Considering that the day had been unbearably hot it was a pleasant early evening in summer. I was sitting at my usual roadside tea stall browsing through the Hindi newspaper and sipping the usual boiling hot, strong, sugary tea that is a trademark of all the tea stalls around North India.
Sometimes I just looked up and gazed blankly at the road ahead. Unlike the other busy roads full of noise pollution and vehicular traffic, this one only catered to cycle rickshaws, cyclists and scooter wallas. One could see small children playing cricket there due to the lack of a playing ground.
Right now, it wore an empty bored look just like the people around it.
The vegetable walla and the other vendors were lazily dozing under the big black umbrellas. The cobbler was completely engrossed in his needlework on an old shoe and hardly glanced around.
The man who sold old books and other ancient stuff on a cart near the scooter/cycle stand was busy putting little stones on the flying pages of the books and magazines. I liked his ever-smiling face which stay in constant bliss irrespective of the changes in and around him.
Today there were hardly any people around, only the dogs stretched out in various places enjoying the luxury of space.
Then I saw him. He must be in his thirties. Ruffled jet-black hair, full-grown thick beard and thoughtful deep-set eyes were the first things I noticed. He had some old crumpled pants and shirts thrown carelessly over his right shoulder and a black worn out jacket on the left one.
Although well-built, his broad shoulders drooped a little, maybe because of the weight on them. He wore a long khadi kurta and his dirty denim folded to the knees. Bare feet, he slowly walked towards the “old stuff” stall and started flipping through the yellow pages of a book.
I thought he was an illiterate vagabond but he had something about him that intrigued me.
I watched him for nearly twenty minutes totally engrossed in some book.
Curious, I got up to have a few words with him.
As soon as I approached him and tried to strike a conversation, he smiled and simply walked away.
My gaze followed him until he disappeared on the same road from where he had come.
I turned around to see what had kept him engrossed.
Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone
The old man saw the expression on my face and remarked casually,
“I am seeing him today after long time. IIT topper from Bangalore got into drugs etc I think, good educated family, only son. What a waste of life.”
I just looked at him.