By Sankara Narayanan
The advantages of writing down memories are that if it’s a bitter one, you can simply tear it off and the sweet ones will always be remembered. I broke the shell of a pista as I wrote this and I couldn't help contemplate. So before I get into the topic of this literary torture, I had to write a pseudo prologue.
Everything in life is a message. It may not shout it loud. It’s silent. Our challenge is to listen to those silent melodies. So what pistachio told me was that some people are like the pistachio nuts. They may be bitter on the outside, but in the inside they maybe the sweetest ones we've ever known. I know the connection between the title and pistachio seems absurd, but the description is what I felt was the man’s character. So let me introduce to you the lottery ticket seller I met today, a pistachio character I guess.
The scene starts in a tea shop near a bus stop. A small one in size. Hardly any customers in that small shop. It was under a small tarpaulin sheet. The place reeked of saw dust flame. I could see particles fly as the helper filled a container with saw dust (supposed to be the stove). A phone, a rather poor imitation of the new age devices was hung on a window. It played an old Malayalam melody. (Somehow, the whole set up seemed highly dramatic.)A melodramatic track with brilliant verses. It reflected the tendency of the society to isolate you in your bad times. It had this line which said when you’re sad; you are forced to seek companionship with just your shadow.
The tea shop lady gave me a look that meant “What do you want?”.”One chai.” I said. I somehow liked the word chai to tea. I always felt it had this dignified tone to it. She took a glass tumbler and started making some sweet tea for her only customer at that time. As I took my first sip, a man walked into the scene slowly. A lottery ticket seller: our protagonist. He was a blind man. He walked with the help of a walking assist. It was rather a luxury for a blind man selling lottery tickets. His face was one that didn't demand a natural sympathy one has for a man with a disability. He was an old man who in some way redefined the definition of a poor blind man we have been accustomed to. He was neatly dressed and didn't beg the bystanders to buy a ticket.
The lady began a conversation with him. I could figure out that they weren't strangers from the way she spoke to him. It was a cruel sunny day and the heat from the stove made the woman look like as though she was from some quarry. The old man swallowed his saliva. Seeing this, the lady forced him to have a tea from her. He accepted after the persuasion and began a dialogue filled with pathos. I felt he spoke to the world and I too happened to be a part of it. He complained about the monsoon and said that nobody bought the tickets in this season. Being a hot sunny day in this season, it was his only opportunity to earn something. He was depressed about his low earnings and said that tea was his only meal. Tea was his staple diet. It not only quenched his thirst, but also made him save money that would've been spent on food. The Utopian idea of communism was practical in tea; tea being a drink that both the rich and the poor drank. The rich drank green tea to stay “healthy and fit”. It helped to awaken their sleepy cells. But for the poor, it represented the idea of a diet. Was three times square meal still a luxury in our world? I felt bad. In this world where people out of their own consent remain hungry to look better to other eyes, we have people, for whom hunger is not an option. Socialism ki jai! Let’s eradicate hunger. I got carried away.
The tea shop lady said the reason behind his bad health was his hunger. I was glad to realize that humanity wasn't extinct. The man then said that he was in the climax of his life. He said”This is it”.
“Is he a coward?
Not at all, he is facing his life with vigor.
But he wants to end it.
Well that’s just his poverty shouting out loud.”
My mind became eloquent suddenly. Inference: I’m thoroughly confused.
I don’t know what forced me to say that, but I did. I told the lady that I’d pay for him. You see I’m also a member of the “educated-concerned-radical-textbook-do-good-er”. We all are people with a concern that’s alive when we see something like the scene mentioned. A concern that has a lifespan equal to that of the light from the firefly. Its short lived, but its brilliant.
The tea shop lady became happy and advertised it to him. He started refusing the tea. He didn't want me to pay. He didn't want anybody’s sympathy. I was in awe of that man. His self respect was boundless. It prevented him from being victimized by anybody’s benevolence. He was independent; “a lone wolf”. His new definitions broke down the castles of prejudice in me. It shook it right from the bottom.
In what way was he inferior to me? Just that his vision showed him a different world from mine? Perhaps his vision shows him a far superior world to the rather superficial tangible world of ours. But our physical bodies were in the same world. There we stand as equals. We were both performers to the same audience in the world where our bodies were. The textbook now calls such people as challenged. I had no respect for such a categorization and was always in the constant state of sympathy. But this incident gave meanings to the word ‘challenge’. They’re superior athletes who can live with even a ‘challenge’. It was just a way of life.
I realized this was one such memory, worthy of being written. It was one that was worthy of being read, years later. It was a memory worthy of remembrance.