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Where do you live?

Updated: Jan 24

8.37 am, Tuesday.

He is early to office again, Mumbai traffic was kind today. He walks up to a street side chai stall near his office. The weather however wasn’t kind, he is perspiring by the time he reaches the road side vendor. This city is a great equaliser in many ways, the Mumbai local trains, the street food vendors and tea stalls are some of the places where everyone from this populous city congregate, be it cab drivers, blue and white collar workers, business owners or students. They all have some favourite tea spot, where they talk with friends, colleagues, some smoke their cigarettes and of course have their sweet masala teas with ginger.

Steaming cup of aromatic tea with spices

Today was no different, the chaos looked synchronised, the traffic on the street, people walking towards their offices, cab drivers chatting while sipping their teas. The tea vendor acknowledged him and in a minute even without exchanging a single word passed him his tea. He had already lit a cigarette, he sipped his tea and was in deep thought already about his day and list of pending tasks.

A man almost his height stood next to him on the street, he was repulsive, clearly looked like an addict and homeless, his clothes were all grey, torn, unwashed and dirty. He glanced at him, but the other man didn’t look at him, he was in a trance, not looking anywhere in particular, he was in a different world he thought. Drugs, alcohol abuse or mental issues can do that to a person he thought. He kept looking at him while finishing the last few drags from his cigarette, though skinny the guy stood straight and didn’t sway like a drunk person. He thought of buying him a tea, he gestured at the tea vendor raising his cup and pointed at him, the vendor nodded. He asked the vendor to also give the man a small pack of biscuits along with the tea as he looked hungry, then he walked back to his office.

8.41 am, Wednesday.

Lucky, I can have my tea and still log in office before 9 a.m, he thought. He reaches the tea stall, lights his cigarette and sips his tea. Familiar man stands next to him, though next to him, he drifts in another world, oblivious to all the surrounds him. If he shaves and wears better clothes I think he would about the same age as me, he thinks. Life can be unfair. Wonder what all he may have expected from life and see his state now. He feels sorry for him again. He finishes the tea and gestures towards the tea vendor, for another cup. He pays for the teas and orders a pack of biscuits, which he leaves at the stall for the strange man and walks back to his office.

It’s a same story for a couple weeks now, whenever he is early to office he has his tea and cigarette and buys the strange man tea and biscuits.

9.05 pm, Today.

But today is different, the rain gods are roaring in the sky, the day starts gloomy, but cooler, the winds are trying to carry more than they can. But the winds just manage push away the dust, leaves, paper and whatever it can lift, from the street to a few empty corners this city has left for her to carry on. He is late, its already 9.05 am but he doesn’t care and walks towards the tea stall. His tie tries to fly way, like a troubled teenager with a lover who can provide an escape, but he angrily pulls her back and adjusts her around his neck while he stops at the tea stall. He looks perturbed, even angry if someone would look closely. The tea arrives for him, so does the same strange mad man next to him. He doesn’t care or even look at him.

Our existence in a familiar situation and surrounding makes us blind, everything disappears. We stop seeing the beggars at the traffic stops, at some point we even stop seeing the road we are driving on to work. Just like a robot, programmed for a task, we carry on with the monotony of life. Stop seeing, stop feeling.

The same gloomy sky and windy street ignored by most, is captured by a passing tourist, he sees the beauty of the city with his fresh eyes. The tourist stops in front of him and clicks a picture of the mad man. He turns towards the mad man, to see him looking happy, face towards the sky in anticipation of kiss from the heavens. His smile looks infectious and he forgets about his own worries as he looks at him and smiles. The mad man turns towards him, this is the first time they have looked into each others eyes. The man finally after so many days, acknowledges him and asks,“ Apko biscuit nahi diya aaj?” (He didn’t give any biscuits today?). The mad man looks at him with the most genuine expression of gratitude and replies in English, “That is my lunch, I collect it later in the afternoon”. The man is shocked, by his reply, his mannerism, his clarity of speech, his poise. The image he had built about this mad man crumbles.

Before he can react, the poor man continues, “You were angry a while back, drifting in your imaginary worries, fighting ghosts in a bad dream and now you look confused betrayed by the images you built in your head.”

The man smiles, he wants to say something, but the poor man continues, “It’s okay, you are already late, we can speak some other time”. The man smiles and as if he has no control over his own tongue, says, “May be today, you can have a different lunch, I can buy you something else and then we can talk.”

“That would be great” mad man replies.

“What can I buy you?”

With a big smile, he says “Anything we can eat together while we talk”.

The man nods and walks back to his office, with a million thoughts, but one shouting the loudest, why am I eating lunch with this man?

1.06 pm, same day.

The man carries a brown bag with a big M printed on it, and two sodas towards the tea stall. He stands in the corner a bit away from the tea stall, under a tree. It’s still gloomy, the street is wet from the showers early, this tree will provide some shelter if it drizzles, he thought. The strange man stands next to him, he smiles and hands him a burger. The mad man opens the pack as if he has done this earlier, many a times, holding the burger carefully, with his fingers touching only the paper wrap and not bun. Looks lovingly at his food before biting it slowly in appreciation. The man is now less embarrassed as the mad gentleman bites into his food.

vendetta joker halloween devil mask

“I hope you are comfortable eating with me”.

“I am” the man replies looking at ease.

They both finish their burgers, the man sips his cola, he lights a cigarette, draws lung full of smoke and exhales slowly in the direction of wind.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Only if I can too ask a question in return?” Says the mad man.

“Ok” he replies.

“How did you know I was upset? Sometimes even the people closest to me don’t realise how I’m feeling. I didn’t even know if you ever look at anything in particular, but you some saw me, my carefully guarded emotion.” He says with a chuckle.

“It’s really simple, people don’t know themselves too well or even each other. A man spends all his energy trying to understand other people, specially people he loves. His parents, spouse, children they all expect something from the man, just as a man expects something in return like love, respect, a simple hug on a tough day or even a cup of your favourite chai at the end of the tiring day. Not understanding the needs of self and our loved ones leads to expectation mismatch. Man does know what to give and hence doesn’t know what to expect. Even then the man expects the most of himself, unknowingly.” The mad man pauses and continues after a sip of his cola.

“The Man also fights many battles and some times he takes those battles home. But battles are fought with enemies, not loved ones, he forgets that. When you told your dad you couldn’t buy him an annual vacation with your mom, like every year, the financial battle that was external, was taken home. You got upset with your parents, you claimed he doesn’t understand the financial stress of business. The business that your father had incepted. You think, he doesn’t understand that the business is not the same anymore, times are changing.” He sips his cola again and continues.

“But then, you were also fighting yourself, you think your principals, punctuality, ethics, leadership or intellect may not be enough to succeed.”

“Wait, how do you know??

“Are… are you some mystic… guru… incarnati…” the man interjects, the world spinning faster around him as he says this, again this is not what he had expected when he agreed to eat lunch with a mad man on the street out of empathy.

The mad man laughs loudly, embarrassing the man. Then turns stoic again.

“Let me finish the answer to your question, then I will ask you a question. Then only if you agree to reply in honesty you can ask me a question in return. These are the rules if you want to continue.” The mad man says sternly almost ready to walk away.

“No, please continue, but I feel strange by your talk, I hope I don’t collapse.” Says the man.

The mad man takes a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling with a hand placed on his stomach gesturing the man to do the same. The man calms down.

“Your wife, it was love, but..”

The man nods

“You nod, because you think the love is gone, it hasn’t. Your children want your time, the father they goofed with, he is no longer there, but he isn’t gone, he is here. Your colleagues, your team they don’t see you, not because you have disappeared but because wear a mask. A mask, of the man you want to be, successful, hard working, proving the world he is Someone. Your battle with yourself consumes you, the image of the person you so desperately want to become is killing the person you already are. Your internal battles are spilling outside. Your friends, family and loved ones are not fighting you nor misunderstand you. Their internal fights spill outside too sometimes”

The mad man stops.

The man lights another cigarette, thinking about the all the problems he has, but somehow they all connect to the person he has become, the man chasing riches and ambitions.

“Yes, whatever you say makes sense. All my problems are related to me worrying about tomorrow, with the world changing fast, if my business doesn’t keep up it will be disastrous. I have to invest and diversify. The work is endless, I can either give time or money to my family, not both. But again how do you know all this, who are you?” The confused man asks as if doesn't want to know who this mad man is.

“No, its my turn to ask a question.”


“Where do you live?”

The man smiles, “It is my dream house, over looking the sea, spacious in the heart of Mumbai in Bandra, me and wife when we got married we worked hard building my dads business so one day we could move into this house. The day came sooner then we expected and my first child, my sweet daughter was born there, after we moved in. Such an amazing place for both my children and my parents. I had forgotten what that place means to me. With all this working till late and travels, I rarely spent time at home, I mostly go there to sleep”

The mad man laughs loudly again, then stops and shouts at man, “Liar! You think you fool me!”

He looks into the man eyes, his eyes piercing the man’s eyes, diving deep in to his soul. The mad man chuckles again as if possessed and continues.

“You live in a tiny cage with hundreds of other men just like you, they look like you, they walk like you and sound like you. But they feel differently and also will die differently.” pauses.

“They are ruled by one master, your ambition and he takes all the space, starving the other men”

The man mad gives an uninterested smile and looks into the distance and continues, “You think you are just one person, that is the mask you wear the longest to fool the world. But what about your other masks, and another people who live in your head. You are a different person who puts his head in his mothers lap, another in his wife’s lap and yet another in your daughter’s lap.”

“You are not one person, you are the father and also the son, husband, also a leader, and also your passions, may be you have long forgotten that you are an artist too or may be you have already killed that you. You are so many people and all these that are alive are already successful people. You starving the other yous, so you can be The One, the wannabe successful man. If this you wins, then that’s the mask the society will celebrate, the man with his money, wealth and fame. Yet no one will cry for the unlimited yous that you will kill, but they will be mourned by people who truly love you.”

The mad man stops talking, the man too stay quiet, suddenly the busy street feels quiet, the background noises are suddenly silent too.

Than man lights his cigarette, and says “I think, even if I stop working now I will still be fine, I wont be the richest guy in the city but I will still better than most. I know this is not the dream that I started with, but along the way my dreams got bigger and my goals kept changing. My way to show affection changed, it was not to spend quality time, but to buy stuff, now that’s what they expect.”

The mad man chimes in,”The people you love don’t love your riches, but that’s how they now quantify your love towards them, what a sad way to show love with diamonds, watches, holidays and flowers. Only if love was felt that way, the poor would have died by suicide more than the rich.”

Silence again.

1.48 pm, same day

The man wants to ask him his second question and may be a few more, about himself, about how does the mad man know about him more than he does. He also wants to know if this guy is really a mad man or a mystic. He keeps looking at the wet ground and a small puddle at the end of the footpath. Small drops of water create faint ripples in the puddle. The rain is barely a drizzle, just micro drops of water slowing floating before gently kissing the ground.

They both say nothing.

The tea vendor brings him tea, he takes it and wonders why the vendor didn’t give one to the mystic. He turns to see the mystic walking away at a distance, he takes one of the turns towards the end of the road and disappears. He smiles and then laughs almost like the mad man. Sipping his tea, thinking he should be confused but he is happy, relieved.

What is this feeling? It does feel like love. But is it the same love that the poets describe, like the first day of rain in Mumbai?, when the long tormented, scorched earth finally meets her lover. Or is it like two lovers walking on marine drive oblivious to the crashing waves on one end and a fast city at the other, who in turn are equally oblivious to these lover’s tribulations. May be its the love that devotee feels when he finally sees the almighty in his heart. He smiles, lights another cigarette.

A cab driver gestures at the tea vendor looking at the man.

“He looks like a rich man, but there is something off about him” says the tea vendor

“He is always very stressed, drinks my tea while smoking cigarettes in the morning. Sometimes he comes around lunch time too. He drinks chai, eats biscuits for lunch and smokes some more cigarettes before leaving.”

Both look at him with pity.

“Today he kept murmuring to himself for 42 minutes straight.” Says the tea vendor.

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