I made this journey every day. Inevitable as our constant heading towards entropy, I would board off the metro at its last station and take the escalator that brought me directly to the exit gate. This gate hardly served any purpose. The commotion inside matched the madness outside. Endless queues of automobiles ran haphazard with an abominable multitude of colourfully clad grey people. Smoke and dust hovered purposeless while the stench of urine and the neighbouring fish market attacked the olfactory.
Amongst all this sat a boy by the metro gate. Upon his knees, with his fingers clasped to a steel bowl, he begged for alms silently. I have come across two kinds of beggars so far, the ones that incessantly cry out for alms and the other that sit by quietly with a meek look upon their face. The boy did sit quietly but the look upon his face was by no means meek. His face was marked by a serenity unfitting of this place. A serenity that learned monks in the rugged mountains of Tibet ached to possess, a serenity that the peaks of the Kanchenjunga had once breathed and a serenity that could only be felt but never possessed.
As my eyes met his for the first time, the paraphernalia of the station vanished. The constant mumble of the crowd, blaring horns of the green and yellow auto rickshaws, grumbling engines of the rickety buses and the babbling pigeons hushed. The world stood still. The universe watched.
The boy’s gaze held mine steadfastly and I moved uneasily towards him. I got down to haunches and pulled my wallet out from the back pocket of my jeans. He pulled his bowl back towards himself and shook his head dismissively. I looked at him, confused, but he signalled with his hands that he wanted food, not money. I got up and bought a packet of biscuits from the shop nearby. This time he accepted what I had to give him. He smiled. I smiled back. And just like that, with a smile still clinging on to my lips, I moved on to the drudgery that constituted my life.
I met the boy every day for the entire next month. He was always by the metro gate, free from the vain pursuit of life’s excesses and untouched by the prejudice of man. Fate had slammed him to the floor to beg for the bare necessities of life, but he had accepted this reality more gracefully than any human had ever accepted good fortune.
I decided to take him to a food joint one day. We walked together on the dusty road. Barefoot upon the burning pavement, he walked with an eloquence that the most expensive pair of boots could never hope to gift my feet. I felt as if the contact his bare feet made with the earth made him one with it- he felt its pain and longing, its anxiousness and fears, and its last remnant of hope for humanity. His long hair had never been brushed, but they met the soft breeze with the gleefulness of a playful lass.
He ate very little. Perhaps he wasn’t used to so much food.
“You want something to drink?” I asked.
He nodded, yes.
I ordered two soft drinks and turned my attention to the child once more. There was so much I wanted to know. Does he have a family? Where does he live? Where is he from?
Yet he had never spoken a word since the day I’d met him. Perhaps, he couldn’t speak. Or maybe he was unable to understand me, but then he had seemed to understand everything so …..
“I can speak.”
For a moment I was taken aback. I had almost assumed by now that the boy was mute.
“People are always startled when I speak. I guess it’s because I don’t say much.”
“Why don’t you?” I asked.
“I don’t know”, he answered.
His was a strange story, as I learnt from him.
He had never known his family or a home. As far as he could remember, he had always been on the streets. At times he wondered who his parents were, other times he entertained the possibility of never having one. Begotten, not created.
He had no idea how he had grown up, how he had survived. Nowadays, he simply slept on the footpath at nights, sat by the metro gate during the day, and spent his evenings by the Yamuna.
“Why do you beg? I am sure someone or the other would give you some work.”
He took a momentary pause before answering. I wondered if I had crossed the line. What work could he possibly get at his tender age? I cursed myself for my insensitivity.
“I don’t beg. I take what people can spare. And I don’t want to work. So why should I?”
There was a flare of rebellion in him. Yet, I could see he was wise beyond his years. His thoughts on life and its workings were not limited to possession and consumption like the rest of us. His notion of a good life was not subject to the amount of happiness or pain that befell his heart, nor the physical comforts that the world was so enthused about. I sensed an ascetic like aura in the child, a brightness that emanated from his soul and sparkled in his eyes.
“Maybe, if you work and have money, you could go to a school or have a better place to sleep at night,” I tried to reason.
“Whatever they do in those schools is of no use. Everything in the world remains constant, no matter what we do. Things remain same. It is only people who can be better. And that no one can teach me because I have always known it….. I have the stars to look upon at night and the river to bathe in, in the evenings. It is enough for me.”
It would have been foolish of me to question him anymore. My views on life seemed a shade paler now, I had been schooled by the boy.
We stood together for a while before going our separate ways. I asked him one last question.
“What’s your name?”
“Does it matter?”, he replied before walking away with a smile.
That was the last I saw of him. Ever.
He was never at the metro station again. I didn’t know how to find him. No name. No address. Just a face and sparkling eyes.
I did find him a month later, in the newspaper. On the bottom left corner of the third page, a black and white photograph without a name.
He had been found dead on the footpath. No bodily injuries. Cause of death, unknown.
No one had come forward to claim the body. No family.
I wondered if I should go and enquire. Bury him. Cremate him?
I jotted down the contact number of the help line, but never called. He was dead. Dead people are one with the universe again.
Sketch By: Venkateshwari Sivakumaran