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Sunil Khushalani


I remember
the gurkhaa
This is the name
by which people called him
No matter what his real name was
And though he was hired
to be the ‘watchman’
or the security guard
he always meant to us
more than just that
He was a native of Nepal
who spoke a little more than broken Hindi
At least just after his arrival
into Bombay
For which children teased him
His pleasing manner
And playful nature
would soon win them over
to the extent that
children would invite
 their friends from school
and proudly request him
to show them
his hard and strong biceps
Soon you would often
see him play cricket
with the children
Or if he was too busy
they would always call him
to retrieve the cricket ball
or the badminton shuttlecock
if it ever got stuck
on some high ledge or tree top
which was always out of the reach
of the children
Sometimes it felt
that people were calling this sole chap
from everywhere
Mothers would often ask him
to drop off their kids off to school
or buy the ginger or cilantro
that they were missing
At other times
It felt he got scolded
for anything that was broken
or not working in the building
During the early hours in the morning
he would wash and polish
the cars in the apartment complex
to make some extra cash
In the evenings
he would transform
into the ‘liftman’
on the elevator
dropping and picking up people
from their respective floors
who were coming from their offices
or going on their evening stroll
He also ensured
that kids wouldn’t abuse the elevator
by taking fun rides
 or playing chor-police
He was also responsible
For operating the water pump
The water would sometimes
come in at odd hours of the night
which would mean
he would have to be
awake and vigilant
during this long and tedious
operation everyday
The tenants would not only
not tolerate any lapse in this routine
but would also scream
if the tank on the roof
ever began to overflow at night
He was usually given a small room to himself
(usually the noisy cut out space
behind the elevators
or next to the water-pump)
One wonders how and when
he slept amidst all the din
and expectations
He had to know
or at least make an attempt
to check who was coming
into the complex late at night
People who came home late at night
would sometimes deliberately
 check on him
to see if he was sleeping
this would give them
an opportunity to remind him
that he should be
more efficient and vigilant
and also give them an excuse
to threaten to hold his raise
the coming year
which he would invariably need
so that he could save enough
to send back home
to an anxious family
This then meant that afternoons
 was the only time when he could
sleep for a few hours
before everyone began to return home
He would be lucky
if some guests arrived from
out of town
to visit one of the tenants
or during any of the ongoing festivities
which would mean
he would have an opportunity
to get some extra baksheesh
when he carried their bags from their taxis
to their apartments
He was truly indispensable
as you can imagine
And one could judge from
the panic that got created
when he would ask for leave
to go visit his native place
The tenants would let him go
only if he could find a replacement
His leaving usually meant
that he was either fed up
or had found a better offer
in a richer and newer
 high rise apartment building
where he could work in shifts
get paid leave
and even get a couple
of smart new uniforms
in addition to a better pay
and richer gifts during Diwali
But he would be too embarrassed or scared
to say all this
when asking for his leave
in his improved Hindi
with a Nepali accent of course
His replacement would be
a shy young fellow
totally new to the rigors of city life
During his early days
 he would hear how good
his predecessor was
but would soon learn to respond promptly
to the call ‘Gukhaa’ or ‘Watchman’
of someone in distress
or of someone in a hurry
Children would miss
 their former friend though
They would miss his occasional playing
of the folk tunes on his flute
or the banging of his stick
while he walked late at night
around the building
trying to scare the robbers away
They would remember asking
their old friend
to show them his dagger or kukri
which he never used to
for untold reasons
which would remind the children
to ask the new gurkhaa
for the same
and they would confidently tell him
“He would always show it to us!”

-{ana sayfa}{marmara}{trambolin}-