July 10, 2010
It was just another Saturday evening after a tiring day at school. I was not much in a mood to do any work that had piled up on my weekend to-do list. So I decided to go on a cycle ride in nearby army cantonment area. It is one of those few places where there is much lesser traffic, clean and well-laid roads, and lots of old beautiful trees with a diversity of bird-life still existent. Weekend cycle rides are for me a way of escaping from the daily routine and regimentation. Cycling gives me an unusual sense of freedom and control as I peddle along with no particular destination in mind. I simply follow the path that intuitively guides me on these rides. I enjoy exploring new places and observing the surroundings. It allows me a chance to be completely with myself with no deadlines to meet, no appointments to make and no plans to execute.
This Saturday evening, I was enjoying one such cycle expedition. The monsoon showers had covered the roadside with fresh greenery. The day’s events had turned me into a slightly reflective mood, and so I was riding slow trying to absorb of what is going around and inside. As I was about to take a yet another unknown turn, I saw him—an old man with a white beard, uncombed hair, not-so-clean clothes on. About 20 feet distance from where I was on my bike, this man was sitting under a deserted metal shade. He had an empty bottle in his hand with which he was calling me towards him. As he called me, my first thought was to start peddling faster and pretend as if I didn’t see him. I thought of him as a homeless man perhaps begging for money. I would normally just ignore such invitations from a stranger and carry on with my business—partly because I make myself believe that I am always in a hurry and party because I carry inhibitions about roadside strangers.
Today was different though. Today, I wanted to know, to get involved and to step out of my comfort. Something within stopped me. I found myself approaching this man with curiosity and caution. What would he want from me? As I went closer, he pointed the empty bottle towards me and requested for some water. My instant reaction was—but I am not carrying any water with me! His face went sad with rather disbelief. As I took a closer look at him, I realized that this man had no legs and no right hand! He asked me to park my cycle near where he was and directed me to the army hospital on the other side of the street for water. The suspicious self in me was still questioning the credibility of this man. Is he hiding his legs and hand—I asked myself. What if he takes away my bicycle? I locked the cycle and went to fetch him some water…still a little nervous about what I had just seen and gotten myself into. I wondered if this was some plan to trick me? When I returned with the filled water bottle, he spoke with genuine gratitude, ‘Thank you so much. God will bless you. And sorry for all the trouble.’ His words melted my heart. I couldn’t help feel ashamed about my crude thinking.
As I handed him over the bottle, he told me to carry on helping any disabled person I may come across. I could now see a kind and thoughtful man behind his disheveled appearance. He told his story…and I found myself patiently listening to it. To my surprise he spoke good English as he had graduated from the famous Fergusson College back in the seventies—my own alma mater. A high volt electrical shock left him crippled for life—having to lose both the legs and a hand. The man also lost all his close relatives one by one and has no one to call family today. None of this stopped him from having hope in life and faith in God. The metal shed where I met him is owned by the army. He looks after it by keeping it clean and not allowing outsiders to misuse it. He has made it his home—a good protection from the monsoon rains. I asked him about how he passes his time, being there all day and night with no one to look after him. He said “When you have purity in your heart, God takes care of you. There are always good hearted people in this world who come and help you if you have faith.” I bid him goodbye with a promise to meet him again. As I peddled back home, I wondered what, despite having literally nothing, keeps this man going in life? The incidence will continue to inspire me to embrace life to the fullest no matter whatever the situation.