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The Watchman – PART 1

The Watchman – PART 1

The Watchman

Sometimes in our life we come across a person who becomes a source of inspiration or interest to us, and who unknowingly helps us in shaping our destiny. The first part of this intriguing series is all about how the young filmmaker-writer Adhiraj Kashyap, met a watchman during his college days in Delhi and what unfolds next…

PART 1

During my graduation days in Delhi, there used to be a watchman in our colony. I, along with my friend Abinash, rented an apartment of two rooms in a locale called State Bank Colony. There was neither any State Bank in that area, nor did any of the people residing in the colony worked in a State Bank. It was just somehow called the “State Bank Colony” for reasons still unknown to me.

Both Abinash and I were in the same college and it took around 15 minutes on foot from our college to reach our apartment. There were two blocks in the colony- A block and B block. Two respective gates were assigned to each of the blocks. There were houses on both sides of the alleys and there was one interlinking street between the two blocks. Basically the colony was of the shape of an “H” with A block on one side and B on the other. There were other smaller lanes that people could walk in; but four wheelers couldn’t pass through them. The delinquent teenagers of the neighbourhood used to pass their two wheelers through those narrow passages even after often being lambasted by the elders several times. There was also a park right in the center of the colony, between the two blocks. That was the usual place for the evening gatherings for people of various age groups. Kids would be busy playing games- from football to kabaddi to tag. Some teenagers and a few elderly people would jog regularly, as if it was some sort of an evening ritual. The elders walked together in groups, whereas the teenagers would mostly be alone with their earphones on. And some other grownups would be scattered around various corners of the park, engrossed in their daily doses of gossip. Our apartment was almost at the end of the street- House No. 73, A Block. We stayed in the ground floor of the two storey building. The family of the owner lived on the first floor and a newly wedded couple stayed on the second.

The watchman of our colony must have been in his late fifties. At least, he looked that age even if he wasn’t. He was thin and short. He reached till my shoulders when he stood next to me. So he must have been just about an inch or two taller than 5 feet. His hair was entirely grey, with one or two darker ones popping out as lone survivors in places. He had mild facial hair, which he kept shaving time to time. He would look even older whenever his beard grew thicker. He had a small cut under his right eyebrow and that often made it look as if he was always raising his eyebrow each time he talked. His twelve hour shift would start from 6 in the evening and he would arrive neatly dressed in his uniform, without fail, sharply at 6 every day.

I can’t recall seeing him without his uniform ever- a light blue shirt with dark grey pants- as if it was an extension of his own skin. He would wear a sweater on top of it and tie a muffler around his head during the frosty Delhi winters. He would always carry a stick with him. When I first saw him holding the stick, I took it to be a walking stick which he needed for support. But it was much later that I realized that every watchman in those housing colonies in Delhi had a stick. It was, in a way, an innate part of their personality. The watchman in the B-block of our colony also had one. It was presumably to scare away thieves- or perhaps to shoo away the stray dogs that were also integral parts of the colony. But it almost felt like that the foremost objective of the stick was to make a repetitive sound at nights.

The watchman would keep loitering around the colony at night, hitting the ground with the stick making a rhythmic sound- takk takk takk- as if a musician was working on the symphony of his lifetime. It was like a lullaby that the people of the colony needed to sleep comfortably at night. Around 3 o’ clock every night, when unmitigated silence prevailed; we could hear the lullaby of the watchman from the other block also. The watchmen probably forgot how to walk without their respective sticks. Each night, our watchman would make three or four rounds around the colony at regular intervals of about two hours- first one would be around midnight- then around 2 or 2.30- then another one around 4- and the final one just before he left each morning.

He hailed from Bihar and had been in Delhi for nearly thirty years. By the time we started staying there, he had already served as a watchman in that colony for more than ten tears. I have always been a night crawler and being in Delhi escalated that by thousand folds. Abinash and I mostly stayed up late at night, even during working days. So on most of the nights, when others in the colony used to sleep, we would step out. We would loaf around, spending a little bit of time with the dogs. That was how our interaction with the watchman had started. At night, we always saw him sitting at the extreme end of the street under a lamppost. There was a permanent chair he always sat on and whenever he would leave in the morning, he used to place it in the corner of the street beside an abandoned Vespa scooter. Whenever he would not be walking; he would be sitting comfortably on his chair. As far back as my memory can trace, I don’t remember seeing him other than either walking with the stick, or sitting on that chair. Those were the two fixed binary states he existed in.

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During the inceptive days after we moved in, he would just greet us with a Salaam, simply raising his right hand- or at times, he would just add a few words to complement that Salaam- “Salaam Babu”. He addressed us as ‘Babu’; but the speed at which he spoke ended up omitting the ‘B’, making ‘Babu’ sound more like ‘Baau’. In fact, he called everyone in the colony ‘Babu’- or rather, ‘Baau’- and greeted everyone with a Salaam. The female counterpart for the ‘Babu’ was ‘Memsaab’, which he used for addressing the women of the colony.

It was during our very first winter in Delhi when we started mingling more intimately with him. He always lit a fire to avoid the glacial temperatures at night. He brought logs from some nearby place and flamed those every night. He would be sitting utterly still on his chair near the fire, wrapping a shawl all around his body, leaving aside his face as the only visible part. Sometimes even the face would be imperceptible in the stark darkness. We would just see his smoke-like breath coming out of the mouth. He would only move when he needed to put more wood into the fire. We mostly avoided going out during those numbingly freezing prolonged chats with him. He bore the persona of a man of few words. Normally, we would be the ones asking him about various things trying to ignite conversations and he would gently give cursory replies. He asked us about our studies at most, though very rarely. The dogs also joined him during those fire-lit nights. Initially, they were slightly scared of us and would move away whenever Abinash and I went near them. But with time, they started getting much friendlier and often kept the three of us company near the fire.

To be continued

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