Sultan- Part I

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“Madam zee, pure Mumbai mein mujhse acha collection aapko kahi nahi milega. Me have badiya clothes”, boasted the haggard looking man, whose rotund head had countable strands of grey hair. His coquettish smile displayed his broken front fangs which was enough to turn me away from him! Maybe he had absolutely pure intentions and was trying to sell his business or get me to talk to him or whatever; his smile worked totally against his intention. I was disgusted to even look for another second at his hauntingly repelling face!

It wasn’t easy to walk away from him as he followed my next ten steps cajoling me to buy the yellow lace top which I had, so smilingly, picked.  Folly of mine to have let that stupid smile visibly and evidently pass, he’d guessed my desperate admiration for it. “Madam zee, teen saw mein le lo, bus aur chindi giri mat karo”. What! Did he just call me a “Chindi” (cheapskate)! This was too much to digest now. I obviously didn’t give him another chance to humiliate me more. I sprinted to the next lane before he could follow me further.

I looked behind just to see if he was following my pace but all I could see was a lean figure standing, dejected, at the corner of the road looking at me as though I stole all his wealth away from him! Certainly he was disappointed with my gesture and demenour, but I really couldn’t do anything about it! He surely invited his own loss by embarrassing me!

Next I saw him walk away desolate and upset.

“Madam, ear rings, ring, necklace, bungals, jewelerry”, cried out the stout lad with a white taqiyah that covered his dark brownish red hair. Did he just say “Jewelerry”?  Now that caught my ear and compelled me to walk into his small stall like settlement. Pretty and nice! Let’s have one of this pink elongated, forged gem wedged to a ring. I paid him Rs. 50 and sauntered to the closet juice shop to quench my thirst. Hell! Was it just me feeling it or was it actually scalding hot in Mumbai today? This weather can’t get any worst! The damp sultry breeze blowing so occasionally from the western sea, with the sun showing its monstrously fierce face caused me to despise myself for taking this day out to shop!

Gah! How do people survive in this heat?

Walking through the narrow pavements of the street, I walked past this really interesting figure. This lady, must be in her late 40s, wearing a white long flowing kurta kind of attire with shocking neon leggings and blue stilettos, was unnecessarily arguing over something with someone. Her voice wasn’t exactly shrilly, but was definitely annoying, her face was long with wrinkled cheek, she wasn’t exactly tall; her stilettos didn’t really help her elevate few inches higher nor did they enhance her appearance, rather they made her look ugly! Her hair was professionally trimmed but the red streak across the left side of her head added to her unsightly figure. What was she trying to do with all the weirdly fashioned experiments and mismatched colours on herself? And guess what was she cribbing over, a blue jumpsuit with orange highlights on the sleeves and pink borders along the hem! Surely she was the epitome of fashion catastrophe!

What made me wait and watch was her distaste and something else too! The man she was squabbling with was none other than the haggard man I had encountered. Does he fight with everyone? What a cantankerous and belligerent character!  Surely he is insane. What a waste of time to actually watch them bicker over something so trifle!

I guffawed at what I just witnessed and moved on.

Unquestionably, there exists no joy bigger or better than spending time with oneself. And what better than a walk on a sordid yet a pleasant Monday morning when the whole world is busy attending to the various mundane duties at the various corners of the world, and I, like the only happy soul, am walking across the bubbling, not too crowded, roads of Mumbai absorbing all the joys the city is bestowing upon me.

Self absorbed that I was, the hunger pangs came as a reminder of the time. It was time to get some lunch into the system. I craved for some Ceasar salad! Walking past the road towards Pronto, the best salad place in the universe, I happened to stumble upon a rock landing to a fall with face down! Heavens! Was I hurt?

I let out a shriek of pain and cried for help. Seeing no one around I tried gathering myself up but the blood from my knee and elbow wouldn’t stop!

“Madam zee!!” shouted a terrified worn out voice.

Perplexed and helpless, I looked up to see the old vendor’s face. The shock amalgamated with concern markedly showed on his face. Startled, he dropped the two huge baggage of clothes from his hand and the bundle he was balancing on his head, to the floor. He threw himself down to pick me up and immediately tore off a small portion of his dusty kurta to wrap my wound.

I hesitated, first, at his touch but the genuine concern on his face took me over! No sooner was the heart touched than guilt took over. I couldn’t help but stare, numbly, at the man’s unadulterated care and distress at seeing me injured. Who was he to me to have taken my wounds to his heart? A stranger had so much tenderness within himself for someone who had demeaned him few hours ago! Why would he be nice to me when I was so rude to him for no fault of his?

I could see buttons of sweat appear on his forehead while he proficiently swathed my wounds. I could not stop but look at his face. Wasn’t this the same face that had repelled me a while back and was now causing my gaze to be hooked to it? It was indeed the same haggard uncanny face that I couldn’t stop gawking at!

I was overflowing with self contempt, guilt and remorse at my behavior towards him. I tried to contain but my dereliction gave way to uncontrolled tears. He, who was no one to me, appeared more like a God sent. How could I look down with contempt on someone who was absolutely harmless? Shame over my evil action killed me from within. For a second I forgot the person I used to be!

On seeing tears roll down my eyes, he asked, “Madam zee, aapko bohot dard ho raha hoga! Aap mere ghar chalo. Ghar par marham laga dunga”. This gesture was enough to lead me to an outburst of painful cries.  The pain inside me was ten folds than the pain my wounds caused.

His face, baffled and conflicted, emanated so much emotion that I had, miserably, failed to fathom. I tried standing taking his support. He clutched my arms and helped me walk. I limped ahead till we found a rickshaw.

On being seated comfortably in his little tinned shelter, the incidence of the day flashed in front of my eyes. While his wife carefully applied the yellow ointment on my wounds, I pondered over the episode. I was too badly beaten down by guilt to even talk. After a few minutes of rest, I asked for leave. My presence in their humble shade was irritating me!

He dropped me off till the railway station.

On reaching home, I could hardly gather myself to normalcy. I failed to fall asleep that night.

In a matter of a few days, my injuries seemed better but the irremovable injury in me worsened as days rolled by. I had to amend the damage I had done. I had to redress the fault! And I knew, exactly, the cure to my damage.

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