The woman with the bag
Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore
I was walking from Shivaji Nagar bus stand to my office in Indian Express building. It was a routine 5-minute walk usually made interesting only by some beautiful faces, smiles and glances that one might come across near the two bus stops. But the week before last, my attention was caught by an old woman with a bag who led me to introspection.
I saw her first on Monday morning in front of the building with the board Dutian Furniture. The door of the shop was closed and no one else was around. She stood with one leg on the first step in the staircase and the other on the cemented ground, the former supporting an old bag. She was searching for something in the bag and seemed quite occupied with this activity. Her sari looked old and no longer colourful, and I concluded that she should be one of those unfortunate poor women who needs to beg or pick up rags in order to survive and feel life.
I did not see her in the evening, and the incident would not have remained in mind, if I'd not seen her again. On Tuesday morning, as I walked past the shop, lost in some thought, something struck me. I took a couple of steps backward, and saw that she was there. I then understood what had struck me. She was in the same sari, and almost exactly in the same position (the right leg on the stair and the left on the ground), the bag resting on the right leg and being searched intensely for something which just did not seem to have any intentions of allowing itself to be discovered. I looked at my watch. It was almost the same time - maybe 5 minutes or so later - when I'd passed this place the day before.
On Wednesday, I expected to find her the same there at the same time and it turned out to be correct. The bag really did not seem to have what she was searching for, and quite probably had nothing significant in it I stood for some tiem and watched, but she did not notice for her preoccupation with the bag continued. I concluded that she is probably more unfortunate than I thought her to be. Has she lost her mind? Has her will become too different from the rest of the society? I felt sorry , though i suspected that she might be quite happy this way than otherwise. I even started to attach some philosophical angles to her act of searching the bag (some typical ones like does it symbolize man's search for absolute truth and happiness in an empty life?), likening her to the great Naranathu branthan(http://www.naranathubranthan.com/) but then withdrew from it suspecting its cruelty.
On Thursday morning, I had little doubt that I would again find her, but did not. Well,were my conclusion was premature? She might have been just arranging the items in her bag after her ealry morning's work of picking them up. But why almost exactly at the same time, in the same position, and with same concentration on all days? As I looked at my watch to confirm the time, I suddenly felt the urge to ask myself '"what about you?". The answer was simple but striking. On all four days around this time, and many days before that, I was walking by the same road after getting down from the same bus, going past and looking at the Dutian Furniture shop stairs, with the same bag on my back, and probably very similar thoughts. "Well, just routines of life" I sighed, and absolved the old woman of all my earlier conclusions.
And then I realized, that on the fourth day of the week, she had successfully found some way to break her routine. Where might she be? At some other place, searching the same bag? No, I should not be so pessimistic. I pictured her, standing near her shelter picking up jilebis from the bag for her grandchildren and showing the day's collection to her daughter. I pictured her in the queue for the latest movie in some theatre in Majestic picking her from the bag her earnings to buy the ticket. I pictured her, throwing away the bag into the Ulsoor lake, after she got a new one, and continuing to collect new things to fill the new bag, fresh and excited. I fetl happy for the her in my pictures, and felt s surge of inspiration.
On Friday morning, I reached office via a different route. I'd left my bag and mobile at home for a symbolic beginning . I spent time in the bus chatting with the stranger next to me, instead of reading the novel of my routine. These were some initial steps towards making a refreshingly different day at office. And so it turned out to be!