(Taking a break from #talesfrompaharpur series, here is story set in a city. This is part -1 of the story titled The Landmark. Day 8 of BlogchatterA2Z)
The loan application form required me to mention a land mark near my medicine shop in the market street.
I wrote- ‘Beggar with his Wooden Desk’. That was what came to my mind immediately. I did not think anything unusual about it. But the manager of the financing company thought it otherwise.
I received a call from the company the next day requesting me to be gracious enough to be present exactly at three ‘O’ clock in the afternoon. The Area Manager himself would be coming for a spot inspection of the shop and the landmark site. The caller from the company repeated, “Exactly at three ‘O’ clock in the afternoon.”
The manager, a burly man around fifty was seen in front of my medicine shop at exactly at five.
The landmarked beggar was stationed on the footpath in front of my medical shop. It was his working space, resting place, and sleeping place. He was there 24×7, three hundred sixty five days a year, now sitting, now standing, and sometimes sleeping beside the wooden desk. When it rained he had polythene sheets to cover him and his desk. Come what may, he held on to his fort with the steadfastness of a dedicated soldier.
Wearing a three day old white beard and moustache, he sat cross legged behind the desk. His faded white shirt was tucked inside a torn grey dirty trouser. On top of his dusty desk he kept his begging bowl, which was not actually a bowl but a steel plate like the one they use in temples to take the arati around. The plate was always full of notes and coins of various denominations.
This was no ordinary beggar. I wondered whether he was a beggar at all. He never said anything, as if, it was beneath his stature to say, “Raam ke nampe de de baba or Allah ke naam pe …”.
Even he did not use any gesture or facial expression to indicate his intentions. He just sat there like a yogi. Somehow, generous passersby understood what was expected of them. They dropped their offerings according to the mood of the moment.
He was out and out unprofessional in his attitude. Instead of uttering the customary blessing- Let god be kind to you, all he did was to show annoyance at those who did not put the donations on his plate with due reverence.
Food and drinks, sometimes from very good restaurants found their way to him. For those insignificant chunks of time when he disappeared from his post to attend to his natural calls, he made sure the desk drawer was locked properly. For additional safety, the desk was chained to a nearby electric pole and before he took those short breaks he inspected the chain to make sure that any natural wear and tear had not slackened it.
Nobody, except perhaps the beggar himself, remembered since when he had been stationed there. He had been there before I took the medicine shop for rent. Once I asked Chandu, the pan vendor, who occupied my neighbouring shop, “ Do you have any idea about since this gentleman has been stationed here?”
Without lifting his head he continued applying lime to betel leaves and answered, “He must have been here since the time of Adam. That is what I have heard.”
The manager was accompanied by a bespectacled gaunt assistant who looked like a man well past seventy. With his assistant in tow, he did a pradakshina of the beggar. After three rounds he stopped. He looked at the beggar’s plate as if to estimate the amount of money it contained from a financial expert’s point of view. Then, he looked at me through the two customers standing at the counter and said, “So this is your land mark.”
To show that his statement had not registered in my mind, I asked, “Is everything OK with my shop, Sir?”.
“There is nothing wrong with your shop. It is the landmark I am talking about. Do you know what you have written”.
The assistant took out the application form from a brown folder and placing it on top of the counter table pointed at the column where I had written “Beggar with his Wooden Desk”
“Beggar with his wooden desk!”, the manager continued in a sarcastic tone, “Well young man. I appreciate your sense of humour. Now jokes apart, will you please change it and write, the Queen Victoria’s Government General Hospital for Horses”.
“But, Sir people say he has been here even before the hospital was built. You can verify this from Mr. Chandu. “
“Then it is quite a heritage site. I will write to the tourism department to include it in their heritage walks. But now, I am more interested in sanctioning the loan to you. We have to see that your form is complete in all respects”
“I am serious sir. The beggar is so famous, when parents send their children for medicine they say – go to that medical shop in front of the Beggar with the Desk.” I said.
“Well young man. It seems you are quite adamant. First of all a beggar should not be there in this street. Beggars should not be there anywhere in this city and for that matter anywhere in India. What a shame. What a shame. In which country are we living? A Beggar with a Desk has become a land mark.”
The manager did not say anything further and left in a hurry. The assistant threw a mysterious glance at me and followed his boss.
(to be continued)