It was a hot afternoon in Mumbai, the kind of hot that has sweat running in rivulets and annoyance in truckloads. The fact that the agent ( I am house hunting) had made me wait there for over 15 minutes didn’t help. I stood and watched blankly and from time to time looked up in the general direction I thought the agent would come from, since I was new to this area.
As I stood there being annoyed and also looking for more reasons to justify it, a little girl of about 8, dusky clear complexion, sun bleached hair parted neatly in the middle and tied into a pony, wearing a green skirt and matching top, crossed the street to my side and began picking random bits of paper. She was a rag picker. I watch her with this bag which must have been white once, more than half her size and certainly not empty, slung on her thin shoulders like Santa Claus and yet, she had a rhythm in her movements as she deftly “fished” a stray piece of paper and put it in her Santa Claus bag.
She passed me by and our eyes met, briefly.
I didn’t smile. I was just, well…indifferent. She didn’t smile either. She went a little ahead and suddenly stopped and looked back straight at me. We held the gaze for 3-4 seconds and then she initiated the smile, a dazzling radiant smile. It was like she was ascertaining if she could trust me and had decided she could all in 3 seconds.
Having now decided. she retraced her steps and walked up to me. I was beginning to be slightly curious and less irritable..
She came and stood a couple of feet away from me and asked, in that non presumptuous direct tone that only kids can, “what was I doing here” in Hindi.. I smiled an amused smile.
Again remembering, what was I doing here…
waiting for the agent I said.. pause
for the last 25 minutes (I emphasised – complaining tone and all) .
It crossed my mind that she may not know what agent implied – but I wasn’t in a mood for conversation – and wanted to stay irritable.
“Oh”, she replied. – paused and looked like she was thinking – I waited.
Then she went on to tell me that she didn’t have a house , they lived on a street nearby and that she earned money by picking rags.
I was a little taken aback – did she understand that implication of what waiting to meet an agent meant? That I was looking for a house and she told me her reality??
It was possible – she had that wise street intelligence– I was now fully engaged in this conversation.
She was not done.. she stood there ..Waiting for more conversation, creating a broad groove in the invisible sand on the pavement with her bare foot.
So, I asked her name , “Anandi” she said,
The foot stopped and the smile came again.. wider this time – she liked her name, I could tell.
She asked me mine – “Rhea” – I told her – She smiled and she mouthed my name and said that It was beautiful name – I smiled wide -I also like my name.
I told her I liked her name as well, and that one of my friends name was Anandi too.
She looked up, almost choosing to not register this – and asked – “do you know what my name means?
I was about to answer , but saw that she really wasn’t asking ..but waiting to tell me..
“No, I don’t know”.
And then, just as I had suspected – she launched into a very proud rendition of “Anandi” – one who is always happy – I was now genuinely in the conversation and watching Anandi talk and live the meaning of her name… I watched with rapt wonderment, how Anandi was creating her own reality of choosing happiness along with all the other facts of her life.. Ofcourse there were parts that were sad, and even those she wore proudly..like the white bag on her shoulders.
Everything else around me melted into silent oblivion.
… her grandma who lived in Hyderabad had named her she ended – slightly out of breath and beaming widely.
About 4 minutes of precious lessons on Anandi by Anandi.. my agent showed up.. and I was once again reminded of why really I was there.
She saw him – and I saw a glimmer of disappointment in her brown eyes – It passed quickly – she looked at me with a goodbye – I didn’t want to go. I offered her the strawberries I had in my bag, in a feeble attempt to stretch this encounter – she took them – smiled and said, “we will talk later” .
And she walked off, while I was still deciding whether to leave her or not. She looked back once again and waved – I waived back – and my new found friend, who, I will talk to later, when and how I have no clue– walked away leaving a piece of her ”happiness” with me.
It struck me, how little it took to connect and share – and how often conversations happened from behind a laptop or a phone screen – or while flipping TV channels – and what must it to do our hearts – not really connecting as people who have no other motive. The Joy and wonder of an honest interest in another human being and being fully present in that moment…and most importantly choosing happiness.
I was reminded of the lines by Khalil Gibran, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them” – Anandi had certainly exhibited this truth.
I looked up at the scorching sun and the dripping sweat , the cacophony of traffic and the agent who was just standing there – and smiled – he must be having his own story – and a very valid reason to be late.
After finding happiness – connection and compassion from “Anandi” – I went off on my search. This time I hoped to be on the right search.