I opened the papers to glamorous pictures of a famous couple and headlines about their wedding at Jodhpur and their stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay.
But what made me sit up was an item in a tabloid about their chauffeur, who ferried the pair from the airport to the Taj:
When asked about the drive, all he said sadly was, “They didn’t ask about me!” I thought of the couple; how they must have got into the Bentley and that hour’s drive not even noticing the little man who sat a few inches away!
It was as a youngster I went to the funeral of an Anglo- Indian lady, Mrs Fewkes. She was old and had no living relative, and the priest was called by the neighbours to finish the rituals and bury the body. She lay old, cold and lonely in her sparse sitting room.
I had known her as a little boy when we discussed how to keep fish and I sat awhile respectfully. Suddenly I saw the cleaning woman coming in.
She swept most of the houses in the vicinity and she walked over to the body, stooped down, kissed the face and wept. She had not noticed me, and her sobs racked her body.
Suddenly she saw me and her cries grew controlled, “She was the only one who enquired about my family everyday,” she said, “she asked about my drunk husband, even took him to Alcoholics Anonymous, asked about my children.
She cared for me!” Next came the sweeper, a thin wiry fellow. He had cleaned himself before entering the house and had worn a white shirt and a pant. “Aunty was always kind to me,” he said.
Slowly I saw the house filling with the unlikeliest of people to be seen at a funeral; the sad faced shopkeeper, the woman who sold popcorn packets at the street corner, the beggar who stood outside the colony, the ayah who had an outhouse and reminded me of a boxer because I had seen her box her husband’s ears when he came home drunk, now wept softly near the body.
I looked at the scene and suddenly I also burst into tears as I remembered long talks we had had about goldfish and guppies. Strange she had time for a youngster like me! We all stood in silence when the priest came in.
I have seen many grand funerals after that with coffins made of costly wood and cemetery full of famous people, but the one I will never forget is that one in my childhood when all the little people came to say goodbye!
Do you have time for the little people round you, or like that famous couple do you think they are part of the furniture? Somewhere up in heaven God must have smiled at the people who gathered around old Mrs Fewkes..!