I used to see him from an auto on the road between my home and railway station. The same stall, same man with a pointy nose and chin. Adorning a gandhi topi, white dhoti on a blue sleeveless jacket, mending an umbrella or a sandal. Always in the same position. Towards the right corner of the hutch he had made. And he looked the same. Twenty years of sitting in the same spot. I bet he doesnt remember me. Why would he. It was when I was a little kid. I used to sit on his makeshift seat waiting for my bus to home after school. I dont remember talking to him ever. There are many could-have-beens. He could have repaired my sandal. I could have talked to him. But I have no solid memory. Just a smudge. Just a smudge where I remember sitting with a waterbottle on my lap. Looking at him work so skillfully. Applying a sticky paste, stitching in such adeptness. Fancy shoes decked his back wall, the kolhapuri ones. I dont remember passing a word.
Everytime I passed on that road, I looked at him. Two feet of distance extending to six feet in a span of twenty years, but he never knew me. I used to wonder how many times I would see him more. He seemed ageless and had the same vigour and the same shine in his eyes.
I was back in my hometown after couple of years. Few visits on that road and he was not seen. That place seemed incomplete. Like when a vital part in an environment goes missing. The cabin still stood, with all its tools and fancy sandals, the old man had gone. I saw a young man in his place, in his thirties probably, all lost. Lacking that shine in his eyes. All the tools had rejected him, he just sat there like an alien. That hole was gaping back at both of us.
Few days went by and even the cabin had disappeared. There was a new milk shop, a new cabin, new faces of which I can read nothing. Feel nothing.
JULY 8, 2015