Published in The Tribune- April 7, 2010
The Gol-gappa Man doesn’t have much going for him. He’s poor, he’s old, and he doesn’t have a shop, or the semblance of one. The odds are stacked against him.
As he stands there by the road under the big blue sky, with his table, his packet of Gol-gappas and a largish jar that evidently contains some tangy liquid, he doesn’t look as if he stands much of a chance in life.
But a careful look at his countenance establishes the fact that he is always smiling. He looks shabby, weak, aged and tired, but he’s all smiles.
I am intrigued and I stare at him everyday as I cross him on the way home from work to see if his expression has changed. It never does.
Customers come and go. They obviously pay him a pittance. Surely then, there’s more to his smile than meets the eye.
One day, I decide to investigate, stop, and go up to him.
‘How much are these for?’ I ask.
‘Four rupees per plate’, is the business-like, but smiling, response.
He hands me a paper plate and does the needful. The Gol-gappas are delicious and I tell him so. His grin becomes wider.
‘I’ve seen you cross me many a time, but you stopped only today. Why?’ our man asks of me.
Looking around to see if anyone else is within ear-shot, I come out with my confession.
‘Actually, I’ve never had Gol-gappas on the street-side like this, for fear of falling sick. It’s only because I always found you smiling and cheerful that I felt compelled to ask you the reason.’
The man’s face brightens up further.
‘Don’t worry you wont die of these Gol-gappas! I’ll tell you why I’m never glum.’
I nod my head at once, eager to learn the secret.
‘It’s because I’ve never worried about my fate. My father was really poor, but he taught me to smile. He told me that life is pure, it’s special’
‘I have a son, who works as a peon and he looks after my wife and me well. We plan to marry him off soon. I have lived my life with joy and I shall go to heaven and meet God with a smiling face one day.’
‘Would you have another plate?’
The trance that I am in is broken by the poser. I stretch out a hand abruptly and accept the offering eagerly. This time the Gol-gappas taste even better. He winks at me and displays his broadest smile yet.
I take out a 20 rupee note and ask him to keep the change but he refuses, and returns the balance due.
As I get into my car and wave at him, I realise that I have just learnt the most important lesson of life and have met its real winner.
I also notice that I’m smiling too. From ear to ear.