Every day I go for a walk in the morning, in the valley where I live, part of the routine now. I have a cane, which I use not because I need it, but because of the dogs that inhabit my route. They have become friendly, however, the odd one still barks at me. I go around 10 a.m., which is when I finish my yoga and breakfast.
There’s a curious mix of people I meet on my walk. One is a neighbour, the wrecker of the hills where I live, the local rich man. He owns a stone crushing business and has denuded the hills around my house with his industriousness. Through the night and day he mines the granite in these hills and sells it to the railways. He owns half a dozen cars and says he is doing well. Whenever I pass his house, I hear the loud admonitions of his wife, a dowdy, querulous lady. His is a joint family, which means his sons and wives and grandchildren live with him.
Sometimes he waves me good morning. Sometimes he doesn’t. That may be because he is planning his next business move to take notice of me. Gujjus being quite admirably money minded they always think about business. He bought another plot of land and is building a huge bungalow there complete with lift and lots of glass. He is the uncouth kind of man, rough of character, who, though he owns several cars, wouldn’t spend money to have them washed.
Then there is Ramu, the ironing man whose job is to iron all clothes in the locality. He is a resident of the valley for a long time, having been born here. He didn’t study beyond fifth standard preferring to loaf around with friends. Now his father has gone to his village and he looks after his ironing business. He and the eunuch, sorry, transgender, about whom I wrote a story (Lalla: the Eunuch), live in adjacent shacks.
Then there is this distinguished gentleman from Kerala, who tells me stories about VK Krishna Menon and KPRS Menon, because he himself is a Menon. He worked in a corporation for a long time and is in his eighties. He has maintained his health very well though he has a back problem, which he is bearing with admirable fortitude. He reads a lot and we discuss some writers and their works.
Then there is this gentleman who is a Bengali. We greet each other, in strict cordiality. He has never asked me about my background, nor have I about his. From general appearance he looks like a government servant, a babu, the sort who pushes files in government offices. He speaks with great care, mincing each word, cautiously avoiding any unpleasantness. He also is quite well off and has a big car and lives in a big house near the gymnasium. We only say “how hot it is,” or “how cold it is,” to each other, after our morning greetings.
I rest myself after my walk on a garden seat near the gymnasium. There is a steady stream of people in cars and bikes who visit the gymnasium to work on their bodies. I look at them and marvel their rippling muscles. I wish I was like them. One lady, a nicely muscled one, comes with a packet of biscuits which she distributes to the dogs, who, not being hungry in the morning, grudgingly hover around her gift. The dogs brawl over the food, but don’t eat it, leaving the biscuits on the street. I guess they are learning to hoard food from us.
Then there are two Malayali friends who always walk together. One is known to me, therefore he greets me. They talk all the while about politics, Kerala politics. Now, to be honest, I don’t know much about Kerala politics except that Oommen Chandy is the chief minister and Sarita Nair is somebody involved in a scam.
The dogs bark at me even though they know me. I wave my stick at them, a sturdy Wildcraft climbing stick. They seem unfazed. It’s their privilege to bark, let them enjoy their entitlement. I am not bothered.