The Wrinkled Angel - A tale so general yet so profound.
A man associated with a travelling business is a lucky fellow. As long as he believes he is. If fatigue and tiredness and impending work at the work station do not give you nightmares then travelling can be really cool. Especially when your expenses are taken care of by your company, seeing new people on the streets of an untraded town, checking out the booty of attractive women, the glow boards, the young couples, the nasty canals which stink of the city’s sins against the environment. All are lively like a strip tease show in an American bar.
The fast taxis and cars drive you to your destination and workplace and hotel and airport and so many places you are supposed to go. But walking down the streets connects you way more to the new land than any other means. Though I would personally want the rickshaws no more existed because of the inhumanity it offers to the puller, still, as a matter of a selfish benefit, the rickshaw provides you with the best experience to go around a city. It’s not fast, it’s not slow. It maintains the speed, your eyes and brain need to work in harmony to register a sight.
I finish up my day’s work and walk towards Sawar gate. That’s precisely where I get a bus to Dadar, Bombay ( I have absolutely no issues saying Mumbai, but I grew up saying Bombay and I like it that way). Technically given to the day’s work and the fatigue it offers I should be sanely taking an auto. But, who cares about sanity, more specifically when insanity is the only excitement of your life.
The sweat dripping all across my body, the shirt now stuck to my skin like I was born with it. Thirsty as if the oceans weren’t enough to quench me. I ask many people on the way to ensure I was following the right direction. Hailing from Odisha, you are used to a more polite way of conversing, in contradiction to a Delhi way of rough and loud behaviour. Talking to people on the streets of Pune, I am reminded of the same Odisha way.
I had started from a place in Nabi Peth, I had walked through for some time on the road and reached Sena Dutt chowk. In a cross-checking attempt to ensure following the right direction I paused to ask someone. Before I could find anyone who could be my guiding star, a lady beautiful like an angel ( I have never seen an angel) sought some help from me. She spoke Marathi. My innocent reactionless reaction educated her that I didn’t get a word she said. She quickly switched to Hindi. She wanted me to help her cross the busy traffic. Life was paused for a while, the din of the traffic, the blowing horns, the whistle of the dark-skinned traffic policeman, the flashy cars, and the heated pitch road. All things abruptly faded before the wrinkles on the hands and face of this angel. They were louder than horns of the traffic. The beauty she embodied was emanating from the smile on her face, the politeness in her approach. The task to cross the road for her was higher than the mountains and deeper than the polar crevasses. The whole day I had spent in an old age home, talking to the staff, the old inmates and the students of gerontology and geriatric care. The experiences were fresh and still breathing in my memory.
But a monitoring visit to a partner NGO doesn’t let you see much beyond the progress against the goals. But this old angel’s helplessness at the traffic was a bolt from the blue. It left me in wonders and the reality of human life, bare and naked. My confidence in being whoever I was was now in tatters. The old lady had never wanted to be old, but she was. She must have crossed such busy roads a million times in her life, taught her children and grandchildren to walk. But that didn’t stop her from getting old, from falling from a strong body to a weak existence.
I caught her wrinkled soft hand and walked her across the road. She smiled back and said thank you. I smiled and glistened in pride, almost an Oscar for me.