Abani Kabiraj usually completed his last beedi precisely at the same moment that his first customer arrived in front of the blue nylon sheet he called his shop.
Abani had learnt long ago that naming the articles of a trade made them feel a strange connection unlike most humans, and they in turn, reciprocate by helping you in any way they can. He couldn’t tell whether this was indeed true or not, but he knew he hadn’t complained much about his trade since the day Gulabi, his blue nylon sheet, came into his possession.
Why he’d call a blue sheet gulabi, which meant pink, no one knew. But then, Abani felt like he had none of the qualities one would ascribe to anyone named Abani, and thus he concluded, names really do not matter much in their literal sense.
Abani sold gaamchas at the local market, every Monday and Thursday, and he had done so since he was 21.
Gaamcha, is a variety of towels used extensively in rural India, especially in Bengal, and they are thinner than the usual towel, and almost always red in colour.
On any other day except Monday and Thursday, Abani sold peanuts outside the university campus that only one girl from his village and no one from his family had ever attended. It was in the heart of the city, and a good three and a half hours and two trains away from his village in the outskirts of the city.
Abani stood beside the college gates, wiry and lanky and in a dhoti that had lost its colour and starch ages ago and now was entirely grey and he smiled at every student that passed through those gates and nodded at the professors whenever he saw them. He didn’t say good morning, neither had he learnt to, but his nod told the professors more than greetings could, that he acknowledged how much they meant to the university, that he hoped they and their families were in the best of health, and most importantly, that of all people who’d be happy to know and meet the professors, he was a constant one.
Joanne knew of Abani as badamkaku.
Joanne knew about 19th century art history and about the rise and fall of the nationalist movement, and what transpired between Hughes and Plath, but she didn’t know about the village badamkaku came from, or about the train tickets he had to purchase every day on way to the university, or about his alternative career choices involving Gulabi and gaamchas.
But she knew badamkaku smiled at her warmer than the winter sun, every morning, and in his smile was a sincerity she had missed since she left home in pursuit of higher education.
This city called out to Joanne, every night in her sleep, this city sounded as distant as the songs of the siren but as attractive as a lost lover, and Joanne wondered every morning why it was never the same in daylight.
During the day, this city could be the worst kind of stranger, a place where no one cared about you enough, no one loved you as heartily. Some days, the feeling of being abandoned grew too strong, and culminated into violent urges of slashing a little skin, spilling a little blood.
On those days, badamkaku smiled at her a little warmer than usual, or so she felt, and on some occasions, he’d walk with her to the park nearby, and talk to her about his life back home.
It was simple, his life, not as complicated about Descartes, or romantic as Neruda, just a simple man who missed his daughter who was learning to sew patterns on tablecloths and being prepped to be married off, throughout the time he spent in this city.
Badamkaku talked about his brief stint as a political party’s cadre, the cost of peanuts that week, and how he still loved the city because he met lovely new people there, and then he’d turn to Joanne and say, you should take better care of yourself, you know, because you are one of such people, and a lot more people like me love the city only because they get to know you.
And with that, he’d give her a small packet of peanuts for free, and walk away fast because he didn’t want to miss his return train.
It was that simply, that a simple man took away the sadness and suicidal urges of so many college students every year.
By telling them how much they meant to people like him. And never mentioning, how much he meant to people like them.
He’d take Joanne to an eye specialist when she complained no one would accompany her to the doctor, and she’d give him books to gift his daughter back home.
On the front page of every book, she’d scribble, to badamkaku’s lovely daughter, in hopes someday, she realises how inspiring a simple man can be if he only chooses to care.
And Joanne would wonder, how badamkaku always knew when she was sad, when she needed his smile more than anything.
And then she realised, the city never had to be told when its lover seeks shelter from storms, and the river never had to be told when love and death became one on its ghats, and maybe, that was the way things worked in this city.
Maybe help, shall always find its way.
To people, who most need it.
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(This post is in association with the project #spreadthevibe)