Walk a busy street, meet a million faces. Some tickle your hormones, some befuddling, some bring sympathy and almost always feeling felt is not apathy. Some, we watch regularly, on a daily basis. But they aren't just there, they sneak in your agenda, your life, without your permission. They not being 'there', transforms your eyebrow into a 'tick'.
I remember million such people, perfect strangers. One such strange old man who used to sit in the platform selling his hand made crafts. Almost for 8 years, he was just there. Just there. All the time. In the night, under a torn motor bike water proof cover, the closest he got to shelter, the only possible private times. But yeah he was there alright. Mind you he was easily in his 70's, very lean, pathologically lean. Diseased.He was shirtless, his bare brown skin, butter papered, un-ironed, white hair wisdomed and hid the phlegmy balloons which expanded noisily to a size which would be surprising to a first year med school anatomy curious student. He sold hand made baskets made of those thin plastic wires, mostly. If I think long and hard, I have seen him once in those 8 years,with a customer. He wasn't in the top ten richest in India, never became one, FYI, this is not an inspirational true story blog post!. If there were 11 humans grouped together and him being one, 99 out of 100 times he wouldn't rank in the top ten richest. In fact he defined poverty. Sadly he isn't quoted for it in the reference section of Indian census.
He had his moments. 1130pm mega serial mami, boasts her philanthropic deed, "neythi kootanjoru"(yesterday's mix vegetable rice) shouting. When a thoughtful stranger gives him a free pair of slippers, which he sold after polishing for 10rs(not to be found in craiglist!). When a small kid walking, pulled too fast by her mom, turns back and smiles at him, and he would smile back as though saying, 'life's like that, fast and un-understanding'. Other wise, his life was focused on that coir basket he was making, meticulous and diligent. He was 'perfect' alright. I never knew him by name and he did neither and hence 'perfect stranger'. tada.
My dad, said he never knew a man who is more dedicated to his work than that old man. A casual statement, heartfelt albeit, but defintely not meant to penetrate my cranium. Probably the best 'good thing' he could have taught me, it just went thru me. After those 'diwali-prostration-money' spent, some remained, as though for a cause. I needed a lunch basket. So the next day morning, I walked by the platform where he would sit, and buy one of those baskets, mostly to appreciate him, help him. He wasn't there. Weirdly he chose the previous night to inspire, retire and expire for good.
He was not to be seen. The cobbler, untidy women who was never sober and was always paan mouthed, who sometimes sits besides him, said 'poitaaru' (he's gone). Blues. He was Martin Luther King's ideal basket maker.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” - Martin L King
I have always wondered about him. What he thought when he made those plastic baskets ? What motivated him to work like that ? What was his goal ? Did he have any ? May be some people are just born to inspire, by sheer existence. I'm too human to attribute this to 'vicissitudes of life'.
"Yaar yaar Sivam, Nee naan Sivam
Vaazhvey thavam, Anbe Sivam"- vairamuthu
P.S Photo by Pandian, source flickr, one of my favorite pics ever.