The Forbidden Heroes of India

भले पधारो अतिथि, भले पधारो |

This man was shouting in the spirit of welcoming us to his little home. He was so excited as if he had seen humans from the city for the first time in life. And, actually was almost like I said.

The back-story is something like this. I’d been on an experimental no-money walking pilgrimage and I walked — along with a dear friend and mentor — more than 300 kilometers.

We received lots of love on the way. We ate food and took shelter at various places like spiritual sanctuaries, schools, tribal villages but one place was very special and it has ripped my heart. We’re invited by a family that’s treated as the lowest caste and sometimes coined as the untouchables.

Yes, this is a bitter truth of my incredible India that there’s this disparity in caste systems. One such man from this neglected and suppressed community came forward to invite us to lunch and rest. This man is the hero of our story, the hero who’s not allowed to become a hero by our fellow countrymen — Punjabhai Chamar.

Chamar means a cobbler and is one of the many untouchables clan of India. The fun was that when we’re asking the address of the area where they live, we got looks from people; like they aren’t comfortable even to tell us the address — an area of cobblers.

आपको वहाँ जाना क्यों है ?

One was so surprised and shocked upon learning this fact that someone wants to meet them. Anyway, we reached the venue somehow after an hour of asking and getting lost in the village.

Upon reaching the location where he told us to, he came running to meet us. It seemed that he was coming to rescue us or something as we’re the focus of all the shops around and for the first time, after many years, I felt like an alien from X999 galaxy; some 3.3 x 10 raised to 9 trillion light-years away from our planet.

But, we met after sharing a few calls of searching for each other. He took us to his little home in a nearby place. The place was filled with beautiful little homes and colorful people.

There was a beautiful woman washing utensils, a — too much — healthy stray dog barking at us, lots of fine dust kissing our feet, little children running here and there, mud walls displaying their tribal art, the fragrance of some pungent food and finally the grey-orphan water flowing here and there.

A perfect picture of a neglected Indian village.

I was continuously trying out the formula to be termed as untouchable but was unsuccessful. Just then, we reached the hut of our host and were welcomed by his bed-ridden mother, wife, and his elder son.

We entered his home and sat on the floor. As I was checking out his drawing-room — cum bedroom cum guest room cum kitchen — someone brought us cold water. I knew there was no refrigerator in the area but somehow, they managed to get the cold water for us. We talked for a while and then he took us to a floor that was being constructed on top of the room. We went up and started talking for a while, while the lunch was being prepared.

बेटा, ज़िन्दगी में बहुत मज़दूरी की है |

This sentence was all I needed to know his story of struggle — from childhood to the present moment. He told me how a shopkeeper helped him in his childhood. The shopkeeper was his Godfather. He had faced various problems due to the low-caste tag given to his family and feels that such things aren’t necessary for society. He’s now retired and promotes unity in diversity in the area. He sings religious songs that talk about the equality of beings.

He was happy because they seldom have a guest in their home and we’re the first from a city; especially Mumbai. He has never been to any big city in his life and I invited him to come as a guest in my city. I’ve promised to host his family and take him around. Soon, lunch was ready and we went down.

They first served as sweet dish halva with dry fruits and later we’re served lentil and rice in the same utensil. It was so tasty that I kept licking my finger. We’re served chilled buttermilk and the women of the home were doing the fan for us; like the women used to do to the king in olden times.

It was an AWESOME lunch and after that, we exchanged telephone numbers and offered our goodbyes. Our hero came to escort us to the outskirts of the village. He also told us the way forward.

On the way forward, we had only one topic — the hospitality of this untouchable. We the people have coined them a name, keep them neglected and suppressed but there’s so much love in their heart. There was no feeling of inequality in their heart. Maybe, it’s us, the over-educated and uncivilized lots who create differences because they are simple folks with only love in their heart and glint their eyes.

While we in the cities have forgotten the hospitality toward guests, these forbidden heroes are keeping the head of our culture high.

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