The Day I Saw Buddha

The Day I Saw Buddha

5 mins

Some memories get more into focus with time, so that we can continue to be distressed, inspired or overwhelmed. The mind instinctively folds the top end of the pages to be, on slightest provocation, traced amid million files archived in its deep recesses.

It unfolded one such page today.

It was a sultry afternoon, I slouched in the cozy seat of a luxury bus, that would take me back home to Mumbai after a short trip to a nearby place. This was a special journey as I had ventured out all by myself . A woman’s journey. This may not seem out of the ordinary activity for some, but back then and back home it did raise concerns from loved ones and quite a few eyebrows, high enough to touch their foreheads.

I had undertaken this short escapade not to prove a point but rather to reflect on issues that had been on my mind then. Debilitating issues. Traveling alone gave me confidence even if it meant looking over my shoulder every now and then.

On the other side of the aisle on the bus, sat a young couple, apparently newly weds. My first guess was that they had stepped straight out of their wedding reception and boarded the bus. The man was dressed in a three- piece suit and the lady sat pretty in a heavy glittery sari. Her petite frame seemed to endure more than it was meant to. She was decked in shiny pieces of jewelry from head to toe. The mangalsutra (necklace worn by married Indian women) round her slender neck reached just above her navel. What I still can't comprehend is that its length mattered because it contained more grams of gold or added more years to the husband's life. I stole occasional glances of their sweet nothings before deciding to leave them alone.

The bus had halted at a place for refreshments somewhere in the middle of the journey. The scorching heat outside pleaded me to stay back and I sat reading a book, sipping lemonade. The aircons were a blessing straight from God. Gratefully the seat next to mine was vacant, allowing me extra liberty to spread myself.

When I casually looked out of the tinted glass window I saw people from the bus gathering for sugarcane juice and sandwiches. The just -married couple had found a place to share a glass of juice with two straws.

A little away from where the bus was parked, my eyes fell on a torn and faded black umbrella opened up, with its rusted handle tied to a wooden stool. Beneath the umbrella sat a cobbler, probably in his seventies, donning brownish clothes, from what I could gather peeping through the colored glass, and a Gandhi cap (white colored cap pointed front and back first worn by Mahatma Gandhi). He seemed totally engaged in mending a sandal. Others around him either smoked bidis, chatted over a cutting chai or simply squatted, fanning themselves with folded newspapers. The old man's tools were laid precisely in that limited space, in a seemingly particular order. His coke-bottle glasses had one of the handles replaced by a string that carefully curled around his big ear.

Watching him made me sit up in respect and guilt, to some extent. The old man seemed unfazed by the chaos around or the heat. The wrinkles on his exposed body were apparent yet his forehead seemed free of them.

With my attention returning to the umbrella I wondered, 'How much could that umbrella be of help in shielding him from the sun given its multiple holes big and small, coupled with the black color that only absorbed the unforgiving heat?' Feeling immense compassion for him, I thought of the brand new white umbrella in my bag, sitting under my seat. A part of me wished to rush down and offer to replace the umbrella but I did not. What if he did not accept it, what if he felt offended? After all, deprived as he may have seemed, he was certainly not seeking charity.

While I continued contemplating, the old man turned his face to look up, at my window, and I spontaneously slid down in my seat, not realizing that he could not possibly see me through the other side of the tinted glass.

'Of all the windows, why had he chosen mine to look at?' For a moment I believed he had sensed what all was rumbling through my head and it was like being caught doing something naughty. I dismissed the thought instantly. He soon got back to his work and once again I resumed stalking him.

The sandal's owner came along and stood before him impatiently. His muffled voice matched his expression of disgust. From his gestures, the old man seemed to ask for some more time which he reluctantly allowed. Doing the best he could, the old man placed the sandal near where its irritable owner stood. He quickly slid his foot into it and left flinging a few coins at the old man.

He picked and stacked the coins between two fingers and the thumb, touched to his eyes, forehead and finally the neck before placing them in a wooden box. While I felt my heart crunch, he began clearing the place for the next order. I wondered if that was detachment or indifference and went with the former.

The humble pride he exhibited shone brighter than the insufferable sun. I felt an unexpected yet forcing urge to give him a cuddle not out of empathy or sympathy but for the lesson he had unwittingly taught me. That was the charity he had done to me, and yet was completely oblivious.

My 'Issues’ might appear less threatening if I could detach myself from them to view them objectively, I thought. As I soaked in those surreal moments I felt the bus moving. Still beholding, my moist eyes followed the image of the old man move away, and my Buddha was gone.

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