Ramnath sat in one corner of the restaurant. His eyes on the floor, head hung, shoulder a bit droopier than it normally is. He suddenly felt the weight of his years today. He held his gaze up at the restaurant that he had built over the last 30 years. One brick at a time. One chair at a time. Yesterday was a Wednesday afternoon and business was as brisk as it could get on a weekday when office-going folks stop by for a quick lunch break or two friends catching up for a cup of chai over a round of discussion of how awful their lives are.
“‘Yesterday was quite a day’”, Ramnath thought. It was the most crowded he had seen in his restaurant ever since it had started. How he wished it were for the right reasons. Journalists, social media evangelists, NGO types, all flocked in to see who was this “guy who turned a poor child away, just because he was wearing dirty clothes with no shoes”. Everyone had an opinion on him – his beliefs, his life and none of them were kind. They all turned up to give him an earful about how he was a racist, classist and insensitive.
”What did I do so wrong?” Ramnath tried to reason. “All I did was ask the boy to sit outside while I got him food. After all I run a family restaurant where people come not just to eat my food, but also to enjoy a clean environment and with good gentry. I cannot just let anyone and everyone come inside even though they have the money. It’s after all up to me to maintain the standard of my restaurant. A place that I painstakingly built from scratch. Why do people think it’s wrong that I have rules about my own place?” He just didn’t get it.
Ranjana was raging with anger. She paced up and down her narrow apartment. It was the best that she could afford to justify her NGO salary. ‘How could he? How dare he?’ she thought, trying to come up with ways that would keep the heat on Ramnath and his restaurant for a few more days. This piece of news can’t just be a one-day affair, it has to be a movement. “People have to come together and raise their voice against this kind of bias. Bias about street kids not being able to get into so-called decent restaurants, bias about how our society looks at classism with a convenient eye. They stand up for it only when it suits them; otherwise they look the other way. It’s not fair! Rambo is a good boy. So what if he stays on the causeway footpath. So what if he doesn’t have money or a place to call home or even a bathroom to take a shower every day, isn’t he entitled to the same rights as everyone else? Right to enter any place as he wishes to? After all I was paying for him. What right did Ramnath have to not let him enter the restaurant? It’s like the British never left!” Her blood was boiling.
Rambo sat on the corner of Theobroma on Colaba causeway, his eyes firmly entrenched on a firang couple. “Am sure if I hound them enough, I can get at least 50 rupees,” he thought with a glee in his eyes. He never ate at a fixed time. Even if he had food. He had trained himself to wait till he heard the gurgling sounds from his empty stomach. If he made 50, he would then go to Vitthal and treat himself to chowmein for 15 rupees. 25 rupees will be stored for a ‘rainy day’ when some of the bhais or police wallas ask for their pound of flesh from the boys that make money off the streets. Just when he was planning how the last 10 rupees will be spent, along came Victor.
Victor studied in a college nearby and knew Rambo through Ranjana. He had heard about the commotion that happened yesterday at Ramnath’s restaurant and wanted to make sure if Rambo was fine. He walked up to Rambo and said “Hi buddy, all ok? I heard about what happened yesterday. Are you fine?” Rambo looked at him. It took him a few seconds to register what Victor was talking about “Oh that! It’s nothing. I didn’t feel bad. I never feel bad. I don’t care. I am happy”
As much as Victor tried to make more conversation with Rambo, he didn’t care. He was over and done with yesterday. Today was all that mattered. In fact, now was the most important moment of his life. It was now that his stomach gurgled!