As the scooter dangerously swerved towards my rickshaw, I closed my eyes and gripped the hand- rail ever so tightly. After five seconds and feeling no impact, I peered at the lane in front again. Realising I was safe until the next maniac decided to ram into us, I bravely used my free hand to pry out my phone from my pocket. The digital clock on the screen showed that there were five minutes to go for my appointment. I looked at the labyrinth of traffic, interspersed with pedestrians and stray animals, crammed into that tiny by-lane of the Walled City again. The view unceremoniously informed me that I was going to be late.
I looked upwards at the sky and thanked God for the pleasant weather. Then wondered at the incessant romanticisation of Old Delhi, especially, but not exclusively by Bolly-wood. The food is good, granted. But inadequate compensation for the congestion, the noise and occasionally, the foul stench one has to endure to get in sniffing distance of the same. Recent newspaper coverage again, is hardly a winning advertisement for its famous secularism. Then why do writers and lyricists wax eloquent about the magic of the place? Why do sons of the soil (ranging from film stars to political leaders) yearn for a visit to what they still call home, and tourists tout it as a must-see, even as they have to brave the heat and the heckling at every step? At that moment, I failed to understand the charm.
I was ruminating thus, when it seemed like the source of this particular jam had been resolved, and the rickshaw stirred out of its stupor to start inching forward again. The two children in the rickshaw in front of mine cheered. Then one of them pointed at something on the other end of the road. Their mother, seated next to them, also leaned forward. I faithfully followed the child’s finger to see what he had seen. It looked like an old brown bag lying unclaimed next to a sleeping dog. On second glance however, I realised that what I thought was a bag, were the crumbled robes on the body of an emaciated old beggar. His face wasn’t visible- he had his head on his knees, and his curly grey hair were covered in a skull-cap of the same colour as his clothes. A begging bowl at his side, gave him up.
It seemed that the woman had seen the beggar before, for she quickly fished out a twenty-rupee note from her purse. I inwardly sighed, preparing myself for another delay while she got off and made her way through the melee to give out the alms. Instead, she let the rickshaw continue in its stride, while passing on the note to a man on a scooter next to her rickshaw. He accepted it but stared back at her in incomprehension. She indicated the old man. He nodded, and further passed on the money to another rickshaw-wallah, one going in the opposite direction. The rickshaw-wallah swiftly leaned over and passed on the note to the beggar. All of this happened in under a minute. The woman in the rickshaw had gone on ahead, without a backward glance. The beggar lifted his head and looked around to spot his benefactor as the rickshawallah pointed in the general direction. He saw me in stead, then smiled revealing a set of crooked, yellowing teeth. I smiled back. And understood.