The busy streets of Colaba Causeway are a sight to behold!
The crazy traffic, the honking BEST buses, the posh hotels and restaurants, the people walking with urgency, the jaywalkers crossing the roads recklessly maybe even valiantly, the vendors calling hopefully, couples in love strolling indolently. Amidst all this chaos there is even a beautiful temple located here, with its own temple cow.
People play musical chairs in Colaba Causeway, with their vehicles of course. For as soon as a parking slot is available, the luckiest and the fastest driver hits the jackpot. I would get lucky, too, but mostly when on my scooter. I often parked at the public parking opposite ‘Amrapali,’ the ladies tailor shop, and walked the rest of the way.
The causeway is lined with beautiful artifacts and antique stalls. Ardent shoppers looking for a good bargain, throng these stands for dresses, trinkets, footwear, watches, sunglasses, et cetera. Be it restaurants, salons or spas, you name it, its there. The popular Leopold Cafe of the Mumbai terror attack fame, displaying its bullet holes like medals on a proud chest, is a favorite with locals and tourists alike.
Stalls with chaats, pav bhajis, vada pavs, sandwiches and other delights, line the pavements galore. Aromas wafting each time on passing these eateries make the tummy rumble and grumble shamelessly. Alongside such sights, sounds and smells, there are also the residents of the lanes… The cobblers, the rag pickers, the homeless and the mendicants, et al.
One such resident was an old woman, who was seen sitting in her niche by the roadside. She was especially noticeable, for unlike the other vagrants, she wouldn’t beg, utter a word or even look up. She just sat quietly, wrapped in a tattered shawl, with a tangled gray matt of hair covering her head. The sun blazing relentlessly above, her shawl was all that offered her refuge. Her silence and sad bearing always tugged at my heartstrings and I oft wondered what thoughts engaged her so.
During my shopping trips, whenever I approached her lane, I would rummage my handbag for some cash. Twenty or thirty bucks whatever small denominations that could be found; I would place on her mat as I passed her by. This was the routine each time I visited the causeway, putting a few notes on her mat and walking away with a momentary pang of sadness on her disposition. And then almost immediately getting reabsorbed in the mundane thinking of things to be done; the usual check-off list spinning in my head like a film reel. Whilst the old woman continued sitting silently, lost in her world, never once looking up, as if impervious to the money placed before her.
Weekdays are always the best days to go shopping, what with the husband at work and kids at school. Stealing a few hours for myself, I would scoot to my favorite shopping haunt, the noisy and crazy Colaba Causeway.
It was yet another similar weekday, when I spotted her at her usual place in the lane. As I got closer, I opened my purse and found some notes folded up together. As was the ritual, I placed the money on her mat and strode away with the little solace I received on leaving the money behind. The old woman sat hunched over with her hair falling over her forehead, staring blankly down at the mat.
I might have walked about twenty paces or so, completely engrossed in the to-do list in my mind, when I heard a loud ‘Ayeee!’ Instinctively I turned around wondering what had happened, least expecting the sight I was to behold…
There was the old woman finally looking up! Waving at me happily. She had the simplest of faces and the most endearing of smiles. For a fleeting second I imagined that it was not me that she was hailing. But there she was, looking directly at me and waving cheerily like a child. I was so overwhelmed that all I could do was to respond with a smile and a wave in return. That image of her has got etched in my core ever since.
Giving always brings happiness, but it was only then that I realized how much I got back with so little that I gave.
In my subsequent visits, I saw the old woman no more. I looked out for her anxiously on each trip, but she was not to be located; her perch was vacant. What had happened to her and where she was, I could never know. Even now whenever I reminisce that moment, I get overwhelmed with tears and chide myself for not having done more. I could have asked her name, bought her an umbrella, given her a bottle of water in that scorching heat. But bygones are bygones and can’t be undone, instead they remain as lessons for tomorrow. And life goes on with the business of living out each day.