Will their lot ever change?

Will their lot ever change?

The dhobi sets up shop in the shade of the wayside rain-tree every day.

It is 7 am in the morning. I sit in my favourite chair by the open window. The breeze blowing in has not yet been fevered by the rising sun. Beside me is a steaming mug of fresh coffee and in my hands the newspaper neatly folded and still exuding the smell of new print. What could be better, you might say.

Yes indeed, but it takes only a few moments for the enchanting bubble to burst. What the paper has for you is the latest, but it is certainly not the greatest – scam after scam, time after time; fresh deceptions staged by new avatars.

Will this depressing state of affairs never change? ‘Where are the songs of spring’, of hope and progress? I lay the paper aside and gaze out. I see the newspaper boy cycling cheerfully in the cold dawn, torpedoing with precision the rolled-up sheets onto open balconies. He is followed by the milkman, who parks his two-wheeler laden with packets of milk.

 Next on the scene are the servant-maids. They hasten in, neatly dressed in bright nylon saris, the ubiquitous jasmine tucked into oiled hair. Now the dhobi sets up shop in the shade of the wayside rain-tree. He puts his heavy iron-box down, leaves it open and then kindles a neat heap of coals.

He and his wife labour here from morning to night, folding, smoothing and then ironing out all sorts of clothing into neat heaps. All of them seem cheerful, almost without care. I know that for many of them, this, their first job, is only one of many others they do.

The newspaper-boy’s earnings go towards paying his school-fee. The milkman, recently married and father of a small son, needs to supplement his income. The man who irons, looks after his old mother as well as a brother who is retarded. And so, the world’s troubles, the skewed policies and the misdemeanours of the powers-that-be sit lightly on their shoulders. In their view, governments may come and governments may go, for they scarcely touch the surface of their problems and their concerns.

Strange as it may seem, my mood lifts. Noticing and observing these simple, hard-working people has turned out to be more powerful than I had ever imagined.
I realise that when one of life’s rude voices shouts loudly, replete with callousness and greed, it would be a good thing to respond by standing at ease by the window and watching the poorest and humblest at work. They it is who deserve to be called the noblest, for they are the salt of the earth.