Of life, of people and a cloth presser

Persistence is one phenomenon which has been crushed and dissolved in the flesh, bone and blood of those the world call a success. Perseverance which is quite often seen accompanying the former trait in such people is also viewed by the world, as one which sticks to the few lucky hard working ‘successful’ lot. But what defines success is often ignored and condemned to a level par reachable by those who strive to make ends meet. What I saw that night, in a shady shack where dreamy creepers shadowed the light from a naked bulb, was one that changed my perspective of people and of life.

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The vine had spread to an unruly mass of green all around the red brick structure. A fleet of ants marched across to their sanctuary of juicy bright yellow passion fruits. The sun was setting, a slow pace down to its journey to the other side. A peaceful evening, a day like any other. Cars sped by, people rushed along, the typical Monday traffic pushed through without stopping to give a second look at the bare-chested lone figure working his way through heaps of clothes.

A few years ago, my brother had the glamorous opportunity of scoring his way through entrance tests into a fully residential military school. Dad’s pride, Mom’s pumpkin and my 4 feet 2 inch punch bag just became the object of envy and the main ring of thought through everyone’s minds. A trunk was bought and we filled it with things which ensured that he gets in and out of clothes in at least 6 hour intervals everyday. Days went by, he was happily enjoying the freedom and experiencing the bloody banshees of military punishments when a 10 day vacation gracefully hopped into view. 8 days swept by with the young man being fed, entertained and cuddled by every other person passing by. The 9th day saw the household swarming with activity — clothes there, boots here, socks with holes, socks without holes, tie, shoe polish, badge, files, books, upcoming exams. Phew! The realisation of having to iron a pile of clothes to their shiny best, sent Mom on a frenzy. And that brought us to this tiny shed in the neighbourhood, where the local cloth presser worked.

A trunk full of clothes to press meant more money, but the humility with which he accepted the work was unworldly — completely devoid of the gleams of riches. The clothes arrived a couple of days later, ironed and pressed, stiff as a stick and shining like polished silver. Thus began a lasting relationship, a bond of trust. One must be wondering what life changing experience could a character as futile as a cloth presser give. Well, the story goes thus:

Me, an arrogantly humble graduate fresh out of college decided to take it upon myself to try and run a house. As an initiation to the former audacious thought process, I took up a few errands. My grandmother and I, after going about the town came to the shaggy abode of the cloth presser in question under a darkening sky on a Monday evening. Hot crackling embers burned away on a cast iron frame. A rough hand with ragged fingernails clutched the wooden spines of the iron handle tightly. Clothes were piled up around the broad table. Putting up two sarees, we conveyed to the person behind the table that we needed the clothes ironed tomorrow. After a brief conformation wherein he readily told us to collect the clothes the next day, we left. We never needed a second conformation, not from a man who had always kept his word. After all, it’s just pressed clothes!

The sun rose above the clouds, brightly coloring another morning. With the chores for the day done, the busy evening saw the both of us walking briskly back to the presser’s shack. The surety with which we paced our walk reflected the trust we had in the man. And thus no question of the task still being undone crossed our minds. Instead what met us was the sight of an ever increasing pile of clothes, a puffing, panting, sweating man behind the table pressing away cloth after cloth at a pace much unseen during normal occasions and grumbling people with impatient expressions across their faces all around the place. A look of recognition crossed the presser’s face as he saw us walk across the road towards him; a short speedy search of the trunk next to him and the bags spread around followed after which he turned around with an apologetic smile to confirm that he hadn’t pressed our clothes. Ferocious, impatient and confused, we put up a stingy bargain with the man. He agreed to get the clothes pressed in a few hours time.

A deep tangerine frown loomed across the darkening sky. Evening traffic sped by, covering the roadside shacks with a blanket of dust. We reached back at the shack to even more frenzy, except this time, there weren’t anymore people with impatient look on their faces around. A moment of confusion followed after which the man took out the saree from a wooden chest and began ironing it. A seasoned silence followed, in which both parties acknowledged the actions of the other. Sweating profusely, half way through his work, those tired features broke into an apologetic grin.

“Lots of weddings happening tomorrow, it seems. It’s been huge bags full of clothes all around lately.” — he said

This softened me a bit.

“Oh, it’s fine please take your time”

“Four people back home have been down with fever. It’s just been me who’s doing all the work lately. So, could start the work only a few hours late today. Is it becoming late? How would you both go back? Would somebody come pick you up? It’s already dark outside!”

I took a step back, looked at the fragile grey haired figure sweating out to get his work done. A person, the world addresses as a ‘mere cloth presser’, a person on whose account the apathetic world flaunts its sympathy . Someone, who squeezes out every second, every minute and every hour of a day, to push himself to work through hours unimaginable and toils through unpleasant faces, angry remarks, lost money and stingy bargains just so that he can keep the rest of his family fed and clothed. And when he does that, the world doesn’t call him a success, the world doesn’t empathize with him, instead it demeans him for his poverty, it holds him accountable for his so called ‘worthlessness’.

As I walked back home that day, I reflected on how a mere unpressed saree had flared up a temper in me. On how, a stint on humanity and humane considerations have grown in each and everyone of us as we attached ourselves to materialistic objects and goals. Maybe the world needs a bit more love — unconditional, unsophisticated, unintentional and completely real. Because today, as I sit typing away on my laptop, in a fully furnished apartment with a happy family who loves me no matter what, I see myself getting lucky every moment to have had experiences that makes me see life as a never ending source of passion, compassion, wonder and love. Because today, when I close my eyes, I can still see the unworldly smile that the man had when we paid for his services, a smile beyond the money, beyond his work and way beyond the understanding that we have of the world as it is.