Age and common humanity can be important factors in uniting people of different faiths in a bond of friendship as I found out one morning as I was on my daily morning walk. A friendship I made on that day had become apart of my life ever since. With a steaming cup of coffee and a couple of biscuits under my belt I set out on my constitutional precisely at seven. I like seeing anew faces, watching human nature in action in its various manifestations, providing me with ideas for stories and articles.
I meet all kinds of human beings during these walks. There are young fellows jog as if they have only minutes left to catch a train. There are middle-aged, paunchy characters, both men and women, who can out-waddle the nippiest of ducks and no questions asked. There are septuagenarians who totter along with long strides trying to pretend that they are not a day older than forty while there are octogenarians who harbour no illusions as regards their age and stagger painfully along, looking to right, looking to left. My wandering eyes soon lighted upon an old gentleman on the wrong side of eighty and his lady. What drew my attention to them was that they were suddenly brought up by short by the sight of a dark, shriveled old woman, bent and all skin and bones plodding along with a large rucksack slung over one shoulder. She was a rag-picker, standing on the footpath and poking and prodding with a short stick among the garbage in the large cement bin. Rag-pickers delving into garbage bins with a stick are a common sight of a morning in residential areas of Bangalore. But what made me and the old couple stop by was the sight of this poor thing ravenously wolfing down left-over food from a folded banana leaf she had just found among the garbage heap. Obviously she had not eaten anything for quite sometime. The old lady now stepped up to the hungry old woman and gently laid hand on her arm.
“Hungry?” she said.
The waif nodded, without raising her head. It must have been a strange experience to her to have a well-dressed lady tap her on the arm when the usual practice for such ladies is to give her a wide berth. The lady fished in her wallet, took out a hundred-rupee note and passed it to the poor woman. Her old man, not to be outdone, produced another hundred rupees from his own pocket and passed the same to the woman. “Rags to riches!” exclaimed the woman at this windfall. “God bless you both!” she murmured.
“And God bless you, too my dear” said the old lady, putting her arm round the shoulder of this destitute. “Go and buy a good meal somewhere.”
Thousands of people all round come upon hundreds of rag-pickers everyday and keep well away from these under-dogs of society, for we have no time for flotsam and jetsam of life. Who cares if a poor, hungry waif is seen greedily lapping up the remains of somebody’s meal? It took an aged couple to recognize her hunger and stop by to extend succour. The least I, and aged onlooker, could do was to step up and shake the bountiful hand of the old gentleman with that eye-catching ‘tilak’ mark on his forehead. Years have gone by since then. But today he is one of my best friends. A poor, destitute rag-picker has brought a Hindu and a Muslim together!