Unmasked

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

My daily weekday routine usually goes like this these days:

I wake up , do yoga on days when I wake up early , get my daughter ready for her online class (LKG) , attend class along with her , then take care of her till evening until my wife arrives from office.

On days when I am overloaded with work I leave her at my neighbour’s house.

Yesterday my wife promised my daughter that she will take her to office today and my daughter was excited.

Then in the night she got a message that her colleague will be on leave tomorrow. Which meant she won’t be able to manage with my daughter in the office.

So we told my daughter that she won’t be able to take her to office.

She got cranky.

My wife trying to console her forgot the milk that she had kept on stove to boil.

It boiled and overflowed.

And this single minor incident of the milk overboiling is the origin of this blogpost.

We somehow consoled my daughter that we will leave her at our neighbour’s house. They have a 5 year old kid and both of them are friends. She enjoys with him.

My wife left for office. I attended online class with her. There is a story session in the class schedule everyday. This is the only non interactive part and I prepare and have tea during this time. And I prepared tea as I do every day though with the overflowed milk. It didn’t taste good and I didn’t drink it.

And as soon the class was over my daughter got ready to go to my neighbour’s home.

I dropped her there.

I wanted some fresh air and a cup of tea.

My mother is unwell and admitted in hospital at hometown and that kept disturbing me. I don’t go out for tea usually but today I needed some fresh air and I thought I will get it in excuse for tea.

I went to a tea shop , had tea and was about to return.

As I started my bike a guy approached me. He asked me if I understood Tamil or English.

I said I know Tamil.

He said he came to Chennai in search of a job during the lockdown and got stranded here without money.

He asked if I could buy him a ticket back to his hometown Coimbatore.

I was sceptical initially.

But then he continued.

‘Don’t think I am a beggar” he pleaded and explained his story.

He said his name is Vijay . I told him only later that that was my name as well.

He had come to Chennai during the lockdown as the factory he worked in Coimbatore got shut down. It didn’t strike me then to ask him how he travelled during the lockdown. Somehow he had . He worked in an textile exports company. His father worked there and he got his job through his father. His mother had died when he was very young and his father in 2010.

He is 37 years old but had the physique of a skinny college student. He said he had been drinking only water to satisfy his hunger. He was wearing his mask on his mouth and frequently lifted the dropping mask to his nose.

“The police took me to the community hall in Nungambakkam when I was lying in the platform” he said just as a matter of fact.

“They used to take Covid test every now and then for the members there. I wished I could test positive and die” he said.

His company had opened back and he just wanted to return now.

He also asked where I worked. I replied . He said he would have asked for a job to me if he had had a degree with him.

He didn’t have a mobile. I felt surprised. When asked he said he worked and slept in the accommodation provided by the same factory and so he never needed it.

He had stayed in his “Maami”s home for some time but she didn’t like it .

“I tell you Anna even your own parents won’t respect you if you don’t have money” he said. He said he is a Brahmin, his full name is Vijay Shreyas and then apologized for dropping the caste.

“People are not giving me job because I look like a North Indian for them ” he said. He didn’t look like one for me , his face was tanned dark by the sun and I couldn’t see his face properly either in his mask.

I said I will give some money to take ticket and he can take it himself. I gave him some and he said only the ticket amount is enough. I asked him to keep the change. He said he will never forget this help .

He asked me where to take bus to Koyambedu. He had been sleeping near Besant Nager bus stop. I asked him to go to Thiruvanmiyur and take a bus from there.

He asked if I could drop him there.

I felt a bit hesitant but then said I will drop him and he got in my bike.

He told his story of how his colleagues at work had asked him to love some one in the factory , marry her and have a family.

On the way he broke down and cried that he didn’t want to live. He had suffered so much in Chennai during the lockdown without food and a place to live .

On one of the intersections in the road I had to take a left cut. And there were a group of policemen standing there. Taking a free left was banned there so I stopped there. He said he will carry on from there .

I asked him if he needed some more money. He paused and then asked for some. I gave him. He asked for my contact number but neither of us had a pen or paper . I was also hesitant to give my number.

I returned home and on the way thought of dropping him at the bus stand , took a U turn and looked for him , couldn’t spot him in the traffic.

I returned home.

After a long time , I felt intense and alive paradoxically conversing with a stranger.

I am not even sure if he was authentic though I feel strongly he was.

“How did he know his company has opened again ? – may be he asked some one’s help with the phone?”

“How did he travel to Chennai during the lockdown?”

“Why did he say he would have asked me for a job if he had had a degree, when his company had already opened?”

These thoughts which I felt after returning home made me feel sceptical.

But while interacting with him I didn’t feel so. We both were wearing masks and didn’t see each others face.

I felt intense and alive.

It’s been long , really long since I felt like this.

Life unmasked itself and showed a face of it.

Thanks to the overflowed milk.

Edit:

I shared this with a friend and he mentioned he could be fake.

He faced a similar incident when some one met him at the bus stand at Chennai Central while he was going to his home town . He asked for money to go to Madhurai. He helped.

And when he returned from home town the same guy came to him asking for the same help not remembering that he had met him already

Hard to believe the guy I met was faking it.

But if he had indeed cheated , he was literally wearing a mask!

What Masks People Wear!

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