My brief encounter with a shoe polisher on the streets of Delhi
My daily morning walk, rather run, from the Barakhamba Road Metro station to my office is always an uneventful one. With the 9.05 entry deadline looming large, making an on time entry into office premises is all that occupies my mind after moving out of the Metro station. However, even during this busy hour of the day, one sound which never escaped my attention was that of a teenaged boy requesting passers-by to get their shoes polished by him.
Just outside the Metro station, a dozen such 'shoe polish' boys wait for prospective customers every morning. Out of all of them, this particular boy always attracted attention because he would continuously stare at the shoes of the passersby and almost plead them to get a polish.
While during the morning hours I never had the time to stop for a polish, one afternoon, I decided to walk over to him and finally test his skills. The boy asked me 'Should i put the black colour?' and then started his job. The thin dark skinned boy told me he was Abdul and stayed at the nearby Shivaji Bridge railway station. Even as he polished my shoes with great dedication, he kept responding to my innocuous queries with equal enthusiasm. The boy didn't know what his exact age was but did remember that he had hopped on to a train to Delhi many years ago from Chhapra in Bihar after a tiff with his drunkard father.
Abdul chatted away happily for about 15 minutes giving me the feeling that he had finally found somebody to tell his story. However, in course of the conversation and the painstaking polishing of the shoes, he did not look up at my face even once. He just kept staring rather peculiarly on the shoes while polishing them.
Once he was done with the job, I took out my purse to hand over the 20 rupees he had asked for initially. But as I extended my hand to give the money, Abdul couldn't locate my hands at all. With a sheepish smile, he said, "Sir, please keep the money here. I can't see anything" indicating towards the wooden box in which he had kept his brushes and shoe polishes.
Absolutely dumbstruck by his statement, I asked how he managed to polish shoes then. Abdul promptly replied, "I can smell shoes". He then added that when he had started polishing shoes 'many years' ago, he could see everything and then his vision started to fade away. Now he doesn't see anything but polishing shoes is all he has ever learnt to do.
I wanted to help him and may be even approach all of you for some assistance for his treatment, but the boy just vanished from there the next day. His fellow 'shoe polish' boys also couldn't help me much. Hope he is doing fine wherever he is...