I stood in the balcony in the gathering dawn. They morning was grey, grey like the shades of grey that the world is all about, grey like the hair of my neighbor whose home-loan EMI keeps increasing with every interest-rate hike, grey like the pigeons that flutter around in nooks and corners of dilapidated government-funded housing. Rain was falling, from the sky, on the roof, along the walls, down the drains. A few people were out and about at that hour, cursing their luck and their jobs as they struggled hopelessly in the mud filled roads. I was drinking tea, standing on the balcony, very dry, much contended, and looking down at the struggling dregs of humanity as they went about their jobs: the newspaper delivery man, with his newspapers wrapped in plastic sheets in a pathetic attempt to keep them dry; the milk delivery man shivering in the cold rain as he went about his daily job.
There was no glorious splash of color in the skies that morning. No blues, no pinks, no yellows, just grey and greyer.
I had not planned to go out that day, but things don’t always go according to plan. Later in the day, I found myself trudging towards the market. I had a vegetable bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. The merciless rain continued to beat upon the heads of the multitudes out on the street at that hour. I could afford an umbrella, so I had one. There were others who could not afford umbrellas, so they covered themselves with plastic sheets, gunny bags or whatever else they could lay their hands upon. The streets were covered in mud. I passed the slums on the way to the market; the huddled humanity in those tiny shacks was having a tough time that day. Mud had invaded their low-rise tents; the tarpaulin on their straw roofs would keep the rain water out, but mud would get in from the sides. There was no escaping mud in those slums that day.
There was no time to be distracted by such sights. A job was the only thing that separated me from those people in the slums. One mistake, one wrong step and slum life was just a few rupees away. Slums do more than just provide housing for poor people; they are a clear warning to everyone else: work hard and buy insurance, or else…
I continued walking in the mud and the rain. A truck trundled past, splattering mud, covering everyone around me with mud till their waists. A few people screamed obscenities at the driver of the truck, traced his ancestry to canines and accused him of all sorts of unnatural practices. I was relatively unscathed and could take a philosophical view of the whole affair. "It is the lot of the oppressed people", I thought, "to protest feebly at injustice". The truck did not even slow down, the driver probably never noticed the rage he had inspired in his fellow human beings. I continued to struggle towards the vegetable market.
The vegetable market had very few buyers that rainy day. Few people had ventured out in the mud and the rain. The vendors had a melancholy air about them. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the mud. Or maybe it was the lack of buyers. Mud was all over the market; my feet sank in the mud as I struggled to go from one shop to another. Finally, after a long and unhappy round of haggling, I had all the vegetables I needed.
On the way out of the market, I was accosted by the usual beggars near the gate. They used to be two able bodied men. They probably thought of it as their regular business, I noticed that the two men now had two kids with them as well. They probably made enough profits from the business and had decided to expand. I had read somewhere that instead of giving money to beggars; one should always give them something to eat. That way, the beggars cannot use it to buy drugs or gamble the money away. So I gave them a large potato. The beggar looked askance at the potato, but he was enthralled long enough for me to make a clean escape. The large potato was clearly worth more than a couple of rupees, so I was sure that the beggar would be able to make good use of it.
I walked back home in the mud and rain without more incident.