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Last week I woke up to blaring music. One glance at the clock revealed the time to be six. I was bewildered. What had come over the old lady next door that she was playing her radio loud enough to wake the dead, umm… I mean the sleeping?! Ours is a colony mostly inhabited by retired older folk and silence rules. My curiosity got the better of me and instead of going off to brush my teeth, I hurried over to open the balcony door, wincing as I stepped out. The music was even louder outside.  I peered next door, nothing. Just then I caught sight of an almost forgotten, but totally familiar figure disappearing down the road and out of sight: The Man in White.

The reason I call him ‘The Man in White’ is because, duh, he always wears white. A thin, dark man of indeterminate age (he could be 50, 60 or 70 or anywhere in between), always, but always, in spotless white trousers and shirt, though slightly frayed. A blue tie adorns his neck. On his nose sits a gold-rimmed glasses, the gold now just a conjecture, kept in place with string, magic and whatnot. On his feet are shoes, old, with holes in the soles, and covered in dust. On his head at a rakish angle sits a shabby golf cap, a gift from one or other of his benefactors. But what really gets your attention is the moderate-sized tape-recorder (does anyone even remember them anymore?) he carries on one shoulder, from which played loud music at all times. And I mean AT ALL TIMES.

He makes an incongruous picture not just because of the tape-recorder or the loudly playing music. His attire is so different from what the local people normally wear. Among the mundus, lungis and trousers and casual shirts, his white shirt tucked into his white trousers and the broad blue tie makes him stand out. No one hereabouts wears a tie (it would be madness to, in the stifling heat) unless required by his job to do so and here was someone who was doing it voluntarily and cheerfully.

Cheerful. That is another thing about him. He is always cheerful. I don’t know what it is about people who are a bit removed from reality. They are always cheerful. Yeah, it could be the other way too, some of them are always sad, I admit. But our man is happy. And he talks a LOT. He comes close to the Ancient Mariner when it is matter of collaring people and getting them to listen to him.

It was some years back, when I first moved into this colony, that I first saw him. He was dismissed as ‘mad’ by some. Others said he was highly intelligent and it was some sort of shock that led him to this state. There could be something in that because every morning found him poring over the newspaper. He was interested in current and world affairs. He’d hold forth on Bill Clinton, America, China, UN, SAARC etc. though most of what he said would go right above the listener’s head (which could be because we the listeners weren’t as intelligent as him), listeners who paid him scant attention, dismissed him with an indulgent smile or humored him by pretending to listen.

From another resident of the colony I came to know that he worked for a pittance in the houses around. he did manual work, cleaned, weeded and swept the yard, moved boxes, went to the market. The families took advantage of him, paid him the bare minimum which he accepted without a murmur. He had a peculiar habit. He liked coffee, with lot of sugar, and when I say lot, I mean a great LOT. The sugar could never ever be too much for him. He’d ask you to add even more. So the people gave him more of coffee with gross amounts of sugar and paid him very less for his labor. The poor man didn’t even know, or didn’t care how he was being shortchanged.

 Sometimes he’d disappear for days and reappear just as mysteriously. Someone else said he had children residing some place and that’s where he went to. When they had had enough of him,. he’d return to this familiar haunt of his.  All this I had heard of him when I first moved in here. Then I was gone for a while from here and only got back a couple of years back. In the meantime I had almost forgotten about him. I was not even sure if he was alive or not. That is, till I heard the loud music and went to investigate and found him walking away jauntily as ever, his golf cap at exactly the same rakish angle on his head, his back ramrod straight, the spring in his step intact and his ‘music box’ belting out old hit songs as loud as ever.

Omg. i just realized I don’t know his name after all. 😮

©Shail Mohan 2016