It is a practice started since last few months, of doing one’s bit in this lockdown period.
Of the many street vendors, there was this man selling flutes. The flutes were mounted on a central support which he hoisted on his shoulder. As he went around, he would announce himself to the flat-dwellers by playing some popular tune on his flute. It was once a week or in ten days.
Times are tough. Buyers, mainly children, were not exactly flocking. Feeling sorry for him, it became my routine to go down hurriedly to catch him before he moved away and thrust the money into his hands. Initially I had to explain to him. Not anymore. He knows I’m not buying anything. We would exchange namaste with a smile and be done. With an act that might dent the self-respect even a wee-bit of a man who was putting in honest work to earn a living – wasn’t a alms seeker – it was embarrassing to prolong the interaction beyond the minimum. Also it couldn’t be more substantial than what it was.
So, it was a couple of days ago. I heard him – I mean his tune – and rushed down. Finding the rupees from one of those half a dozen purses lying around, most of them empty, then putting on the face-mask and then carrying my bulk down the stairs, panting thru the mask, took a little while. By then, he had moved. It was not a problem without remedy – I could always call out to him. But this time from where I stood, I could see he was not my regular, but a new guy wearing a characteristic lungi. I came away. I did not want to begin servicing a queue of new guys besides the regular. For, I had plans to spread out my meager resources over more regulars in the beat.
‘So what? You should have given him something, may be not as much as you give your regular,’ my wife said.
So, I grabbed a fifty and went down again. He had moved even farther down. A watchman of the building (apartment complex) opposite ours knew my routine – he let out a high-decibel shout, getting the flute-seller’s attention.
He turned around and slowly made his way to me. He was an old man, his teeth hopelessly paan-stained. I gave him the rupees I carried adding a short explanation. He recovered quickly and blessed me in the name of all-kind Allah. And, looking at me clad in southie-style dhoti and only a towel covering my upper torso – remember, I came down in a hurry? – he hastened to add ‘Jai Shri Ram.’
Given my strong leanings, I should have been thrilled. Somehow I was not. That he felt compelled to say left me strangely sad. Was I imagining? I was also kicking myself for not having carried the usual hundred. Hope he lets me make amends in the days ahead.
A voice in me said Shri Ram approves.