A few days ago I visited the office of a top-rung and one of the most reputed Hindi publishers. After finishing my work, I waited for a friend at the gate of the office building. Standing at the gate, I was observing the world that existed right outside the walls of that building. The world outside was in stark contrast of the world inside. Inside I saw an ocean of books, knowledge, contemplation and attempts to learn about the life, the universe and everything else. But as though this world of bookish knowledge was strictly bound by the wall of the premises —the world right outside was nearly completely devoid of such intellectual pursuits. That outside world had very different sort of worries, joys and dreams. It was interesting to observe that outside world.
Outside, there were a couple of woman selling flowers. Each were sitting on a plastic sheet on the roadside —opposite to each other. Both had almost similar flowers in almost the same quantity arranged on their respective polythene sheet. A little schoolkid had just came back from school and was sitting with one of the woman. Apparently the kid was woman’s son. He had immediately began to string flowers on thread to make garlands. There was a small one stove eatery. One side of the eatery’s roof, made again of a polythene sheet, was resting on publisher’s building wall. A couple of beggars were sitting on a greasy wooden desk at the eatery and were deeply engaged in animated discussions. From their body language, it appeared to me that both were good friends and probably were discussing “business”.
A few college girls came over to one of the flower selling woman and without much hassle of bargaining each of them bought a basket of flowers to be offered at the temple. As this transaction was happening —I was noticing the facial expressions of both the flower sellers. The one that had got the girls as customer was visibly pleased but was trying hard to pull off a sad face in hope that the girls will not start bargain. Seeing so many customers falling in the lap of the competitor; the other woman’s face spoke of amazement, jealousy and sadness. She placed a crooked finger below her lower lip and stared at the transaction as it concluded.
Clatter of steel utensils drew my attention back to the beggars. Each of them had just received a plate of daal chawal from the eatery. Without pausing their discussion —they took the plates and began eating. But as the meal began to reach stomach -their discussion gradually came to a halt and slowly both the old men became totally focused on what was in the plate. Upon finishing the meal to the last grain of rice —both of them set the plates aside —exchanged a few more sentences —and then lighted one bidi. Both of them smoke the same bidi. One of the beggar had a pair of crutches set near him. Finishing the bidi, the other beggar stood up and walked away. The gatekeeper of the publisher’s building told me that both the beggars were heavy drinkers.
I moved closer to the crippled beggar and asked him where did he live. His eyes sparkled when he told me that he lived exactly where he was sitting (i.e. on the desk of the eatery). Then he began to tell me his story. He was from Bihar and until about a decade ago he used to work in a machine factory in one of the satellite cities of Delhi. On a fateful day, he met an accident in the factory and lost his left leg and left eye. As he remained of no use, the factory fired him without giving any compensation. The man went back to his home in Bihar —but his son did not treat him well. When he could not bear his son’s behavior anymore —he came back to the factory and began to beg in front of it. At the same time he filed a legal suit against the factory owners to demand compensation. The case went on and on… and on. All this time he begged near the factory. Recently a well wishing fellow beggar advised him to leave that spot and go somewhere else to beg. The well-wisher argued that the factory owners could get him killed to finish the case of compensation. It was then that he had moved in front of the building where I was standing. There was a telephone booth across the road where he sometimes receives calls from his wife and son. But this hurt man mostly doesn’t speak with them. He told me that now he had no wish left in life. He just want to live out his days.
Out of curiosity, I indirectly inquired as to much money he get every day. To this he gave me a straight answer “100 to 150 rupees”. I asked him what does he do with the money if he has no wish left in life. The old beggar replied that he saves it in a bank account and when the savings becomes a few thousand rupees —he sends all the money to his son in Bihar. The son is looking after the beggar’s wife. So, the beggar felt a responsibility to compensate his son for his efforts. I was curious to know which bank allows a beggar to open an account. I asked him which bank he was using. His answer amazed me but I will not disclose it here!
Then an adolescent girl with a schoolbag on her back came and unloaded the bag on the polythene sheet of flower seller who was sans customers. She sat near her mother and immediately popped out a low end Nokia mobile phone from her school bag. She pressed a few buttons and intently read something on phone’s screen. This reading brought blush on her cheeks and a smile on her lips. She dialed a number and began to talk to someone while covering her mouth with left hand. The call was very short. A few minutes later, a young man appeared in the scene and start washing dishes at the eatery. The girl stood up and went into a narrow street whose opening was adjacent to the eatery. As she walked past the young man, she almost intentionally rubbed her shoulder with the man. Both smiled; and the girl disappeared in the street.
Soon, my friend came over to the gate and we left the building. Leaving that spot, I felt that I was leaving a micro-world behind me wherein there is so much to be seen and understood. All in all, this micro-world was no different from the big world we know. Don’t you think so?