woke up to see Tarana working on her laptop.
“So early? What happened?”
“After coming here, I have been setting up accounts for papa to pay the utility bills. Today I realised that I hadn’t paid the electricity and water bills. I want to finish it before the boys wake up.”
“That’s good. Do you want some coffee? I’m making some for myself.”
“Sure, I don’t mind.”
Raghav was busy in the kitchen, when suddenly his younger son woke up and started shouting.
“Tarana, see what he wants. I’ll do the billing. What’s the user ID and the password?”
“I was trying to reset the password. Please check my mail box. You’ll find the new password.”
Raghav sat down with his cup of coffee and opened Tarana’s laptop. He clicked on her Gmail account and saw the email from the electricity department with the new password. He was about to enter the new password when a familiar name in Tarana’s email inbox caught his attention.
Harpreet. What were Harpreet’s mail doing here? He looked around to make sure Tarana wasn’t looking. He opened Harpreet’s last email.