Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kudo Thakur

His name was Kudo Thakur. A barber by caste, he had been so all his life. From age 15 to age 70. In his own words - “From when my hands learnt the trade to the time when the same hands started shaking when I picked up the scissors.”

But he was a very old man now. He said he thought he was something like 80, but he looked more like 120 to me. Most of his teeth were gone. And it seemed that the ones which were still there were so only out of goodwill and respect for the man. All of them jutted out, irrespective of whether he was smiling or frowning. All that was left of the face were those sagging wrinkles. If there was a competition for the World’s Most Wrinkled Man, Kudo Thakur would have bagged the first prize for sure. The hands and legs were as thin as thin can be, you could easily circle his legs with your palm, and make your thumb and index finger meet, like they do with their hands at the pillar near Qutab Minar.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t bald. Not by a long way. Specks of white on his head shone in the sun and I think I even spotted some which were still black. This for a man who had almost lived the entire last century ! He carried a stick with him, a piece of wood really, pieces peeling off the surface all over. I couldn’t help noticing that his stick was as thick as his two legs, so that if you saw his silhouette, you might just be deceived into thinking that he had three of them, three legs or three sticks to stand on.

Everyday, while I was there in the village, he would come early morning and evening, and sit there on the bench in the veranda, gazing at everything around him. I found his stare somewhat uncomfortable at times, his head always positioned slightly forward, aggressively, as if he was a teacher, asking you why the homework for the weekend wasn’t complete. He had a constant expression on his face, what I would regard now as a cross between a jovial smile and a disgusted frown. I remember thinking to myself that if Kudo Thakur had to laugh or cry at something, the expression on his face would remain exactly the same. One face for all emotions. One expression to express all expressions.

“I have shaved your Nanaji’s head too, once, when he was even younger than you are”, he told me one day. I gave him an as-if-I-believe-you look. For me, small that I was, the image of Kudo Thakur shaving my Nanaji’s head, with a pair of scissors in his hand and the mirror in front, was not that easy to imagine. He was the oldest man in the village, one person who had watched everyone else grow and many perish before him. He was conscious of this fact, he seemed proud of it.

I took his presence in the village home as granted. So when, a few years back, I hadn’t seen him since I had arrived in the village, I asked my grandfather where he was.

He was dead. No one knows whether he completed the century, or just failed to do so by a year or two. Even Kudo Thakur himself wouldn’t have known, I imagine.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dark Man

I climb up the stairs and step into the medical store. Its name is 98.4 degrees, one of the many such private outlets that have risen around Delhi in the last few years. The tagline, just below the company logo of a hand holding a flame, says Your Chemists For Life.

I walk to the counter. There are two men, one sitting on a stool and the other standing up, both in white coats, as if they were doctors at a hospital (Lets call them White Coat 1 and White Coat 2 respectively, for convenience). White Coat 2 takes the prescription from my hand, studies it briefly and then goes over to the racks at the corner of the room.

Meanwhile, a little, dark man, (And we shall call him Dark Man) in a white shirt and navy blue trousers enters through the glass door. He then pauses, gives everyone present a glance, looking conscious of the fact that everyone’s eyes are on him too. Dark Man is short in height; he looks ragged, sweat dripping from his forehead, visible on his eyebrows. His overall demeanour doesn’t betray the first impression that he is at maximum, only a peon or chapraasi. He walks quietly towards the two White Coats, taking position alongside me. After pausing again for a second or two, he takes a piece of white paper out of his breast pocket and murmurs something to White Coat 1. He hardly seems to take notice, not even looking up from his register, in which he seems to be making some sort of entry. Dark Man doesn’t look hurt, gives me a slightly embarrassed glance and stares back at White Coat 1, still holding the piece of paper.

White Coat 2 now comes back with what I asked for. He shows them to White Coat 1, who then looks at them and proceeds to make the receipt. White Coat 2 then puts the two strips of medicine into a white envelope and hands it over to me. My turn over, I expect him now to listen to what Dark Man wants. He doesn’t and Dark Man, still as courteous as he was initially, murmurs something again.

Just then, a tall, burly man (Let’s call him exactly that, the Tall Burly Man) enters through the door. Nonchalantly, he walks over to the counter and hands over the doctor’s prescription to White Coat 2. As with me, White Coat 2 gives him an affirmative nod and leaves to get the medicine.

White Coat 1 finally has everything ready for me. He gives me the receipt, I say “Thank You” and turn towards the door.

As I’m about to get into the car, I can’t stop myself from giving the shop one last look. I see Dark Man standing there, leaning over the table, still looking humbly at White Coat 1 the way he was earlier. Tall Burly Man, meanwhile, gets his receipt made.

On Second Thought

You look at the dustbin, it's more than just full. The garbage is spilling out, the fan above helping the chocolate wrappers, empty strips of the tablet you took in the morning, the paper you regarded unnecessary and tore away, everything that you threw into that little basket gently glide to different parts of your room. It annoys you, the room needs to be clean. So you pick the bin with one hand, walk out of the door to your backyard and with both hands now, you throw over the filth to the space just behind your house. But all of it doesn't go really. Pieces of paper break away from the heap in mid-air, and float back gently to the backyard. You click your tongue, pick up that paper and just as you are about to throw it over too, you give it a glance.

And what do you see ? What do you think ? Perhaps, I should keep it with me. This isn't garbage. Might be of some use. For some time. For a day or a week, maybe a month, a year ? Maybe not that long. But I shall keep it. So you wipe off the dust that’s settled on the paper, take it inside, and keep it on the table.

Months pass. More such filtered garbage finds a place in your room. Some old ones are eventually thrown away but many more manage to find the way back. You have a folder now, where you keep them all together.

You call it your blog.