I won’t set out explaining the whole nation; I neither have the time, nor the interest, nor – most importantly – the knowledge. I’ll describe a scene I saw this afternoon out of the window of my second-floor room.
We live in a moderate neighbourhood, a mixture of the white-collared businessmen who see their white, fat children off to The Heritage School (non-educational features include AC transport), and the class of portly (Lord knows how) bus-drivers and their slightly skinnier helpers that assist the functioning of this sophisticated mode of transport. Oh, and in between there’s the middle class. We belong to the middle class. We have a house, and a second floor on it, by God’s Grace, and a window too. So I was feeling one of those sudden jabs of absent-mindedness that grab me when I’m studying all alone in my room in the afternoons, and I went and opened the window and looked outside. Sparse traffic, auto- and bus-drivers having their fill at an unhygienic roadside eatery that belches voluminous amounts of smoke early in the day, and the general calm of a warm winter afternoon. I was beginning to have that old, familiar, and very strange sensation of not wanting to leave this place called earth ever, when I saw the thing.
A man, dressed in very dark rags was coming this way. His progress was slow. He had patches of cloth wound round his palms which he used to drag himself along the dirty road. He had no feet. His trunk ended in a black piece of cloth that seriously looked like an oval lid fit into the untimely end of the upper half of the body. He swung himself onto his arms and came down gently on this blunt end, and then he moved forth his arms again to repeat the move. He was a half-man ( a phrase that rang out inside my mind then), a half-man — physically, mentally to others. I didn’t see his eyes. But I was sure they weren’t happy eyes. They were sad eyes, disappointed eyes. Sad at what happened to him, disappointed that the world didn’t care. Another man in a sweater, fair in complexion, was coming along behind him. Taller, of course, by at least three feet. Normal. He was on the footpath. The half-man wasn’t. (If he were, maybe he’d be blocking the traffic on the footpath. And maybe he’d learnt this lesson the hard way sometime in the past.) So this other man, when he approached him — he was of course faster than the half-man — looked straight ahead like an F1 driver or a racehorse with half its sight blinded by pieces of leather on either side of his face. He looked straight ahead at the horizon — if ever there was such a thing in Kolkata — and probably crossed the half-man as quickly as he could, so that he could relax his eyes. I didn’t watch. I closed the window. The last glimpse I had of the man in rags made me feel he had no horizon to look to.
And my name says One Life.