Open Page

The balloon seller

Enjoying a cup of hot coffee in my car, I soaked in the spirit of the bazaar from the car window, a ritual I am getting better at each day. While the pandemic reduced my shopping sprees from countless to countable, the vagabond within me was not easy to put down and insisted on regular long drives without the hurry to jump out at the neon-lit "sale" invites. My eyes played with the kaleidoscopic view, rummaging through cars in the parking lot interspersed with scooters, cycles, and black-and-yellow auto taxis. Amid them, vendors juggled with their crafts and followed the crowds, eager to make the day’s living before night set in.

I would not have noticed him had he not tapped at my car window. A thin, healthy youth with stringed balloons deftly arranged on his fingers and the same hand also holding other paraphernalia, a wooden pole with colourful plastic flutes, masks, and flannel Santa caps. The other hand swayed freely to pull out small change from his shirt pocket. There was nothing new in this sight, as vendors are fond of attracting attention by tapping on the window, and so it was apparent that I would also be doing the "obvious" that day.

I took out a ten-rupee note (I know that this is what the vendors in my city charge for a balloon) and lowered the glass. As he promptly took the money and started pulling out a balloon, I stopped him and asked him to keep the balloon as well as the money. He stared at me quizzically. I further explained that it was neither charity nor sympathy, but a sisterly gesture. He insisted that I take the balloon, so I told him that I have no small children at home, neither can I gift it to children in the colony (this "touch-me-not" COVID era!), but I still want to buy a balloon, and he can resell it to earn more! A humanities teacher’s mental cockpit was practising frightful profit and loss sums! This was a simple enough deal, and I was relieved that I am done with my rationalisation.

As I turned away to attend to my attention-seeking mobile, my son, sitting in the rear seat, asked me to look out of the window. The balloon wallah was conversing with a young man, who had just come out of a shop with a small child in tow, ready to hit the roads. The balloon walllah was pointing his finger towards me and narrating something! The young man looked in our direction. I was afraid for a moment about what was transpiring between them when I saw him accepting the balloon from the seller and passing it on to his child. As he approached me, I rolled down the glass, only to be thanked for the balloon that I had just gifted his daughter!

Poise and dignity

While the show was going on, the balloon wallah walked away with a poise and dignity that I found extremely beautiful and unforgettable. I savoured the moment, elated that he had done a more fabulous charity than me by parting with the ten-rupee bonus that he could have taken home that day. I wondered if he had children or young siblings who could have found great use of the money.

While my car moved homewards, I re-enacted the entire scene, struck by a realisation that the definitions of self-respect and dignity have been comprehended by him so wonderfully. He appeared at that moment to be graceful, polished, and refined. A single deed of his that could have so easily slipped away raised his stature before my eyes. Through his simple deed, the youth surpassed all the fancy personality development crusades and finishing school mandates that sell personality development packages built upon outer appearances. This youth that day earned not only his living but my respect and awe too. He made headlines for me that evening!

Do people like him make history? For shouldn’t history be a record of the humblest humanitarian accomplishments? There is a vast world beyond conquests of greed and gluttony to create monuments of selflessness, honesty, and dignity. If time wants to be a responsible narrator, it should narrate tales of truth, love, and humanism. As of now, most of these tales have settled in their own graves.

In the materialistic world full of gluttony and corruption, where the bank balance matters more than mental and emotional balance, most happening deals have happened "under the table". White collars get dirty so quickly! Don’t they? Stay calm, dear friends! I am not here to wash dirty linen in public, for that area is over-exhausted. I wish to drive home the statement made by the bestselling American writer Julie Garwood, who says that "Respect was earned not demanded, but dignity was taught by example."

As our country’s roads lie clogged with farmers’ uprising, women’s protests, youth agitations, and so on, all the issues represented on the surface appear superfluous, for the main concern is about attaching and recognising the dignity of labour each person and his work is entailed to. Whether it is the farmer toiling endlessly in his grain-laden fields only to worry about feeding the marriage party, or women making their homes a serious business, with every possibility of being shown the door any moment, or the youth juggling with short-term underpaid and uncertain jobs, the underlying quest is for dignified labour. This search for self-respect is often misquoted as ‘ego’ and ‘self-indulgence’ and so the world rushes to douse the fire, and dampen the spirit for ever.

The movie North Country I saw last week makes noises about discrimination and sexual harassment of women mine workers. It depicts the misery and indignation caused by constant stone-throwng at female existence and labour. While my balloon wallah is an outstanding example of dignified earning, I wonder how he can keep his spine erect in the ever-gnawing world. Just hoping there are buyers for his balloons as well as his legacy!

alka28jain@gmail.com

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 10:43:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-balloon-seller/article33424740.ece

Next Story