I see them every afternoon while I wait outside the gate for the girls. They sit under a tree, just a few feet away from two large garbage drums. The drums were not there when they had first come in, they were placed there much later. By then, I suppose, it was too late for them to move away — the business had been set, their customers fixed.
I also go to them sometimes as a customer, but mostly I look at them from a distance, then there are times when I walk past them and our eyes meet. The man nods his head and politely says Namaste to me in his eastern UP drawl, a language I very well recognise and like; his wife, a dainty young woman with neatly tied hair, a big red bindi on her forehead, and her parting filled with vermilion meanwhile just smiles shyly at me, perhaps unsure if she should acknowledge me at all. Their toddler son plays on the mat next to the sewing machine on which the man works, again only a few feet away from the garbage bins, oblivious to the heat, humidity, stink, flies, and passer-bys like me. I have always noticed him happy.
Some days, when I walk by them in the afternoon, I see them sharing their humble lunch on the mat. I have never looked at what it is, for I do not want to embarrass them or invade their privacy, but I can very well imagine what it would be: a few thick rotis, some dry sabji, and a bottle of water borrowed from the tap of one of the society gates. The same society where the guards allow them to use the wash rooms. The water that we filter five times before consuming.
Today, as I was walking past them again, I noticed the man and his wife sitting together on the mat, with the boy between them. They seemed to be looking at the road just a few feet away — at the cars that they will never get to sit in, at the bikes they will never get to drive. But I did not find even an iota of stress, distress, sadness, or bitterness on their face. They were chatting casually between taking sips of tea from flimsy plastic cups, and looked happy and content with life.
Looking at them, life seemed perfect. In that moment I actually envied them, their peace, happiness and contentment. It also occured to me how we need so little to be happy. But somehow, the more we have, the more we want, the cycle never completes — and yet we call ourselves educated and wise.
Maybe someday we should change places with our helpers — our maid, or dhobi, or driver, or tailor, or the man who sells vegetables, the woman who comes to collect the garbage. May be then we will actually understand what life really means. Maybe then we will value what we have.