The peon was the only person who was unhappy when I was not there…because everybody else was happy about it. He loved me. I have never seen an older man than him. He was ninety or perhaps more. Perhaps he had made the century; in fact, he may have been even more because he tried to reduce his age as much as possible so that he could continue in service a little longer…and he continued.
In India you don’t know your birth date, and particularly if you were born one hundred years before, I don’t think there would be any certificate or record; impossible. But I have never seen a man older than him and yet full of juice, really juicy.
He was the only man in that whole school for whom I had some respect – but he was the lowest, nobody even looked at him. Once in a while, just for his sake, I used to visit the school, but I only went to his place.
His place was just by the corner of the Elephant Gate. His work was to open and close the gate, and he had a bell hanging in front of his cabin, to hit every forty minutes, leaving just ten minutes twice each day for tea breaks, and one hour for lunch. That was his only work, otherwise he was a completely free man.
I would go into his cabin, and he would close the door so that nobody disturbed us, and so that I could not escape easily. Then he would say, “Now tell me everything since we met last time.” And he was such a lovely old man. His face had so many lines that I had even tried to count them, of course not telling him. I was pretending to listen to him while I was counting how many lines his forehead had – and it was all forehead because all his hair had gone – and how many lines were on his cheeks. In fact his whole face, howsoever you divided it, was nothing but lines. But behind those lines was a man of infinite love and understanding.
If I did not visit the school for many days, then it was certain that the day was coming closer when if I didn’t go, then he would come to find me. That meant my father would know everything: that I never went to school, that attendance was given to me just to keep me out. That was the agreement. I had said, “Okay, I will keep myself out, but what about my attendance, because who is going to answer my father?”
They said, “Don’t be worried about your attendance. We will give you one hundred percent attendance, even on holidays, so don’t be worried at all.”
So I was always aware that before he came to visit my house, it was better to go to his cabin, and somehow – again I have to use the word synchronicity – he knew when I was coming. I knew that if I didn’t go that day he would be coming to inquire what had happened to me. And it became almost mathematically accurate.
I would start from the very morning with the feeling, “Listen” – I am not saying it to you, I am just telling you how I used to get up – “Listen, if you don’t go today, Mannulal” – that was his name – “is going to visit by the evening. Before that happens, somehow at least make an appearance before him.”