Today I’d like you people to follow me to North Eastern India. My journey along these parts took me through a world of experiences which captured my thoughts and fascinated the person inside who yearned for exploration. It is perhaps in this context that I have decided to share a moment which defined the journey and planted strains of virulent thoughts that echoes inside me even now.
The place is Tezpur, Assam. A place which rests gloriously on the shores of river Brahmaputra, it is an abode of vibrant cultures and strange legends (which even talks about a mythical war between Vishnu and Shiva, the blood spill of which created the city). Our stop at Tezpur was an unplanned one. With no particular inclinations or destinations we went out in search for something which would capture our attention. As we walked searching for the Brahmaputra riverside in a hope to end our day on a high note, it was only coincidentally that we asked the route to a roadside vegetable seller, a woman who was all excited to show us the way.
On our return, hungry and tired we decided to crash into a coffee shop which showed its name, Gareeb e Nawaz, in fading lights. Considering our very minimal budget and the road which kept stretching on in front of us, it was imperative that we eat economically. So it was decided to buy just Rotis (without any curry) and settle with the sliced onion they serve along with it.
Just as we went on to eat, the woman who sat opposite to us smiled and asked why we were eating Roti with no Sabji (curry). We smiled saying it was not necessary. Now, I do not know how long she thought about it, because it didn’t take that long for her to push her platter of curry towards us in a commanding tone asking us to take it.
‘Hum pehle mila tha!’, she said, ‘We met before!’
‘Tumne mujhse rastha poocha’ ‘You asked me the way!’
Indeed, people like us tend to forget passing images of people who we believe could never impact our life in a worthwhile manner. The vegetable seller we saw as we went in search for the river side was another ordinary person whom we had no intention or desire to meet again and whose face we could easily erase as one among many. But as she passed that platter of curry towards us she became an image of something too profound for us to discern! As we walked out, with the Roti and Sabji patiently clearing away the wrenching hunger, I thought about her for a moment. She didn’t know us; she didn’t know where we were from or what we were doing there, she didn’t ask our religion or our political thoughts, she didn’t consider our gender or our language and yet she reached towards us with something so simple yet so deep as offering a plate of curry.
As we walked onto new roads and new images I thought, a part of me with genuine seriousness and a part of me deeply inquiring, maybe perhaps weeks or months after, when I would be sitting in a coffee shop eating and a total stranger sits opposite me and is eating a dry Roti. Will I.. Will I then rise up.. and push my platter of curry towards him like she did for us that day?
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