He is a tall lanky fellow. In a very few days he has already become my father’s right hand man. Rafiq is our society watchman in Bombay. My dad just got transferred from Patel Nagar in Delhi to Santacruz. In this successful transition Rafiq has played a very important role. Right from helping him with moving the furniture to getting him bread and eggs. He seems to have all the answers to all my dad’s questions.
Recently I was in Bombay and was getting out in the evening for a walk. I saw Rafiq in his cabin making chai. He saw me and immediately said, ” Namaste madam, you have some tea? I make good Indian tea. English tea no like. English people so rich but tea very poor. No milk, no sugar. Very phiki phiki!” I smiled at phiki phiki and tried to say no. He insisted and started cleaning the only chair in that small cabin for me to sit. I sat and he sat down near the stove. There was old hindi music playing on a very old transistor.
“Rafiq bhai tum kahan se ho? Bombay se hi? I tried to break the awkward silence.
” Know not, Madam. I can be from Bombay,Patna, Rajasthan, all India anywhere.” He said smiling and putting almost 5 spoons of sugar in the tea.
” Matlab? Mujhe nahi samajh me aaya. Aur Rafiq Bhai hindi aati hai mujhe. Hindi mein baat kar sakte hain hum?”
“Why madam? I know Engliss! I know Shakessphere. I tell you wait- The (there was a pause, a long one) dharti has music for these who hear!” He looked at me with pride.
I smiled, ” Rafiq bhai, The earth has music for those who listen. Hear nahi!”
“Acha acha madam. Hindi mein baat karte hain. I also comfortable, you also. Thoda shinning martay apun.”
I started laughing, he joined me too.
He gave me his Indian tea. I took a sip and loved it. I told him so. He seemed pleased with himself. ” Toh Rafiq bhai, family kidhar hai tumhari?”
( the rest of the conversation happened in Hindi, as he promised)
” Madam, I am an orphan. When I woke up one fine day and started understanding a little.,I found myself in an orphanage. We were all boys, 30 of us. Hashim chacha was the one to pick me up from a station near Bhopal. “
I sipped my tea, and slowly gulped it down. ” So, how do you know Shakespeare? You went to school?
” No madam. I never went to school. There was one Bismil chacha who used to come to teach us. He was very good. I learned to read and write from him. He was crazy though, an alcoholic. I was his favourite student. He once gave me a glass and asked me to gulp it down. I went to the terrace and started singing all Amitabh Bacchan songs. I got a nice beating afterwards from Hashim chacha, but it was fun.”
I smiled. ” So how did you land up here? “
” I ran away from the orphanage with a friend five years back. Hashim chacha died, and a new man came in. He was a bastard. He would beat us, make us work and not give us any food. I couldn’t take his crap anymore so we ran. I then did a lot of things, to keep alive. Hunger can make you do bad things, wrong things. I was an pick-pocket expert, but then I got caught. Police officer ne bohat dhoya. So I shifted to selling things on the local train, to delivering milk and newspaper, to selling wada-pav and eventually came here.”
I was amazed by his honesty. ” Rafiq bhai, didnt you want to study more?”
He smiled. ” Madam you big people give too much importance to education. It is so over-rated. I have learnt so much ,seen so much , living on the road. You might need a lifetime to learn it. You tell me, Do you know how a rubber band is made? Do you know why pav is called pav? Do you know how much water is mixed in the milk you drink? You don’t. So according to me you are uneducated. Madam for a poor man education is that which fills the stomach. Period!”
I thought to myself. Education, is it really over- rated? Can a man be successful only if he is highly educated? If I haven’t eaten for days, will I prefer to read a book, or rob a wallet and get myself some food?
“Madam, madam. Drink your tea it’s getting cold. ” I was lost in thought. I sipped some.
“Anyways madam. All you educated people are extremely scary. I read in the papers. All these scams and corruption. You think we uneducated people are responsible for it? There was a husband and wife who lived in this building. The man used to hit his wife black and blue. The whole building could hear them, though everybody remained silent. He must be an educated man, right? If education means losing your humanity, I don’t want any of it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. So much wisdom from a man who lives on the street. I finished my tea. As I kept my cup, there was a small passport size photo of a girl on a small mirror. ” Rafiq bhai, yeh kaun hai?”
” Kaun? acha yeh? Yeh Fatima hain, my love. Madam, yeh jo aap mujhe dekh rahi hain na yeh sab uski wajah se. Fatima hain isliye mein ek sachi naukri kar raha hun. Nahi toh kab ka gunda- mawali ban jaata. Beautiful she is?”
It was such a adorable sight. ” Bohat khoobsurat hai, bhai.”
Love is such a universal thing. It happens to the poor and to the rich. It makes you or breaks you. For me it is the most powerful word in the English Dictionary.
I thanked him for the chai. “Come again, for some nice Indian tea, Madam?
I nodded. I looked back once before I left. Rafiq bhai was looking at Fatima’s passport size photo and singing a song.