From My Dairy

29th Nov 14

Today was one of the two mandatory days in a week for me to a session at the gym, part of a regimen prescribed by the docs in cardiac rehab. Going to the dentist to pull out a rotten tooth is any day a far pleasanter prospect, I thought.

As I was retrieving my track-suit from the cupboard, on a chance, I looked out of the window and spotted the old man settling down on the pavement just outside our gate. From the folds of his clothes he pulled out a small cloth pouch. I couldn’t see what he was doing with it.

Just then the watchman of the building across the street about fifteen feet away shouted:

‘What are you eating?’

The old man waved a sache at him.

‘Tambakoo? Who gave it to you?’

‘No one. I bought it from my own money. Five rupees it cost me.’

As I moved away from the window, I heard the watchman call him ‘bewda’ (a drunkard) – didn’t know what was the provocation – and receive a mouthful from the old man. Whatever else he might be, he is certainly not a ‘bewda’ as far as I could see.

Not an infrequent scene – these days I find youngsters passing by, tradesmen, courier boys, all taunting him for no apparent reason and the old man responding vigorously.

Meanwhile, my wife from the other room wanted to know why it was taking so long for me to get ready for the gym. Was I planning to skip the work–out?

I assured her the thought had not entered my mind and proceeded to share with her what I saw and heard from up here.

She already had it mapped out: ‘I told you time and again never to give money to these folks. You give him money and see what he does with it. If you feel like giving, give him something to eat.’

I know from first hand they prefer to receive cash that lets them buy food of their choice.’

art-the-farmers-wifes-hand (1)

For some months now, the old man, is a regular, squatting at a spot near the head of the street for a good part of the day. It is one of those places in his daily rounds he is likely to receive food.

Must be well into seventies, short and lightly built, dark complexioned, skin in wrinkles all over like a shrunken fruit, a face permanently set in a grouch, very live eyes narrowed by thick folds of skin, straight-backed though his neck bending forward a bit, clothed in traditional dhoti and shirt crumpled and a little untidy but without tear , trudging along with his thick stick, his chappals scuffing the tar underneath – this’s him. And top it with a booming voice that lied about his age.

Early on, he appeared to be a little more cheerful than what he is now. That’s when I ventured to ask him some personal questions without the fear of disagreeably receiving his stick. He told me he has a wife and a daughter living in the same area. They don’t take care of him, so he is on his own. I tried to counsel him softly it is unwise of him at his age to stay away from his blood relations. Of course I didn’t seriously expect him to change on my say-so and he didn’t. I left it at that.

Whenever I see him on my way to the market – that would be twice or thrice in a week – I give him ten rupees. Eases my guilt a wee bit. It started out as twenty rupees but cut back to ten once I added a few more guys to the list. Clutching the ten-rupee note, for a moment his sunken cheeks puff out in a hint of a child-like happy expression, closest to a smile – a sight firmly etched in my mind.

Resuming the narrative: As I hit the street heading for the gym, I saw him ahead of me plodding along tapping his heavy stick. In minutes I surprised him from behind and thrust his due that he has come to expect. This time, I broke my stride and asked him:

‘So you take tambakoo from the money you collect, eh?’

Tambakoo (raw tobacco leaves supplemented with god–knows–what is leisurely chewed especially among the poor) is identified as the chief cause for contracting oral cancer.

‘No sahib, with the money you give, I buy myself vada–pav (an inexpensive local burger–like snack) at the stall near the post-office. He gives me an extra pav (bread loaf), you know.’

He saw me waiting still for an explanation for chewing tambakoo.

‘Sahib, I know what you’re getting at. But that’s the only way to control my hunger for a few hours till I get something to eat.’

I moved on.

I wish I had not spoken to him.



Odd’s On A Sunday Morning…A Vignette

[Vignettes are short, impressionistic scenes that focus on one moment or give one impression about a character, an idea or a setting]

Retirement is a miracle that packs more than sixty minutes to an hour! That’s not all. The vision gets more sharp unaffected by the cataract of professional preoccupations. Small things catch the eyes. Here’s the catch of odd scenes – nothing to grab headlines – brought back from a short walk on a Sunday morning.

Part 1: Where the bus stops…

This was on a Sunday two weeks ago. It was usual for Chemburkars to laze in the bed until late. The chill in December ensured folks stayed in bed longer than customary. I was out on my morning walk and also to the neighborhood saloon for a hair-cut that was overdue by at least a couple of weeks, the hirsute growth framing me with a distinctly simian aspect.

There was occasional car swishing by noiselessly. A few pedestrian forms – no features could be made out – swathed in bundles of drab colored woolens could be seen briskly rolling towards the Diamond Garden. Half-way to the market was the bus-stop. This was one bus-stop that, curiously, as far as I could remember, never collected a crowd – yes, these days it is an amorphous crowd and never an orderly queue – even during peak hours. May be that the buses from that stop went straight to the nearby abattoir, no one’s destination. On this day, in its place stood the newly-erected all-metal bus-stop that I couldn’t have missed – the paneled front, the support poles and the hand-rails, all in metal; and as a concession to its hassled customers, some ten-inch wide sheet-metal seat running along its length, hinting strongly to a longer wait henceforth? Right off the bat I could see the designers had committed a boo-boo – the six inches were hardly adequate to support in full the substantial posteriors of the Mumbaikars whose only claim to physical exertion is their daily commute to and fro work-place. Perhaps the designers ran out of their budget and/or metal. Or, intelligently, they did not want the homeless that drift towards these shelters to get comfortable at night?

As one thing leads to another, next my gaze went to the closer of the two occupants of the bus-stop and did a quick double-take: Quite unlike someone waiting impatiently for his bus, he looked more like one peaceably lost in a book while waiting out in an airport for a flight delayed by hours. Engrossed in reading some English newspaper folded thick to a column width, oblivious to the surroundings, and there was another bunch shoved into his trouser pocket yet to be perused. Perhaps another unhurried guy in retirement. Nothing odd there, eh? Only, it was a much younger man, his face gaunt with sunken cheeks and unshaven, clumps of unkempt hair on the crown and his shirt in tatters on the far side and unwashed.

I didn’t think he was looking at the column on job openings. Was he a white-collar – never mind in actual it were not white and in tatters – roughened up in a scuffle with a rival (workers’) union? Or worse, a school teacher taught a lesson and more for failing the politician’s son? What was his story?

I didn’t ask.

(To be contd.)