Running was like therapy to her. She was hyperactive and suffered from anxiety. Running helped her, to calm her nerves and channelised her energy better. Every day she, Arpita Mathur, would start her day with a run.
While starting her run, at the end of her lane she would often see a homeless man cuddled cosily in his makeshift bed. He reminded her that she was quite blessed and had a better life and a lot of people & God to be grateful for. When she would come back from the run, he would have woken up by then and started by tidying up his belongings which mostly comprised of a few rags, an unfolded cardboard box that he spread on the street to make his bed and a tattered bag. She wanted to help him but was unsure of how to approach him, as there was something spooky about him, that held her back.
Their eyes met a couple of times on a few occasions and once she smiled at him. He smiled back. The smile broadened his unkempt face, and shone his eyes. Her smile meant a lot to him, as it resembled an acknowledgement of his existence, in the world, that did not care about his being. She was filled with pity for him and hoped for his betterment.
Her life was quite a balancing act of walking a tight rope, between her work commitments & household responsibilities. One day, she got home late, from work, due to an upcoming high profile meeting preparation. She got up late the next morning. He was waiting for her to return from the run that she almost decided to miss. Last minute, she decided to put on her running gear and go for a shorter route to manage her timetable. Running had almost become like a drug, that she craved every morning.
She saw him from a distance and she smiled at the knowledge that he was alright, as life on streets is very harsh. He did not notice her approaching and was busy in getting ready for the day. As she neared him, she saw him applying the bandage on a perfect leg. He reached for a bottle in his tattered bag and applied the contents on the bandage that looked like fake blood. He felt someone approaching & he looked up. He noticed her and smiled brightly. That very moment, the smile vanished from her face, she looked at him in disbelief and complete shock. She looked away disgusted and refused to look at him again and went on with her run.
Throughout her run, she had a havoc in her brain coming to terms with the act of a perfectly healthy man, trying to fake an ailment, to earn his living by begging. She was completely disgusted with him. After this incident, she did not look at him or smile at him and she would pretend like he didn't exist. He was quite devastated by her reaction and he felt guilty when she would not look at him, acknowledge him or smile at him. He was upset with himself, for upsetting her. Her smile was like oxygen to him and gave him strength to handle his day. He had lost his purpose of life.
Days, weeks & months passed by, she did not acknowledge him, but he would still look at her like a love sick puppy, hoping for the smile to return. It never did.
Then came a phase of a dreaded disease, the notorious Coronavirus infection. People were confined to their homes & warned to maintain social distancing. Their city went into complete lockdown. It was amongst the worst hit places by the virus as it was the financial capital of the nation. She was forced to stay indoors & work from home. He was still homeless and no place for shelter. Sometimes, she thought of him, & wondered how he must be managing, as people won’t be going out to give alms to the beggars due to lockdown. Only medical stores and essential items were allowed to be open, under strict surveillance.
One day she spotted a vegetable vendor selling small portions of vegetables in a small basket that he carried on his head. She went to buy vegetables her faced covered by a mask, only her eyes were visible. She almost brought the entire contents of the basket, and asked him how much she owed him. The vendor looked at her and said, it was complimentary. She was shocked, angry, irritated but also surprised at his cheekiness. As she was about to give him a piece of her mind for acting smart, that's when he opened the makeshift cloth mask from his face and smiled at her. She remembered that smile, but was unable to recognise him. He asked, "Ma'am did you recognise me? I am Raju beggar." and he pointed towards the corner of the lane that was his spot. She couldn't believe her eyes. She smiled through the mask. Although her lips were covered by the mask, her eyes reflected the pride, she acknowledged him and she replied him with dignity "You are not Raju beggar, you are Raju!"
He thanked her and told her he wouldn't take money for the vegetables. She reasoned with him that she had never ever helped him, then why was he thanking her? He told her how her one smile was so important to him & how it would help him sail through his day, and that day when she looked at him with disgust, he was more disgusted with himself. Her refusal to acknowledge him, forced him to change and find an alternate means of income, than begging.
With his meagre money he had brought a small basket and brought a few vegetables that he was selling now a days. Business was doing better, as almost every day he was sold out.
If she hadn't been disgusted with him, probably his life hadn't changed at all. So as a thank you gesture, he refused to take money from her. She was moved by his candid confession. She forced a INR 500 note in his hands, which was double the amount of vegetables she had brought. She smiled broadly at him & his defence weakened. He accepted the money. She told him she was proud of him and he is doing a great job.
Her smile lit his day & he came to the awakening, that while the world fought with the gloom of COVID19, he had found his reason to be happy again!