A misty morning in the monsoon, and I stepped out of my apartment to begin my daily commute to work. Becky, the dog, rested peacefully at the stairs bidding me goodbye with her poignant eyes. She looked more tired than usual or was she ill; I didn’t know. I stroked her black hair, and rubbed her forehead before leaving. The murk of the fog that morning shielded the greenery around – holding a silence that can move you. Taz, the dog, emerged from the murk with Aunty Daisy. I stopped by him for our morning love session, and then continued to walk towards the spot where I board the cab to work daily.
The rain and I do not get along too well. Well, it’s not abhorrence – it’s just that we generally encounter each other in the wrong timing. So, in adherence with our history, it started pouring on the day I forgot to carry the umbrella. Getting wet unwantedly is not my cup of tea (clothes and shoes all spoilt before reaching work – I find no joy in it!). My only respite was the fact that this is Bangalore’s drizzle – where drizzle actually means a sprinkling shower unlike Bombay. (Bombay, my love, you are still special.) The cab wasn’t on time to make things worse. As I kept looking at my watch and wished that the cab arrived before it pours badly, I could feel the shelter of an umbrella over my head. A voice called from behind – “Didi, umbrella?” I turned sideways to see who the protector was. I saw eyes laden generously with kohl that sparkled with the raindrops on her face and a smile so full of life that can brighten a misty morning! She kept smiling while I tried to reassess my memory. I thought of Mumbai a while ago, and the past came alive – was this true? Was I actually seeing Nauheed? Yes, she was there in front of me asking if the umbrella was protecting me well.
I had met Nauheed in a local train in Mumbai. We commuted together to Andheri every weekday in the 7:10 local – while she travelled back from Andheri to New Bombay after the local reached its destination, I trotted off to sweat in an air-conditioned office. Nauheed used to sell costume jewelry in the local train. Vendors have a thriving business in the lifeline of Bombay that runs incessantly. The ladies’ compartments are their most remunerative targets for business. Nauheed also resorted to this lucrative zone of the Bombay locals. On the first meeting I had asked her, “Who buys these so early in the morning?” She had replied, “You will see in some time, Didi.” As the train jolted at a station, a gang of college girls entered the compartment, and Nauheed’s baskets were seized. “Limited edition, Didi”, she had chuckled with a twinkle in her kohl loaded eyes. I had scanned her basket, and replied, “Limited indeed. I don’t get these in Colaba too. Where do you hunt for them?”
Nauheed had been prompt in replying, “That’s my secret Didi. First rule in the business is to maintain confidentiality of source.” We both had exchanged wide grins, and from then our daily exchange of stories had begun. The stories ranged from far and wide – from her village to my native city, from growing up to surviving, from sustaining to dying – every day a new face of life. She used to speak with such innocence, with an eagerness to narrate.