Sometimes, the stranger who passes you on the street has a better measure of you than a so-called old friend.
On my morning walk, I sometimes see this young woman, a focused, majestic jogger. There is something pure, even meditative, about how she goes about her run. Every time I see her, I wish nothing comes in her way – as things tend to for young women – and that she is able to complete her circuit uninterrupted.
Yesterday, I saw the woman, and she was stationary. As I got closer, I realized her obstacle was an oldish gent in a Trilby and Bermudas. He appeared to have hijacked her, as old people sometimes do, and was giving her the long, ad-free version of the story of his life. As I passed her, I distinctly heard something about G.R. Vishwanath’s incomparable late-cut. I couldn’t help but notice the girl’s air then. There was not a hint of annoyance or impatience. She was listening, smiling, to the gentleman hold forth, unperturbed by the broken rhythm of her run.
Today, the young woman passed me again. And, lo, fifty metres ahead of me, I found she had stopped. Who had come in her way now? Why couldn't she go about her business undisturbed?
This time, I realized her unscheduled halt was self-imposed. She was sitting on the pavement, holding the hands of a homeless woman. This was a woman I crossed on my walk, at her designated place under one particular tree, with her faithful companion, Brownie, seated not too far away wearing a blue collar and a semi-nonchalant, semi-alert look. I had considered offering her money but, shame on me, had somehow never got down to it.
As I passed the trio, I heard the girl asking the woman about her hand. Maybe she had hurt herself. I didn’t look. I kept walking.
And, then, before I knew it, I was home. I had seen the young woman right at the beginning of my walk. Where had the one hour I took to do my own erratic circuit gone?
I realized then that hope makes time fly.
I realized that, for every entitled little son studying in the US on mommy’s money, for every young, narcissistic selfie-taking international traveller funded by Dad, for every doting father who can’t see that the migrant waitress at a party is the same age as his child, for every fifty-plus WhatsApp warrior childhood friend I’ve cut off, for every bleeding heart crying for some faraway tragedy while cheering the guys who have repeatedly destroyed much, much more in our country – people we often delude ourselves into thinking make up our world, our surroundings, and our country – there are many young folk like this woman. Willing to selflessly carve out moments from their precious personal time, and able to share it with generosity, without wondering about the caste or faith of the homeless old woman, and why Nehru, that villain, didn’t give her a big house with a sea view.
Like the jogger, there is also the young man who can pray and pat a dog simultaneously. Then there are those three kids on the cycle, the ones whose names I decided would be Javed, Gurdeep and Srinivas, who spoke of grape juice on a day when it seemed like the world was coming to an end. Or the old man who gave me a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba when I helped him up after he had fallen off his cycle. And many more that make up my walking stories.
You don’t know it but you are my friends. You are the non-virtual WhatsApp group I belong to. And the daily forwards you send me – of compassion, consideration, kindness and decency – they tell me we’ll be okay.
We've all heard this thing about there being no strangers in this world, just friends we are yet to meet.
I, for one, sincerely hope not. I think friends are overrated. I like strangers.
Sometimes, the stranger who passes you on the street has a better measure of you than a so-called old friend. The stranger is able to see you for who you are, in that fleeting moment, without the baggage of history. I am a believer not just in their kindness, but the purity, clarity and genuine intimacy of strangers. The guy who holds open a door for you at the bank, the woman sitting next to you on the train reading your favourite book from childhood or the old man ahead of you in the queue whose hair smells of Tampcol – they know your story better than someone you meet every weekend for a drink.
I’m glad I inhabit a world of strangers. The stranger I hope never becomes my friend.