Edge of Humanity

Legs splayed out carefree in a care-wearied world, he was beautiful seated on the dusty pavement between a highway and the Kangla outer moat one late afternoon in mid-January. He became conscious of me when I had taken a few shots of him—he shifted uncomfortably where he sat and took up a balled-up towel behind him, unrolled and unfurled it before him with both hands. I felt guilty to have invaded him. That boldly, too.

I approached him and asked in Hindi if I could photograph him. Suddenly a calm smile spread across hitherto blank face and his lips flickered wordlessly with excitement. That was beautiful. I interpreted that as a gesture of willingness. I took a couple of portraits. When he sensed I had done with the last shot, his gesture of willingness changed to one of curiosity, the desire to see the photographs taken. I immediately connected it with his initial discomfort with my photographing him. I wondered if he was mad at all.

He took a few diffident and tentative steps toward me when he read the willingness in my face. I also approached him and showed the pictures. His smile broadened. The portraits were good.

“Where are you from?” I asked him.

“Assam,” said he.

I could not but wonder if he was mad at all.

“Buy something and eat. You must be tired.” I said as I took a ten rupees note out from my wallet and gave it to him.

Cities press their poor out into the streets, under the bridges and into the gutters. Once homeless, your sense comes across as nothing different than insanity and you fall on the edge of humanity with little or no chance of getting back to where you really belong. Once out in the street, you are a nameless part of the city most pathetic landscapes–dust, pieces of paper and other litters, scavenging birds and animals.

I walked on, looking back at the man every now and then, and he looked stiff as if he was trying to resist the temptation to look toward me. When I took the turn I saw him bending to sit where he had been.

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