The deer at Hauz Khas Village

                                              Illustration courtesy: Shivali Chandra

It was a lonely Saturday evening for Rathin, despite the loud music blaring, and people talking loudly in the background. Rathin was done with the world at large.

With the single-minded intention of drowning his sorrows in more than a couple of drinks, he had checked in at the Lord of the Drinks Meadow at Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village. After hopelessly bar hopping that evening, which left him emotionally drained, the Meadow seemed like a relatively quiet place to sit and ruminate. More than just that, it seemed like an acceptable option compared to returning to his lonely abode fully sober.

“The Village is becoming unbearable. All the places are too loud, too crowded, and too…young,” he thought to himself. Rathin hated the last adjective. He hated admitting that at 27, he was inching towards the much-dreaded 30s. But only a year ago, Rathin was part of the crowd he today summarily dismisses as “young”.

He loved the loud music, the vibes, and the general feeling of having arrived in life that the Village offered him the first time. But everything that is once hipster, must become mainstream, someone wise told Rathin the first time he set foot in Delhi. He couldn’t remember who.

The Meadow is inside the famous Deer Park at the Village, and by some stroke of luck in that otherwise doomed evening, there was a cool breeze blowing. Rathin settled for a secluded spot with a view of the park. A mesh wire fencing separated the park from the watering hole. Beyond the mesh were tall trees of all varieties. The moon played hide and seek with the clouds and the leaves that danced in the breeze.

Rathin called for a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea, the tropical variety, and took two deep breaths. Sanity came at a price in this city. It had been a long day, walking around Lodi Gardens, in search of some solace and inspiration. A struggling writer in the big city, Rathin’s pen had run dry. He couldn’t create magic with his words anymore.

A one-book old writer, he hated admitting that he was terribly scared of becoming a one-book wonder.

He knew how important it was for him to make his second book a stellar success. Money was running out, and folks back home were getting impatient. The manuscript of his second book was rejected by three of the biggest publishers in the city. They said it lacked depth. Truly, Rathin was out of depth. His folks were peeved with his creative pursuits, and would not have any more of it. They wanted him to fit in, and be a part of the race Rathin so loathed.

The Meadow was filled with the rich and fancy of Delhi who had come in their fascinating chariots. “I am so terribly underdressed, God!” he muttered under his breath.

Indeed, in his jeans, polo t-shirt, and dusty sneakers, Rathin was spectacularly out of place. The fancy lights and water fountains held the promise of a different world he desperately wanted to be a part of. He dragged his feet deeper under his knees, hoping that no one would notice them in the darkness.

A server presently brought him his favourite concoction of Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Triple Sec and Orange. He thanked the person and asked for a lighter. He drew two deeps drags of smoke, before scratching his unshaven chin and taking a small sip.

“Aah! This is heavenly,” he thought to himself. Rathin loved Delhi. The city gave him new aspirations every day, of a better life, unimaginable back home. There was a reason Rathin persisted against all odds and wanted to stay on in the city. He drew more passionate sips as he recounted his struggles.

His struggles, he believed, were temporary. Light would shine on him sooner or later. Life would come full circle. There were no chinks in Rathin’s conviction. But at times, fear and criticism cut him deep, leaving him with inner wounds to heal. Coming to terms to his inner hurt had taken Rathin a while. All he wanted was intimate understanding from loved ones. But it was hard to come by.

Rathin was not a struggler by any means. Of this he was certain. He had a regular job and no airs of being a writer. He had deep respect for his job, for it brought him the means of sustenance. But he knew he deserved more. He knew he deserved to be part of a better world. Accidents of birth could not prevent him forever from acquiring his real place. His thoughts raced, as alcohol coloured his imagination. He poured out more of that magical concoction, as his body and mind finally relaxed without any inhibition.

And then he saw it. A deer stood on the other side of the mesh fencing, looking right at him. Where did it come from?

Rathin had no idea. Perhaps it was the lights, and the music, that made the deer curious. Rathin moved closer to the fence, just to make sure it was not his imagination playing games. It was indeed a deer, and it was unafraid of anything. Rathin took out his camera and tried to get a good shot. But somehow, the camera would keep focussing on the fence, missing the deer every time.

He moved even closer to the fence, the deer observing his actions very suspiciously. Rathin meant no harm, but the deer was a mute, dumb animal, with the easy choice of running away. But strangely, it seemed to enjoy the attention. It even walked two steps towards the fence.

Rathin moved even closer in drunk ecstasy at finding a companion this lonely evening. The deer reciprocated. He placed his hand at the fencing, and the deer attempted at some physical contact by placing its wet nose at the exact same spot.

“Who are you?”, Rathin thought he blurted out, amazed at his own ludicrousness.

After a minute of complete silence, accompanied by muted beats of uptempo club music, it seemed to Rathin that deer spoke to him.

“I am the only deer in this park that will dare to do this. I am an outcast. My tribe disowned me because of my curiosity. They warned me not to get too close to the humans, but I can’t resist. Every time I hear the music, the human voices, I am drawn closer,” the deer said.

“Shouldn’t you be with your own kind at this hour of the night?”, Rathin shot back.

“I should be, but they do not approve of me.”

“So, you live all alone in this sprawling park? Doesn’t it get lonely at times?” Rathin was growing curious.

“It does, but it is a part of living life on my own terms. My tribe is predictable and boring. They do not like to explore. I couldn’t take for it long. So I left them, and decided to make it on my own,” the deer replied.

Rathin was taken aback. A talking deer in the Village well past midnight on a Saturday? That has never happened before!

“I am an outcast too. My tribe doesn’t like me much either,” he quipped back, hoping the deer would continue the conversation.

“Well, if that is the way it is, then that is the way it is, my friend!”, the deer had a prompt reply ready.

“Nice to meet you! I have to go to look for some water now,” continued the deer, as it placed its nose against the fence, as if in some form of inter-species greeting. Rathin placed his head against the fence, his forehead feeling wet suddenly, due to contact with the deer’s nose.

In one moment of shared solidarity, he felt like he had found a kindred soul, in the unlikeliest of places. The deer hopped away into the dark of the night.

Rathin cleared the bill, feeling empowered by his alcohol-fuelled conversation with a deer. Was it for real? He did not know. And he could not care less. Or spoil his own new-found vigour.

The struggling writer had found a new muse. The deer at Hauz Khas Village.