Emaciated yet Resolute: A lesson worth learning

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

An example of how someone who doesn't carry much of a purpose in our lives can teach us a lesson worth learning for a lifetime. Not by speaking but by his actions.

As I walked down the gravel road, with the cold, wintry air fluttering across my face, looking for a rickshaw to commute back home, the traffic zoomed past the main road beside me. My laptop bag which hung on my left arm and my next to weightless school bag which hung across my bag, seemed like no burden to carry at all. Coming back from school after a practical exam, which went well, I had no regrets about how my day had passed. The presence of the sun, which is always relieving in winter seasons, wasn't there or even if it was, I didn't feel it's presence. The dry and frigid climate wasn't getting under my skin, and it actually never did as I usually thought "Oh, come on Mr. Winter, get me if you can!" and I admit, it's nothing but asking for trouble.

I did spot a rickshaw some meters ahead and started making my way towards it. My thoughts were flooded with who would or who won't play in United's next game at Aston Villa and wandered off to whether Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Spurs or Liverpool had a chance of dropping some points. The school building behind me towered over all the others in the area, it's gray walls looker grayer as ever owing to the slight mist in the atmosphere.

As I neared the rickshaw, I saw the puller sitting upright on the seat, almost frozen with cold. I could see clearly that his complexion was dark, his clothes ostensibly not good enough to safeguard him from the frigidity and his health frail and malnourished. Poverty had knocked the stuffing out of whatever was left of him and even the word 'malnourished' seemed an understatement, at least for him.

His hair were well hidden by a cap but it seemed he was around 60 years of age. His swarthy complexion came into focus as I approached him. His face was almost contorted due to the winter and clothes slender and a tad grubby. After noticing closely, I realized he was quivering and it's almost needless to say to say considering, the darkness he and his life had supposedly plunged into.

"Milan Apartments?" I asked, my tone rather authoritative.

The man nodded and his voice came out in a manner which gave me a feeling that he was being forced into answering despite of not wanting to. "Hop in" he said or simply "Chalo" in Hindi.

"You know where it is don't you?" I asked. Most rickshaw pullers knew where it was, but others didn't. And I was never made to trust anyone in financial matters pertaining to rickshaw fares or I'd be at the receiving end of some stick from my Mom. Kahan hai, pata hai na?

"Yes, I do" His voice was hoarse and rough and I could barely make out whatever he was saying. Haan ji

He motioned for me to hop on, testifying that relevant glint of servitude that every rickshaw puller possesses. He got off it and dusted his clothes and got on again. This time up front on his seat, above the pedal at his familiar position. The place where he usually carried the burden of millions of thousands of people who climbed on, hardly batting an eye at his emaciated state. I did what most others did. The seat felt cold at its first touch but I had to sit down, with the 'weightless' school bag beside me and the laptop bag on my lap. The metal frame of the rickshaw was even colder and was red in color.

The puller put his foot on the pedal and took off on his daily routine of sorts. He turned it towards the opposite direction, which was the direction in which he was supposed to head towards. He pulled it with all his might but the speed still wasn't good enough, as per me. I did want him to push on a bit quickly but didn't speak my desire out for him to do so. The freezing cold ensured that I wanted to reach home as quickly as possible. The speed still, wasn't fast enough for me to eat my thoughts up but I sat soundly, looking around at the people who passed by us, aimlessly. The wind almost caressed through my hair , making me shiver and compelling me to stuff my hands in my blazer pockets.

The traffic was substantial and resembled a typical Delhi road at 11 am in the morning. The puller pedaled hard only to move at a speed which was just sufficient enough to be called so. I could hear a dull panting sound every time he pedaled and for him, in such a state, it could well be compared to a farmer struggling to pull a plough appended to 2 buffaloes.

Usually, it took almost 10 minutes to commute from school to home but this journey was one of the most longest I'd endured since a long time.

As the apartment gate approached, I was beginning to heave sighs of relief that I didn't reach there with 10 days to go for New Year. The gate was towards the farthest end of the road which concluded in a T- shaped thing and I wanted to swallow my pride and get down and walk to it on my own.

"Stop here" I spoke, my voice almost drowning in the honk of a car. Bas ruk jao

He stopped and got off his rickshaw. I did the same and stuffed my hand into my trouser's buttocks pocket, rummaging for three 10 rupees notes which were to act as the man's payment.

Not There

I scoured the blazer pockets and realized that maybe, I hadn't kept them in there. Rummaged through the 2 chest pockets and found nothing. Now, I had to cross the road, enter the gate, walk almost 200 metres straight and call over the lift, enter it and get out of it when it reaches the third floor, open the door of my house and pick up 30 rupees and repeat the process in a reverse manner.

I felt tired even on thinking about this and turned to the puller, who stared at me expectantly. " I think I dropped the money somewhere. Can you come inside the gate and go straight, while I'll bring the money for you" I muttered, in an almost disappointed tone. Aap andar chalo main ghar se paise lata hoon

Gosh! Here, we go! I thought, as I contemplated podding up and down the building with the laptop bag hanging by my left arm on one occassion and coming back huffing and panting just to hand over a mere 30 rupees to a rickshaw puller.

As I walked past the puller, I heard him call " Hop in" and I saw him smile, which for me, carried no evident reason at all. He looked content enough to carry a 60 kg burden almost 300 miles just to earn 30 rupees. I did hop in. But searched for the money in my chest pocket once again. I didn't want to run up and come back down just to hand over money to a rickshaw puller. And owing to good luck or fortune, I felt three 10 rupees notes in there. Deep inside, I sighed in solace and spoke in a jubilant manner " Wait, I found them!". Ruko, mil gaye

The rickshaw came to a stuttering halt right in front of the gate. I got down again and pulled those hard found 30 rupees out and handed it over to the emaciated figure eagerly waiting to lay his hands on it. Next, I wheeled and began walking towards my house. I heard the rickshaw puller turn his vehicle and get back to the job he usually did, for selfish people who didn't care about him.

Then, it hit me in an instant. It was one of the most dreadful feelings I've ever had. The man, despite of being trapped in a nexus of people like us, serves them as faithfully as he can. He had no regrets about what he was or how he was, and honesty and hard work was a stand out quality of his. Maybe, I didn't realize what my 'mere' 30 rupees would mean for the old rickshaw puller, who had agreed to carry me almost a kilometer and then 300 metres inside the apartment gate, while I almost broke down at the thought of doing the same. For us, 30 rupees meant nothing, but for him, it was something we can't understand. He was happy to carry me and cover some extra miles but I was so depressed at walking the same distance to do something for someone as emaciated as him. He didn't say a word about it, neither did I but he had sensed it quickly enough. He'd have been accustomed to this, much like us but at the opposite end. The feeling of regret that crossed me was more of a burden to carry than the burden he had carried for a kilometer or so. He was happy with what he had and what he got. He had no regrets about what occupation he had and that being after every thing he'd have gone through. And here we are, depressed after each little bad thing that happens to us. Giving up and crying over it after enduring a minute fraction of what he had gone through. Talking 'It Quits' after everything bad thing that happens to us.

And I must admit, the man taught me a lesson to remember forever. And as I walked down the street made by people like him, for people like us, I simply failed to consummate what that tinge of smile on his aged, malnourished face actually meant...

Submitted: December 21, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Kaustubh Pandey. All rights reserved.

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