The Pauper

Written by: Sumit Majumdar


Bent and frail, the old man stood
Seeking alms only when in need of food
Without any whining to gain sympathy
But an upturned palm and a silent plea

In the five odd years that I saw him on Lansdowne Road
To and from office with long strides as I strode
Merely a few times did he indicate his need
Which at first I ignored, as I did his creed

One afternoon, on my way back home
Engrossed in thought and walking alone
An upturned palm was thrust from the side
And I fished for change and my rancour died

After that, he ignored me a while
I felt he was testing me, as he would a child
A frugal life he lived, and his needs were few
To him it mattered little whence the ill wind blew

There is a temple off the road where he lived
Where the rich and powerful come to voice their need
And at the temple gate loiter a clutch of beggars
But never he; he sported different feathers

He shunned the spot where the pickings were fair
He had his dignity though his back was bare
A pungent odour still pervades the space he dwelt
Even a week after the morning of his death

Torso hanging forward between parted knees
His lips barely grazing mother earth for a farewell kiss
I saw him slouched thus, on that log that day
And distinctly recall it was morning, and the 14th of May

He died with dignity on his wooden throne
In death, as in life, he was all alone
I still don’t know what his story was
Nor how the dice of his fate was cast