Mukund's father, restricted to a hospital bed by paralysis, asks his son for a favour. Mukund is to go to his hometown, Jalsaur a small isolated North Indian town to rescue his cousin, Uday from the mess he has got into with the police for assaulting a local college principal, Mr Siddiqui. Mukund takes up the task despite his past differences with Uday, and undertakes the journey to Jalsaur after twelve years. What he thought would be a two-day job, starts taking a life of its own, as he comes face-to-face with a town gradually getting politicised, and Uday standing bang in the middle of the process. He can no longer understand his cousin and the town that holds his childhood memories. For help, he just has one person to lean on Siddiqui's daughter and his childhood friend, Sara.
Mukund soon begins to realise that the real reasons for his cousin's behaviour may not lie in Jalsaur, but in the tortured past of his family as it prospered and decayed over three generations. Some of the reasons point accusingly to his father, who left the town ages ago but never got around to severing his roots. Even before Mukund can tie the loose threads and take charge, the town is swept away by the strong headwinds of an event far away the fall of the Babri Masjid and all the chaos that follows.
Nilesh Shrivastava, 35, has been working in the financial sector in Mumbai for nearly ten years now. He is currently working with a multilateral institution and was earlier with a leading international bank. He holds a management degree from the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata and a degree in Computer Engineering from Lucknow University. The Second Hand is Nilesh's first novel.
Your hand has lines enough for two men, a stranger had told me about two years ago. I looked at my palm and there they were multiple scraggy but distinct lines meandering for no purpose on my palm as if they didn't care where they started or ended. Each looked as if drawn completely at random with no sense of design or any semblance of order.
Strangely I never really noticed them so clearly for many years; maybe I was never so pre-occupied with my future. The stranger took out his hand to compare and he was obviously right his hand looked quite normal. His palm had a few lines but it was nowhere as densely populated as mine; his was an open golf course compared to my claustrophobic tenement. It was a completely casual conversation with a total stranger that should have been forgotten in a minute, but it stuck on with me for a long time.
He told me that like a matter of fact it was hard to grasp if there was any emotional undertone to his words surprise, shock or maybe even sympathy.
What does that mean?I asked him.
I don't know, he said, Maybe the destinies of other men are criss-crossing into yours or maybe there's some fate awaiting you that's world apart from what you are doing now maybe all or maybe nothing at all. But you have many lines of fate, strong lines of fate and that's a lot more possibility than what most people would have in a single lifetime.
That's not much of a prediction, is it? I asked him and he just smiled at me.
With so many Gods around, who am I to predict the future? I am just trying to read what's written on your hand. If men can give fuzzy stories all the time, so can their hands.
He owned a flower shop at the entrance of the main Shiva Temple at Varanasi. It was a tiny lane on a crowded day and there were men and women pushing me all the time as they passed through the lane. The main temple was a hundred feet ahead, but there were many deities in between, some jutting out from the wall, some holed into tiny apertures on the side, and others just sitting near the road with some priest or the other guarding them like personal property. I was there to buy some flowers from the vendor, for the temple, when I noticed the small signboard by his side which said ˜astrologer" and I stretched out my hand even before he stretched his to give me flowers.
It is indeed hard to resist the temptation to know one's own future. I knew nothing about the man or his skills in astrology or in selling flowers, but in ten rupees the future was coming cheap.
See there, you have two dark and distinct lines of fate and then there are two of those two they run across the hand and then all these crazy lines cutting across. It's very unusual,he said holding my hand tightly.
My father, I had not noticed, was standing behind me looking at the man holding my palm.
There are actually so many double lines, it's almost like you have the shadow of another hand pressed on yours a hand that must be very similar,the man said poring over my palm.
So whose hand are you reading his or that other man's? Father asked somewhat sarcastically.
I don't know enough to say that,the man replied candidly, Whether it's a second man's hand or another palm of possibility. You can believe what you wish.
Pay him, Mukund,father said irritably, are getting late the last time I met an astrologer was three weeks before your grandfather passed away and the astrologer had said he would live for thirty years. So much for their accuracy. Father wanted to keep the visit as short as possible and get back to the business he was in town for.
I know I asked him just like that, I replied taking out some cash, though I found my part-time astrologers words very intriguing. Not many men who profess to know the future also profess their ignorance as easily as that man.
Even before we could take another step, a whole bunch of youngsters stormed into the lane, all chanting a monotone, all dressed in black and yellow, and all looking very grim. They looked as if on a mission that was moving towards the temple. They were not walking, they were marching though in a random formation; and in that tiny lane that meant no one else could even skip around them.
They had saffron bands tied around their heads and with stony looks, they looked ready to go to war, if need be. They had a chant with them I will build the temple there, if not there then let it be nowhere or something to that effect. That along with the menace in their steps made all the pedestrians lean into the sidewalls, letting them pass before they took another breath. I too did the same, almost falling into my astrologer's lap and he held me back with his hands. Father stood pressed behind me while the crowd swept by.
What was that? I cried as they passed me.
They want to build a temple, the man told me.
I can hear that so what the problem?
They are talking about Ayodhya there is an old mosque in the same place and lots of politics that I don't understand. You will hear many of these boys these days, all around here. They are part of the same bunch, a very large bunch.
That may be true but shouting does not make temples. They could cry like this all night.
It may not but it wakes up people, some with irritation, others with expectation. A hundred may ignore but ten will listen and that what they want.
I shrugged my shoulders. All this sounded very alien to me, coming from a world that could barely find time for work and family and a few drinks with friends. I probably would not have been here either, if father had not pushed me for a two-day trip with him.
How far will all their shouting go? I asked my part-time astrologer paying him.
The man looked at me almost compassionately,The voices may be shallow but sometimes echoes go a long way.
That was 1990. It took the echoes two years to reach me.