I consider myself a real dull person. Oh yes, I get ready and go to work and interact with my colleagues with whom I have managed to bond over time. But apart from that my social life is next to nil. Because of my arthritis I hardly climb down once I reach my 4th floor apartment unless absolutely essential. For one thing I cannot remember faces. The other day a woman with a familiar face greeted me on my way back to my apartment. She was standing beside a man who I recognized as my friend Poornima’s brother who perhaps lived in Bokaro (or was it Dhanbad??) and I promptly decided that the lady was his wife.
“Returning home??” I asked taking care not to mention the place as I was not sure. The woman looked a little confused and hurt. I promptly rectified my mistake and pointed out to the gentleman and said –
“I meant him.”
“Yeah, my sister in law’s family is returning to Bokaro (Aha, I was not too far off the mark). I’ve come to see them off.”
I still could not place her however hard I tried. I decided to pretend that I was getting late for work and waved a hasty good bye and went home.
I spent the entire day trying to figure out who the woman was. I then remembered. She was the woman who’d keep peeping out of her bedroom window till the auto picked her daughter up for school. I’d spot the mother and daughter –one waiting for the auto and the other peeping from the window – during my morning walk. This was the first time I was seeing her as a person and not a face. She would wave out from her window and I would wave back. It was really very bad of me not to remember.
But then I do have a problem with faces. I can look at a person and think ‘he/she looks so much like X,Y or Z’. Only much later would I realize that it was the person who I took him/her to be and not anyone like him/her. And I have at other times smiled at the wrong person and almost asked “Kaise ho??” (How are you) stopping just in the nick of time.
I am what I am but then others are also what they are. The other day I went for a seminar on medicinal plants and had to leave a little before the program got over. I was not very familiar with the place and had asked a friend to take me along in her car. While I waited for her to reverse her car a gentle man, who was also apparently leaving, approached the gate.
“Leaving?” he asked.
“Yes, the program is almost over.”
“Didn’t bhai saab (my husband) come?”
Who in the world could this person be?? I wondered.
“No” I tried to restrict my responses to monosyllables.
“Are there any flats available in Geetanjali (my apartment complex) for rent?” he asked.
So he knew where I lived. I started feeling uneasy. I still could not place him.
“You need to ask the society officials” I replied. “They have proper knowledge of these things.”
“Coming straight from college?” he was in no mood to leave me alone. “I don’t see your car anywhere. You drive an Alto don’t you?”
“I accompanied a friend. But please tell me, do we know each other?” I thought that he was perhaps an ex colleague of my husband.
To my relief he replied-
“No, ma’am, I don’t think you know me. I regularly visit Dr. Bhattamishra who lives in your area since he is my nephew. I’ve seen you often on your way to college. I’ve also seen you and bhai saab returning from your morning walk. I heard from Saswati (the doctor’s wife) that you work in a local college and that your husband makes and markets excellent masala. I too live close by. Aha, I see that your friend is waiting for you. See you then.”
Out of courtesy I asked if he needed to be dropped anywhere. He declined saying that he had his own vehicle and that he was waiting for his wife to come out.
I was shocked and it took me a while to become normal. Here I was, leading an insignificant existence and a total stranger seems to know so much about me. It was quite shocking. On my way back I tried to recall the man’s face. I could recall the conversation but his face was a blur in my memory. Recounting the entire conversation to my friend on my way home, I wondered aloud whether I’d be able to recognize him if I met him again.
My friend laughed heartily saying that she would have to report the incident to my husband and make sure if I remembered his face as well as the faces of our other friends.
“I am not that bad” I retorted.
Another incident that took place almost twenty years back came back to my mind. It was summertime and I had no access to internet booking. I went in person to the railway station to book tickets for my daughter and niece who had to return to Chennai after the summer vacations. The queue was long and I managed to reach the counter just a little before it closed down. My niece had not got her concession countersigned by the station master at Chennai so I had to buy a full ticket for her. It was then that I realized that I was short of money by about a hundred rupees. The dealing clerk asked me to come the following day which meant another long queue.
“Ma’am” said a voice behind me. “Take hundred rupees from me and buy the ticket. Why do you want to waste time tomorrow?”
He gave me the money and I bought the ticket without even turning around to see who the person was.
I waited for him to emerge and asked him as to how I may return his money. Would he give me his address?
“Aren’t you a teacherji who lives in Kadma?” he asked.
“Yes” I replied “but how do you know me?”
“I’ve seen you boarding the auto rickshaw right outside Vijay Bhandar in Kadma. I am the shop owner Ravi’s cousin and I often stop by to chat with him and to have a cup of tea with him. You can give this money to him”.
I was touched. A total stranger comes to my aid knowing nothing about me. I always felt that Vijay Bhandar was an expensive shop and almost never bought anything from there. Yet here was a person who offered the right kind of help even without my asking.
When I think of these incidents I also feel that one may not watch the world but the world watches and makes a mental note of each one of us. We are judged by what we are and not by who we happen to be.