Of Men, God and Others
January 29, 2010 10 Comments
The two had positioned themselves as always, half-way on the short road waiting and watching.
‘I say, we have seen it all here and it’s not working out. I think we should move nearer the Garden. We’ve a better chance of snaring someone.’
The short road led from the front of the temple, serving the apartment blocks lining either side and joining up with another road at the far-end. The temple itself stood a little inside on one of the several roads running away from the Garden that served as a traffic round-about, in essentially a residential area.
At seven in the morning an occasional three-wheeler rushed past disturbing the quiet with obscene noise; and men were fewer: it was a middle-aged pot-bellied executive (un)clad in shorts, panting and sweating at a brisk pace heading for the Garden, a happy-to-be-breathing 65-plus ambling gingerly, arthritic bones creaking; or a devotee in a traditional wear making his way to the temple. Got the picture?
‘Don’t get impatient. See, Silk Jibba (Kurta) is coming!’
‘With pockets empty and swinging his hands freely.’
‘Look at his fingers. There is a ring on every one of them.’
‘You women…I bet they’re fake. Even if they’re not and looking at those fingers, those rings cannot be removed unless we bite them off.’
‘Tch…tch, no violence, please. You got it wrong. He is a well-heeled guy. I overheard him the other day talking to someone about his garment factory. He feeds the poor on Thursdays in the Community Hall. .
‘That doesn’t help us one bit, they don’t let us get anywhere near. And he comes empty-handed on these walks. No dice leave him alone. I see Kirana (shopkeeper selling grains and pulses) turning the corner and coming this way. He has a bag with him. May be there’s something in it for us. Should we do a quick snatch?’
‘Do you see his walking stick?’
‘Yes, what of it? Made of silver? That’s interesting. You do have an eye for these things.’
‘Don’t let his appearance deceive you. He’s very alert and nimble.’
‘You’re all bark and no bite.’
‘You haven’t seen him wield the stick, my mate. I’ve and believe me, you won’t have tongue enough to lick your wounds. Lay off if you know what’s good for us. If it is no dice with Silk Jibba, it is no game with Kirana. Do you know what is in the pouch? Only the other day I followed him. I too was excited. And what did I see?
‘What was it?’
‘He fed the pigeons at the Kabootar Khana with the grain from the pouch. His kindness is reserved for the feathered kind. Doesn’t include higher order species. So, don’t build castles on pocket-sized grain pouches.’
‘You sure are becoming good at pricking bubbles. Well, we’ve drawn a blank so far. I am telling you we’ll have better luck at the Garden. There’re lots of oldies coming there and they’re our best bet.’
Just then, a man came up in traditional dhoti with the mark on his forehead. He was carrying in his hands a bunch of bananas, a flower garland and a silver glass of milk. Clearly he was heading for the temple, his lips muttering some prayer.
‘Do you see what is in his hand? Looks like this is our break. He’s not a regular. See, he doesn’t even look at us. We don’t exist for him. All that makes it easier on my conscience. Get ready, I’m going to jump on him.’
‘Are you crazy? It’s against our professional code to jump on temple-goers.’
‘I’m not aware of any such code as far as I can remember.’
‘Well, I made one.’
‘Why, in the world?’
‘It is not so much about this guy. I know nothing about him. But I do know this – if you jump on him, the God in there will get a bad name for no fault of His. People will lose faith in going to the temple. Why make our Karma worse than what is?’
‘Oh my, I didn’t know you had this streak in you. Are there more exclusions like this? Your code begins to look like Income Tax Act offering exemptions and deductions. There, we lost him, thanks to you.
‘And, I’m also worried for you. These days you talk about biting, jumping, snatching… Someone has been filling up your head when I’m not around. Sooner than later you’re sure to be taken in. And you know where they take you and what they do to you. So, promise me there’ll be no incidents, no violence.’
‘And, starve to death? We haven’t had a square meal for days. Note there are no food lines or soup kitchens for our kind. No one worries about us, including the God of yours in the temple. A fruit doesn’t fall off a tree unless shaken. What to talk of fruits? These days even clouds, I hear, don’t pour down unless seeded. Grab not, get not. Unless we adapt, my mate, we’ll perish. Exploits of such adaption fill up the news-papers and are avidly read. This already has Mr. Darwin’s sanction.
‘Who is Mr. Darwin? Is he some god?’ Irony laughing its head off at the innocent query went unregistered. ‘And, I haven’t heard of any such exploitations. Anyways all this doesn’t wash with me. You’re talking garbage…cat’s poop.’
‘Garbage? My friend, it is grab-age. Grabbers keepers. See, what a growling tummy does to you? Your lingo – it’s already slipping into unlady-like. Now you can imagine…’
The eloquence on grabbing, tummy pangs and changing ways of the society at large was cut short by the arrival of the rag-picker on his usual beat from the far-end with the huge dirty plastic bag slung over his shoulders, contents peeking out through tears on the sides. Their relationship had started off on a hostile footing prompted by mutual apprehensions and eased from the day he offered to share his meager pickings with them – just enough to see them through for a few hours as they went about their business. Today, for some reason, he was hurrying towards them, his face unusually stern and gesturing and shouting unintelligibly. As he got near them, he started hurling things without provocation as if to chase them away. Quite strange, it was. A glass too many of toddy, last night? He was sure to be sorry when he worked it off. Presently they had no choice but to take off quickly to a safe distance. They did not stop until they reached the back of the temple unhindered. Secure in the knowledge that the temple premises were certainly off-limits for the rag-picker and anyone else who felt sportive about chasing them, they peeked out from their hiding.
And saw…the rag-picker, standing in the middle of the road and facing away and beyond him, lumbering into the short road from the far-end was the familiar and dreaded Dog-Van.