“You were asleep!” I shouted. He looked at me, his face impassive. This morning I heard he had died. “Jaundice!” the other watchmen told me. I remembered him asleep and knew he had slept that night because he was already suffering. And my thoughts went to us the chosen when we fall sick: “Jaundice!” shouts the doctor, “Bed rest! Lie still! Recoup!” But for Saldana there was no lying still, there was no recouping, till death gave him the rest he must have truly longed for.
And this morning as I heard what Salman Khan had said, asking why there was so much of hype over 26/11, why so much hullabaloo over the people who had died in the terrorist attack at the five star hotels, and why there was hardly any such ballyhoo when hundreds died practically everyday in railway stations and in floods I knew he had spoken the truth. Thousands died in Bhopal, but even as we looked at sightless eyes, we closed ours. Thousands are dying in Pakistan in the floods, we see them lunging out for food packets and drinking water and we turn the page.
But when a hundred die in a five star hotel it becomes history! I was a hundred metres from VT station, at the Press Club when Kasab and gang attacked Mumbai. I saw the bloodstains on the floor, the pictures of cheap suitcases and luggage and yet I exploded with everyone else on the attack at the Taj. Nobody cries for the poor who die, except a God above. I can picture Saldana today as he walks around in a home above: “What is this?” “Your home Saldana!” says the angel. “Am I supposed to be its watchman?” “Oh no, not anymore, you own it!” I remember him sleeping; did I even ask if he was sick? No, I didn’t! And yet if a colleague of mine falls asleep at his desk, I would be all concern.
Do the poor of this world have to die before they are comforted and looked after, or can’t we look at them, not as watchmen, garbage collectors and maidservants but as human beings, and start giving them some solace here on earth? “Santana?” I had asked remembering the Woodstock band and the marathon drum solo. “Saldana!” he’d said and that was the last I ever heard his voice.