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Of Names and Faces

 BY SIVA GOPAL OJHA

A person is known by the company he keeps and what can be a more exclusive companion of a person than his name, or better still his face? While a name is an arbitrary identity imposed on a person by those to whom he belongs, a face is the unique identity endowed to him by the Creator. A name is not a signature by which a person can be readily recognized, whereas a face is imprinted permanently. A name can be common to so many individuals but no two faces can ever be the same. 

There are several faces that do not have any names. They are only faces. But they convey more than any name could possibly do. I see one such face occasionally near the municipal water tap by the roadside. The owner of the face, an old man, squats about ten yards away from the tap looking away with an open gaze. The face is very sickly, delicate and almost fragile. The unkempt beard grown over the last few days sporadically draws a veil over the face. Eyes are deeply embedded inside the niches meant for them. The cheeks look like deflated rubber balls.

The face occasionally looks up with eyes saying something which one can almost follow. The helplessness of its owner is writ large on it. I do not know why the person squats in the vicinity of the free source of water for I have never seen him collecting it. Only once did I hear his voice. It was nasal, high pitched and resembled the voice of a child. It was laced with a tint of tiredness as well. As I tried to fathom the face, it also attempted the same on me.

A sense of guilt descends on me as I look at it. It seems to me that this face is the culmination of all my wrong doings. It makes me uneasy as I can feel that it is silently reprimanding me: I am like this because of you. It is only your reflection. It suffers when like a selfish creature you lead your cozy life without any consideration for others. It suffers when you refuse a beggar on the plea that soliciting of alms is illegal in public places. This is the face of God who suffers from your selfishness.

The face haunts me and looks at me with a mixture of pity and compassion. There is recognition in its eyes. If the face had a name it would be easier. I could then identify it by its name. The inconvenient idea behind the face would then be unnecessary. A name could eliminate the expressions and the silent reprimands that the face emitted constantly.

Sometimes I feel that the face belongs to my estranged lover. The pains in both of us are drawn on the fragile face. On those days I feel it lights up (when it sees me) the way the face of my lover will (on seeing me) and vice versa. The face sports a faint smile then. The face wants to tell me a tale but keeps quiet to teach me the art of listening to the silence it portrays. The sickly face tells me to delve deep inside my mind to look for the tale that is writ large on every line of it so vividly. Could a name convey so much?

 

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The mystery of the unnamed face is so intriguing that I kept on thinking about it.

- Rupak Bhattacharya 2/11/09

 

 

Other works by Siva Gopal Ojha:

Short stories:

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