A black hat tossed on carelessly to brave the mountain winds, a cloak donned for the love of winters; he trots with no particular path designed to suit his aspiring steps. His tender fingers reach out to the monolithic watch, rotating the crown every now and then to make sure he knows what hour of the walk it is. Not that it matters, but he likes to know. Sometimes the time that his much treasured piece announces doesn't match the light in the sky. He doesn't care. He trusts his watch.
He now walks towards the solitary bench visible in the distance. He sits on the very edge of it, eyes looking expectantly at the radio in his hand. His radio, his only living companion. The radio jockey talks too much but he keeps his calm. He is waiting for the song. Finally the station plays ‘tum mujhe yun bhula naa paoge’. An ecstatic cry breaks through his lips. He is not sure if he uttered it but he could have; Shammi Kapoor had always been his favourite. He likes this station. He will try to remember this frequency. Right in middle of 105 and 106, but the needle etching close to 106. He can remember that.
As the song caresses the night with a soulful cry, he plays a little more with the frequency needle. ‘Nazar me subhoo ki khuda kar chale...’ He smiles. He doesn't understand this song completely; the dexterous use of Urdu would have baffled him, had he cared enough to be baffled. Eyes closed, a smile from his boyhood days playing on his lips, his entire frame moved from the edge of the bench to the centre and then back, lost in his own frequency.
A young boy of eight recognises him from a distance and whispers with all the caution of Sherlock, “Mum, look there- The uncle with the antennas.” His mother smiles but takes an unplanned turn to the mall road, lest she should disturb uncle. No one else comes to sit on the bench. Uncle gets all the time to sit and retune his radio in the hope of catching a forgotten Gulzar melody.
Uncle doesn’t know that he is famous. ‘The uncle with the antennas’ has earned all the distinction of becoming a mountain folk-tale. In hushed voices seeking to silence howling children, old mothers and grandmothers routinely usher uncle in their less than true stories. Throughout the rolling road that embraces the mountains with all the care it can afford, one can stop at any lodging to hear about uncle amidst wistful lanterns. He belongs nowhere, yet he brightens these gloomy winter lives.
While the favourite story is being retold with minor changes and additions to the keen tourists, uncle adjusts his radio once more. He never talks to anyone, except to buy his food, masala chai and radio batteries. Today he buys chillum too. Drowned in the smoke, he lays his head against a cosy rock. ‘Mai pal do pal ka shayar hun... pal do pal meri kahani hai...’ Uncle sleeps peacefully against the rock, his chillum died out. ‘kal koi mujhko yaad kare, kyun koi mujhko yaad kare? Masroof zamana mere liye kyun waqt apna barbaad ka...’ The song hums itself to silence, unfinished for the lack of renewed batteries.