Sometimes the stories around you are more interesting than the ones you read. I didn’t mean to write this, sort of, filed this in the back of my mind, until this morning when I felt the urgent need to write it.
It’s about a youth whose enterprise really awed me. Let me call him Ajay. He delivers newspapers to my house, back-breaking and soul-destroying work, and one day he asks me if I have old newspapers to sell. I say yes, looking at the growing pile in the corner. He says he will come later to collect it, as a caution, he tells me not to sell it to anyone else. That day around afternoon he comes and collects the papers. I accept whatever he gives and don’t bother to question him about rates. I am glad to see his honest hard-working face, which has a trace of self-effacement about it.
That evening I go to the Croma Store nearby to look for some cellphone to replace my existing one. I can’t afford any of them, but I am window shopping in case son wants to gift me one. The salesman calls me “uncle” and he has a familiar look around him. I ask him if I have seen him somewhere, perhaps, during my morning peregrinations of my artistic village (This is what neighbours call Artist Village, which is also wrong. I tell them it should be Artists’ Village, not Artist Village). He says he is the same person who had come to buy my paper in the morning. I am taken aback. I am a sort of person who goes through life in a daze these days. I don’t know, life has become a drag after retirement. Sometimes, memories can f*****g freeze you in your tracks! The latest I hear is that writers are returning their awards, while I haven’t even earned one. A lifetime has gone past and I have nothing to show.
Sit licet ut fuerit![i]
He shows me the Microsoft phones, the Samsungs, the Sonys and all other gizmos that run the world today. He tells me, intelligently, about each phone and its advantages. I do a lot with my phone these days, like accessing Facebook, writing posts on Twitter, maintaining three forums started by me on Whatsapp, three or four forums on googlegroups, all of which get my phone so harried, it gives up in exasperation. I thank him and come away impressed.
This morning he again comes to take away my old newspapers. Wifey is at home and is a bit rude to him, being a Sunday, for disturbing her. It’s her only holiday, time away from teaching. Twin rivulets of sweat are flowing down his face in the heat of mid-morning and his shirt is wet. He isn’t very presentable. I intervene and invite him in. While collecting the newspapers I ask him about work. He says his employers are good and he gets a commission on sales, which assures a good monthly income, which could go up to 30 grand during festivals. The newspaper delivery job is because he only has to report at 12 noon and is free in the morning.
His replies are to the point and don’t show the insolence and ambition of the present generation. These days I am hesitant to ask young people questions. I know the answer would be a snarl and, “uncle, mind your business.” He is also very shy. I probe a bit further, being the writer sensing a story.
“Where do you live?”
“In sector two near the temple.”
“Oh! Near the Hanuman Temple?”
“Who all are there in your family?” I ask this gently because I don’t want to upset him.
“I live with my elder sister, she is married.”
“What about father and mother?” I ask assuming they may be living in his native village. In which case, he may be working hard to send them money.
“Both died when I was a small boy. My sister brought me up.”
I am shocked. An orphan! I am contrite to think of the possibility, just a piddling possibility, of having hurt him.
“I have been working since childhood, doing odd jobs. Now I have to work for my future.”
That explains the hard work, the taking of two jobs, and the small business of dealing in old newspapers.
It also explains the shyness, the tentativeness, the feeling whether he will be accepted, and the lack of a father’s and mother’s love.
I am dumbstruck at the enterprise of this youth, hardly out of his teens. He has forgotten all that has happened and is bravely working to be an honest citizen of this country. Whence and whereupon, I wonder if this country has given him adequate protection to seek a future for himself. That’s all I have time to ask him. He has, by now, bundled the paper, weighed it, and dealt the cash.
Yes, some of the real stories around us can be really very sad and, not to forget, inspiring too.