In the café
Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café.
You would find him there only.
The waiters called it “the old man’s table” and the regulars treated the informal arrangement as a reservation.
The business was slow; the well-lit and clean café was airy; clients stayed on, chatting or reading or staring sans any disturbance.
A cozy place with a good view.
The owner was deferential and ensured the old man was treated with kindness.
Every morning, the old man occupied that table only. The waiter would serve the coffee and withdraw.
The old man would be the king.
Nobody knew anything about the man. He hardly talked. His only companions were the tabloids. Read them with the attention of a student soon to appear for an examination. Both the waiter and the counter clerk—college-going males—watched him from a respectful distance.
The clerk remarked: This guy has got a weird habit.
The waiter asked: Tell me.
—The way he reads.
—Holding head in his hands, the way some chess players focus.
The waiter nodded.
—Totally engrossed in the piece. To the oblivion of others.
—It is a chessboard for him.
—Suffering from a hangover!
One late morning, the clerk said, “Who is clicking pictures from outside?”
They both went out.
The clerk demanded the intruder: “What you doing, Mister?”
The bespectacled trespasser responded: “Taking pictures.”
“I am a street photographer.”
“What the hell is that?”
The photographer smiled: “I document the street life.”
“What purpose it serves?”
“I capture the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary. Sublime.”
“What is sublime?”
“Forget that. Simply put, I capture common people, moods, and places and turn these into instant celebs. They become the Internet Immortals.”
The duo got animated.
The waiter: “You make guys famous?”
“Yes. They get known the world over. Recognized.”
“Show us your work.”
He did. They were impressed by the range and skills.
“How do you do that?”
“It is an art and now don’t ask, what is art?”
The duo invited the artist inside.
“Who is that man hunched over the paper?” The shutterbug asked.
“Interesting! What does he do?”
“No idea. Comes in, sits, reads, stares, pays and then leaves, without a word. “Sometimes, for hours. Reads the papers and mutters occasionally.” The clerk said.
“Second home for him.” Added the waiter.
“A well-lighted Café is a comforting place for many among the isolated, including writers. Enjoy the warmth and the reassuring presence.” Replied the artist. “Reminds me of the old man with the dog.”
“A character in Dostoevsky.”
“Do not ask me, who is Dostoevsky?”
They showed his picture, already a sensation in cyberspace. He was surprised.
“You belong to the world now, grandpa.”
The man ordered for everyone, beaming for the first time.
Sunil Sharma, an academic and author-freelance journalist from the suburban Mumbai, India. He has published 19 books so far, some solo and joint.
He edits Setu: