Just back from a tightly-packed trip to Secunderabad and this post could not wait for the Saturdays drafts..
On our return journey, an old handsome man, 6ft in height and aged around 75, was seated facing me. He sported a cute bokkai (not a single tooth in his mouth), with the muscles around his lips all in creases and folds. Quiet, unassuming, at the same time a little disinterested.. That is, despite Varun’s fondness for all thathas of the world and his constant calling to him as thatha and other unkkuls,, aaanties in the compartment ..
After a couple of hours into the journey, he asked me to look for a lost rupee coin beneath his seat. I searched but the coin wasn’t there. I smiled at him, and he returned with a little reservation. Maybe the strict-old-maama types, I thought. It was time for dinner and when feeding Varun his idlies, I offered some to the old man. He refused politely saying he planned to have it a little later. He smiled a little more. An hour later, he bought himself a pack of curd-rice extending Rs.20 to the vendor. And reluctantly parted with another 10 rupee note when he was told that it cost Rs.30. He waved the food packet at us saying , “idhu mupaddhu roobaa!” (this stuff costs Rs. 30!!). Though I felt the cost was high for that tiny pack, I could not help wondering how the older generation valued money and so ‘typified’ this thatha too!
When I made the next eye contact, I asked him if the food was okay. Sadly, the food was sour and he’d thrown away half the pack. I had two cans of sweet lassi which I’d bought to give the kids before their sleep. Vyas had half a can and said he did not want more. I emptied the rest and there was another can full. I offered it to the old man. He initially refused, and when My husband insisted that none of were planning to have, he hesitantly took the can and put another hand into his pocket to pull out a currency note. We refused saying that it was only a small can of lassi. The next instant, his eyes were moist, and tears were rolling down his cheeks. I put a hand on his knees saying it was okay.. and that he should have something. And the next thing we knew was he had touched my feet!! The hubby and I literally jumped off our seats, quite confused, shocked, misty eyed!
The old man emptied the lassi and wiped his mouth and nose with a towel and mouthed a thanks.. A little while later he asked me where we lived and I told him. When I asked him where he lived, “Mudhiyor Illam” (Old-age home) he said. Jaws dropped, both of us not knowing how to react. The gentleman smiled a little more this time, and told that it was run by a famous actor.
I had many questions to ask, but the answers were written all over. The tears told painful tales of a man who has his own people, but is still alone. We wanted to give him some money (he seemed to count every coin he had in his pocket), but were not sure if that would lessen his trauma or compound, whether he’d feel more disillusioned on meeting helpful people during the rest of his journey and suffer more debating on why his own folks never treated him thus, whether he deserved to go through this agony due to the past karma like many old people believe, if his self-esteem will take a hit if he finds few currency notes stuffed in his pocket in the morning….. Yes, if a glass of lassi forced on him could send down torrents of tears, he could drown himself in remorse and self pity with anything more.. The best (maybe not) thing would be to let him be.. and hope he finds love and is at peace with himself.. Saint Valentine, do you hear me?!!