A touch worth a thousand words

Satish K Sharma

WHEN he ran his scaly, but eager fingers on my hand and pressed his palm over mine repeatedly, I thought he was overwhelmed because that is what old people do to show gratitude. The truth, pointed out to me by his Bhavai artiste-colleague, arrested my speech for a while.

The old man was one of the three Bhavai (a dying folk theatre form from Gujarat) artistes who had staged a short play on road safety during the concluding ceremony of the week-long awareness programme that is held across the country in January every year. After the ceremony, over which I presided as the city police chief, we were having tea and biscuits with members from different groups who had cooperated with the traffic police to make the programme a success.

I was particularly concerned with the old man sitting at the far end because, for some reason, he was taking more time than usual to finish his tea. I thought it was old age. Only later did I realise that he took time because he had to feel the biscuits before picking them up from the plate.

As I got up, there was a rush for group photographs. I had to oblige because it was the least I could do to acknowledge their effort. When all groups had had their photos taken from all the angles they wanted, I noticed the three of them; the Bhavai artistes. Poor and apparently apologetic about their anachronistic art form, they had no courage to approach me for a picture. But they had sent across their message effectively, and so I felt duty-bound to greet them. ‘Come on, let’s have a photo with you also,’ I called out and walked towards them. They felt elated. I shook hands with them and congratulated them on their performance — the transgender dressed up like the woman who played Rangli, the thin man who played Ranglo and the old man who played the wise man. (Ranglo and Rangli are the permanent duo in every Bhavai.)

The old man, when I shook hands with him, did not let go of my hand. He felt it for nearly a minute. That’s when I was told that he was blind. It opened my eyes.

What he captured through touch was the same which others captured with a camera — a memory. And while the photographs will fade, the touch will remain fresh for a longer time. For me too, I hope.

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