The man who didn’t see you on your walk today

C. NAGANNA writes: I always watch this elderly gentleman, who is a close relative of mine, taking a walk very morning whenever he visits my place.

Not known for his communicative skills, he covers his head and three-fourths of his face with a muffler and duly starts at the crack of dawn.

He hardly notices fellow human beings who are already up and about, either approaching in the opposite direction or stepping with him in the same direction.

He follows on a particular path, and that he never changes. He looks neither to the left nor to the right. He is like the proverbial Ramabana—straight and undeviated.

I have wondered many a time whether I could take a leaf out of his experience and walk along the prescribed path day in and day out.

I have realised that I cannot. I cannot take the same avenue on consecutive days. I cannot shut my ears and eyes as if I am a lifeless automaton.

I must stop every now and then to enquire about the well being of my acquaintances and proceed, though I am least equipped to mitigate their tiniest of troubles.

This halt-and-proceed routine is called mantapotsava and it is a great energiser. It is also a great source of reassurance that I belong to a particular milieu. Those who walk as part of their daily regimen may not like this loosely structured movement which borders on ‘ambling’.

Since their ‘brisk walk’ is sure to provide them with the necessary quantity of oxygen and all-round exercise, they cleverly avoid the “strollers” as a swimmer would a dead-weight.

The brisk-walkers have little business with the tender rays of the early sun; they are equally deaf to the chirping of the heavenly singers; the village milk man’s whistle least excites them; the idle talk of the holidaying girls never reaches them.

Or, in one word, the brisk-walkers are beyond the orbit of what is collectively called the ‘quotidian’.

Coming back to my elderly gentleman. He retraces the path without swerving a bit. He lifts the steaming cup of coffee to his lips, seated at the window that opens to the road he has left behind.

Even before I heave a sigh of relief that, after all, he is not an unredeemed misanthrope, he starts running his furtive eyes over the headlines of the day’s newspaper.

He eats his breakfast before the others brush their teeth. Because he is health-conscious, everything must be fresh and hot. Lunch-tea-dinner, everything is served at the appointed time.

He has forged his household to this relentless routine that the people in the house are hardly aware of anything pertaining to the arts, music or books.

He is particularly sensitive to the last category that if he comes to know that any member of the family is even remotely connected with it, he reserves the sharpest barb to condemn books and their creators.

When such a person takes a walk on the road, you can always detect him; for he looks neither to his left nor to this right.

We have heard of an Oxfod don walking out of his classroom one day telling his pupils that he had a “date with nature”, never to return. But the gentleman under question always walks away from nature and towards his piping-hot meal.

(C. Naganna is a professor in the department of English at the Maharaja’s College in Mysore)