Sanjay slowed down. As he proceeded to park his cycle outside the school, he glanced at the shed. There he was; the old man was as regular as the sun and the stars. He sat on a ragged mat and watched the children enter the hallowed portals of Vidya Niketan, one of the best schools in the city. He was unkempt and filthy but his crooked smile and twinkling eyes made you look beyond his disheveled appearance.
Sanjay had been seeing the Old Man By The Shed ever since he joined Vidya Niketan more than a decade ago. He neither liked nor disliked him. He was in his own world which consisted of gizmos, games, girls, good grades and little else. Yet, Sanjay always spared a quick nod and a hint of a smile for the old man, which he eagerly returned. Although they had never spoken till date, they shared a special bond.
Rain or shine, the old man was always there. The school authorities had been unsuccessful in evacuating him from the shed and since he was mostly a harmless soul, they left him in peace.
But one cold December morning, the shed wore a deserted look. The sole occupant was missing. Sanjay peeped into the dilapidated structure, that was his home, but it was empty. His belongings were scattered and strewn all over the floor. Something is wrong, he thought. He looked at his watch and considered the plan that was forming in his head.
He hopped back onto his cycle and went to the eatery at the end of the street. The owner of ‘Priya Darshini’ was known to sponsor the Old Man’s meals for free. He approached one of the waiters who delivered his meals to his shed.
“Uncle, do you know where the old man near my school is?” he asked.
The waiter blinked. “Why are you so curious, boy?” he inquired. Sanjay shifted uncomfortably and said with a touch of asperity, “How does it matter? Do you know where he is or not?”
The waiter grinned and replied “Calm down, young man. I know where he is. Last night, a few men from a nearby slum tried to occupy his shed. They were a bit rough with him. But before they could do any serious damage to the old man, we rushed to his aid and chased those men away. They won’t come back again” he declared, with an air of finality.
“So where is he right now?” asked Sanjay.
“At DG hospital.” He replied.
Sanjay thanked him and walked away thinking deeply. He wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to see the Old Man for himself and be sure that he was alright. “I’ll risk it” he said to himself and approached the front desk with some trepidation.
“I want to see the old man who was admitted last night.” Said Sanjay, ”He’s my friend”, he added a little peevishly in response to the receptionist’s surprised look.
As Sanjay made his way through long labyrinths of sick and suffering patients, he wondered what on earth he was doing here. He was surprised that he cared for the old man. He had never really bothered about him all these years, but now; he realized he was probably wrong.
He entered the room and saw the Old Man lying limp and bandaged. For nearly a minute, boy and man looked at each other. The old man smiled and the scars on his face deepened. Sanjay was still appalled at the damage the rogues had inflicted on the poor man. The old man looked frail and weak. But Sanjay’s visit brightened his eyes and he beamed happily.
“It is very kind of you to visit me, son” said the old man in halting English. “I’ve been seeing you for nearly 10 years. You’re a good boy.”
Sanjay smiled. He had no grandparents of his own. He was beginning to like this Old Man.
“What’s your name, Grandpa?” asked Sanjay.
“Karim Khan” said the old man with a chuckle. “You’ve seen me for so long and you never knew my name?” he asked incredulously. Sanjay smiled sheepishly.
As the days passed, Sanjay and Karim Khan forged a wonderful friendship and both of them looked forward to each other’s company. They exchanged stories and spent time analyzing every cricket match. Karim, Sanjay discovered, was quite a well-read man and enthralled him with stories of Wars and Battles that made history come alive.
One evening, nearly 2 years after the incident that brought them together, Sanjay contemplated about what a mammoth change Karim Khan had brought about in his life; it’s these things that make life beautiful, he thought.
True, Life is all about journey, rather than merely the destination. And it’s these experiences that make the journey worthwhile…