There are some moments in life that leave you completely speechless. No thoughts. No musings. Just an absolute emptiness which can’t defined. Something like that happened today. And reminded me of something that had happened to me a few years earlier.
He had crossed by my cubicle a little while back. About 65 – 70 years old and dressed in ragged white dhoti-kurta and a turban, he seemed to have come straight from Rajasthan. Despite working for the development sector, we don’t see villagers coming to our office very often. He was queer. In a nice way. I hadn’t thought of him much then.
As I sat there after lunch, smoking my regulation cigarette and talking on the phone, he came up to me and asked me the way to the loo. I guided him with my hands without once getting away from the phone. I was telling the irritated beautiful soul on the other end of the line about this man in the raggedy dhoti and turban when he reemerged. He was about to walk past me to the main gate when he suddenly stopped and turned towards me. He folded his hands in prayer and said – “Beta, zeher hai ye. Khokhla kar degi tumhe. Chod do.” I was still wide-eyed, trying to understand what he was saying when he held my right hand, gently pushed it to ash tray and extinguished my cigarette. He folded his hands again, and said,
Beta. Maaf karna par aapko is umar mein aisi lat lagi dekhkar raha nahin gaya. Ye acchi cheez nahin hai. Chod do. Dil pe haath rakho aur chod do.
He touched my forehead like a priest passing blessings, turned around and walked to the gate. I still had my phone to the ear and my other hand was outstretched, not knowing what to do.
A Few Years Earlier
This was my first brush with cancer. My tobacco chewing grandpa was battling for his life with throat cancer. We had him in one of the better hospitals in the country but we could not be sure if he would make it. But then I guess there is a God. He lived. “Worse than dead”, I had thought when I had first seen him after his operation.
That evening after work, I headed to the hospital to see him. Sitting in the cab, I thought little of how he ended up contracting cancer. There were more pressing concerns. Like the M&A deal which was coming up. Like the Formula 1 season stats. Like the traffic on the road. When I extended my hand with a 500 rupee note in it to the cab driver to pay the fare, he nodded his head and said. “Chutta nahin hai saab.” Not new to the Maximum City, that line gets repeated about 10 times a day and I didn’t think twice before heading to the nearest cigarette shop and buying half a pack to get some change. Like a hundred other times, I headed back to the cab and extended my hand with the correct change. He looked up at me with a look of dismissal,
Saab. Aap itne bade cancer hospital mein aaye ho. Jaroor aapke ghar mein koi bimaar hoga. Ye sab kuch dekh kar bhi aap shayad cigarette pee sakte hain par main aise paise nahin le sakta. Bhagwan ke liye ye aadat chod dijiye.
He drove away without looking at me again. I was standing in the middle of the road with one hand in my pocket and my other hand outstretched full of money, not knowing what to do.