CARTOONIST (‘SONAL AND OTHER STORIES’ : 5)

5
CARTOONIST
 
Should one call him a cartoonist or not was not clear, but he was certainly like a cartoon! He used to keep drawing with a pencil or painting with a brush in a dark room on the ground floor of a dilapidated building facing the street. The door of his room usually remained open and while going to the city I invariably stopped near his place to glance at him. I did not understand why I did that but my feet instinctively stopped there. When I looked at him, a thought crossed in my mind that the Brahma, the Creator of the Universe, has blown life in a ‘cartoon’ drawn on paper by some master artist! The entire view of his mouth, his eyes, his nose and the forehead– all looked weird. And his ever-flying hair also confirmed him as a living cartoon!
While returning home on the same street in the evening, I could afford to observe at his desk, dirty room for a while. On the outer wall of that room hung a small signboard. If one stretched the eyes the reader can decipher the letters forming the word CARTOONIST on it. The rain had wiped out the original luster of those letters, even some of them were broken. When the wind blew hard, this hanging board used to get a new life, as if it was trying to attract the occasional passerby.
But that artist remained absorbed in his work. Even though I saw him while going to the office in the morning, and while returning home in the evening, I had no acquaintenance of him. Yes, occasionally he also glanced at me, but I do not think he ever saw me closely. I thought this artist was indeed strange. A thought had even crossed in my mind to introduce myself to him as I was working in the editorial department of one daily newspaper and we were looking  for a good cartoonist.
That artist seemed to have no other interest in life except drawing cartoons. I had seen such crazy people before but today’s brief encounter established him firmly  in my mind. And in a dream that night I saw him, myself and my ‘cartoon.’ And in the dream I felt that I was physically transformed to resemble that ‘cartoon!’ I awoke in the state of shock. Indeed, when one broods over the same thing over and over one dreams about it.
WAKE UP AND WRITE, MAN!
Several years ago, the telephone rang at six o’clock in the morning in my home in Chicago. I was still in the bed half asleep. My wife Hasu picked up the phone and gave the receiver to me.
“Girish,” the caller began. I didn’t recognize the heavy voice. He hesitated for a few seconds, then continued, “Did I wake you up?”
“No, I was about to get up. Let me pick up another phone.” I got out of the bed and went to my study and picked up the phone.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Gi…ri…sh….  Is that how you pronounce your first name?”
“Yes.”
“I just read the manuscript of your story ‘Cartoonist’ that you gave me yesterday. I was so excited I called you right away!”
Yes, I remembered. I had attended a poetry workshop in our neighborhood library the previous day. The teacher was an American Indian who was a poet and a story writer. He had published a collection of stories. I had given him the manuscripts of my two stories in English. They were based on my published Gujarati (language of the Gujarat state of India)
stories. The titles of the stories were: “Cartoonist,” and “The Stories (and Story Ideas) are Scattered Everywhere!”
“Did you really write the story?” He couldn’t believe that I had written the story “Cartoonist.”
“Yes, I have written it. In fact, it is based on my original Gujarati story which was published.” I assured him. (Let me add that I was even paid for it.)
“Well, Girish. It’s a great story. I’ll be talking about you to my friends.”
Then he suggested me to send the story to an editor of a magazine who was his friend.
“Wake up and write man!” he exclaimed the closing sentence. Indeed, he opened my eyes.  It was a wake up call.
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