As a haggard scruffy and balding man, in probably his early thirties, was poring over our newspaper intently , outside the office premises, somebody yelled at him: “What’s the news today?”, in a tone laden with vicious, taunting sarcasm. The balding young man looked at his tormentor of sorts, grinned a sheepish smile, hurriedly and embarrassedly walked away. This incident piqued my interest. I asked the smug man whose taunt had made the scruffy man run away who the man was? The response was as curt as it was rude: “Oh, he’s this crazy man, who hangs around the office building”. I squelched and smothered the welter of emotions – sadness and anger- that welled up inside me and ambled out of our office premises to see this man. He was nowhere to be seen. I enquired from the storeowners about his whereabouts. They asked me not to worry. “He hovers around the building everyday. You will see him one of these days”, the storeowners said.
A couple of days later, as I was smoking outside my office premises, I heard footsteps and the sound of a walking stick hitting the corridor floor. I turned around. Lo and Presto, it was the same man, smiling sheepishly at me. I waved and smiled back at him. He became emboldened and sat next right to me. Puffing my cigarette, I asked, “what is your name?” The man smiled but did not respond. I pressed further and repeated the same question. The man made a guttural sound and attempted a sentence but was rather incoherent. I said, “Abdul”. He nodded. (Abdul is not the man’s name but I use this name to address him, for no one knows his name”. Abdul wistfully looked at me and, with his eyes, motioned toward my cigarette. I pulled out a fresh one and offered Abdul one. He gladly took it and started puffing. Thus began my enduring and abiding friendship with my specially- abled friend, who I endearingly call Abdul.
Abdul is intelligent (He neither wanders nor fails to understand; his problem, as I understand it, is muddled and incoherent speech). He has noted down the time that I usually arrive in office and amble out for a smoke. We have forged a bond and a special friendship. I teasingly call him, “badmaasha”(goon) and he retorts and responds in kind. We then laugh. Abdul, when he sits close to me, with sad eyes, ruffles his hands through my hair, pats my back and mutters something. He might be incoherent but the language the we communicate with is clear: it is that of affection and friendship. When I leave office, Abdul, sitting on the steps of the stair case, hurries downstairs, anticipating my move of hailing an auto-rickshaw, yells loudly for autowallahs to stop and hails a ride for me. I thank him and Abdul gleefully bids me good bye.
I may have forged a bond with Abdul, my friend but there are countless and innumerable Abduls in our society who remain on the margins of society. Unable to articulate their needs, wants or even defend themselves when attacked, harassed and even, at times, abused, the Abduls of our society- special children of God- suffer in agonizing silence. They are mute spectators to society’s lapsed obligations to them. While many in our society offer people like Abdul food but many also poke fun at them. But offering food is not enough. Abduls of our society need and want attention, empathy and love, something, at times, their families are also loathe to give and offer.
Moreover, often times, people like Abdul suffer from eminently curable problems and issues, but, alas, for want of money and specialized care, they suffer. Can we, as a society, do more to help, assist and rehabilitate people like my dear friend, Abdul? Yes, we can and we must. We must, first and foremost, recognize the nature of the “problem” and then do our best to fulfill our responsibilities and even duties towards Abduls of the world. As a society, our “duty of care”, must lie in developing and inculcating collective empathy for the specially-abled. One way could be to understand that anyone can be victim of psychological or psycho-emotional problems, including ourselves. And, that it is neither the fault of the victims of these problems nor are they responsible for their condition. We could then demonstrate our gratitude for being able- physically, psychologically and emotionally- by collective action to help ameliorate the condition of Abduls of the world. We could contribute by donating money, clothes, food but, more importantly, we can and must pitch for specialized, institutional care for the specially-abled of our society. This is the least we can do and we owe it to these special people. Let us take a pledge today and do what we can and must for the Abdul’s of our world. As I am about to wind up this essay, I keenly look forward to tomorrow. I want to meet and smoke a cigarette with my dear friend Abdul- a friend who neither has an axe to grind, nor an agenda to promote, but with whom I revel in the sheer joy of unalloyed friendship.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]