On a typical Monday morning, Vishwa was silently cursing everyone and everything around him. Crammed in a rickshaw with three others, he could feel the sweat running down the small of his back. All around him he could see the miserable commotion that only Indians can cause when caught up in traffic.
He was running late for office and wondered for how long he would be stuck at the same spot before the rickshaw started moving again. As he looked on hopelessly at the people and vehicles around him, he saw some little boys in rags tout their wares.
A little boy carrying too many more bunches of roses than he could, ran up to the rickshaw and asked Vishwa if he would buy a bunch. Vishwa politely declined and sent the boy away. The last time he bought flowers for someone was a certain period and certain someone in his life he no longer wished to think about.
Today, something had triggered inside him and put him in a pensive mood. As he watched the boy walk away, Vishwa felt bad for him.
The more he looked at the little boy, the more Vishwa thought about his plight. The boy was very young and if the world had been a kind place, he would have been in school studying languages and math like most children his age. But he just wasn’t fortunate enough to be part of that world.
He belonged to a different sphere where the only language was hunger, where no matter what the math he would always be poor, where success was measured by two meals a day and the sole motto in life was seeking subsistence.
Couldn’t people just buy a bunch of roses for the sake of the boy? Did they not understand what difference fifty rupees could make to his life? Have people today become so selfish that they fail to think of the less fortunate? Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if people like Vishwa could do something for the likes of the little boy?
The sound of a car honking brought Vishwa back from his reverie. He saw that the signal had turned green and the rickshaw was now jolting forward in a frenzy. Less than a minute later, the rickshaw came to a halt as the signal turned red again, with the customary cursing and honking ensuing.
Just then, a loud cry from somewhere behind them caught Vishwa’s ear. He popped his head out to see that a crowd had gathered not far away.
“What happened??” he asked the driver of the rickshaw behind them.
“Accident..” came the callous reply as the driver got out and walked off to join the crowd.
His eyes transfixed on the back of the crowd, mixed emotions engulfed Vishwa as he sat there processing what he had just heard. A few minutes later, he watched as the rickshaw driver sauntered back to his vehicle and lit a cigarette as if nothing had happened.
“What is going on?” Vishwa demanded impatiently.
“Mar gaya harami..” the rickshaw driver replied as he puffed on his cigarette, his voice devoid of any emotion.
For some strange reason, the word harami brought back the image of the little boy to his mind. Overwhelmed, Vishwa stepped out of the rickshaw to give the driver a piece of his mind, when his phone rang.
“Where the hell are you, Vishwa?” Mr Grewal’s voice bellowed through the phone. “It is Monday morning and the delegates from Russia are in the office waiting for you. Do you not remember you have a presentation to make today?”
“I do, Sir. But..”
“I don’t want to hear it, Vishwa.” Mr Grewal cut him short. “Either you drag your ass here in five minutes or don’t bother coming at all ever again. Are we clear?”
Before Vishwa could answer, his manager slammed the phone down. The presentation was something he had been working on for over a month and messing it up meant he could get fired today.
For a moment, Vishwa stood there on the road under the blazing morning sun, too many thoughts clouding his mind. He took a step towards the crowd when he was startled by all the honking around him. The signal had turned green and people were scurrying back to their vehicles.
He stood there watching as the crowd dispersed. People hurried past him to their vehicles, calling out to one another that everything was okay and that the road had been cleared.
His rickshaw driver honked and asked Vishwa to get in. He wanted to cross the signal before it turned red again.
Vishwa’s mind was racing when he flopped back into the seat and they sped half-way across the city as if nothing had happened a few minutes ago.
What had just happened? The passerby’s comment lingered on his mind.
Everything was okay and the road had been cleared.
What had they meant by it? What about the person who had died? Had such things become so common that people now deemed it routine? What is the value of a human life then?
As Vishwa entered his office, he still did not have answers. He drank some water from the cooler and headed to the conference hall where Mr Grewal was waiting along with the Russian delegates.
He opened the door to the conference hall to find a beaming Mr Grewal, his hair newly dyed orange, addressing the delegates.
Vishwa sighed. It was going to be a long week.