Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ignorance is Bliss (v0.2)

The man enters the street with a pair of chappals in his hand. At first I do not notice, then I dismiss it as some religious ritual (we do happen to have a temple at the far end of our street) and finally I realise that he is not barefoot but is nevertheless carrying another pair chappals in his hands. It finally strikes me as odd and I am pulled back from the higher dimension of thought that I slip into while I'm murdering time in my balcony.

The man is wearing a simple white shirt with stripes and dark trousers. He is unshaven. His hair and stubble both show considerable amount of grey, not from age but from overwork. And of course, he has those chappals in his hand.

Starting from the end, the third or the fourth house in our street is owned by Joshiji. He's the proud patriarch of a family of twenty plus individuals. As if to assert his pride, he stands tall and stiff with long flowing hair upto his shoulders. Every evening, he spends a lot of time strolling in front of his house, observing and periodically admonishing the numerous young ones of his household that play on the street.

The man approaches him reluctantly and appears to say something. The conversation lasts for a few minutes and the man walks on again. He is obviously very disappointed. It is then that it strikes me. The man is actually trying to sell those chappals.

This strikes me as odd immediately. People like him usually have small shops on the footpath. They don't go about selling their stuff in the streets like this, with just one pair of footwear. The man makes another vain attempt with Agrawal Uncle who sends him away even without listening. Along with his son he laughs at the man as he walks away.

My mother comes out into the balcony to throw the vegetable peels onto the street.

"What is that man doing?" she notices him immediately.

"I don't know" I say "He's probably trying to sell those chappals."

"Strange fellow!" she says and stays a while to watch. The man comes over to my house and looks hopefully at me. Obviously he's been watching me for a while and thinks that I'm an interested customer. In his monotonous, plaintive voice, he speaks out the same sentence that he must have spoken at least a hundred times since that morning.

"Would you like to buy these chappals, saab?"

I don't know why but his dark, sunken eyes move me. I look at my mother who is making a conscious effort to look away.

"Saab, saab!" he calls out again in an attempt to catch my attention.

"No, I don't need them." I answer at last.
"Please, saab, I have a sick child at home. Please buy these chappals so I can buy medicine for him."

"No." I say again.

"Please, saab. There must be someone in your household who needs them. Please buy them. My child is seriously ill."

I look at my mother again.

"Give him a rupee or two so he goes away." She says and walks back into the house.

I look down at those sorrowful eyes again.

"Wait, I'm coming down." I say.

I climb down the stairs to the ground floor. I never talk to people, especially to those from the unprivileged society, while I'm standing in the balcony. To me it seems like I'm insulting the person in this way. I always go down and talk. Or give money and food, in case of beggars. I never throw stuff down like my mother tells me to do.

The chappals are not a good make. They have obviously been made in haste. And they are not leather chappals, as I had expected, but made of some kind of cheap plastic.

"How much for them?" I ask.

"Sixty, saab" he says.

I fumble for my wallet but then I hesitate.

***

Jamnaram has been ill for four days now. He has not been able to go to the market and set up his little footpath shop. Not that he ever does roaring business. But at least he is able to earn enough to feed himself and his little son. Now for four days, he has not earned a single rupee and the today they finished the last of whatever food was left in the house. Tomorrow, they'll have to go and beg the neighbours.

His son sleeps beside him in the blissful ignorance of childhood. Jamna fondly runs a hand through his hair. Poor motherless child. I'll do something about it, he thinks, you need never worry.

The next day his son wakes up with high fever. Apparantly the fever was contagious. Jamna borrows some money from his neighbors and takes him to the hospital. After waiting an entire day at the government hospital, the doctor finally examines his son. He prescribes medicine. The nurse at the counter for medicine informs him that the medicine is not available. The hospital staff has either black marketed the medicine or want some payment for it from Jamna. Exhausted, Jamna gets back to his slum. His son is getting delirious with fever. He is himself getting delirious with fever.

Jamna spends the night making a pair chappals out of whatever material is left with him. He does not have the money to buy new material so he makes do with whatever is left. In the morning he sets out to sell them.

***

Jamna wakes up with a heavy head in the morning. He'd stayed up late last night and drunk too much. He had done whopping business yesterday. He's sold almost all his chappals and earned more than five hundred.

He had thrown a grand party for his friends that evening. They'd all got drunk, all at his expense and had chicken for dinner. The drinks kept flowing in as someone fetched the cards. Jamna was supposed to be the star player of that day.

He had lost all he'd got left and he'd lost a lot more. So that now he was in debt.

The very thought made Jamna's head ache harder. Within a few days Ramdin would start pestering him for repayment.

His son walks into the house.

"Baba, I'm hungry!"

Jamna hits him hard in the side.

"Go away, you bastard!" he shouts "go find food on the street. Why didn't your mother take you with her when she died. Would have been so much easier for me!"

The child cries and runs out of the house. Jamna searches the house and finds a shabby pair of chappals in one corner. If he can manage to sell these, he will still be able to get food and liquor for tonight.

***

I hesitate as I fumble for my wallet. I look up to the balcony to see whether my mother is looking. She's not. I fish out a hundred and hand it to the man.

"Keep the change" I tell him.

The man is delighted. He gladly hands me the chappals. I can see that they are no use to me. I will never be able to wear something so cheap. They are probably not even my size. But it's not the chappals that I've bought. It's the delighted look on the man's face. I try not to think about the real reason for that look. Ignorance is bliss.

Finished
2:37 am
October 7, 2005
IIT Kanpur
India.

4 comments:

  1. good words...good english..great composition...but the story went too fast and there wasnt any description in the cobbler's part..put in a more descriptive image of his hut...bed...son...like u did with ur neighbourhood!!chao...all in all its good...also it would be good if u could add more continuity...chao...

    ReplyDelete
  2. hey good ones...
    1.I'll blog roll you
    2.I'll take an RSS feed

    try feed blitz so that people can take feed from your site.
    I've Opera browser so no prob for me.

    AND are these stories real?
    Pls scrap me back as I may not follow this thread

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think you're right on track and not many people are willing to admit that they share your views. lost money is an AWESOME place to discuss LOST.

    ReplyDelete
  4. nice blog enjoyed it :)

    Keep up the excellent work! and i bookmarked u!

    so cant wait for ur next post! :)

    Thanks!!

    ReplyDelete