We are not equals. They are rich. I am poor. They have that pretty beach. I have this ramshackle tea stall, next to it. Every morning, they come here, to walk off their last night’s five course meals. I cannot even remember the last time, when our family of four ate to our hearts’ content. Their shoes are better cushioned than our beds. Even the dogs, they bring with them, live a life more comfortable, than my children do.
I know that my presence is an eyesore to them. Their loathing side glances make it quite clear, every time they pass by my shack. They cover their noses, so the stink of my poverty won’t infect them. I, on the other hand, gape unabashedly, at the mirage that is their ritzy affluence; inhaling the intoxicating fragrances of their perfumes deeply, before the wind takes even that away from me. I smile at them, if and when our eyes meet transiently. We are, in a way neighbors, after all; regardless of how much they abhor that fact. They grimace in return.
“Baba… why do these rich people hate us?” My son asks me, as he washes the battered kettle.
What do I tell him? He is right. They do hate us. They hate our poverty. Our grubbiness. Every tear in our tattered clothes. And that would never change. But, he is too young to have his illusions about this world shattered. He thinks that if he studies hard enough, and earns an honest living, then, one day he can be like them. How do I break the news to him, that, that is exactly what they fear. That is, why they hate us. They cannot let that happen. The way the concept of wealth works, you need some people around you to always stay poorer, in order for you to feel richer.
Unable to answer him, I start humming an old folk song, we used to often sing back in our village.
We have the same sun
We have the same moon
When the darkness falls
The same stars adorn our skies
The rain doesn’t drench your skin,
Any more than it soaks into mine
In that, my friend, we both are the same
You are not richer, I am not poorer
We are equal, my friend,
We both are the same
Petrichor starts to waft in. Followed quickly, by the kind of rain which you hear before you get to see it; because it falls with such ferocity, thick as sheets. Before I know it, all those rich folks are making a run for my shack. Their expensive phones, shoes and dogs need to be saved from the pouring rain. Desperate times call for desperate measures; even something as lowly as taking a shelter in a despicable poor man’s tea stall. Now, they smile at me. I know they don’t mean it, though. They merely force it upon themselves, to hide the embarrassing fact that ‘they’ have to deign enough, to seek my help. But, like them, I don’t grimace back. I smile. As I said, I have always believed we are neighbors.
I start passing tea around. Some of them are soaking wet. They could use the warmth of my hospitality and my tea. Under any other circumstances, they wouldn’t have touched that tea glass with a barge pole. At this moment, however, they feel too obligated to decline. I pick up one too. We stand there, shoulder to shoulder, sipping our tea and watching the rain. I smile, in gratitude, at the thick drops. There is a sense of poetic justice to this moment. God has sent down a great equalizer, in the form of these rains.
Wait a minute!
We are still not equals, are we? This is my shack. This time, I am richer. My smile widens.
Some of them offer me money for the tea. I turn it down, politely. This moment calls for a celebration; the tea is on the house.
Another folk song knocks on my memory:
We are the spokes of the wheel of time
Sometimes you’re up and sometimes I am
We are, but, the spokes of the wheel of time…
PS – This piece was adjudged a winner in the My Glass of Wine Contest organized by Literature Studio and Hawakaal Publishers and published in their chapbook “Sankaarak – A Literary Fusion”.