The brightness of his smile and the warmth of his expression made me realise immediately that this was a man with compassion for the poor. So writes Dominique Lapierre in the Letter to the Reader page of his novel It was Five Past Midnight in Bhopal.
I wish I could say that I too had such an immediate realisation. I did not. What I saw was a tall man with a broad smile plonking a carton full of biscuits on the path by the side of the lake, yanking open the cover, picking up a large packet, breaking into two halfs, offering one half to a yougster, and with a child-like passion, pull out the biscuits from his half packet, and throw it into the water. What is he doing? Why is he doing this? Who is this man? A local?
Kid-sitting as I was, my two sons, and a nephew, while their mothers shopped away near the Nainital lake, I had chosen a bench facing the lake to perch ourselves on. Even as their restlessness was increasing with every passing moment, our Karamayogi announced his arrival in this grand manner.
A small commotion ensued. Many of us, me included, jumped to our feet and went towards the retaining wall of the lake. There they were. Hundreds of fish. Fighting for the biscuits dropping into the water. Biscuit-eating fish? That was new for me! The boys were all excited. I pointed to the youngsters that they could go upto the man and ask for packets of biscuits to throw into the water. Soon they had packets in their hand, and the biscuits heading into the lake towards the waiting fish. Gone was the restlessness of a few minutes before. Enthusiastically, they now tried to beat one another on who could throw the biscuit farthest, or whose packet would last the longest. After making sure that all of them understood that they should not bend forwards over the retaining wall while feeding the fish, I took my first hesitant steps towards our Karamayogi.
“Sir, if you do not mind, can I know whether you do this everyday?” was the first question I posed.
“No. I am not from Nainital”, said he. “I just love to feed animals. I actuallly work for RBI in Mumbai, and am here on a training program.”
“Sir, if you do not mind, can I know your name please? My name is Ravi.” was my immediate response.
“T C Agarwal. I am from Mumbai.”, said he, even as he kept picking up fresh packets from the fast delpeting carton, breaking them into halfs, and passing it on to whoever put his hand forward.
I now shifted to Hindi, and asked “Do you do this in Mumbai too? How did you know that there were fish out here?”. To his immense credit, he took this patently stupid question regarding fish in the lake in his stride, and replied in Hindi “Yes, of course, one can always find fish in lakes. I cannot see any animal go hungry. If I see a stray dog, I feed it a bun or bread. ”
Someone else in the crowd around mentioned that money was needed for this. Talk about ironies. Telling to that a man from RBI!
“Yes, it does cost me. So, what about it? What am I going to do with excess money anyway? I cannot take it with me when I die! I can take my good deeds to the maker though, right? ” said our Karamayogi. Heads were nodding sagely in agreement. “Take the case of Dhirubhai Ambani. He left thousands of crores of Rupees for his family. Towards what end? Now the sons are fighting over it. Instead, had he gifted a few thousand crores towards charity, perhaps tens of thousands people would be thanking him for his charity. No one remembers the dead for long. The tears are there for a few days, maybe months, and then life goes on. Instead of remembering our ancestors once a year, I prefer to see every opportunity to feed animals, as one more occasion to remember them.”
“What about your family”, asked a nosey person from the crowd, in true Indian spirit. “They used to dislike it initially”, said our Karamayogi. “Now, they are reconciled to my habit. I have a roof over my head (literally in Hindi – sar pe chath hai!). My son is studying, and should soon be working. I will get a pension when I retire. I have some savings. So, I spend the rest. I was feeding pigeons regularly. I had a shortage at one time. A friend stepped in. So, now in addition to my spending, his contribution helps me feed more pigeons.”
Later, as the kids were excitedly narrating their fish feeding experience to their mothers, we saw our Karamayogi walking back towards the water front with a few loaves of bread in his arms. The fish had a special treat coming their way.
Makes me think. About the need for me to change my thinking.
Thank you Mr Agarwal, for making my day special. May God bless you!
PS: Karamayogi – one definition – acting without being attached to the fruits of one’s deeds