As the wind rustled my hair, I stood and watched the old man sitting beside me, staring out at the blurry greenery, barely moving to the rhythmic beat of the Indian Railways. His skin was like that of prunes, ripened beyond comparison. His hair, a straggly forest, whitened by age. He had two empty sad circles placed in the middle of his face, barely shadowing his incomprehensible thoughts. A mist of brown shadowed his little frame, with hints of grey and nude cotton. I got a good view from the top, with his balding crown revealing tiny bits of his life.
Who was this man? Why was he in the Ladies Compartment of the 5 pm train from Andheri to Churchgate? What was his life like? My lips twisted pleasantly as a furious rush of thoughts crowded my head in a flurry. There was so much to this man, even though he told me so little.
He whizzed past people on his pulsing steed of metal and motor, battling with time to make it to his ‘work’ place in time for the morning rambles. Soft polyester blue cloaked his slightly bulging stomach, while a pair of wire-rimmed square glasses showed him whatever he looked for. He’d woken up this morning with a sense of guilt for not having told his wife about the enormous debt they’d fallen into. She was his life. They had no children so to speak of, with only each other to exchange pleasantries with. His brain filled with images of cash receipts and pass book pages, he entered the tower of grey steel and went on to continue yet another day. One more day as a nobody, in a sea of somebodies.
He sat on the cold flat stone, as he stared into the beyond. Long browning barks with showers of green on the top shadowed his vision. He was content. He was a minimum-wage earning man, with a humble wife and two exceptional children as symbols of absolute pride. He himself was a man of few demands, the few being his daily bowl of food and a roof on his head with people to love around him. He had a few slick haired, wide toothed, warm-skinned, lungi wearing characters in his life, with whom he conversed about daily issues and blissful joys. Few shortcomings, many reasons to be happy. That was he.
The engraved gilt shone in the bright lights of the conference room on the wrist of the man who had everything. He dozed slightly from time to time, with a grim line pasted on his face. All he wanted to do was walk out of the sound-proof circular room, walk to Nariman Point, take of his witchy shoes and walk on warm gold dust, with bliss everywhere. “So the graph is a basic representation of our sales this year, and we are truly blessed to be back on top…” the rugged voice of one of his juniors brought him back. He shifted in his rotating chair, snapped back to reality. The beach was next to impossible. What he did have to look forward to however, was his empty 12th floor apartment, furnished according to his specifications. A deserted kitchen, with a refrigerator filled with packed food and year old achaar sent to him by his mother. He sighed in resignation and decided that it was time to comment on all the speaking that was done. Here was a man who was happily sad.
These men lived satisfactory lives on their own terms. Until one fateful day, when it was all taken away from them. Snatched from the grasp of their bare, worn hands, like a balloon losing its way and floating away from a wailing 5-year-old boy. The wife left him, as the debt took over and became the supreme ruler in the house. The wife and children screamed for help, as they were being pulled deeper into the grey foam, the crashing dark waves eating them up one by one; while he stood there, unable to do a thing. The job went to someone who cared; which left him with two bags of belongings, a severely wounded bank account and nowhere to rest his weary head.
These men were all him; his incarnations, his possible lives. The truth is, he probably was a lonely man, who barely ever had the chance to gain knowledge of the world, aged with the rest of us, and passed his days at stations and traffic signals, hoping for some alms in return for his pleadings. He did this day in and day out, with a probable vada pav being his meal for the day, and the thinning flesh of his skin and his brittle bones as his comforting pillow for a good night’s sleep. He sat here beside me, with a cloudy mind, a blank face, and a world of possible personalities floating above him awaiting the next stop. All he did was sit there, staring into the blur, hoping for an end to the long journey.