The KFC guy:
An experience I recall.
Near KFC at CP lives an old man, one who looks into your eyes long before he finally gathers the courage to come and talk to you. Of course, he begs, but he talks, actually. Pant had once given him a hundred rupees for an asthma pump and that’s how I knew him before I actually knew him.
Aurko, me, Vishal and Nikhila were making our plans as to where we were going to head to for dinner and beer when the old man I’m telling you about comes up to us and asks us for dinner, much in the same way a daily wage worker asks his master for money after skipping the day’s work. He tries in vain to save his dignity by offering to show us to any place we wanted to go in CP, and Aurko tries to save his dignity too by asking him where QBA is. Now why Aurko talks to him is a very striking and the only point about him which makes you not pass him off as another one of the regular beggars that fill the streets so full here. He talks in English- brilliant, fluent English! And this is a feat so rarely achieved in the Indian scene that it’s hard not to notice when a beggar talks way better than the average college going chic girl.
“I do not ask for money, give me some food, that’s all I want,” said he and after a pause added, “I’ll eat it right before you. I’m really hungry and haven’t eaten anything for the past two days.”
His fluency shocked Aurko out of his realness and his hatred for India and he began to find a place for him to eat (of course, KFC was there bigger than the truth in front of his eyes). He fished out some cash from his pocket and found it to be more than enough to support one hungry guy. He went in to buy the meal when our shock says that he wants only a rice meal and tells him that it can be ordered inside. Aurko obliges him, and I almost thought that he missed the whole story.
Now Aurko’s left and left are the four of us: Nikhila, Vishal, me and our shock- the KFC guy. We three- of course you know who three- share some moments of uncomfortable and puzzled silence but not without awe. With an ever cute smile and all time present stupid jerk of the neck and a slight twittering of the eyes, Nikhila asks something we all wanted to know-“I’m sorry to intrude but you speak such fluent English” – and leaves the sentence unfinished for it to ask the question that no one could’ve framed. But she made it really obvious that it was his story that we wanted to know.
“I used to work in the Indian Railways, and my job was to put coal into the fire, for the steam engines. Two years before my retirement, the government decided to completely pull out steam engines and I lost my job. Had it been two years late, I’d’ve had my pension to bank upon- but I don’t blame the government. I have two daughters and two sons and they’re pretty well off. My two sons are in Canada. And they’re to blame.” And before you could comprehend what he was talking about, tears began to well up in his eyes; and like all things obscene, they just stayed there, not quite ready to flow, and yet quite obvious to be seen.
“Madarchod saale,” he added as an afterthought. And paused some more, I guess, to do a quick reflection on the meaning of it. I was trying my best to make a sad face; the story hadn’t yet sunk in.
Then he changed the topic, I don’t know why, and I can’t guess why. He came back to the present and was now grieving about his condition. “I have body lice, I don’t have anything to wear. The girl can’t stand it or I would’ve showed you the blisters here. If you can buy me a tube, the doctor has told me which, I’ll be really grateful. I don’t ask for money, you can buy me that tube yourself,” said he, pointing to his ass, assuming that we were dying to see them. “These people don’t understand me, I haven’t eaten anything in the last two days. Its gets really cold here, and I’m a south Indian, I can’t bear it. If you guys have some clothes…I’d be grateful.”
Meanwhile, Aurko called Nikhila in for something, and it wasn’t sooner than she was gone that he pulled his pants down for us to see the famed blisters. I and Vishal were left staring dumb-founded, and Vishal, like always, tried pretty uselessly to show disgust(for the blisters weren’t too much, just two or three red circular spots, and I even managed to sneak a look at his ass in the short time) and I, keeping in mind the supposed enormity, twisted my eyebrows in a reply. He wasn’t wearing much- for the cold was too harsh, just a pair of slide-easy pants, a worn-out tee, and a withered jacket.
He pulled the pants back up; and turned back towards us, and once again, before we could crack the code, tears welled up in his eyes, as obscene as before. He had a wrinkled face, the average Indian black hair with some dirty white in it, and eyes so dark that you could’ve assumed a hollow in their place if it wasn’t for the glitter in them. His walk was tired, yet mature in its style and some of his teeth were missing too, so that the tongue stuck out of them sometimes. Oh yes! he was in a bad condition, but there are many in India who are much worse; but he had a story, unlike the others who are born into it. Vishal reacts pretty quickly; and that’s why he pulled out a hundred rupee note, while I was thinking of the nearest chemist, and handed it to the old man. Everything was happening so quickly that I was unable to figure out whether it was a tragedy or a thriller.
Aurko comes back with the rice meal in a bag, and a soup, I think; Nikhila was following him. He thanked him profusely, and sat on the bench-cum-wall where we, Vishal and I, were already sitting, next to Vishal at some distance. He opens the bag and mixes the contents and start to eat, while we look on. We talk something among ourselves, and Nikhila tells Aurko about the first part of the story. He looks up from the food, and adds information where Nikhila was failing. And this is when he cries for the first time in the story.
“It’s all because of my sons,” he tells Aurko, “they are in Canada, both of them, and are quite well off. They could’ve sent me money, but no, they don’t care if I’m alive or dead. It’s all because of them. I had a house, and they sold that too. It’s all because of them,” and wipes his tears with the cuff of his jacket. Here comes in my little dues ex machina and my eyes fill up too. He swallows another mouthful of the rice, and I just swallow.
We talk some shit among ourselves, me and Aurko, the want-to-be writers, discussing a potential story, or how he could be famous by writing his own experiences. Nikhila and Vishal were doing something too. Oh, you want to know what we were doing just sitting there listening to this old man. Well, we were waiting for Pant and Chomu to show up so that we could have dinner together, at KFC or wherever. The old man, meanwhile, was eating and thanking us.
“I’ll get you something to wear tomorrow,” says Vishal and then turns to me saying, “I’ll give him my jeans.” I note the stupidity of his generosity and point out to him that he already had blisters and denims won’t help much. He starts to make up some more plans of helping the guy, like buying him a tee, or giving him his only decent pants, and other Vishal-like ideas. I nod at most of them, without the slightest intention of actualizing any one of them.
The old man was finding the place a bit uncomfortable and wanted to eat at his perma-residence. How I know that; well, he told us. He asked one of us to help him with moving the food to the other place, and it was Vishal-the-lionhearted who jumped to help. They both disappeared into a corner which led to a dark alley. We three talked some more, and I was wondering about what Vishal was seeing. I didn’t want to miss the action, so after a few minutes, I went into that alley, following their route; there was only one.
It was a dimly lit narrow passage and at the other end of it were two stairs, and sitting on them was out old man; Vishal was standing next to him, head hung so low that he looked like a statue of a headless Greek god wearing a Tommy-Hilfiger shirt and a pair of brown cargos. Aurko and the girl were following me. The old man was gorging greedily on the rice. He peeped at us from below his eyebrows. Again, without provocation, perhaps because they had already flowed, tears rolled down from his eyes, and were absorbed somewhere in the folds of his cheeks. I’d gotten really emotional by that time and was finding it difficult to swallow my spit. He kept on thanking us, wiping his tears and smiling intermittently, and we bid him goodbye.
It wasn’t long before we were out of that place that Pant and Chomu found us. I thought that Pant should really meet that guy, since he deserved this story too. I told him about it and we re-entered the alley. The old guy was still intently feeding himself out of that meal, when I took the lead and showed him Pant. Confused at first, he recognized him and a smile came to his weather-beaten face.
“Oh! I can never forget this gentleman. He is a very nice boy. You guys are lucky to have a friend like him. God bless you! God bless you all! Thank you, my child, thank you.”
Chomu acted like the quintessential joker; but I’d’ve too acted that way, and waved huge hellos and passed some cheerful comments to the old man, not recognizing his potential to be, as Aurko said, a Dharma bum. Then, we moved out of that place to leave the guy in his world and find our tired souls some place to eat.