Okay, let me say something about a man who has inspired me very much. A man who is seldom noticed or thanked for what he does. The chowkidar of our block of apartments-- my dear old Ramji.
Anyone who has ever seen Ramji (one can have a look at the picture that shares it's subtitle with this post) will wonder how such an old and feeble man can be a watchman-- naturally prone to be overpowered by some crook or petty thief. In fact, this thought crossed my mind initially when I saw this man, who walks rather slowly and spends days staring at the people entering and leaving the building. One fine morning, I decided to talk to him a bit. And since then, I have been increasingly appreciative of this man. To sum up succinctly, Ramji signifies simplicity and humility.
Old Ramji is a bald-headed man with a rather short height. His back is slightly bent forward, and the skin of his furiously red cheeks and forehead is creased into several folds. He always wears a very humble dress consisting of a shirt and a lungi, which goes with a wet gamchha perched on his head on hot and sultry summer days, or a totally absurd women's tailcoat to keep himself warm in winter. And as if that were not enough, Ramji is cross-eyed. Many people (including some of my fellow-residents in the apartment) wonder, often aloud (to my intense chagrin and disappointment), why such an old and feeble man, with a poor eyesight, should be kept as a gatekeeper. I have found no good justifications to challenge their question, but still I instinctively like Ramji and will never prefer any other young bloke as a compounder than this man.
All day long, Ramji sits on his cot beside the compound gate and occasionally wishes a resident good day with a smile as special as the man he is. A bare and nearly toothless grin, but with such warmth radiating that it pleases and charms my heart. Ramji has little work to do, as such. The only other job other than watching the people pass by, that Ramji has to perform, is switch the water pump on at the right time every day.
Some of us talk to him when we pass by him, and I make it a point to do that almost always. Still, I wouldn't say I know much of him and his early years. From what I've heard, I can say that he hails from Uttar Pradesh, and that he had a wife who died many years back. Frankly, I don't have much to ask and say to him, for he is utterly ignorant of things that one can discuss and debate about. I don't know anyone to whom Ignorance is bliss applies as much as it does to Ramji. So apart from enquiries on how he is, and if he has had his meal, I usually have little to ask and say. On days when we have powercuts, though, I have more time to talk to him (for lazy me doesn't like to study when there's no electricity, but prefers to venture out of the house with a torch in hand!). And on such occasions, I have often asked him about himself. But then, he is either not too eager to reveal everything, or else he simply doesn't think that he has much that I should know! Sometimes, letters from his native village arrive and he asks me to read them out to him. Those are delicate moments, because more often that not they bring sad news: the death of some relative (which needless to say, saddens him very much). Seldom they bring the news that some relative or next-door neighbour in his village may come to visit him for some days. That cheers him up, for he is delighted by the prospect of having someone at his place for sometime: a welcome change from his life of loneliness. Those moments when I have sat beside him and talked to him remain close to my heart.
Often, some local friends visit him. And on those few occasions, I see a different Ramji. A gracious host: I wonder how such a poor man (he earns just more than a thousand bucks each month) manages to entertain so many guests and friends. Sometimes distant relatives arrive and stay for days: often taking away mats or blankets that we had given to Ramji. And Ramji is kind and simple enough to let his relatives take away whatever small possessions he has! That's when I understand how rare people like him are in our society: in a place and age, where we are all trying to take away from others, here is a man who will go through some misery himself to help some distant relative or friend. And for a man, who has to live in a pathetic quarter (a 7 by 7 square feet room!), that's something noble. Often he has to go without meals, in order to save money to live comfortably (!!) enough for the whole month. Occasionally, we invite him for a meal, and donate something like a blanket, a mosquito net, or an old coat. You can't imagine the gratitude and love Ramji showers on us for help so meagre. And yet all this struggle for survival hasn't made him rude or insensitive. One thing: he has always carried out his duties very well and ably. There hasn't been any major thievery or robbery in our block in these nine years, and you may attribute that to the lack of thieves in our area or Ramji's strict vigilance: but this remains a fact.
At times, Ramji gets drunk and loses all his senses, lying on his cot and muttering incoherently. Do I blame him (after all a watchman isn't supposed to drink and lay nearly unconscious!)? Why should I: if that helps him forget his misery for a while, who am I to comment? I just wish that we had more simple and humble people like him in this world: it would be a much better place. As Ramji silently inches towards his inevitable rendezvous with the Almighty, it saddens me to think that I shall lose a friend. A friend I have grown to love and admire, but one about whom I still don't know much.
Now it is night and I am finishing this essay before I go to bed. In the silent and cool night air, a voice comes drifting in through the window. A hoarse and broken voice singing, his notes punctuated with a tint of sorrow: Om jai jagadish hare, Swami jai jagadish hare........