(Published in the E- Magazine PATHIVUKAL dated May 2003. issue: 47)
Saturday Night. The time was well past midnight. The region called Richmond/ Duncan Area which is the merry making and recreation locality in the downtown of Toronto city was still bustling with activities. In every corner there was a club overflowing with youth and their dance and music. The street-vendors of ‘Hot Talk’ were going round and round, busily looking after their business. Those at the steering wheels of call-taxis were also busy with their passengers boarding and alighting. Some were returning home, not delaying the process .Some others were just then arriving in taxis and cars. In the street-corners,in the midst of all these chaos the ‘homeless’ were deep in sleep with the ‘man-hole’ lids providing the warmth.I was returning from work, retiring for the day, observing all that was happening around me. Observing my surroundings and my fellow-beings have always been my favourite past-time.
While I was standing there, waiting for the signal to change, “Can you spare some coins, my friend?” _so a voice reached me. I turned around. At my side there was a middle aged man, a black Canadian, standing. A beard with slightly grayish tinge. Bushy moustache. A face glowing with happiness and a half-smile. In his hand there was a plastic container. On that it was written ‘Clarke for Toronto Mayor’ in English. Above all that which surprised me was his appearance of a gentleman, sporting suit and coat. I dumped a two dollar coin into the plastic container extended towards me. At that, with the word ‘Thanks’ he conveyed his gratitude to me. This great city, despite all these years spent here, has never failed to supply provide new, different experiences to me every day. Its mysterious self seems something that can never be fully apprehended. So much so, it drove me to coin a new proverb that the real depth of this city indeed be deeper than the great grand sea itself!
The man continued. Taking hold of my hands in a warm handshake he introduced himself: “Friend, my name is Clarke, I am standing for the election of Toronto Mayorship. I am homeless”. His words surprised me further. For the election of Toronto Mayorship many are in the fray and I had already known it. But, as I didn’t know beforehand that such a person, a homeless, dwelling on the streets was also one of the contestants, I was, kind of, taken aback. With my sense of surprise writ large on my face I told him, “Its news to me”. His response was “It is not surprising, for, the journals here would’ve thought why waste time writing about a person like me”. I was reminded of a story narrated to me when I was a boy. Once the then President of Srilanka, J.R., paid a visit to Ankodai. Ankodai is the famous mental asylum in Srilanka. And, one of the inmates of Ankodai addressed the prestigious visitor thus: “Greetings. May I know who you are?” J.R.responded with a smile, saying, “I am the all powerful legally – elected President of this country”. Hearing that the patient who threw at him the query, laughed aloud and then advised J.R with these words: “Sir, I too had uttered those words and as a result had been trapped here ever since. Don’t you dare tell that again to others, that which you have told me now. Then, you will also suffer the same fate”.
A thought crossed my mind. ‘This man is also saying that he is one of the candidates for the Mayor Election. He is a homeless one. And, he is wearing coat and suit in the manner of a gentleman. Could it be that he is also one like the person who welcomed J.R.? Or else why should he say in one breath and in all seriousness that he is homeless and also that he is standing for the election of Toronto Mayorship?’ But, his voice was clear and confidant. There was no conflict or stammer in his words. From his voice no one would think of doubting his sanity. Not even a semblance of such suspicion could confront them. He conversed in such a balanced, down-to-earth manner.
“Friend, may I ask you something?” said I. “Sure”, he responded atonce and waited for my questions. (Here, greeting one another with the words “Hey Man” or ‘My Friend’ is very common).
“You look like a perfect gentleman. At the same time you call youself ‘Homeless’… Who has given you all these dresses!” So I asked, my voice expressing surprise. For that he said “Friend, to tell you the truth, all these have come to me on their own, given to me voluntarily by those who have care and concern for my welfare. The pathway at the spot where Adelaide and Bay meet is where I live. If ever you feel like seeing me, come there ”
With a faint smile I said, “You are a mysterious man”. He too responded with such a smile. I continued. “If you have no objection about revealing, please let me know what gave you the itch to stand in the Mayor Election?” Remaining silent for a while he then said, “You don’t
know about my past. If you come to know of it you would turn shell-shocked”.
My excitement increased. “But, if you don’t tell me about your past my head would go splinters, as like the Vikramadhithya-Vethalam tale”, said I. “Vethalam’? Who is that?”, asked he, “Oh, that’s not important. You can begin narrating your story”, said I. Responding, he continued:”Once upon a time I was engaged in a million-dollar foul play. I distributed drugs.I worked as a pimp with a bunch of girls. Then only I came to realize that life is not just money.. Now, my one and only aim in life is to love all my fellow-beings. Love them all sincerely and in all seriousness. You don’t know. Moreover_”. He stopped.
“Why did you stop?” asked I eagerly. “If I am to go past, crossing this signal I will be stopped. And, advices would be handed over to me, unasked. If I were to be seen by the policemen they won’t leave me. They won’t leave you too. But, do you think that such a situation would befall a white-man? The immigrants, minorities are the ones so much affected and suffer a lot. I should help them all. And that’s why I am going to stand in this Election”, So he replied to my query
. In the end, the story turned in another direction. “Friend! I am a writer. I am bringing out a Monthly. What should I do to have you interviewed for that?” asked I. He responded saying, “My pleasure. You can come to my place, that is, the Adelaide-Bay junction. We can meet there”. And then,he asked me “‘Do you have children? “Oh yes, two real good girl children”, said I. When he listened to that he gave me two ‘twenty-five cent’ coins and also offered the advice given below:
“If ever your children go out, give them these coins. Tell them to inform you wherever they are”.
After that he took leave of me and went away. I stood looking at his departing frame, till it went out of sight. Just like this mysterious city, a mysterious man, – felt I.
Translated into English by Latha Ramakrishnan