“Sat Shri Akal, Sardar ji.”
It wasn’t something you’d expect from a Muslim man too often.
My eyes couldn’t help but scan him throughout. He appeared to be an extremely poor rickshaw puller, evident from his shabby, worn out clothes. The dullness of his white kurta explained hours of labour in the scorching heat of June.
My eyes caught his and suddenly, strangely enough, the oceans didn’t seem deep enough. The gleam in his eyes anxiously waited for me to make a move. The smile on his face drenched in sweat, struggled to comprehend my response. I nodded to be driven by him on the rickshaw and the very existence of his twinkle felt justified.
He didn’t communicate much along the way. I, in the meanwhile, agitated to recover from the hypnotism which two uncanny eyes had spelled over me, leaving me striving to decipher what they wished to convey.
It was clear enough from the first look but then, in that moment, it hit me that he was a profoundly sad man. I could clearly see his rough, dark back through the kurta as he pedaled the rickshaw. The clothing swayed in a dilemma of being saturated in sweat or to resonate with the wind.
We went past a Gurudwara. “Waheguru!” he let a sigh, and bended his head in respect as he peddled. It wasn’t the first time he had surprised me.
Strong blows of summer currents pierced us upstream as we moved, the sand blowing along, blurring my vision. I crouched myself making him my shield. He seemed unadulterated, peddling through the vicious loo. Across the road, I saw a Diwali calendar smeared in mud, and while my eyes were on it, it tussled with the wind, stuck in a tiny vortex. The printed Gods swirled mid-air inches off the ground.
“Jai Shri Ram!” the old man screamed, stopped peddling his vehicle and ran across to fetch it at once.
I was, perhaps, used to being surprised by then.
I could see him rejoice as he dusted off the sand from the calendar while approaching back the rickshaw. The spark of his eyes had an eerie zeal. He adjusted the calendar on the rear end behind my seat.
“Forgive me, beta. My grandson is very fond of the Ram Leela. This might cheer him up.”
His lips curved into a warm smile as we moved ahead.
A theist had never been so complete.
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