Cynicism finally packed it’s bags today.
You may never know whether it might come back tomorrow. Or probably an hour hence. But let’s just enjoy the fact that, for once, the throbbing, messy, heated mass of humanity that is Calcutta seems to be a little more kind.
The six odd hours or so I spent participating in a certain candle-light vigil today, were tinged with just that much ….erm, for the loss of a better word… goodness? The day was long. The warmth lasted longer.
An old lady stopped by. Not a particularly healthy sample of old age. Unsteadily, she walked towards the altar. With a huge bag full of incredible home-made stuff. She had got it for us, she said. Because we were not accepting anything else. Biscuits and jam came out. And dalmoot. And bread and butter. And umpteen number of candles. She lit a candle. Signed the poster. “Boro hoye ar jai hok, sahosi hoyo”, she said. And went away. And came back in 5 minutes.
“Jam ar makhon diyechi. Haat diye toh makhate parbe na. Tai plastic er chamuch diyechi. Dhuye kheo.”
And then she was off. Nodding her head. And muttering, to the companion, “suicide noy…suicide noy.” Leaning on a walking stick. A bit unsteady still.
For some unknown reason. Or perhaps some reasons not-so-unknown, speech was lost at the moment.
“Beware the fury of a patient man” – a poster proclaimed. Beware indeed.
A labourer stopped. And stared. And painstakingly read the urdu posters.
“Can I pray here?”, he asked falteringly.
Well of course he could!
And so he squatted on the pavement, just infront of those candles. Closed his eyes, and prayed. For the man who was dead. For the girl who was not. And for all those who could-have-been. The Allah, if there ever was one, could not have found a better place to be present.
There was a father and a daughter. The former being an ex-student of that college.
“Kichu lagbe? Kichu lagbe?”, he kept asking.
It was a hot day, and could he get us a bottle of water please, we asked.
And the man was off in a jiffy. He came back in half-an-hour. With a carton of mineral water bottles! Kindness comes in big packs these days.
And then there was the man in the shades. Visually impaired and led by a companion.
“Amio kichu korte chai”, he was adament. And would not move. So we held his hand and helped him kneel, while, with faltering hands and a grim set of jaws he went about successfully lighting a candle. And just at that moment, the world seemed to shine just that little bit brighter.
The steady stream of people broke all boundaries today. They were people bent with old age. And there was the 4 year old child who took off his chappals before lighting the candle – his face a picture of concentration as he tried to protect the flames from the wind. Religion did not exist. Or perhaps did. Overwhelmingly. If you call humanity a religion.
A traffic constable stopped. And signed. The press-photographer went crazy clicking. The constable lit the candle. And then came back and demanded that his photos be deleted. “Ami gorib manush bhai, photo dekhle ber kore debe”. The fear just refuses to go away sometimes.
There was a Canadian couple. And two Spanish ladies. The Canadians heard. And wanted to do something..anything. The Spanish people knew already. And cared. And had come to sign, light, pray.
Given half-a-chance, I could go on and on today. About how a ragpicker came and lit a candle. And was adament that he wanted to sign. He couldn’t. He was illiterate. So we signed for him instead. I can tell you about the young man with the Korpur sticks. Who burnt his hands, but was determined to light them nevertheless. The stories, once they start spilling out, could fill a book. And for today, I will overlook the fact that for every person who took time out to pray and light, 5 people walked by nonchalantly. And a few more vehemently refused to sign. For today, lets concentrate on the humanity instead.
“Love is asking the police for permission”, a poster proclaimed. It did. It still does. It will probably continue to do so.
But today, for those few hours, with the police station just a few feet away, it didn’t. Calcutta loved and cared. And while they were at it, permission was not asked for.