He was once an officer with the State Transport Department and speaks reasonably good English. He lives in the Vridh Ashram of the Gurudwara Rara Sahib near Ludhiana. His world is limited to a bed and a window. He is very possessive about his corner but he has never seen this world of his. When we wanted to move his bed to clean beneath it, clean the window, and to dust his surroundings, he insisted that he had been keeping 'his' area clean. But my girls wanted to clean the entire dorm which was badly stinking of urine, vomit and faecal matter.
The girls took half a day to clean the dorm, shake and make the beds, scrape the floor of all the dead skin and other matter that seemed to have been there forever. When this man came back, he was upset that we had moved his bed. I apologised and offered to set his bedding right. He strictly refused to allow me to touch his bed.
He said, I will make my bed myself and would see what all is missing. (The girls had only put someone else's quilt on his bed which he apparently didnt like.)
She is from Calcutta. Her name was Kamla and now she has been renamed Mukhtiar Kaur....what all has changed for her?? Has a few sons and daughters - all 'happily married'. I met her first when I visited them one day prior to Diwali last year. I think I have a special connection with Bengalis. I locate them or they locate me...somehow. But this was the most unlikely place I would find one. Her bed is in the middle of the bigdorm that houses women inmates of the ashram. The moment she saw me today, she extended her hand in recognition and we exchanged a hug. Then she was all smiles. A small frame, shining eyes - half her words incomprehensible. (I have not learnt Bangla. Mental note- I should learn. I am sure I was a Bengali in my last birth and would be one in my next too. Mahesh, please make the necessary recommendations for yourself to dear God...the story of seven births you see.). Mukhtiar Kaur didn't want me to go away. She likes her current place of residence. I wanted to go meet other women also. So she let me go. My girls sang with some old women, gossiped with others and laughed with many. What would Kamla sing? Perhaps only I would be able to bond with her Bengali songs.
These are the son-in-law and the little grandson of this cheerful person. The moment we set his bed right, he invites them in. He hands over his share of biscuits and fruit to the kid. The tall old man rushes to the langar hall to bring kheer for his guests. Guests? The little man seemed to be on an outing. I teased him about gobbling uphis Nanu's biscuits. And I wanted to tell him to do exactly this to his parents when their turn came. He would, even without my training, I am sure he would. There is a saying in Punjabi, I dont know how you translate it into English, "The knots you tie with your hands will have to be opened with the help of your teeth." Will this young man in the middle and his wife one day have these beds as their worlds?
Will he, too, one day pose with a painful smile for some teacher from a college?