Today I took a walk. I walked west along the river, towards Ram Jhula. It was the most beautiful walk. 50’s style cars rolled past me, and beggars lined the road. The sun slanted through the trees, and lit the whole place up like a fairytale. Saddhus walked on walking sticks, and in the distance, I could hear the roar of the river.
I stopped to take pictures. Along the right side of the dirt road, there were long stone benches every twenty feet or so, placed there long ago for the convenience of walkers like me, I suppose. As I began snapping shots of the late afternoon sunlight, and the women in colorful saris, I noticed that I kept capturing the image of a little boy, who was hopping towards me along the benches. At first he was a long ways off, but as I continued taking pictures, his image got larger and larger in the shots. Suddenly, he was standing beside me.
He was about seven years old. As soon as he reached me, he hopped off the bench and began walking with his arms behind his back, eyes downcast. He was very shy, but curious enough to have showed up. I sat down on one of the benches and waited for him. When he looked up, I gave him a big smile. Then I held up my camera. “Do you want to take a picture?” I asked in English. He didn’t seem to understand the words, but the gesture caught his eye. He kept his eyes trained on the camera, and walked slowly toward me. I held it out to him, and showed him how to push the silver button. He took it shyly, and aimed it towards the dusty road, where a yellow-robed holy man had just appeared. He snapped a shot, and looked genuinely pleased when it turned out. He smiled and handed the camera back to me quickly.
I took a few more shots, and noticed that he was still lingering around. I offered him the camera again. He took it eagerly, and gave me a gorgeous smile. He aimed it at me. I showed him how to zoom in and out. Then he snapped the picture and laughed in delight. He threw up his hands, and then remembered himself, and handed the camera back to me, dropping his arms to his sides.
He continued to linger around as I took more pictures. If he was a teenager, he would have been a mad flirt, what with all the shy smiles and darting glances. As it was, he was seven years old, and just being a child. Then he took a small wooden bracelet off his wrist and offered it to me. I opened my mouth wide in amazement, and made several gestures to make sure he was really giving it to me. He was. “Shukriyah,” I said again and again. “Shukriyah (thank you).” He beamed in happiness, and had to look down at the ground. He did a little circle in the dirt, his arms folded behind his narrow back. When he looked back up, his eyes were shining. He could hardly contain himself. “Gabazee,” he kept saying, though I had no idea what this meant. “Gabazee.”
I let him take one or two more pictures, showing him his handiwork each time, and my heart broke a little when I had to leave him. He kept murmuring, “Gabazee,” his white teeth bright against his brown skin, as he smiled, peering up at me under dark black lashes.