How many people do you see in a day? Not meet, just see. If you are in a city like Mumbai, that number will be well in the thousands. Let’s narrow down to the people you interact with. A few hundred?
You get up, shower and get dressed for work. As you exit your apartment complex, you might smile at your security guard. Most probably you ignore him. He sounds like a migrant from India’s north. He is supposed to stay up all night but it’s unlikely. He might earn around 3000 Rs. a month. That’s hardly enough to survive in Mumbai and send a decent amount of money back home to his wife. So he works a second job. In fact, his job as a security guard might be his second job. He might be toiling away in a factory by day and is too exhausted to guard anyone by night. Which is why he tends to catch a snooze. For those of you who return late at night to see him wrapped in a blanket snoring away, consider the fact that he might not wish to sleep, his body just gives up on him. He does try some times. Do you know his name?
You wait at your bus-stop and catch the bus to the train station. The conductor snarls at you as you hand him a 100 rupee note for a five rupee ticket. He has been up and standing since perhaps four in the morning. He lives in the stunningly decrepit BEST quarters with leaky walls and a shockingly inadequate water supply. He hasn’t had time to bathe and looks like it. You wrinkle your nose in quiet disgust and move away. He supports a his wife and two children who go to school. Have you cared to think about his life at all? What do they call him at home?
You stop for a quick bite at the train station. The proprietor of the tea stall smacks the little boy on his head as he drops a glass to the floor. “That’s five rupees out of your salary you sister-fucker!” he shouts and the tearful child sweeps up the shards. He has no time to wipe the tears as he has to serve you your tea. He hates his master with a passion but will die to defend him because the master is all he knows. The master is all he has. He gives him food, however meager and pays him better than the other children he shares a cigarette with at night. 3 rupees more per day make a difference. It’s an extra meal a day for his little sister who is not old enough to work yet. You know him as “Chottu”. But what did his mother name him?
Your day does not really begin before you read the news. The man who sells the papers works with remarkable precision – making several transactions in an impossibly short span of time and never makes a mistake. The five rupee coin you toss over his pile of newspapers is pounced on and your change thrown back just as derisively along with the tabloid. He sells far less papers than he once used to. His young daughter is starting school and she has started in an expensive school thanks to zoning laws. He doesn’t know it, but one day she will refuse to let him attend a recital at school because she will be too embarrassed by his demeanor among her peers. You scan the change to see if anything was withheld and he glares at you as you are blocking his next customer. You stare back and withdraw without caring who he is. He is someone who appears to be serving you. He needs no name.
You hear the announcement over the loudspeakers. Your regular train has been moved to another platform – an infrequent occurrence but enough to warrant simultaneous curses from ten thousand voices. You fight the crowd that is doing exactly the same thing that you are doing and try to egg the mass of people in front of you to ascend the foot overbridge quickly. The crowd moves just as a crowd can, slowly. Once you make your way up the stairs, there is more room. You clutch your newspaper and satchel and jog to platform five dodging the people as best as you can.
The train is about to depart but as you reach it and extend your hand towards the door, four unknown hands grab you an pull you into the crowded compartment. You are inside. Your shirt is a little sweaty from the heat and the crowd. You look around you at three hundred nameless people sweating just as you are. Each hand is clutching a newspaper just as yours is. Nothing can be heard above the din of the train as it leaves the station. Everyone looks just as harassed, everyone, just as angry as you. What is your name, Mr. Nobody?