Jun 29, 2011

The other side of the road

A need had never arisen for him to cross the road. Some four years ago, when he somehow landed at Mylapore, the land of Kapaleeshwara, he claimed a small piece of land for himself in the platform adjoining the bus shelter, and there was never a dispute since. The sweet stall, a juice corner, an ice cream parlor, the textile showroom and the supermarket on the other side of the road were never an attraction for him.

The platform served him as a sitting area in the daytime, a sleeping cot at nights, while the cement slab left unutilized while the bus shelter was erected served him as a pillow. The bus shelter itself protected him from rain and hot sun, while the plastic sheet he got it from somewhere protected him from harsh weather, a rare occurrence in Chennai.

His square meal consisted of a bun and a cup of tea, which he relished twice a day. He never moved his muscle to need more than the bun and tea. A tea vendor nearby, a philanthropist himself, served him the square meals twice; every morning when he opened the shop, and when he was about to close. When the vendor tried to serve him more, sometimes a plate of hot samosa or bajji, he refused to take it.

One day, the old man decided to cross the road, to feel what life is like on the other side of the road. There was no motivation behind his decision for the idea struck him out of the blue. Having made a decision, he slowly tried to get up from his place. He stretched his arms and legs to increase the circulation, much needed to support himself. From the corner of the bus shelter, he found a log which he used as a walking stick.

His immobile and fragile body made his crossing the road an arduous task, while the road was buzzing with traffic. He made his step watchfully, slowly, avoiding any chance of letting himself down. The speeding bike, few impatient autos, never-care government bus and some pedestrians felt their blood pressure rise when they saw an old man with soiled clothes, tanned skin, long and white beard trying to cross the road, haplessly.

His first destination, the sweet stall was confined to a small office space about the same size of the bus shelter he was in. In that small confinement, even fewer people looked like a crowd. Apparently irritated by his presence, the shop owner yelled, "Here, take this two rupees and leave this place. More customers are coming now and I do not want to lose my business due to your presence", he said.

"Sir, I do not want your two rupees. I am not here for begging. I just want to feel what it is like to be in your shop", he wanted to say. But for some odd reason, he found no words came out of his mouth.

He walked out slowly and went to the juice corner. A kid was trying to read the name of different fruits labeled in the chart. Starfruit, Kiwi, apricot and few other names he read, which our man had never heard in his life! The kid's father, sensing the presence of an old and shabby man, clutched his son closer to himself. His eyes spoke the unspoken, "Son, beware of that old man, he is a man-eater waiting for an opportunity to kidnap and eat you".

The old man could not understand the sudden withdrawal of the kid he was watching. Feeling something odd, he moved to the next shop, the textile showroom. Cars were wrooming at the entrance and exit, bringing more customers in and letting those who made a purchase out. The old man was walking slowly across the in-gate to reach the shop entrance.

A Maruti swift came to a screeching halt, inside was an old lady clad in a rich dress. "Hey you old *******, move now. Do not walk on my path you filthy son of a *****" she yelled at him through the window. The old man could not understand many of her shouting and was bewildered at the scene she had created. Sensing the situation, the security came at the rescue of the customer, manhandled the old man to the other side of the gate and said "Go! Do not come near this shop again or you will be crushed to death like an insect".

He could not fathom what just happened! Maybe he does not belong to their world. He slowly walked towards the supermarket. There at the entrance, he found an old man like himself, begging for money from the customers. For a minute he was happy to find someone like himself, but his happiness did not last when he heard him say, "This is my area. Go to some other place to beg".

The old man gave him a pitied glance, dropped the two rupees coin at his plate, crossed the road and walked back to his home.