Sometimes the most extraordinary things happen when you least expect it.
It was past 9:30 in the night and though we (my husband and I), had had our dinner long back, thought of going for a late night local roadside plate of chow mein or better known as “cho-main”, for old times’ sake. We walked to the local place, 50 metres from our house, dressed casually in lounge clothing and flip-flops, without worrying about stepping out dressed like so.
It was pleasantly cool that night and pitch dark. Very few people walked about, the market still had its lights on but closed shops. The “thela” (cart) was on its regular spot, thankfully not crowded. We approached him and ordered two plates of local indianized version of oily (perhaps unhygienic) chow mein. While waiting for the cook to prepare the dish we stood at a distance talking about the mundane. I couldn’t help but notice the curiously named cart. On the top it read “Dilli ki mash-hoor chat” (Delhi’s famous chaat) and the bottom half read “Bombay’s famous burger.” I laughed at that, pointed at it and asked the owner-cum-cook. He shyly answered with a look of deference, that it is actually “Bombay’s famous burger” but recently a film scene was shot here for which they used this cart and wanted a ‘Delhi’ board and got that made and covered the original ‘Bombay’ board with a pink cloth.
Everyone in Delhi gets excited on hearing about a movie shooting, no matter how trivial, and I most certainly was one of those kinds. I had heard about it too; a big actor had come down to shoot for a movie in our local market and within minutes he had attracted about 500 people. There were Facebook updates all over my wall. Those who witnessed, not him but the crowd, recalled how some people just stood there clueless, craning their neck to get a better look, without actually being aware of what was all the hoopla about. Onlookers had their own versions of the cause, ranging from “Bhai, bada raada ho gaya shayad” (brother, looks like a big mishap) to “chori-chakaari ka mamla lagta hai” (looks like a theft took place) but few got it right.
I asked him excitedly and my excited tone probably communicated itself and infected him. He, initially shyly and later more easily, began talking. He told us that he had been doing this business for years and initially had a different corner. His prime work involved making local burgers, which he has been making for over 20 years since he had come to Delhi, when he was still young and without any idea what to do with his life. He found odd jobs, where he learnt to make food. He saved money and took the cart on rent and later bought it with his savings. After the movie shoot he started making chow mein noodles and few other things besides his burgers. He was busily chopping, tossing, mixing, sprinkling, scraping and doing lots of things at his big wok at the same time while telling us about it, as if on auto-pilot mode. He told us that the film unit wanted his cart for a scene and decorated it for him. He shyly told us that he had a small scene too and we would perhaps see him in the movie. He proudly pointed at the chinese string of lights and the new pretty placard like board that read “Delhi’s..” and told us that this was all given by the “film people.” He told me how “Shahrukh sir ” was nice and kind with him and even spoke to him between shots! To him that itself was a big gesture by a big man from the big city! He didn’t want any compensation and was happy with the sparkly lights and new board that was given to him and the fact that a big Bollywood superstar had spoken to him nicely.
I didn’t say that the kind gesture by the film unit was probably the least that they could have done, that they didn’t need the board and lights and would have thrown it away anyways. I didn’t want to steal the proud happy light in his eyes.
In between his story he had poured the steaming hot slightly bland noodles in two paper plates and given it to us. His helper handed two plastic fork to us and gave us bottles of vinegar, ketchup and green chilli sauce. I asked for some salt and the cook apologetically came running from the other side of his cart to give it to me personally. He told me that he was new to it and asked us for an honest feedback. We gave him the feedback and I asked him about him. He continued sharing his story, which wasn’t different from thousands of others like him working day long for survival. I asked him if it’s late and we are keeping him from closing his shop and he smiled nicely and told me that his prime selling hours had just started. People, mostly younger lot, came up till 11 pm and sometimes as late as 11:30 pm and we were amongst the first customers that day.
After we ate and paid him the due amount he said “I hope you liked the noodles. Please come again.” I was moved by this simple man. He didn’t have much, he didn’t expect much but he was happy, focused and energetic. He was an entrepreneur, he was not complacent and at his age he was still trying new things with ageless energy. He was excited by simple things and didn’t expect much from life, but was full of gratitude for whatever little life offered him. This man had met Shahrukh, the superstar, and that was his life’s shining point. He was a fan of the star as thousands of lakhs of people around the world were, and the close encounter had left him entranced. They must both be the same age, both from Delhi, both self-made, met in one of life’s miraculous chance meets. But he couldn’t see how special he himself was. He didn’t see the Shahrukh in him.
I asked him if he would go to watch the movie ‘Fan’, which was surprisingly the movie’s name, and he smiled and said, with a pensive contemplative worldly-wise look, that he had to work. I understood.