He stood before me, emerging out from nowhere and uttered something in his incomprehensible dialect.
It had rained for most part of that day, and as it happens in Pune even a slight drizzle may wreak havoc on city traffic and a long serpentine queues of vehicles could be seen on every intersection. That morning when it begin to pour, city was caught off guard and I was soaked by the time I reached my workplace. I could, peering through the glass pane from my workplace, see this city like a patient lover bear the tantrums of its lass. The morning saw them having a lover’s tiff, which turned into an ugly squabble by noon and by evening they were at peace. I left office by 7PM in the evening and walking through the wet city paths experiencing cool damp breeze reached the bus station. The faulty traffic signals and buses plying behind schedule were adding to increased woes of commuters. The place was swarmed by restless travelers that surged ahead as they saw a bus approaching, some of them would succeed in their mission, others would meekly recede, only to try back later. Waiting for bus no 105 and watching the same scene being played out in loop I was startled by his presence. I had a hard look at him, he seemed non-hostile, shabbily dressed, and 5 foot something, ruffled hairs and bushy beard, lumped up with a jute bag on his back. His appearance was of a tattered rag picker that one would shoo away, but I was struck by his eyes.
He had a terrified look, eyes filled with a fear of unknown. I asked him to repeat himself and this time I was more attentive. He wanted to reach Kothrud and did not seem to know which bus would ferry him to that place. He said his friend had advised him to take a bus that charges 15 rupees for fare. It seemed a very naïve request and I told him that it does not work that way, that he must know the bus number or destination. I apprised him that he was ill-informed and stood waiting at the bus stand where no buses ply to Kothrud. As our conversation unfolded, we were joined by few curious onlookers who now pitched in and began offering their inputs.
Mr. A heard him all over again and insisted that he moves to another bus station on the adjacent street. Mr. B had a hard stern look at him cussed “rural buffoon” before he jumped into the surging crowd to catch the approaching bus. Mr. C seemed confused. While he was terrified earlier, now he was baffled and a fear began to grip him, fear of uncertainty as he stood in an unfamiliar city amidst a thronging crowd. He seemed to have picked up our advice, flung his cherished possession on his shoulders and moved out from that place. Heading straight out he went some distance and then turned back and started approaching us again. He came near us, rather looking ashamed for the turn of events that were happening to him that evening. He said in a slow voice, that he only had 25 rupees in his pocket and was not sure if he will be able to make it to his destination with that amount. Sheepishly, he looked away, that admission making it difficult for him to make an eye-contact. No sooner did he say that, we all, who were offering him advices few moments ago looked at him as if we had found serial killer amongst us. Crowd dispersed as he sat down on ground hugging his shoddy bag close to his chest, contemplating his misfortune.
Observing that incident, I experienced something broke inside me. I could feel helplessness of rural India, struggling to keep pace with the urban counterpart and under the façade of fast-paced life, we exhibit our derisiveness towards them. This blatant display of our shamelessness is nauseating, and we the “learned urbanites” have become, at the risk of sounding rude, thick-skinned and our sensitivities are diminishing fast. It would be too naïve to assume that the world is full of real and genuine individuals. We should be wary of impostors who extract unwarranted gains out of such situations, but the question that we need to ask ourselves is, are we being overly wary? Do we fail to empathize with our less fortunate fellow citizens, who are distressed and in need of succor. If we continue to be wary of those who are in dire need of help and stop being compassionate to each other, this world would no longer be a place to live in. Something that next generation would not be proud inheriting from us.
He had stood up on his feet, having made some resolve in his head, and I had made mine. He smiled looking at me and said, I will spend today’s night sleeping under the bus shade and started walking towards the intersection. I put my hands in my pocket and pulled a 50 rupees note, and moved swiftly behind him. I called him and as he turned, slipped in that 50 rupee note in his palms. He had an indebted look on his face, if only I could tell him, I was the beneficiary of the help, I was doing it to keep that thing inside me alive. I managed to avert his eyes, as I would have choked looking into them. I turned back and dashed towards the crowd. He stood there for few moments, then turned back and went away.
An intrigued onlooker observing all these, smiled looking at me and uttered, you sir are so gullible. These guys are impostors and fake.
I looked into his eyes, What if he wasn’t?