Friday, 6 July 2007

My friend of Misery....

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........

7 comments:

Sumit said...

Wow,that is quite a wonderful and at times picturesque description.You are growing from a good writer to an excellent one and I hope we get more of such beautiful posts from you.

il_penseroso said...

It is interesting to see that you have observed so much of your watchman. Few people do so. God bless you my boy.

You know Sudipto, the humble people of these world are mostly the ones who belong to the lower sections of the society. Money and fame are the things that make a man complicated, robbing all that is good in him. There are exceptions of course. The other day, while I was browsing through the "Financial Times" of London, I saw a striking picture. It was a dazzling picture of a junction in Hong Kong with costly sedans on the road and mind-boggling flyovers overhead. Beside the window of one of those expensive cars was standing a poor woman with a bowl extended for alms. This is a scene that is also seen in Calcutta. It's all the same. Not one of those supposedly "fine" men in luxurious sedans feel for these people. Where as there are people like Ramji who are kind enough to help the sub-alterns. I have myself seen ordinay shop-keepers, barbers, vendors, whose hearts even the richest man in India can not afford to buy.

il_penseroso said...

"il_penseroso" is the name by which I am over here Sudipto. I forgot to mention my name in the previous comment of mine. If you can, delete this comment and write my name at the end of my previous comment.

With best wishes,
Subhanjanda.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

To be able to appreciate the nobility of goodness and simplicity, to be able to respect and commiserate with guileless poverty and unaffected ignorance is a rare and vanishing gift. Don't lose it, Sudipto; cultivate it as hard as you can: you will be blessed. Try, in this connection, to appreciate the character called Durgaprasad in Bibhutibhushan's Aranyak, and read Maugham's story called 'Salvatore': it's available on the Net.

Arpita said...

Although this comes late, have read through it thoroughly. I am touched by the story of Ramji; & you are right .. in this struggle for survival we often forget the basic principles of life - love others unconditionally, give to others graciously. Ramji is a true gem in the way he embodies simplicity.
But apart from his story, am also impressed by your simple gesture of bringing him to us. Its wonderful & encouraging to see you emerging as an empathetic & sensitive young man. Most of my poems & inspirations come from such simple observations of life. & so I am glad to see my brother emerging the same way. Don't lose this sensitivity .. ever ..

Rotten Page said...

For This one "Beautiful & Touching". Talking with watchman(I should not call by this word)...sitting beside him and sharing things with him gives one beautiful feelings. i have experienced this. And yea...it makes other feel happy alot. And i loved that IGNORANCE IS BLISS one thing.

Sudipto Basu said...

Thanks a lot, Vishal...

There are some people in these world whom I secretly love and care for-- Ramji is one of them. The thing that touches me about people like him is that rather than complaining too much about their ill-fate and misery-- which actually is totally justified, in case they do so-- they accept their lives with total ease. They know that one can live happily inspite of all odds... In some ways, I think these people are more happy than many of us guys who have ample (and more) of food, shelter and clothing.

You know, just the other day, I met a man I have known for long but frequently forget about (gives me quite a guilty conscience to know that!)-- he is a vagabond who roams around doing errands in streetside hotels and shops, earning just enough to keep his life going. And he is perhaps one of the happiest men I have seen-- whenever he meets me or my father, he comes to talk to us. And this man has an hidden talent-- he can sing BEAUTIFULLY! My father asks him to sing a Kishore Kumar tune whenever we meet and he readily obliges... Life for him is beautiful inspite of all odds-- I believe that unless one has a clean heart, no one can sing with so much soul!