Dilemma of Emotion

I noticed them almost 4 years back in what was then the town’s most popular bakery. For us students, it was a routine break from the day’s tedium to go there and gorge on good food. Prices were on the rise everywhere, but our young, carefree minds tended to take a lot of things for granted. A fleeting moment of dilemma on a stranger’s face gave a brief pause to life.

I stood at the payment counter, tapping my fingers impatiently. I wanted the goddamn payment receipt. A sudden gust of warm air rushed into the cool interiors as someone opened the main door to enter the bakery. I threw a casual glance over my shoulder and saw a boy of not more than 4 or 5 walk in, holding tightly onto his grandfather’s hand. The boy was wide-eyed and it was obvious that the array of chocolates, pastries, burgers and cookies had transported him to fantasy-land. I couldn’t help but be amused. Next, my eyes travelled to the old man. Wearing the traditional white cap over his head and with a  flowing white beard, the qazi’s face had a remarkedly different expression- apprehension? Worry? Doubt? He looked around, taking in the surroundings. It was evident that shops like the one we were in had not been a mainstay in his life. It was evident that he felt devoid of armour in those swanky interiors. It was evident that even the casual stares made him uncomfortable. It was evident that he would go through the same discomfiture a hundred times again for that look of wonder on his grandson’s face.

I had long been handed my payment-slip, and I was now standing at the other counter, awaiting my order. I couldn’t take my eyes off the pair. I don’t know why. I often wonder whether I was reminded of my own grandfather.

The old man gently extricated his hand from the young child’s grip and took some money out of his kurta pocket. It was then I observed the frayed collar, the sleeves that were thin enough to let threads show, the chappals which were worn thin from years of use. Money in hand, he took the child’s hand again and shuffled over to the place where an assortment of pastries was displayed. The counter-guy rattled off- vanilla, butterscotch, chocolate, blackberry, strawberry, etc. etc. I found his indifference a lot more comforting than the disdain I had been expecting. The grandfather looked down at the lad and asked him what he wanted. At being asked, his smile lit up the entire room! He looked happily at his grandfather, then at the display and pointed at a simple pineapple pastry. Definitely one of the not-so-expensive ones. The old man looked at where the boy had pointed, and also read the price-tag displayed there. The next few moments are forever etched in my mind. A look of pain crossed his wizened face. His hand closed over the money. His eyes moved to the boy next to him whose nose was firmly pressed into the glass of the display case and who was still mesmerized. The pain was overtaken by a resolute set of the mouth. He got the payment slip. Collected the pastry and the plastic spoon. Then that old back which had been bent low under the burdens of life bent down again, but this time to break a piece off the white pastry, and put it into an eager mouth of a very young child, for whom this was one of the highlights of life. The old man didn’t eat even a crumb. He gave it all to his grandson, content and happy. They left.

Suddenly my carefree spending felt like a burden I no longer wanted to carry.

In that moment, the old man and the child were a lot more richer than most of us.

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One Response to “Dilemma of Emotion”

  1. Poignant 🙂

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