Jun 22, 2012

A man in uniform

There was a huge crowd at the Gandhi Mandapam bus stop when I reached. 21G, the Tambaram bound bus didn't arrive for the past half an hour, I gathered from a stranger who was waiting to board the same bus.

Knowing that the next few buses would be filled to the brim, I decided to wait and thought about various ways to kill my time. At a corner of the bus stop, I noticed a soup seller who was doing good business, thanks to the overwhelming crowd. I walked to the mobile soup shop and found a slate on which the soup seller had written the varieties that were on offer for that day.

"Vegetable soup, Plantain pith soup, Mushroom soup. Each for Rs. 10 only", the notice said. I ordered a plantain pith soup for myself and observed the seller. He appeared to be in his late thirties, with a thick mustache and curly hairs which had just started to gray. He took my order with a smile on his face, picked up a plastic cup, stirred the soup in a steel pot and filled the cup till it was nearly full. He then peppered the top and dressed it with corn flakes.

"Good evening Sir!", the soup seller addressed a man in uniform while he was serving my soup. "Plantain pith soup is on the menu, Sir. Would you like to have a cup today?", he asked. The man in uniform approved the offer with a nod.

By the time the man in uniform parked his bike nearby and walked to the mobile shop, the soup seller had kept the soup ready for him. "Parcel a cup of vegetable soup", he ordered while he was still savoring the plantain pith soup.

"Will men in uniform have a commanding voice even when they are off duty?", I wondered.

After having the soup, the man in uniform collected the parcel, took his bike and fled. When I was about to ask the soup maker "Did he pay his bill?", he muttered under his breath, "these type of people should be stoned to death in public", venting out his anger.

"Last week, he charged me Rs. 400 for skipping a signal! I even showed him all the documents I had, you know?", a stranger who had ordered a soup joined the row. The stranger finished his soup, threw the plastic cup in a fenced area, paid his bill and left. I overlooked the pile of used plastic cups to find a notice board that says "Thiyagigal Manimandapam", a memorial for freedom fighters.

I paid my bill and was about to leave when I asked the soup seller, "Why didn't you ask him to pay his bill?"

"He will ask me to leave this place", he said in a casual tone.

When I asked him why, he replied, "I don't have a permit to run my shop here!".