Monday, 15 December 2008

Bapu Zanzad*

Was my friend.
He was also - Very well loved and respected in his village. Noted for being amongst the friendliest and most honest men anyone had ever met - which, evidence my last posts, is really hard to balance, at least for me! He was a great tailor. There should have been a sign outside his shop: Will sew, darn, mend, alter, snip anything. Fast.

His shop was extremely humble. Empty except for a sewing machine, two plastic chairs and a long trestle table on which he cut his cloth and ironed the clothes with a huge steamy iron that should by rights require a weightlifter to operate. On the wall opposite his machine was a faded old picture of Mumbai - where he'd spent some time as a younger man.

He was in his late 40s.
He finished his work one day, walked home, and slept peacefully after his dinner. When he woke up at six, he went outside, and one minute he was there, the next he'd gone. I suppose that is something.
He left a wife and a son and his shop and many many friends.

We spent many hours talking when I was there for my fieldwork.
He said I was a guest in his village, and insisted on buying me a cold drink.
He asked me many questions about my life in England. The size of the houses, the state of farms, the habits of the people ("Is it true that they really don't wear any clothes?!") and about whether I was happy there. When I was there, did I miss home? Did I still think of India as my country? Are the streets really very wide? Is it true that there isn't a monsoon?! My goodness! No monsoon? What do they eat? ("Crap", I said to myself.) Do you still keep in mind everything that you learnt in this country? How come you speak Marathi? Which is more difficult - Marathi or English? If I learnt English, could I do anything? Why did the English make everything happen in their language? Isn't ours better?
And so on and so forth, through the hot summer afternoons, over a Pepsi and under a whirring ceiling fan.
When you come back, (not If. When. He knew, even if I didn't, that I'd be drawn back to this place) can you please bring me some pictures of where you live?

One day, when I was sitting at his shop, the village drunk swayed in, took a look at me and said something obscene - though of course, I was never told what exactly he'd said. Mr. Zanzad drove him out of the shop. Called the chai-wallah from the tea stall next door. The milkman from across the road. The gram sevak from outside the grocery store. And they hounded him back to his house.
The next day, he said "No one will ever bother you in this village. You can go where you like. And if you have any problems, see me. Or the Sarpanch."

When I returned for a day visit this week, there were huge posters ouside his store and just outside the village gates, announcing his sudden demise and full of good wishes for him and his family. Everyone I met mentioned what a great guy he was.

I suppose I could be accused of being too bleeding-hearted. At the slightest excuse. But somewhere, I feel... Ouch.
It feels trite to say 'loss'. But I am trying to measure what was lost. It also feels odd to say 'My friend'. But he felt like it. Even though it was just two weeks of chats across the space of a room but really across the biggest divides. I so wished to see him. His open smile, his laughing eyes, the enthusiastic wave. Someone to talk with, a friend in a faraway place who made me feel so welcome. I miss him.

*not his real name.

No comments: