“Saar, nalla irukkiya?” #, he would ask. His countenance would bear a wide, semi-toothless grin. Whatever teeth he had, were heavily stained. Among his meager possessions was a pouch – of betel nut and leaf that he would incessantly chew. He had a mild squint, and it took me a bit of getting used to. Initially, I wouldn’t really know who he was talking to. Whenever I went back to that building in which we had spent a few years, I would feel welcome, and mostly because of him. He would, almost always, greet me with a warm smile.
Saamikkannu * was his name. I always thought his parents had given him a beautiful name. Even if in this case, it was a bit ironical. For he couldn’t see much, or hear, for that matter. If someone called out from the building, he would look everywhere else except in the direction where the call came from. He was a tiny, frail looking man and I suspect he wasn’t as old as he looked. His apparent frailty made him look like he was in his seventies. I had never bothered to ask him how old he was. Now, I would perhaps never know.
The life of a ‘watchman’ in this city can be cruel. They are mostly old men, retired from their active professions, whatever it may have been. In most cases, they may be a ‘burden’ to the family and they are perhaps trying to earn some money and respect along with it. The people in the buildings seldom want to pay well, and that’s the reason why there are mostly old, practically infirm men, employed as ‘watchmen’. In reality, their job is mostly to open and shut the gate a hundred times in a day. Sometimes, in the middle of the night when people wake them up, honking incessantly. And then they are also used for odd jobs – to buy something for someone in the apartment, to take messages and so on. Their primary job – of providing ‘security’ to the building – is mostly a joke.
Life didn’t seem particularly kind to Saamikkannu either. He slept in a little nook just near the gates of the apartment building on most days. He would buy his breakfast from a nearby tea shop. His lunch would be delivered in a box to him, apparently from his ‘home’. One meal a day. Dinner would be from the tea shop again, unless one of the tenants were kind enough to give him the leftovers from their lavish kitchens. It was, quite literally, a nook. In the summer, he would sleep outside on a mat. During the rainy season, it would be particularly difficult for him. His nook had a roof but was pretty much just that – it was open on three sides, the fourth being the compound wall of the apartment, thankfully. And the windy rains here would make it impossible for him to sleep there, as the nook would be flooded. During those days, he would carry his mat and sleep inside the building, near the stairs. I tried persuading the others in thee building to make him a decent room, but to no avail.
Owing to his poor eyesight and hearing, people weren’t too kind to him. Not that we needed a reason. He was only a ‘watchman’. A kid in the block would call him ‘Spiderman’, perhaps because he would wear one of those ‘monkey caps’ even in the slightest chill here, and that would make him look even more comical than he was. One would hear him being screamed at almost every other day. Once, a car parked right outside the apartment complex had its windows smashed and the battery stolen and our man was sleeping sound until the morning, when the theft was discovered. Imagine his plight when in the morning, the owner of the car wouldn’t stop screaming at him!
Why am I writing about him? I heard today, that he had died. When the news came to me, I found myself crying. I am sure he would be missed now that he is gone. I wondered how people discovered his death. I felt a deep sadness imagining finding him on him dead one fine morning, on that mat beside his nook. Thankfully, it was not to be so. He had apparently died when he had visited his son.
There was something genuine about his grin, every time I visited after having left the building. In a world where just about everything is measured in monetary value and efficiency and whatever else, he stood nowhere. He served very little ‘purpose’. Yet, when I am asked about people in general, something makes me look into their ‘heart’ as much, if not more, than the ‘head’. Kindness is rare these days. He was always kind to me, and I am certain I did not deserve it. I can only be grateful now. I am glad life was kind to Saamikkanu atleast in his death, in whatever small way.
# – Hope you are doing well
* – God’s eyes