With my odd timings in office, I had come to know the night guard, Yadavji, pretty well. With an ever-smiling face, he never went beyond a "good night madam", and few general pleasantries (except once, when he gave me advice on leaving early and how unsafe the city is).
After his 2-month vacation to his village, it was nice seeing him back at his desk yesterday. Our conversation though, longer than usual, was far from what I expected.
"Chutti kaisi thi Yadavji?"
"Acchi thi madam. Par Jaldi aana pada. Teen maheene ki lee thi, do mahene me hi waapas aa gaya."
"Fir phi, do maheene! Mazaa aaya hoga."
"Haan wo to hai. Puri family gaaon mei hi to hain. Mata, Pita, Biwi, Bache.."
"Biwi bhi? Saal mei ek hi baar milte ho unse?"
"Haan, to aur koi chaara bhi to nahi hai. Saal mei chutti ek hi baar milti hai."
"Arre, to unhe Mumbai leke aao na?!"
"Kharcha bahut ho jaayega, aur rent bhi to kam nahi hai. Yahaan ki night duty or subah ki housing complex ki duty ke beech usse time kahaan de paaonga?"
"Aap abhi kahaan rehte ho?"
"Kaheen nahi. Raat yahaan pe gujaar leta hun, phir subah housing complex duty karne chala jaata hun."
By now, I was gaping with my mouth open.
"Aapko ajeeb lag raha hai naa? Ab to aadat pad chuki hai. Dus saal se yahi kar raha hun."
"Par aap sote kahaan ho?"
"jab time milta hai, do-teen jhapki maar leta haun."
"How was your holiday Yadavji?"
"It was good Madam. But I had to come back early, and shorten it by a month."
"Two months though, must have been fun!"
"Haan, it was. My whole family is there - Parents, Wife, Kids..."
"Wife too?? You meet her only once a year?"
"What else can I do? I don't get leave."
"Arre, bring her to Mumbai then."
"It will be too much of an expenditure. And between my night duties in this office, and morning duties at a housing complex, I won't be able to devote time to her."
"Where do you stay?"
"I don't have a house here. Nights here, and mornings at the complex."
By now, I was gaping with my mouth open
"It must be shocking to you. But now, I am used to it. I have lived like this for 10 years."
"But don't you need sleep?"
"I catch a few wink here and there."
I cannot imagine a life without a home to go to. Its not about the physical house with all the comfort and the cooked food. Home is what anchors us at the end of the day right? This guy doesn't have an anchor for 10 months in a year, and tries to make it up in 2 months.
I wonder what he looks forward to at the end of the day. Some time alone in an office full of tables to catch a wink?
More than that, I wonder how he can still keep an ever-smiling face?