Friday, August 16, 2002


by: A S Ramasastri

I was looking at the beautiful blends of glorious colours on the grand canvas of the Greatest Artist. A canvas of infinite dimensions. A canvas on which pictures keep changing every moment.

At that moment, beneath the blue waters of the sea, I could see the golden yellow disc inching up. The sun was rising. Rising slowly. Rising spectacularly. It looked as though the sea was giving birth to the sun. A painless birth.

“What a beauty!” I heard someone say by my side. I looked for the owner of the voice. It belonged to an old man. An old man, whose old age was visible in all parts of his body. Except his eyes. His eyes somehow did not look old. They were looking at the sun as he spoke those words.

“Yeah – really beautiful,” I reciprocated his feelings.

“I don’t think I have seen you before,” the old man seemed to be in the mood to make conversation. Now that the sun moved up and he had nothing specific to look in the east, he was looking at me.

He hardly had any hair on his head. Hardly any teeth. Hardly any clothes.

“I don’t belong to this island. I came here on holiday. I had been working hard on an important assignment for the past several months. I wanted a break. Real break. Away from all that madness. Into no man’s world,” I said.

“Still you bumped into a man. An old man that too.”

“You are not an old man.”

“How old do you think I am?” He asked with a naughty smile. At least I thought that the smile was naughty. I told him that I did not venture to guess on that.

“On 1st January 1900–On that day–As the sun rose, I also rose.”

“Waaah.." I was excited. “You saw the first sunrise of this century. You will be seeing the first sunrise of the next century tomorrow. In fact you will be seeing the last sunset of this century today.”

The old man did not care for the excitement in my voice. He said as a matter of fact –“I have never missed the sun rising from sea till now. And I had never seen the sun setting into the sea. I live in this village, which is on the eastern side of the island. I had no occasion to go the other side to see the sunset.”

“This island is hardly thirty kilometers wide. Have you not gone to the other side at all?”

“I did not. I didn’t need to. You see over there. That house. That is where I was born. That is where I was brought up. That is where I have been staying since my birth. I had never moved out of this village. My children–ten of them–all ten of them–moved out of this island. My grandchildren live in several parts of the world. I see the world through their eyes. And through the eyes of my great grandchildren. I don’t need to move out.”

“But you can’t see the beauty of sunset through their eyes. Like you can’t see the beauty of sunrise through others’ eyes. Do you know how beautiful sunset is? When the sun slowly dips into western sea.”

“Sunset is like death. How can death be beautiful?” he questioned. A question to which he was sure he had an answer. A question to which, he did not want an answer from me.

“I don’t know about death. But sunset is beautiful. It is particularly beautiful on this island. There is a hill on the western side of the island. When you climb the hill, you see the sea below you. Into that tranquility, the golden disc vanishes. I will take you to the other side today. You can see the beautiful sunset. Incidentally, it will be the last sunset of the century. A century, whose first sunrise saw your birth.”

“I have no interest in these dates. They are all man made. Is there any difference for sun as he rose yesterday, today or tomorrow? He is as beautiful as ever.”

“I agree with you. All days are similar. Many of us who are waiting for the calendar to roll into the next millennium know this. But you know - we are all men. Men, who need to share their feelings and emotions with others. We have to celebrate. Celebrate to overcome our loneliness. So we celebrate everything. We celebrate births. We celebrate deaths.”

“I can understand that birth is beautiful. It is creation. Death is destruction. How can destruction be beautiful? I can’t understand. And for the same reason, I can’t understand how sunset can be beautiful.”

“You will believe it if you see it. Please give me a chance today. I will take you to the other side of the island.”

“If I come with you to the other side this evening to see the sunset, I will miss the sunrise tomorrow. I have never missed the sun rising from beneath the sea. I don’t want to miss it tomorrow.”

“On your birthday!”

“To damn with birthdays. I don’t care for such things. My children, grandchildren and great grandchildren wanted me to go to their places to celebrate my birthday with them there. I didn’t go there. They wanted to come here. I told them not to come. They are good. They listen to me. They come only when I permit them to come. Otherwise they leave me alone. Leave me to myself. To my sunrise.”

“At this age – who is taking care of you?”

“Who is taking care of me? Who can take care of me? In this world, who can take care of whom?”

"Suppose you fall ill – "

“This village is not empty. And I am not a stranger to this village. Anyway – He is there to take care of all of us.”

He pointed his finger towards sky. Slightly towards east. Towards the sun.

“Journey from here to the western side does not take more than an hour. I will take you to the other side in a car today evening. It is sufficient if we start at 4 PM. We can be back before 9 PM. You can sleep well tonight and be ready for sunrise tomorrow morning.”

“Don’t trouble yourself. You came on a holiday. Have it your way.”

“I want to have it my way. And that is to take you to the other side and show you the sunset. Show you the mighty sun turning into golden yellow disc and dipping into blue waters. Can you imagine a fireball touching water without creating water vapours? Without making a sound? That is sunset. I will show you that. Go home now. Come back at 4 PM. I will be waiting for you here.”

“I am going home now. I won’t come again. Don't wait for me”.

The old man started walking towards his house. As he started walking, I could see how weak he was. His back was bent. The back that carried his head for so many years. His legs, which carried him for such a long period, were trembling as he walked. His hand, which was holding a stick as an additional support to his legs, was shaking.

After walking for a while, he turned round and said, “Don’t trouble yourself. Don’t wait for me. I don’t think I will come.”

I somehow felt that his voice was not firm. I thought that I could take a chance and wait for him there at 4 PM. I was not wrong.

He came. As he came, he said, “I only came to tell you that I am not going to come with you to the other side of the island. I am quite happy with the sunrise. I have no interest in the sunset on the other side. Leave me alone. You go ahead.”

I knew the old man was inclined to come to the other side. I persisted with my request. He hesitantly agreed. We started in a car.

He was worrying whether we would be back in this village before sunrise the next day. I told him, “You have been seeing the sunrise everyday. God knows how many days. How does it matter if your miss it tomorrow?”

“It is not the same sunrise everyday. It is different each day. Different colours. Different shades. Different blends. Different patterns. It is not the same everyday. He is not going to create same thing everyday.”

I could not but agree with him.

I realized that he was not used to journeys. He was finding it difficult to sit in the car. Although there was some curiosity when he saw new places around him, his eyes were too tired to be kept open. Closing his eyes, he started recollecting different parts of his life. His association with the village, the sea and the sunrise. He fondly remembered his childhood days, when he used to run early morning with his friends to sea, plunge into it and swim forward east with a hope to catch the sun before it rose from sea and went into the sky.

“Those were wonderful days. I had hope. I hoped that if I swam faster, I could catch the sun.”

After about an hour’s drive we reached the foot of the hill on the western shore of the island. The old man looked at the hill and at me. The looks questioned me if he had to climb the hill.

“It is not too high,” I said. “I think you can make it. But if you feel that you will not be able to climb it, tell me. We will go back.”

“Let me try. Wherever I find it difficult to climb further, I will stop there. You can climb to the top, see the sunset and come back. You should not miss the event because of me.”

“That does not matter. We either see or miss together.”

We started walking up slowly. I did not anticipate this. I thought that we would be able to climb the hill in less than half an hour. And that we would reach the hilltop well before sunset.

I overlooked the old man’s age and strength. He was taking more time than I calculated. I was worried whether we would reach the hilltop before sunset. As though he read my worry, the old man tried to walk faster. That made him gasp. He could not walk further.

He sat on the ground and said, “Leave me here. You go up. Watch the last sunset of the millennium. Probably, God is in my favour. I did not want to see the sunset. And He is not allowing me to climb to the top of the hill to see the sunset. Maybe He also does not want me to see the sunset.”

I did not want to leave him there. I did not want him to miss an opportunity to which he came so close. I lifted him in my hands and started climbing.

As we reached the top, the sun appeared to be touching the sea. I made him sit leaning to a tree and told him to watch sunset. He gazed at the western skies. I also started looking in that direction as sun started sinking into the sea. I was enjoying the glorious sight. When the sun sank totally into the sea, I asked the old man – “Is it not as beautiful as sunrise?”

There was no reply from him. I sat by his side. He was motionless. I realized that he was dead. But his face looked joyful.

Was it because he saw the sunset or because he did not? I would never know. I would never like to know.

About the author

A S Ramasastri

A S Ramasastri is a General Manager at the Reserve Bank of India. He writes fiction in Telugu regularly and has won several prizes for his short stories.

The present story is his first attempt at writing fiction in English.

E-Mail: ramasastri AT hotmail DOT com