I saw an old man at Ghora Chowk late last night.
It was a mere glance, as much a glance as a moving car can afford.
There he was, an old man holding four balloons in his hand, sitting all alone by the side.
We passed him by and I turned around to look, every time a vehicle would approach he would strain his creaking old knees and legs to stand up. Balloons in hand. So he could be noticed.
So he could be visible.
The cars would rush past, and he would sit back down again. Whenever he would see another at a distance, he would stand up again.
There was something about him that made a knot in my throat; that felt as a punch to my heart.
Here was an old man, sitting all alone at 1AM in the sweltering heat on an empty road, with nothing but his plight.
It was a distressing contrast; the vibrant balloons, and the grim desperation of the man who had pinned his hopes on them. I wondered if people even bought balloons these days, I thought about the utter distress and desolation that the hope for whose reduction hung by the thread of a balloon. At 1AM, at an old age, on a road in a city with stifling heat.
It was a mere glance, and yet I thought of my old grandfather who needs care, attention and comfort at the stage of life, as do all elderly. I thought of the difference between them, and the injustice inequality is. No old man should have to be subjected to the ignominy of poverty like this.
Yet here was a man, solitary in his presence on the road, hard to miss, but not solitary in his suffering.
There is a roundabout in Main Market. And on its ground lie dozens of people, every day, living and sleeping. That, is their abode. That, is all they have.
I look at them, and I look at myself.
There are times I cannot bear Lahore’s heat. I thank heavens for the ACs and the splits and the UPS. Why can’t I bear the heat? Is my skin different from the skin of those lying in Main Market right under the sun? My intolerance is my privilege. I pinch my arm to remind myself we have the same skin, separate but by the stroke of fortune. I can’t bear the heat because I have the choice not to, they bear it as it strikes down at them, because they have no choice.
The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers, the young, the old, the disabled begging on the roads every day. We inhabit two different worlds behind the window from which we see each other.
The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers, the young, the old, the disabled begging on the roads every day. You look at them and you remember, those residing in their palatial residences, in their Raiwinds, their villas, their flats, with their wealth and stakes stashed in places like London, Dubai and Panama. With enough wealth for their seven wretched generations, while the millions live in the uncertainty of what the other day will bring.
The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers every day.
These are the people upon whose bones, flesh and blood the palaces and the wealth has been built upon.
I caught a passing glance at the old man, and I cared not one bit about democracy, justice, morals, ethics, political correctness, and wished for all this lot to rot in hell with their ill-gotten wealth.
May the shame they lack be found in their ruin. And ruin they will.
There are two worlds. What finds no fulfillment in this world, will find fact in the other.
On our way back home, I silently prayed in my heart that the old man had gone home.
I don’t know why I did, but I just did.
And yet, as we rushed past Ghora Chowk again on the entirely empty roads, there he was. Still sitting. Balloons in hand.
It was 2:30 AM.
I glanced again and his sight seized my heart.
Yesterday, I saw an old man at Ghora Chowk and I wished the world came crushing down.
I wonder if someone bought his balloons,
I wonder when he went home,
If he had any.