On any given day, you would pass by this man and assume that he is homeless or a mad-man… but do you really know him?
Chandan babu as everyone calls him, was abandoned by his family eons ago. See the place behind him? That’s his home right now. It is right behind a temple. He is happy. Moreover, nothing bothers him much now.
I usually pass by this lane twice every month for a week during the noon. My cab for work arrives at 1 PM and I later go for more pickups till we reach our destination. One of the other employee stays in this area. This intersection road falls with a signal. Usually this signal takes forever to turn green.
On such a day where I was almost going to die out of boredom, he was sitting right there under this huge Banyan tree. At first I rolled up my window incase he would barge in to ask for some money. But NO! A man from the opposite sweet shop came to him with a tall glass of chai and a “beedi” – cigarette. The car was stalled very close to the footpath. I could hear the shop owner having a chat with him. The man kept on addressing him as Chandon Da. I assumed that was his name. He first pulled out a matchbox from his lungi. With way too much swag, he lit the stick and held the cigarette in his mouth. He took a few puffs in and I thought his lungs would burst open. He was a man with salt and pepper hair, a beard that grew because he could not afford to get a decent shave. The man was 1/4th an average males size. He smiled and spoke to the owner who looked like it was his daily job to sit and chat with him for a tea break.
Chandon da took a sip from his tea. He looked happy. Till then the signal turned green and I was off to another day at work. But for some reason I knew this was not going to be the last time I saw Chandan da. Something about this man was not letting my head not think about today afternoon. The week went by usually. Sometimes, I would see him and sometimes I would not. I decided to go that way in the coming weekend and observe a little more. I went to visit the temple on a Saturday morning. I was not sure if I would be able to see him then. But secretly I was hoping I would. I reached but could not locate him. The aarti was on and so I decided to stay till the end of it. Have nice breakfast from the opposite sweet shop and then deal with the rest of my day.
At the sweet shop, I constantly kept looking at that Banyan tree. He was still not there. I started to think of strange worst possible things. Like was he DEAD? Did someone beat him away? And more bizarre thoughts kept circling my head. The owner surely noticed me zoned out and asked me what I was looking for. If I was expecting someone. I asked him about Chandon Da. He smiled.
“When my father run this shop, Chandon Da was living in this neighbourhood. He had a day job as a welder and in the night he would take his family out and come to our shop. We all would come to our father’s shop. He had a charming kid named Amar. His wife had this encaptivating look on her. She was very nice to my brother and I. In Fact they all were. Chandon da wanted to see his son become an engineer or a doctor. My mother would tutor Amar along with me and my brother. Since his father couldn’t study much. He wanted his son to shine bright. He stayed in the slums nearby. One night, while he and his family were asleep, their tin house lit on fire. Some bastards were playing a prank. Almost all of the slum was charred. Chandon da somehow escaped. But he tried his best to save his wife and kid. But it was too late.
The chai which I had taken an hour back had become cold in my hand. I couldn’t believe the amount of pain he must have felt.
The shop owner continued…. “Since then he has been like this. He stopped going to work. Everyone in the slum were very supportive of him. They offered him to stay at their place. He just stopped talking to everyone. Kept to himself. For weeks, months, and even years, we could not find him. Seasons changed and eventually we all moved on from the incident. My father passed away leaving this shop to me to handle. I am married with a wife and kids of my own. Two daughters you see!!” He opened his phone and showed me his girls. I smiled and eagerly asked him to go on….
“One morning, when I came down to open my shop, I see some old man who looks like Chandon da, sitting in front of my shop under this same old Banyan tree. He smiled and said, CHINTE PARCHO?? – can u recognise me?
I immediately hugged him. And we both broke out to tears. He had been my favorite since Amar and I were close too. It had affected me deeply, until I saw Chandon da again. Alive! I offered him some food and we spoke for hours. Where he had been, what he had done. Basically he couldn’t bear living in the same area anymore. He had to move away. He had found a job as a welder again but he did not enjoy it. That night kept flashing back. He decided to start praying every morning. And this somewhat helped him feel calm and closer to his family up in heaven. He had joined as a pandit in the temple near the tree. He lives in that tiny corner. He thinks he does not deserve the pleasures of life when his family could not enjoy any of it. He sometimes comes home for a meal. We chat a lot and in the afternoon also, over a cup of tea.
Chandon Da is just living on dreams. He is coexisting in this world to reunite with his family. He is almost 70 years old now. So this was the story of our very dear Chandon da. Kirom laglo? – How did you like it?”
I smiled and thanked him a million times for telling me this story. And now everytime I cross by and see Chandan da, I smile and feel a sense of relief knowing about him.