It was a Sunday evening. I was still dazed after my siesta of more than a couple of hours. My wife literally yanked me out of my dreamy state, asking me to rush downstairs to get milk. Milk was delivered home every evening at around 5 PM. I tried to be smart and told her that I don’t think the milkman had arrived. One cold stare from her and I realized that something was wrong in my judgement. I did not take any further risks and went to see if the guy had really arrived.
I was confident that I was not wrong. And this confidence stemmed from the fact that I did not hear the milkman ringing the bell of his bicycle. The rhythm with which he rings the bell is something that I could single out among a hundred other sounds. The reason being, that I have been hearing this for more than three decades now. Yes, since donkey years, it has been the same guy who has been delivering milk to our house and our neighborhood. On this particular day, I did not hear any sound and hence my conviction that I was right. However as I reached the balcony of my house, I realized that I was wrong. The guy was indeed there. However instead of his bicycle he was now driving a moped, a maroon colored Honda Activa. The sound of the bicycle bell was now replaced with the honk of his moped. I bought the milk and enquired about his vehicle. He was clearly happy with his new possession. He explained when and where he bought it. He even went great lengths to explain for how many months he saved money to buy this. I was indeed happy for him and asked him to enjoy his driving. He gleefully exclaimed “Thank you Sir!” and sped away.
People who know him, only know him as the milkman. This is what he has been doing all these years… morning, noon and evening… delivering milk to most of the households in and around here. The sight of him, cycling with two large bags balanced in the front and one big box placed at the back, all them filled with milk packets, is what I always remember about him. I cannot think of anything else or anyone else who has remained unchanged for so long in our neighborhood. The chime of his bicycle’s bell would announce his arrival all along. His integrity speaks for itself; else he would not have retained his customers or acquired new ones in all these years. I don’t remember him picking a quarrel or being rude to anyone as well. I have not heard anyone speak lowly about him. Even if it were not worthy of calling the best attire, he did wear clean clothes. It is fair to assume that poverty has stalked him long enough. Even then, I don’t recollect hearing him reach out for financial help from any of his customers in our neighborhood. Looking back, exhibiting such professionalism in his vocation is a rarity.
Neither do I know his name nor does he know mine. I don’t remember the first time I saw him, but I know for sure that he used to deliver milk in our neighborhood right from my childhood. Back then, I used to call him “Uncle” and he used to address me as “Thambi” [Thambi means younger brother in Tamil]. In the past three decades or so I moved on from my bicycle to a TVS50 and then to a Bajaj Chetak and then a Royal Enfield bullet and finally a car. Now I am almost back to nothing, since I don’t like to ride or drive anything, instead prefer to walk or rent a cab. Somewhere along the way, the milkman stopped calling me “Thambi” and started calling me “Sir”, even though he is older than me. And I have stopped calling him “Uncle” and now just use any suitable pronoun to address him. At times, when he sees me with my children, he fondly recollects “I still remember when you were a young boy. Good to see you with children now!”
After all these changes in my life, here he was… finally graduating from his bicycle to a moped. It was heartening for me to see his new possession. However I could not escape feeling sorry for him, as it had taken him so many years [decades actually] to buy it. A journey which has not only taken him time, but also thousands of miles covered on his humble bicycle. If I were to compare myself to him, I think I was gifted enough to have parents who never compromised on getting me a good education, even if it meant that they struggled to make all ends meet. God only knows what I would have been otherwise. On the day I saw him on his new moped, I wondered many times how different his life could have been and how many more opportunities he could have accessed, had he been well educated. It is also debatable if governments and our system have helped the clique of such people or have they let them down.
Most importantly, that was the one of the days when I yet again realized how I have gotten used to taking many of my privileges for granted. I welcome such reality checks every once in a while. Life otherwise would be less appreciated!