Compulsions of Life…. and Dattu uncle!
My little sister has been a lucky mascot for my family; it was when she was born that we shifted to this house. A lovely house in a Parsi colony. In our growing years, it used to be such a quiet lane. There is a school inside the colony, so there used to be a lot of noise in the mornings when the kids would go to school and a lot more noise when the happy kids were out in the evening. But apart from that there was pin drop silence, during the week.
During the weekends it was another story! One wouldn’t be able to hear pins, as no pins would drop…it used to be dead silent. Especially my colony. When we would finish our homework and get bored of playing as well, we would start counting the cars that would pass by, sometimes one in two minutes, at times one in ten. Oh yes, the BEST buses would surely make some amount of noise and that would be equal to 2 cars :p so much for passing time. Sundays ofcourse were even more different, no pins, too much silence and only Doordarshan movies in the evenings.
Then, from school, I reached college and guess what – Crossroads – the first mall in Mumbai happened to us, in my area. Good lord, it just seemed that life changed overnight!!! There were traffic jams on the main road outside, rather cars just wouldn’t move. People went beserk, the mall culture started, ruined our area, the number and type of cars increased a thousand fold (no exaggeration), forget pins, we couldn’t even hear our own voices, the silence met it’s grave and never came back! No resurrection! To top it all, the traffic cops made it worse, they changed some U-turns and lo… gaadiyan hi gaadiyan, shor hi shor, dimaag kharab! I began to hate my area, the place that I loved the most…
Everything changed overnight…everything!! Except – Dattu uncle! Yes, Dattu uncle. That big built, dark man, with big black specs, maroon uniform and a napkin on his shoulder; on his cycle that pulled a loaded cart of gas cylinders from HP! Those days he was much younger, nearly twenty five years back, so naturally. He was in charge of supplying the HP gas cylinders in our area. Sometimes, my brother and I would be cycling in the colony and would see Dattu uncle enter the lane and say, “arre wah, aaj to ghar ka khaali cylinder change hoga”; whether he would be coming up to our house or no.
Rain, sunshine, heat or thunderstorms…Dattu uncle was always around delivering the ordered cylinders. Me being the over friendly child I always was, would always smile at him. He would rarely smile back, but it didn’t really matter to me. What always mattered to me that he was so hard-working! Since our colony is a very old Parsi place, the buildings are very old too and have no elevators. We live on the 5th floor, so he would carry the cylinder on his right shoulder above the napkin and climb five floors. I was always wonder struck by his strength. The fact that he was big built ofcourse made a difference.
My family is a very traditional one and my mother never let’s anyone go away without eating something or atleast having a glass of water. Whatever I remembered of him till date told me he rarely accepted anything to eat. Perhaps accepted water at times if the heat was killing, changed the cylinder, took the money and ma’s signature on the slip and just walked out, always!
I have always been intrigued to know his story, like as if there was a story, but I had this urge to talk to him someday and ask him about his life.
After decades, my wish was finally granted. I was home due to a bad migraine a few weeks back and Dattu uncle came through the main door into the kitchen. I wasn’t sure if he would reply but still took the risk of asking him when he was going to retire, rather it was a rhetoric that I landed asking him. And guess what, he replied saying in three months time. Curiosity kills the cat and hence since I had found my opportunity I continued my questions which he seemed to oblige to!
I asked him whether he would be getting a pension, he said yes he would but had no clue what the amount would be. I was appalled to hear that and thought that he surely must be secure: his children must be big enough and earning a living too. But no, I was wrong. This 65 year old man, was working so hard till this age to ensure that he gave a good life to his five children. Three daughters who were now married off and two little sons who were still studying, not earning! I was taken aback and was wondering why he didn’t even know the pension amount. He explained that he was the oldest employee and hence also the first employee to retire, hence…whilst he knew he would get a pension he didn’t know much. I asked how he would manage post retirement, and he just smiled and nodded as if almost saying, “don’t worry kid, I managed till now and I will manage after this too”.
Hats off to the man! He completed the signing procedure and walked out of the house, not new to this house he knew his way to the door, while I sat there thinking how crude life could get for people. Heartless! Though this may sound a bit too dramatic but for those few moments I felt emotionally traumatised, thinking how difficult life can be. Some of us have it all the easy way and yet crib about how big a struggle life is. Outright stupid isn’t it? Compulsions of life can make you do anything and teach you a lot.
I would always get upset with papa when he would try to tell me am born lucky in many ways and that when I feel I don’t have enough I should always think of those people who don’t have a roof above their head and perhaps can’t even afford two meals in a day. It would really piss me off and I would change the topic and perhaps find some reason to walk out of that discussion. But dad was always right. Though I know it’s a karmic cycle and one has to go through what one has to go through! But there are many of us who are lucky to have a much more easy life than the others, and we must appreciate what we have rather than complain about what we don’t!
Dattu uncle is etched in my memory forever! Hard-working, relentless, positive, to the point and beaming with pride. Kudos to him and my salute as well.