The pani-puris were too large for her mouth and I saw the 6-something girl bite into them and have the pani run down the front of her frock. She was scared by the browning of her attire and I am sure she must have had images of her mother scolding her, run through her little head. I quickly pushed in one more before smiling at her (which to anyone attempting a smile with a pani puri in the mouth is the ugliest face to present to a scared child). She started crying (and I still believe it was the soiling of her garb that rendered her inconsolable). The boy who was busy dipping globes into the sea of flavoured water, turned to her and then to me before offering her a dry cloth to absorb the liquid. I went down on my haunches and smiled (a nice human one) at the cherub and offered her advise (and no, I am not ashamed of it): “Ruffle your hair and run back home. When your mom asks you what happened, tell her that a street dog chased you. She might be more relieved to see you in one piece than bother about the dress. Now finish off the remaining pani-puris. Bhaiyya, chotey puriyaan dena bachchi ko (Brother, give her small sized puris).” The darling was most happy to find the redeemer in me!
Once she left, the boy was happy to talk with me. He knew some words in English, but most of the conversation was in Hindi (he was from UP).
“You did her a good turn.”
“Thanks, couldn’t help seeing her cry.”
“So do you work here? Are you from Bangalore?”
“Oh! Where do you work?”
I told him.
“Big place, huh?”
“In a manner, yes.”
“So you must be earning a lot.”
“About 5 lakhs?”
I simply smiled at him.
I smiled at him and said, “Don’t bother. We aren’t supposed to disclose our income.”
“10 Lakhs, brother?”
I suppressed a smile and extended my plate for the next puri. We were good friends while I stayed in R.T.Nagar. We met often even though I might not have eaten there. We would simply talk about the world in general and how he missed his folks in the village. He would encourage me to bring my mother to his shop, too. He never got to know my salary, though!
While at Pune University we would meet at a canteen called Hostel Five Canteen or HFC (and you will find an interesting story set there, in this blog). Somehow food and travel bring out the gregariousness of men. I have rarely seen half a dozen people sit in close proximity, having food and not talking to each other. There were times when someone from a totally different department would sit next to me and have his/her cup of tea. If our eyes met, we would smile, then a “Hi” and then an exchange of department names, followed by where our respective hostels were located and then chat about just about anything. We often forgot to even exchange names.
Recently there was an accident at a crossroads and a few of us helped the injured guy and girl over to a hospital. 3 of us stayed long enough to ensure that everyone was fine and were in safe hands. While we were waiting for the doctors and friends of the injured to arrive, we chatted about every traffic phenomenon in Bangalore. After about 30-45 minutes together, we parted with a lot of smiles and byes but no names exchanged.
What is lost is not the ability to converse, but the pointless nature of some conversations (like the one here). So many people shun strangers who start a conversation for no reason and are just being pleasant because it is another day of the week. Most of my friends think it stupid on my part to encourage strangers in conversation. My lady friends find it highly unsafe to engage in any such frivolous encounters. Probably they have a grain of sense in what they believe in, but no grain ever made a monument.
Children are most friendly and would talk to just about anyone and mostly about anything. People from a rural setting seem more inclined to such rendezvous. People don’t mind it if some celebrity or much spoken-about personality walked over to them and started a conversation. I think it is a matter of trusting people enough to share a few aimless words with them. If that be the case, then it is a matter of how vulnerable we consider ourselves in this world and its setting. But amateur psycho-analysis apart, it is such a simple matter to talk to people or just meet up with some unexpected nice person. India is far more friendly than most other Western countries (so I am told), but even here I see a dwindling interest in just talking. Lack of time and trust!?
Of late I find it difficult making a choice of whether to offer some help to that unknown guy or (and more so in the case of a) girl in the bookstore. At book exhibitions, I would have spent an hour scanning over books and trying to memorise the location of sets of authors. Someone would ask a rather clueless attendant about where s/he could find Trollope or Winterson and I would be dying to tell him/her the location but eventually let them be guided by the attendant’s confidently brisk shake of the head: “No such author here.” Sometimes, you just want to stop by someone reading a Calvino and want to ask him/her: “Is he good? Would you recommend that I buy him?” and then engage in another conversation just to gauge this person’s taste (well, s/he was holding a Calvino, so they must have some taste!). What’s there to lose?
I remember a rather middle aged lady walk up to me in a bookstore and tell me: “Excuse me. My daughter there”, and she pointed to a rather slim girl, “is looking for some good books to buy. What would you recommend?” (this is a real incident!). I proceeded to understand the kind of subjects her daughter preferred as well as what subjects she was taking in school – oh! she doesn’t look that old as to be in a college – so what subjects is she taking in college? Before the lady could tell me some more about her dear daughter, the young girl walked up rather quickly and apologised on behalf of her mother for bothering me. I assured her that it was a pleasure but to no avail. The lady was later found explaining to her daughter her certainty that the young man might have some interesting suggestions to make. Sigh!
On the local trains in Bombay, we would have all kinds of conversation with people who were getting off in 2-3 stations’ time.
Which side would the platform be?
Oh! This side?
It’s my first time to this station.
You’ve been here before?
You live in Dadar?
Oh! Lower Parel!
Lots of mills, naa? (then there were lots of mills; not anymore!)
Yeah, Siddhivinayak is close by.
and a lot more before the train arrived at his station. Sometimes there would be a “Bye”; often, not, but who cared!? I think faith in humanity is rather firmly established over such meetings. My nephew totally agrees with me as he goes about talking to any kid within 25 feet of him. He even hugs them and assures them that he is their friend!! No, he doesn’t take off me! Oh! Come on!