The Best Spend I Made…

in a long time.

On my morning rounds, a few days ago, I saw something that wasn’t there before. Abutting the fence on the outside of the garden and near its main entrance, on the pavement where we  walked, out of nowhere had appeared, out in the open,  two ‘stalls’ each having a cane chair and a foot stool. Presently two gentlemen in their fifties, sweating and in shorts, were occupying the chairs presumably after completing their rounds. One of them was being attended to by a man and woman, seemed to be in forties. And the other also attended to by another man and a woman likely to be in their early thirties or even younger. Were they one family? Were they two couples? I had no idea. In Wodehouse words they were doing things to the men’s feet and legs from knee down- the women handled the feet and the men, the legs. .

I said ‘Oh, sh**. This is the beginning and very soon there would be so many of them plying all kinds of trades completely usurping the pavement. The ward office, as always, would do bugger-all to clear up the place.

Next day they were very much there – not gone away as I had secretly wished – busy with a couple of customers. I cursed the men (the service providers) in my mind for using women to lure their customers and the customers falling for it.

On the third day, two things happened. A spark of sympathy lighted up in my mind – at least they were earning a living honourably and not going around begging as many others do, though the annoyance at the place being messed up didn’t go away. Secondly, the gentlemen being serviced were never looking at the women labouring on their feet, preferring to chat among themselves or even read newspapers.

It wasn’t until three days later I resumed my morning walks – the interruption owing to a medical condition.

This day I was fully expecting them to have digged in. So they had. Their ‘stalls’ now had roofs of canvas rolling down on three sides to keep the rain out – the monsoon is threatening to break anytime now in Mumbai. There was one more thing I noticed and it was quite unsettling – the younger woman was blind.

The unfairness and irony of life hit me hard – the medical condition I mentioned earlier was: I got operated couple of days ago for cataract in my second eye now fitted the most expensive lenses recommended by the doc – of course it did punch a good-sized hole in my finances partially offset by insurance. And I have seen enough there is to see in this world unlike these two souls in their prime.

And today it was even worse. As I passed them in my round, I saw the two – the young woman and her companion – huddled under an umbrella looking forlorn without a customer. The umbrella was centred over the man’s head and the woman partly catching the light drizzle.  I got near him to  pull him up for not covering her also under the umbrella when to my shock I noticed he was also blind, though not completely.

Overwhelmed, I moved on without a word.

I had gone a few steps. This was one time my gravy cells didn’t fail me. Rummaging my pockets – I don’t carry a wallet – I found it luckily. Went back to him: ‘Keep this – you may not get a customer today. See, it’s a hundred rupee note.’ Fearing he might refuse to accept I hastened walking away, not failing to notice a half-smile on the woman’s face that was priceless. The man recovered and shouted: ‘Saheb, please come tomorrow. We’ll do for you.’

That’s simple rural Maharashtrians for you. They don’t want it free. Their innocence, honesty…it melts you. Well, a mere hundred rupees is not going to solve their problem. Nor can I afford to part with it every day. Not that they wanted money. I hope some social organization comes to their help for providing a legit place for them to practice their trade and also to render any possible medical help.

Meanwhile I wish the chair in their stall never gets cold.