I see him everyday. Rather, every morning. This old man in tattered clothes. Sitting on the steps of the subway that brings me from across the road to HT House. An old man wearing a dirty dhoti. A light pink half-sleeved shirt that does not even look pink now, it has become grey over time with all the dirt. A waistcoat that is frayed at the edges. And a pagdi on his head. With a steel bowl in his outstretched hands. Begging for alms. Begging for food. Begging for coins. Begging for any small mercy that might be carelessly thrown his way.
People pass him by. Office-going men, walking busily, with a fast step, not wanting to be late to their workplaces. Hawkers, who have their wares to sell and profits to make. Students, with i-pods and mobile phones plugged into their ears, listening to music. Women, returning home from work, to look after their children and cook hot food for their husbands who will be back from work soon.
No one gives him a passing glance. No one gives him a second glance. No one looks at him kindly. That old man in the tattered clothes. Everyone passes by him. On a current of motion. Swiftly. Bypassing him. Circumventing him. People are just so busy with their lives to even stop and stare at the plight of a man who could be their father. Or their grandfather. Or any of the male members of their families.
But no one will bother about him because he is a beggar. A man who has no home. Maybe someone who has cruelly being thrown out of his comfortable shell by his own selfish offspring. A man who has no place to go. A man who has no one to turn to. A man who has no one to talk to, except the few hawkers in the subway who sit near him and surround him. A man who uses a dirty, unhygienic Appy Fizz bottle as a water container. A man who keeps his whatever-few worldly possessions in a torn jhola. A man who picks up food from the bins to satisfy his growling stomach. Or whatever scraps that maybe some passerby has deigned to throw his way. A man who lives with the stray dogs, in an almost similar situation.
A man who knows what it is like to beg. To stretch your hands day after day in front of that vast throng and milieu of the cruel heartlessness of humanity that won’t even bother to stop for anything but itself. To grovel for food among the scraps. To look at people with an expectant face, hoping and praying for some kindness or compassion, that something just might land in your poor, callused hands, the hands with the black and dirty fingernails.
A face ravaged by time, creased and wrinkled. Feet worn out by walking without any slippers or shoes, with thick corns and blisters covering the soles and toes. A man who lives his life in the same manner everyday, watching the world go by, willing it to stop. While he stays in the same state of suspended inertia. Waiting and watching. Expecting and praying.