I often think of the people who do a lot for me – for a price, yet they have become reliable long-time friends. Maybe they are the only ones who will actually miss me when I am gone.
There is our family doctor. I have known him for nearly four decades now. Suffice it to say that our debt to him cannot be repaid, though we have tried very hard, and I seriously fear the day when he will no longer be around. Doctors I have known aplenty, but I know no one who can ever fill his shoes for us.
Manikda, the doctor’s compounder, is someone much more than that for us, and his friend Shibu, the man who goes around collecting blood samples from door to door when tests are in order. There’s Mayadi who has been cooking for me for years, and Parvati, the slightly retarded young woman who has been cleaning the house for a long time, too. There is Sanjeeb the mishtiwallah, a good friend to chat with whenever his busy schedule allows him a few minutes of breathing time, and who was one of the first to cheer me unstintedly when I gave up my last salaried job – ‘Suvroda, you will be much better off now, you’ll see!’ There is Tapas, who takes care of all my needs that in any way connect to computers, and still goes around on a decrepit bicycle, though I know a thousand morons not worth his shoelaces who ride snazzy bikes at half his age. There is Firoz, the first driver who is likely to become a friend too, though I still don’t know him as well as I’d like to, reticent man that he is. There’s Mrinalda, who has been filing my income tax returns for a quarter century now, and Saibal, who kindly manages my investment portfolio though I am really too small fry for him to bother.
Ram Asan Singh the newspaperman has been a fixture for a long time now, and Baikuntho, who started off as a plumber and has become a man-for-all-seasons general contractor, someone I call up whether I want a new water heater or the wc flush is not working or the house needs to be repainted. Arvind the grocer is someone who is always there for me, and Indrajit who runs the cigarette-and-coffee stall. There are my favourite greengrocers and fishmongers and barbers. Not to forget Bhola, who has been binding my books and doing my photocopies and sundry other chores for more than twenty years now. With each of these I have a story to tell…
Funnily also, some such people who have enjoyed my custom have never become friends, or dropped off after a while, sometimes after decades of knowing me. I shall never figure out why, but I have not tried to find out. No point in naming them.
Then there are so many people who come to my door, either to ask for charity or to sell odds and ends – like brooms and boxes of incense sticks – who always make me wonder: why do they stick to it? Does it ensure a halfway decent living? Not all of them look hungry and desperate, either. Someday I really must sit down with them and ask them to tell me more about their lives. If so many people can make do with so little, materially speaking, why does this disease of running endlessly after more money afflict so many others?
There, I have said it at age 53 – it’s a disease. And the fact that, like tapeworm or snoring or obesity, it affects a very large fraction of the human population does not make it one bit less so. It’s a very bad world which passes off encouragement to such diseased people as ‘development’ and ‘progress’. Some day, when we are all much more civilized and sensible, we might think of progress in terms of making life easier for good, nice, hardworking people who are not greedy pigs and have real, harmless interests to pursue.