I do not know for sure if he was completely blind or partially; or how old he really was. He was a short man, barely 5 ft tall and thin. Yet, except for his eye-sight, he looked fit enough for his age. I work in night shifts and as I would return home every morning, I always found him taking a walk in our street. That walk was what first indicated to me that he was partially or completely blind. He would walk in a very careful manner, staying close to the walls of houses on both sides of the street. His one hand would always be stretched out in front of him, in the air making sure that he didn’t bump into anything. His other hand would stay on the wall in a manner that seemed like he was holding it. Using the wall as a guide, he would walk to the far end of the street, turn around and then start walking back.
He was surprisingly an early riser too. Most of the old folks that I know, including the ones in my family, do get up early but not as early as he would. I usually get back home between 4 to 4.30 AM and he was always there, taking a walk. As I would enter the street on my motorcycle, he would hear the sound, stop walking and get close to the wall ensuring that I had enough space to pass by without hitting him. There was anyways no chance of my motorcycle even touching him because the street was quite wide enough but I guess it was the fear of getting hit by something that made him crawl into a corner every time I would pass by.
I passed that man every day for more than five years. I saw him every day but only in the mornings. I couldn’t even figure out which house he was living in because I never saw him during the day. I never spoke to him, never had a conversation. I would just enter the street, he would make space for me to pass by, I would get to my house, stop my motorcycle, get in and that was it. During my first few weeks of moving into that area, our brief encounters were only limited to noticing each other every morning but then after a while he started to acknowledge me. I noticed that during his walk, he would keep enchanting “Jai Shri Ram” in a very low voice. After a few weeks, as I would pass him, he would raise his voice suddenly and say out “Jai Shri Ram” loud once which I figured out was to greet me. I would return the greeting by repeating the same “Jai Shri Ram” back at him and would go into my house.
This routine continued for years. I didn’t know who he was or which house he lived in, majorly because I sleep during most of my day time. I get up in the evening to go to work but never ran into him at that time. During those years, my days always started with a “Jai Shri Ram” to the old man and the same thing happened on that particular day. I came back from work and found him walking in the street. He noticed that I was getting close so he stopped and stepped closer to the wall. As I passed, he called out “Jai Shri Ram” to me and I returned the greeting. I stepped into my house, fixed something to eat and went off to the gym. I returned after working out for an hour and while on my way back home, stopped at the shop in the street to get some milk.
“Are you just opening up or closing?” I asked the shopkeeper as he handed me a carton of milk because he was moving stuff back into his shop.
“Closing” He replied.
“Why, everything OK?”
“Going to attend the funeral” He said.
“I am sorry” I said immediately in a consoling manner, “Someone in the family?”
“You didn’t know?” He stopped moving stuff around for a minute and focused his attention on me, “There has been a death in the locality”
“There was an old man living in that yellow house” He pointed towards a house at far corner of the street, “You must have noticed him. Blind guy, used to take a walk in the morning”
For a moment I didn’t know what to say because I had just seen the man an hour ago.
“When?” Is all I could ask.
“Yesterday afternoon. They are taking his body to the cremation ground now”
I just stood there not knowing what to think or believe. His “Jai Shri Ram” that I just heard an hour ago started to ring in my ears again. I never saw the blind man again.