Thursday, April 11, 2013

A tempo, a kutiya and something more...

"Since when have you been at this kind of work?" I asked Raju, as he offloaded the last of the wooden planks from his tempo. He was extremely slow and moved with a laziness that I had not seen in any other tempo-wala. As if he was sick, or worse! As if he was doing me a favor by offloading the wood!

"I have not been doing this since forever, sir. I just started this." Raju wiped the sweat of his forehead with a thin towel that he had wrapped around his head. He sat down under the shade of the tree in my compound.

"Ohh... that's why you are still rusty. Well, don't worry about it. You'll learn it quickly, it is not a hard job." I said, slightly callously. The callousness that middle class offers generously to the blue collared workers forming the unorganized workforce.

He did not seem to take offense from my remark and continued wiping the sweat from his chest and back. He was wearing only an undershirt and loose pajama. "Can I get some water? It's too hot!"

Raju was middle-aged, I observed. He had some grey hair sprouting from his copious head. They had the characteristic of having recently lost the color they were used too, and lay awkwardly on his disheveled head. His beard of more than a month, made it hard to see his facial features but he was slightly chubby. I was sure I wouldn't have been able to locate a cheekbone there. He had a paunch and his arms were swollen too. I was worried if he would be able to do the job, and I had asked him the question above.

I asked the maid to get him a glass of water. He gulped it down quickly and continued to wipe of the sweat. When a smile broke from his face.

"No matter how hard you wipe, it keeps pouring. I haven't sweated like this in ages it seems!" He continued smiling. It disturbed me. Sweating is nothing to be proud of! It's... disgusting!

"That's true. It's always this hot in Delhi though. But it seems like it is getting hotter every year. When did you move to Delhi?" I asked him, assuming he must have come recently from colder climes.

"I was born here, sir. I have been here all my life."

"Why did you say you haven't sweated like this before then? If you were here last year, you surely would have experienced this heat."

"I did, but from the air conditioned rooms, it didn't seem so bad. I could always bear it. It was not a challenge."

"But you must have stepped out of the office into the heat once in a while?" I  asked him, assuming he must have worked at some air conditioned office before. "How about when you got home?"

He just stood there and smiled. He stood to his full height and was at least 4 inches taller than me. He shook his head and said, "Let it be sir, why are you getting so serious about this trivial matter?"

It hit me that he might have been rich, or rich enough to afford an air-conditioner which I had gotten myself only last summer and that was not always as poor as he was now. I was hooked to his story now. I asked him to sit in my verandah a little longer and I asked the maid to get cold juice for the both of us.

"Tell me your story, please."

Raju laughed. "If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that! You think because I was rich once, some tragedy must have befallen me! It makes for good masala, right? Learning about how a king became a pauper or vice-versa has always interested us!"

I felt small and was thinking of asking him to leave when the maid came out with  two glasses of juice. He picked up his glass and took a sip, "Alright. I'll tell you..."

He took another long sip and set his glass down on the table. "I was born to a tempo driver in old Delhi. We were poor and he died of tuberculosis when I was 7. I started driving the tempo then, to feed my mother and myself. I had nothing then apart from a tempo, a kutiya in old Delhi and the love of my mother. I was happy and content. But everyone who heard about me thought I was extremely unfortunate. The way you think of me now.

"I started thinking that I was missing out on something in life. I wanted to get out. I wanted more.
I worked hard with the tempo and managed to make some money to be able to attend school through correspondence as well. I was a good student and went to college. I had to take a loan. I studied hard there, got a good job and worked with the company for several years.

"I drove in Merc S-Class, which has air-conditioner by the way, which I continued to call my tempo. I had a villa in the heart of Delhi - Lodhi Colony - which I called my kutiya. I was happily married and loved and was loved by my wife. I should have been happy, I had everything that should have mattered, no?

"I was happy for a very long time. Or I was in a state that I perceived to be happy. People, much smarter than myself, had told me through books, movies, media etc. etc. that when one has all those things that I had, one could be happy. I assumed that what I was going through was happiness. It had to be right, the whole world cannot be wrong. Can it?

"It was only a couple of months ago that I realized that happiness and joy is not an emotion that you are supposed to feel. In the Himalayas, where I spent the last year, I discovered that happiness is an emotion you experience. You can call that emotion anything, but what I call joy does not come from being rich and being able to afford the luxuries. It comes from knowing what you need, and what is greed. You can be satisfied and content with what you need. I had enough saved for my needs and I realized that I can do whatever I want. I won't starve, I will always have a roof over my head. I decided to small things, something new everyday. Something that makes me appreciate life and appreciate others.

"Today is the first day of the new life I chose for myself. Revisiting my old life, I thought, could serve as an anchor."

Raju gulped down the rest of juice and left, without another word. His words echoed in my head and tried to reach to my heart. I was hesitant. I resisted them from getting there, fearing how they could affect my life. But slowly, I lost the tussle as the wall of resistance broke down and acceptance stood at the gates, welcoming the idea to my heart.


Neeru Sharma said...

Achievement of goals, targets, success does give happiness but its not lasting. We all have felt this time to time in our lives. 'Everlasting joy and peace with oneself' is something that very few have experienced. All the best to Raju in his quest. I personally feel this state of joy has nothing to do with having or not having material achievements. Though too much of it and too little of it can be a hindrance, whereas balance or being on central path does give impetus when walking on this 'road to joy'

vedmitra b sharma said...

A touching story, well-written with a touch of compassion personified. Queer are the human feelings and sometimes crude are the ways of satisfying the curiosity these arouse. If the story touches the human cords and it makes you learn from it, the curiosity serves its purpose. But how many of us feelingly hear it and then try to analyse human emotions and human behaviour. You have added colour to the character by his experiment of discovering real happiness through a unique innovation of his. That it made the person think of it, gives humane touch to the narration.
I applaud both the story and the style of narration!