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The Smile – Shritama Bose

Shritama Bose was raised inJamshedpur, where she attendedSacredHeartConventSchool. She is currently a second-year undergraduate student of English atPresidencyUniversity,Calcutta. Her interests include reading, debating, writing, and quizzing.

The man used to sit on the pavement in front of the florist’s shop. I had seen him on the first day when I had gone to place the order for the flowers. He would sit there on a faded tarpaulin sheet in a tattered blue-and-white polyester shirt. His wrinkled face was framed by tousled salt-and-pepper hair, with the salt overpowering the pepper by far. He worked with shining brass-like wires, shaping them into bicycles and cycle-rickshaws of at least three different sizes. As he worked assiduously at them, a constant unfading smile played on his lips.

As I approached him for a better view of his artifacts, he looked up at me. The smile was still there; he was directing it at me, not smiling at me. His eyes creased into wrinkles as he did that. I knelt down to examine one of the largest pieces. I was taken aback by the sheer quality of the work. It testified to being the handiwork of a true craftsman- the bends in the wires were smooth, the knots strong yet subtle. Particularly remarkable was the way in which the thinnest of the wires had been interwoven into a mesh of kite-like shapes to create the seats of cycle-rickshaws. If this man had indeed crafted the pieces himself, he deserved a station higher than a spot on a Lajpat Nagar pavement. I found out the prices- the smaller of the biycles were worth Rs 10 each, the bigger worth Rs 25, the small and big rickshaws worth Rs 35 and Rs 70 respectively. I wanted a rickshaw with its mesh-seat. However, having had my share of raw deals in the city, I did not dare to go for the biggest one. I settled for a small rickshaw, duly handed over to me with a- rather the- smile.

The next day and the one after that, I found groups of foreign tourists huddled around the smiling man’s spot. On the fourth day, I went to the florist’s shop to collect the consignment. The shop-assistant was packing the flowers when I, unable to resist the urge, asked him, “What is that man’s name? The one selling those miniature bicycles?”

The assistant looked out in the direction of my pointed finger. He then replied, “You mean Rashid?”

“Yes. How long has he been here?”

“Two years ago, he was dismissed from this very shop. Very slow in making bouquets. Kept fiddling with the wires. They removed him and took away the bicycle they had given him. Now he makes these things and gives the neighbouring handicraft stores a run for their money.”

As I walked out with my flowers, I turned to look at that spot. The tarpaulin looked more faded than ever, the smile did not.

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