It was a regular Monday morning, for an unemployed person like me. Though for a change I had plans with my mum, as she was on leave. The only way to stay entertained on a day with mum home, is to take her out too! Just as I was about to put on a nice shade of nail-paint, I got a call from my colleague as he set up a meeting with one of my clients. Damn! I like the sound of that, doesn’t matter that you have only two clients! But well, looking busy (an art in itself), I hurriedly got dressed and left home, nail paint in tow. Then started the dreaded journey from Nerul to Andheri and like every other Mumbaite, I indulged in the one thing, that gives us all a sense of belonging; cursing. Damn, the ticket line is too long, why don’t they open more windows? Damn! These trains are always late! Damn! These women standing at the door with their kids, why can’t they just sit inside like everybody else? Damn! I just lost the window seat! We do it every day, without fail. It’s like our daily dosage, without which we might lose all traces of sanity! The cursing continued as I boarded the train from Vadala, a fairly empty one, I didn’t have too many things to curse about. So I found something else to do. Ah yes! The Nail-paint. With all my concentration on my nails, I start to paint them, diligently. And the woman in front of me started to stare. There comes my reason to curse! Damn these aunties! Always staring!
Andheri being in the same chaotic state that it was when it was born made me tired almost instantly. Nope, the bus line is too long; I’m just going to take a rickshaw. Strangely enough, the first rickshaw I ask, agrees to go to my destination! Wow! This might just be my lucky day! What’s next? A date with Shah Rukh Khan? It’s been barely few minutes since I board the rickshaw, that the driver starts a conversation with me. Not an uncommon thing. The long distances in Mumbai, always push people to start talking. And I, for one, love these conversations. Little did I know, this one, was going to be different.
The rickshaw driver, an old uncle in his late 50’s, spoke to me in impeccable English. “I hope you don’t mind me talking to you. It’s a long journey with all this traffic. And I don’t get to talk much.”, he said, in what I can say was a voice laden with sadness. I admit, I was taken aback, but I agreed almost instantly, with a smile. He smiled back and continued to talk about the traffic for a bit. Soon the conversation took a different path, out of concern I asked him why he was driving a rickshaw at this age (I must add that he looked rather sick and rattled). But before I could even realize what I asked, he started to sob. A man of my father’s age was crying in front of me. I felt helpless and was kicking myself for having asked such a thing. And knowing me, you would guess that tears developed in my eyes, that very moment. I put my hand on his shoulder and said as softly as I could, “It’s okay uncle… everything will be alright”. How would everything be alright? What do I know about his sufferings? How can I tell him that it’s okay? Uncle looked at me, teary eyed and said, “Beta, sons are your children only till their marriage, daughters remain your children for life. I am very unfortunate that I have 4 sons and no daughter. I spent all my money on my son’s weddings and they paid back by throwing me and their mother out of the house”. Shocked, bewildered, hurt, angry, and almost every other emotion took over as I looked back in those deep eyes enclosing immense pain. He wiped his tears and looked at me and said, “When will I get to see good day’s beta? I used to be driving a car like one of these people (pointing out to some cars on the road), and now I’m doing this. This is not my cup of tea… I don’t know how long I can do this.”
As a writer, I always boast about how I can play with words. But words failed me, when I needed them the most. I didn’t know what to say, where to look, and how to stop those damn tears from forming in my eyes! I reach the destination while juggling the various thoughts in my head and as I take out money to pay him, I feel my stomach tie itself in a knot. “How can I help you uncle. Please tell me. My mind is not working. But I want to help you, please tell me how.”, I say, with sheer desperation in my voice. The next thing he says is, “Just be the doting daughter every father wants. The reason I took you in my rickshaw is because I could sense warmth in your eyes. You are like my own daughter, that God send. You can’t help me out of this situation, but with your smile, you are spreading warmth in the hearts of others. And today you have made this old man happy. Don’t shed tears for me beta, I will be fine, as long as you stop by and say a ‘hi’ to me every time you are here.” With all those tears bursting out of my eyes, I smile and I look at him and touch his feet. He put his hand on my head and blessed me and drove away. That moment of pure love and care was something I never felt, outside my family. And in just one moment, the barriers I set up in my life melted as I included him into my closest circle.
As I walked away that day, I felt ashamed to have money in my wallet, to have those expensive clothes on me, to have a phone and to have that damned nail-paint on my hand. Why do I deserve to live a life better than him? Why do I deserve to have money to eat and not him? Why? When he is the one who is struggling for survival? As I questioned myself, my mum (on the phone) told me that I deserve it because she and my father have struggled to give us this. Now what I do with all of their hard-work is up to me. I can throw it all away, like a lot of the youth today in alcohol, smokes, high-fashion meaningless things, or I can build with it a future not only for myself but for a lot of other people too. Like the man I included in my circle of trust that day. One movie had a very sensible dialogue that (in essence) said, “Most men, draw a circle around them and include their family in it. Some include their friends and relatives. But some men, who have a great destiny, draw a larger circle, inviting everyone who needs help.” And with that, I drew a larger circle, inviting a total stranger in. And honestly what did I do to help him? The money I had on me that day would be of no help to him (he said so himself), all I did, was smile at a stranger. How hard can that be? Sometimes, a smile is all it takes to spread some love around you. Let’s all draw a larger circle. Humanity is what brings us together, the day it ceases to exist, that’s the day humans cease to be humans.