It was a normal tap on the window at that traffic spot. Kids used to beg there all the time, some just begging, some others selling whatever the latest fad china was dumping on us, be it the car mop with water spray or the doraemon colouring book (bhaiyya 10 ki ek main aapko 20 mein 4 de doonga) or the mobile stand or red orange brush and cloth which was an evergreen seller with these people. Somehow they always came to me, there was something on my face which attracted beggars of all shapes and sizes even behind the glass door of the car. The sheer number of times I had encountered one at a strange place where they shouldn’t be – say inside a movie theater or on an airport or just driving full speed on the road with another beggar matching my speed on his bike, frantically waving at me to slow down and then begging (bhaiyya petrol khatam ho raha hai ghar jaane ke 20 rupai de do) – made me believe I had a particularly kind face or a vulnerability to being swindled that I radiated.
I was wrong.
This one beggar was the kind i particularly detested. He looked strong, he wasn’t old, he had no drugged kids or breastfeeding women tagging along with him, his eyes and hands and feet all seemed intact. He had a beard and a green sash wrapped around his neck, with golden frills and a bowl with a shivling in his hand, and was standing right at the center of the junction when the signal went red, and my car slowed to a standstill right before the zebra crossing, and our eyes met.
In hindsight, that was where it all began.
But I couldn’t have known it then, what that eye contact would mean. It was one of those encounters we generally do not even remember, but there’s no way I could forget this one now.
The beggar, or whoever he really was, walked straight to my car, with a sort of chutzpah, like a wild animal sensing an easy prey. I could see him approaching from the corner of my eye, but I knew better now – that first mistake wasn’t about to be repeated, I picked up my cellphone and started checking Facebook, pretending to be utterly oblivious of the approaching man. Why couldn’t they find some decent honorable work, surely there was enough work to be found if one really wanted to find some.
It was a normal tap on his car window.
But it grew insistent. Louder. And rhythmatic. Thak. Thak. Thak. Then a pause. Then again. Thak. Thak. Thak. And again.
I waved him off with my right hand, still looking in the cellphone, while pretending to not be aware of his presence. There’s nothing more pathetic and saddening in this country than a grown man begging. #beggars #unemployment. Did it exceed 140 characters? No. That should get me a couple of retweets and mentions atleast.
Thak thak thak.
Awww fuck off.
Finally the signal turned green and I put the annoying green man out of my head. I was laughing at the text message I had just received, blushing and a bit turned on, there was no place for beggars in my life at that moment.
That night I dreamed of him. The same annoying man with the green sash. Only now he wasn’t on the traffic junction, he had followed me to my clinic and was knocking the operatory door. Thak thak thak. But when our eyes met, he seemed eerily familiar like an old patient.
Say, what’s the problem that brought you here? Kya takleef ho rahi hai? I said while motioning him to sit on the opposite side of my table. I was almost sure he understood english.
Paise do thode. Jyaada nahi chahiye. Thode se de do.
He just wouldn’t get up. Just wouldnt. Kept looking at me with an insistent unapologetic gaze.
Was he a fucking extortionist or a beggar?
I woke up annoyed. For someone who rarely dreams and remembers his dreams even more infrequently, to wake up dreaming about a beggar? Try as I might, I couldn’t sleep. I turned around, spooned my sleeping wife and closed my eyes but sleep eluded me, as if my body was full of red bull and caffeine, tired but wide awake. I slowly traced my hands underneath her top and her unstrapped bra and started caressing her tits. She blew a kiss in her sleep, and slowly pushed my hands down.
Sleep is a slave of sex. I slept like a baby.
Next day was uneventful except at breakfast.
Why did you wake me up? You know that sex puts you to sleep but once I am awake it takes me half an hour to fall back to sleep again.
I know. But I woke up due to a dream for the first time ever. Funny it was.
What was it? Sunny leone giving you head?
No. A beggar.
WHAT? A BEGGAR GIVING YOU HEAD?
No ya. A beggar I saw on the road. One of those shivji types, only with a green shawl instead of orange. And then I told her the whole story.
Oh that’s the sufi type not the shivji types.
The day passed and the night passed without a dream.
Next day again at breakfast, he popped up in our conversation.
You know. The strangest thing happened. The beggar came in my dream yesterday. Only it wasn’t in the clinic, it was here, in our home. In daytime. He kept on insisting. Paise de do paise de do.
Strange na? Hahaha I infected your thought. Did he look creepy?
Very. Brown eyes. Braided hair. I kept on calling the watchman but there was no one downstairs.
My beggar didn’t have braided hair. Such a powerful tool, imagination is though, isn’t it?
Creepy it was.
Why didn’t you wake me up?
For what? For sex? Kitne tharki ho tum. Roz??? Itna koi nahi karta. Tharki.
She giggled. I laughed. And left for my clinic. I had barely reached the traffic signal before the previous one when I saw him again. Same green cloth. But his hair – it was braided. And his eyes which I hadn’t noticed the first time, were brown, the color of a mud flowerpot, the color of his skin.
I won’t deny I felt a shudder rush through my body. By instinct I locked my car as he approached it.
Paise de do. Thode de do. Jyaada nahi chahiye. Thode de do.
Thak. Thak. Thak.
The signal turned green and I left as quickly as I could. I looked in the rear view mirror and in hindsight that was my second mistake.
At that moment, both him and me knew he had me. He gestured the sleeping gesture to me – both hands folded, resting below his bent neck on his cheeks. And waved.
I couldn’t stop looking. I was sweating. Profusely. My heart was thumping.
The night was my enemy now. I called up a friend. Went for a movie. Came back as late as possible, dead tired. Switched on Netflix and started some random episode of Modern Family. And dozed off.
In the middle of the night, or rather around dawn. I could feel tiny hands tightly hugging me and calling me papa. Papa. Story.
What happened beta.
Papa ganda sapna. Koi gande uncle aaye the sapne mein choti vaale.
If I could have screamed, I would have. There had to be a rational explanation for this. There had to.
Beta ek baar krishna bhagwan na lake par gaye the.
She felt asleep in a second. I was afraid to close my eyes.
Atheist or spiritual, hindu or buddhist, I have never known a person who doesn’t resort to prayer when something unexplainable happens to him. Someone once said that people don’t pray to aaj anything from God, they pray to change themselves.
Shri Krishna Sharanam mamah. Shri Krishna sharnam mamah.
The shloka my grandmother had taught me as a child suddenly popped up in my head.
Shri Krishna Sharanam mamah.
It put me to sleep, but I was determined to seek out the beggar tomorrow and give him some money.
Early next morning, I dressed up, found 20 coins of different dimensions and left for the traffic junction on way to my clinic.
He wasn’t there. I went round and round, one junction after another, with an urgency I never felt before.
Finally, on my fourth detour, I found him.
Or rather he found me. He smiled.
Thak thak thak. He knocked.
I rolled down the car window and thrust some coins in his head.
Abhi nahi chahiye. Raat ko loonga.
And he laughed. He just wouldn’t stop laughing.
I felt myself pleading. Irrationally. Me. A doctor.
Biwi nahi. Bache nahi.
Theek hai. Ja.
I knew he would be waiting for me at night in my dream. I sped away, somehow got through the day and went to sleep early, determined to get to the bottom of this tonight.
He was waiting. We were in our house again. I searched all my pockets but there was no money to be found. I was sure I had some. I frantically ruffled all pockets and finally found a 100 rupee note.
Ye lo. Aur ab jaao. Bahot ho gaya.
Ye nahi chalega. Maang ke do.
Bheekh maang ke do. Subah.
Jaa bhad mein saale. Bhen ke laude. Nikal. Bhenchod saala. Kya kar lega saale.
Everytime I closed my eyes, he was there. Everytime I opened them, I was back in the safety of my room. The house, the room, everything remained the same. Only. He.
I didn’t sleep the entire night.
And another. And another.
Paise de do. Thode de do.
I was ready to cry. Beg. Please. Please.
But he wouldn’t budge.
He wouldn’t go.
The third day, finally, determined to sleep through the entire dream, come what may, I would ignore him. He just walked away in my dream, I kept on following. He didn’t look back.
Slowly I could sense others walking along with me. One, two, then an entire family – well dressed. Then a woman in lingerie. A child clinging to his mother. Some looked human, some looked unsure like me, but most looked haggard as if they hadn’t slept in months and their souls were slowly seeping out of their bodies.
All walking together to some unknown destination.
I suddenly felt like a sheep. No words would come to my head, thought and language and emotion seem to have deserted me. It felt as if I was in a bad episode of Walking Dead. But somehow I was sure, all these people existed in real life. All these people had refused alms the first time he asked. And in return, he had taken their sleep.
We were all begging for sleep from a beggar.
And he was begging for money.
It was morning.
I knew what to do.
I dressed for the clinic, got in my car, drove it to the farthest corner of the city, making a couple of stops in between. I found a traffic junction which was unknown and crowded. I took off my shirt and my trousers, put on a pajama and wrapped a green cloth around my neck, my torso bare.
I parked the car in a far away corner, grabbed a katori and a small shivling. Locked it.
And walked. To beg.
Waiting for my first eye contact. My first victim.
Paise de do. Thode de do. Paise de do.