I was recently pondering about ephemeral connections and their place in our lives. Those brief encounters with people that you meet in passing. Those that you sometimes take for granted because they seem unimportant until you think about them in a different city or a new milieu.
Every morning after the wake up call at 5:45 am, we had till about 6:30 am to wash and change into our school uniforms. At 6:30 am you would line up outside the study hall for an hour long study period. However, if you were hasty about it, you did not need the entire 45 minutes to wash and change. You could salvage anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes for yourself. Those precious minutes were in certain seasons, also the exact time for sunrise.
Beyond the canteen, there was a small spot which was always quiet and had a great view of the mountains. There were other spots too, but they were never as quiet as this one. In my childish naivete, I used to treat this spot as a serendipitous discovery. A secret spot, that I did not want anyone to find out about. Every early morning, I would sneak here to enjoy some quiet and if the sky was clear, a perfect rising of the sun from between the the cascades of hills that outstretched as far as you could see. I would sit there sometimes to read some pages of a novel, or during exams, a chapter that I still needed to go over. Sometimes, I sat there, as if to just breathe.
From this vantage point, there were stairs that descended down to the Dhobi house, an elongated stoic stone building that seemed to be tucked away from view. Dhobi is a Hindi word that is used for someone who makes money by doing laundry. Our school Dhobi lived in the Dhobi house. He would visit the locker room, sometimes to fetch dirty clothes from our Dhobi boxes and sometimes to deliver clean washed clothes.
Every morning, he would emerge from that building and climb up those steps, passing the “Secret Spot”. The Dhobi was a thin frail man. With hands behind his back, he would walk with an awkward gait. My memory fails me here, but maybe the first few time he saw me sitting at the view spot, we did not greet each other. But one morning, I remember, he turned his face towards me as he passed me and mumbled — “Jham Jhim Jhum Jham”, all the while gesticulating with his hands as if he were performing some magic trick. For some weird reason, instead of looking at him with suprise, I sported a wide grin and replied with — “Jhum Jham Jhim Jhum”, also gesticulating with my hands as if cancelling or adding to his spell.
And that became our morning ritual. Every morning, we would have this brief exchange, and he would go on to his duties and me, back to my book. Some days we also added a — “How are you?”. Some days he would ask if I was OK, if I wore a lost or stressed look on my face. But every morning, this was a ritual that made both of us smile — however briefly. And surprisingly, this was the only place I ran into him. This became such a ritual that on days that the Dhobi did not show up, I would wonder about his whereabouts. There were many mornings I myself did not show up — unable to salvage those 20 minutes.
While the ritual was sanctimonious, it was the only exchange we ever had. I never asked him his name — he never asked me mine. Once I graduated from school, I never saw him again. But in all its right, this ephemeral connection had a place in my life. In many ways it was about familiarity in an alien place, a moment of magical respite and childish indulgence. It was about things that makes us human. It was as important as it was ephemeral. But isn’t everything .