One evening, while strolling on the periphery of our neighbourhood park, I passed by an elderly gentleman. Ordinarily, I would have moved on, but something held me back. I slowed down so as to be close to him. He was talking to somebody, but there was nobody around him. These days, we find every third person on the road talking that way on the mobile, but this was a different case. I got interested in him even though I knew it was not an unusual phenomenon with many ageing people.
I was in a relaxed mood and, for a change, felt like being a little mischievous. Unmindful of my presence alongside, the gentleman continued to mutter something to himself. Sometimes, he would nod in approval or disapproval, smile or raise his eyebrows.
These gesticulations interested me greatly, rather increased my curiosity. I am pretty sure such actions would easily create doubts in any other person’s mind about the mental health of such a person.
However, the impromptu ‘walk-the-talk’ interaction I later had with him was sufficient to dispel any such misgivings. At times, the gentleman was sharp in his repartees. Nevertheless, one thing was clear — he was also living with some tension of the modern times and was only giving vent to his thoughts rather loudly.
Taking the risk of annoying him, I picked up a conversation with him which ran as follows:
Me: Excuse me, Sir. You were talking to somebody ...
(I thought he would flatly deny it, but he surprised me by saying: “Yes”, putting me in a fix.)
Me: But there is nobody around here. And you were not talking on the mobile either because you are not carrying one.
He: So what?
(The gentleman appeared peeved. He had been caught off guard. However, he underplayed his actions so deftly that he not only wriggled out of an odd situation, but put me in a tight spot.)
He: Why are you interested in my private conversation?
Me: Conversation? And private? You were not talking to anybody. Were you? Sir, tell me honestly. Where is the other person with whom you were having a conversation?
He: You are poking your nose in a matter that should not be your concern. You are intruding into my private life.
Me: I am extremely sorry for what you say is an intrusion in your private life. But where is the intrusion? There has to be somebody to talk with. Where is she or he, Sir? You must tell me.
He: You appear to be a journalist. Are you?
Me: Yes Sir. But how did you guess?
He: Because only you people have the habit of poking your nose into other people’s private life, be it Princess Diana, French President [Nicolas] Sarkozy or me.
You people reach places where you are not wanted. Something goes wrong somewhere and you are there. But not where good things happen.
(I did not know whether he was complimenting or cursing. But certainly the gentleman was angry and was trying to cow me down. However, I was not going to be deterred. I tried to cool him down.)
Me: You are an interesting personality. You inspire me. What is your avocation, Sir?
He: But you don’t inspire me at all.
(I was flummoxed.)
Me: Where do you stay, Sir?
He: I don’t have to give you my address.
With this curt reprimand, he quickened his pace. I slowed down and withdrew myself. I realised my folly. I had unnecessarily hurt a good man’s sensitivities. And that set me analysing the phenomenon. Obviously, he was under stress and strain of his own problems. And I, certainly, had no business to delve into a stranger’s personal matters.
Feeling guilty, I wanted to apologise to the gentleman, but he had moved far ahead of me.
To some, this might appear to be an insignificant incident. They may dismiss such a person as a case of mental aberration. However, it is not always so. Many people say they find a solution to some of their knotty problems or do their strategic planning while sitting on the ‘throne’ in their washroom. Others, like this gentleman, solve tricky issues while strolling in the solitude of a park. But in this case, the gentleman appeared to be ‘actively discussing’ his problem (s) with his wife or some other family member in a rather animated way.
The way he was nodding in approval or disapproval rather strongly indicated that he must have had heated arguments at home which had spilled over to the park.
Minutes later, he gave me a big smile from a distance. I did not know whether it signified that Archimedes had found the answer or did it mean that for once he had outsmarted a journalist with a poking nose.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.