Our lives are stories that we live. Each of us has our own reality, a story that we create of which we are the protagonists. Often, we step into each others lives, even when we are not related, even when we do not share the same social, economic or recreational spaces.
We are bonded to people of our choosing. From birth, we are given parents, siblings, relatives. As we move out socially, we choose whom to relate to, who to make part of our clique. Later, we choose our community based on religion, ethnicity, interests. It is when our paths intersect with different people that we encounter the most unexpected stories.
I have been fortunate enough to step into many such stories.
Most mornings, A. looks calm, patiently arranging his books, guided gently by his teacher. In the school, he studies in a special classroom for mentally challenged children. His classmates make a varied group in terms of age and learning disabilities. A. spends the longest part of his day with his teacher, who during school hours is his teacher and a caretaker in the after hours. His parents pick him once they are back from work in the evenings.
His face lights up when he spots me. He first checks my hands to see if I have my phone with me. And then, as on most days, he immediately asks me to take a photograph of his. He proudly poses next to the cleaning supplies and if I omit the broom in the photo, he insists on another photo in his barely articulate voice. He gestures to tell me the highlights of his day. His struggle to communicate breaks my heart, as does his gentle smile that endears him to me.
I am grateful to be sharing his world, offering a modicum of comfort in his hard life and knowing a part of his life’s story.
S. looks the peaceful, elderly lady, looking a comforting grandmother as she crosses the street, walking slowly and painfully up the stairs to her hardware store. When I pass by, I stop to talk to her. She never complains about her life which is full of hardship, having lost her son and raising her grandchildren. I hear her words of encouragement and her wisdom handed down to me with a twinkling eye. She is always ready with a smile hiding her own worries. A talk with her raises my spirits always and I draw strength from her cheer.
I daily meet the ready-with-a-smile cobbler. And then there is this garbage collector who is in and out of jobs for most days, yet his energy and cheer are infectious. I talk to the young mother selling vegetables by the roadside in a makeshift shack, whose face lights up at the hint of gossip.
The shy schoolgirl in blue ribbons and a scrubbed face half hides behind her mother as she spots me. Hurrying towards her school, she mumbles a good morning and skips her way to school.
I feel grateful that I could step into the story of the migrant labourer family who lived in a small shack behind my house. In bitter cold, they would make a fire and drag a gunny bag which held their meagre kitchen supplies. Their smiling faces made me look at my spacious house, stuffed with every material comfort and wonder whether money and prosperity really brings happiness to the hearts of people.
There are my belly-laugh girlfriends who listen to my obscure ramblings and give their honest advice, the bus conductor who gives me the correct ticket each time without me telling him anything, the temple priest who looks out for my daughter, the people who call out a greeting to my son.
The stories that I hear from them and the people I know by faces who pass me by nodding a greeting are the ones that make up the fabric of my life. At some point, our stories intersect and we learn from each other.