It was a normal English summer Sunday. Cousins had been over from Mumbai and they had ticked off all their to-see’s, to-eat’s, to-shop’s over the week. So the deliberate mellow Sunday plan was to walk by the Thames for a couple of hours from Kingston to Hampton, let kids play at the summer park, feed them pizza, take the ferry back and browse the local Sunday market before jumping on the return train. It’s my favourite wholesome day trip whenever we have guests – away from tourists, the beautiful almost-country-like-riverside, and most importantly just being able to let the kids be among themselves so that we could too. And it also takes care of our boat ride fetish.
It was a beautiful Sunday, yes. And normal, let’s not forget. Stresses about career and finances had become normal. The fatigue from life’s ups and downs also was now normal. And the feeling of dissatisfaction and failure had become deeply entrenched, like the lower back pain that also just wouldn’t go. These would irritatingly throb for most part, and now and then explode like a volcano too. ‘Why me, why not me, look at him, what if that had happened, what if that doesn’t happen’ etc. Not easy to calm these currents, which could potently sweep away the joys of the wholesome plan with close ones on the beautiful riverside day.
We were on plan and had just gotten off the train at Kingston. While waiting at the pedestrian crossing outside the station, my eyes fell on an old Sardarji with a white cane. He was probably in his 70s, tall but frail, and slow. A silver white beard, clean and simple white turban and clothes, a plastic Asda bag in his hand and a thankful smile after we had crossed. His face had a distinct glow, maybe he had just freshened up. He must have been visiting from nearby Hounslow to run an errand, I guessed. I took his arm and helped him cross the road.
“Where are you from” he asked in punjabi. A normal casual question. But over the years travelling in Indian trains and foreign lands, we have all learned that it’s almost always an invitation to lengthy pointless conversations with strangers. Which I never had any inclination to indulge in. “From Ranchi in India” I replied in Punjabi too, but not affording him the luxury of my counter question. Well, I had helped him cross the road, but giving a stranger my time and attention, when kids were restlessly running on pavement, was out of question.
He seemed quite keen to chat though. Understandably. He probably hadn’t exchanged words with anyone in days. “I am fully blind only in my left eye, he continued. And the right eye has fifty percent vision, though that’s eroding fast.” Sympathy card.
“Oh I am sorry, how did it happen”, I reluctantly asked, already a bit agitated since everyone else had walked way ahead of me.
“My car had an accident around twenty five years back. My friend who was riding with me died because of me. And I was in hospital for three months with broken legs and ribs, injured eyes and ears. I have suffered from agonising back pain since then every day. Even now, only my right eye can see and only my right ear can listen, and that too barely. Eventually, even my kids stopped visiting me in the hospital. Obviously, I lost my job at Heathrow airport, and any employability too. I was handed over to the council (local govt) and have since lived on social benefits. I felt totally deserted. And anguished. Why me, why not me, look at him, what if that had happened instead, what if that doesn’t happen, etc. All the time I could think of nothing else.”
Horrible. Just like that, all lights shut and just darkness. I just paused and shook my head slowly, disapproving of nature’s cruel ways of robbing. He sensed it and started shaking his head too. “Na na puttar, no dear son, that’s when it all changed for so much better. I was half awake on hospital bed when Guru Arjun Dev visited me. He said why do you need others to be with you when I am with you. I will be with you always.”
A cynical thought crossed my mind. It’s the conditioning from many similar experiences and stories which all end with the other person asking for money. Well, ok, no problem. “Let me give you some money for your morning coffee and snack” and I preemptively offered five pounds, just as we were crossing the Pret A Manger cafe. And shallow as I am, I was also thinking about my karmic brownie points. He accepted my offer and his smile grew bigger. He looked way too overjoyed than I had expected, making me happy too.
But he remained standing there with the money. And continued talking. “Wait, I have something for you too.” He paused and then continued, but not in a patronising or pedantic way, “I will give you the ultimate mantra. It doesn’t matter what bitter or sweet fruits life bestows upon you. Guru Arjun Dev ji told me to sweetly say thank you and happily take everything. ‘I have beautiful kids. Say thank you.’ ‘My eyes were taken. Say thank you.’ No no, not just that. Say YES thank you. Whatever you do Guruji, I will say YES, thank you. That’s the ultimate mantra, and I want you to have it today ‘YES thank you’. And also puttar, yes thank you for this money. I can buy thirty samosas with this and at the centre for blind that I am going to for Seva now, the goras there just love samosas.”
The rest of the day became even more enjoyable. And every moment on life’s roller coaster too will become pure bliss once I am able to fully imbibe this ultimate mantra.