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End of the road

While doing my training runs in the small lanes of Koramangala, Bangalore, I almost always ran into Mr. Nair taking his morning walk. Rather, Captain Nair, which is how he introduced himself to me. Nair was a sprightly 80-year-old gentleman. Almost bald, with a very slight build and shorter than most men. The most noticeable part of him, though, was his broad smile, which, for a first-timer on these roads, would look permanent. But when you came closer, you could see that he was busy saying “Good Morning” to anyone he saw during his morning walk. He would lift up his hand a little above his head in his own unique wave, all five fingers apart, while he greeted everyone. That included children going to school, runners, security guards of the houses lining the street and even the obnoxious bunch of walkers who insisted on going abreast, talking politics loudly.

I knew he must be older than 80 because of the way he walked. His legs were bowed, he took very small steps and there was a noticeable bend in his spine. Of course, I didn’t ask him about his age when we introduced ourselves one day. I had just finished my run and I was gulping down water when he approached me.

“I am Captain Nair.” He smiled. I introduced myself too. “Finished your jogging,” he asked. I was offended that he called it “jogging”, because we runners are a proud lot. But I didn’t say anything. Respect for elders has been ingrained into me by my upbringing. After exchanging pleasantries, we asked each other where we lived. We found we were just walking distance apart. He then invited me to his house for tea. I promised I would, but not today. He said he lived alone and told me his address, which I promptly forgot.

But during every morning run after that, whenever he waved “Good Morning”, I had an impulse to stop and ask for his address and when I could visit him. I wanted to know how he lived all by himself, how he stayed so cheerful and so many other things. He seemed like an interesting gentleman that I would love to get to know. But runners don’t like to break their rhythm; so I kept putting it off. One morning, I made the resolve to talk to him before I started my run. Maybe go to his house for tea. But that morning, I didn’t see him. I thought it would have been one of his off days. But two weeks passed and there was no sign of him. One morning, I spotted someone with whom he used to walk with occasionally. I stopped and asked them about Captain Nair, only to hear that he had left the world. I let it go. I let him go.

Now, I’ve moved to another city and I have a new course for my morning runs. But it is hardly any different from Bangalore. The temperature is similar, the streets are filled with dogs and there are schoolchildren and early-morning walkers. There is even this lady, usually in a light-blue salwar-kameez, walking slowly. If I were to guess her age, it would be above 70. She gently smiles at me every time I pass by and nods an almost imperceptible nod. I wonder if I should stop and say hello.

vasan.srini@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 5:10:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/end-of-the-road/article34289464.ece

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