Ajjabhai, as the 90yrs old wraithlike Mhd. Iqbal was called by the folk of the market, was on the last leg of his life. He looked like a walking relic, with skin wrinkled like that of crushed paper with the passage of time with the hardships of loss and a hardy bamboo cane, as bent as he was, as he made his way towards the center clock tower.
He cleared his throat with great difficulty and spat against the betel-nut stained wall, as the merchants kept an eye out for him, so as to assist him in case he needed it. Ajjabhai chuckled softly to himself, of how ironic it was that the same people whose fathers were opposed to his ways of truthful living, were now the ones who came to him for counsel on trade deals and tactics to have more sale.
As he sat on a shop’s bench facing the now defunct clock tower, the owner offered his salaam and along with it a cup of mildly spiced chai, which was accepted with a feeble nod. The market was bustling with the Sunday crowd as usual, colorful, loud, vibrant and teeming with life. Ajjabhai’s eyes clouded over with the nostalgia of his rather bittersweet childhood.
Ammi’s presence had been so fleeting but sweet, she had instilled in him the courage to push forward for justice and to be kind and just at the same time. Her sudden departure owing to a misdiagnosed infection, when Iqbal had been 15yrs had been a tragedy that had made the family reel from its aftershock. Abba, the ever-absent father, broken by the loss of his beloved, turned cold and harsh, unable to show any sign of happiness in life, not knowing how to deal with his son.
Abba became despotic in the way he treated Iqbal, canning him if the tea was not hot enough to even denying him food if he was not able to sell enough vegetables to earn 100rs per day. Iqbal bore this as a trail, which never seemed to end. 5 years passed this way and on the fateful day of his 20th birthday, his Abba died of a massive cardiac arrest as he rushed towards him with the cane as Iqbal had asked for some money to buy new clothes. From then on, Iqbal became a self-reliant and hardworking young man, always on the lookout to help anyone in need, going as far as to denying himself comfort if there were folks he knew who were starving. Suddenly, the stream of memories broke as someone loudly said ‘Ajjabhai! Salam! Come and grace my shop by tasting our new beeda?’ Ajjabhai rose to his feet but sat down again as his aching knees gave way. He waved the Cheshire smiling shopkeeper away as he stared into the distance again. Some things would never change he sighed, as he closed his eyes. He never realized that this would be the last time he did so.
Image courtesy: From Katka Kozakova’s collection Portraits of men