This is a short story about one of those strangers who gradually turned into an acquaintance and eventually become one of my inspirations. I dedicate this to the one who I had accidentally discovered, when my family and I had shifted from Nerul to Kharghar (both in Navi Mumbai), way back in the year 2008. My relationship with him has only blossomed over a period of time. Until recently, it never occurred to me that he could be the subject of one of my blogs. The reason which prompts me to write about him is already becoming the reason for me to see him less frequently, and this thought is making me a bit sad and emotional.
Although I distinctly remember that we shifted to Kharghar, in the rainy month of July 2008, I don’t recollect exactly when I bumped into this stranger. I do recall although that it was not for my own watch, but for getting the cells of my wife’s multiple watches replaced, that forced me to go out on a sleepy afternoon of a rainy weekend, looking for an efficient watchmaker. I must have passed through at least two or three watchmakers in the same crowded market of Sector 12 (one sector in the town which was and still is considered as one stop destination for all the daily needs), before reaching him and selecting him, based on my strong instinct, to be the right one.
He was busy, carefully cleaning a watch, before deftly placing a new cell in it. Then he took out an expensive looking sharp black marker, wrote the date on the inside of the cap, before signing it. Next, he placed the watch on a handkerchief to save the glass on its dial from getting any scratch and finally press-tightened the cap. At the end of this neat exercise, he handed over the watch with a sense of satisfaction on his face to the impatiently waiting customer. “Seventy rupees please,” he said politely. The look on the customer’s face was self-expressing. He clearly felt it was a little too much for a cell for his third or fourth watch! Before he could protest, the watchmaker politely said, “don’t worry sahib, zyaada nahin to ek saal to chalega hi (don’t worry sir, it would last for at least a year, if not more). Koi problem ho to hum hain na (if there is any problem, I’m here).” The customer smiled, took out a hundred rupee note and promptly got the change back. The whole episode helped me get a sense of feeling that I was at the right place.
He looked at me and welcomed me with a slight smile. When he saw three watches in my hand, he removed some cardboard boxes from the top of a stool and offered it to me to sit-on. “Bathiye (please sit),” he politely mentioned. I said, “thoda jaldi mein hoon (I’m in a bit of a hurry).” He said, “jaldi mein to nahin ho paayega (can’t do in a hurry).” I was least expecting this statement. If I were in Delhi, from where I originally come from, where everyone at least shows they can do everything in a jiffy, this dialogue would have surely put me off. By that time, our stay in Nerul for the last two years, had prepared me patient enough to quietly sit on the stool and wait, while he started to open the first watch.
“Yahan naye hain (are you new here)?”, he asked me. I said, yes, we have shifted a few weeks ago from Nerul, stressing on Nerul a bit more than normal, just to make him feel that I am more like a local, and he shouldn’t try to take me for a ride. I don’t know whether he read my mind or what that he stated with a smile, “humara rate fixed hai (our rate is fixed).” I couldn’t say anything further. In the next half an hour, he opened one watch to the other, wore the eye-microscope, moved the tiny part of the watch, took out the cell, applied his saliva on it to test it for its energy retention, before throwing it into a box which was already having many discarded cells, followed by repeating the process which I had already seen. In between, he appreciated the maintenance of the watches, to which I promptly promised to pass on his compliments to my wife. In the meanwhile, it had started to rain again, and he asked me if I would like to have a cup of tea. I politely declined, took out two-hundred and ten rupees, when he said, “two hundred and fifty please.” I was about to protest, when he said, “sahib, aapki do watches special hain, mehnga wala cell daala hain, lamba chalega, guarantee meri hai (sir, your two of the watches are little special, have put expensive cell, will last long, it’s my guarantee).” His mannerism reflected a calm sense of surety, prompting me to pay without negotiating. I left the place with a sense of achievement, since my wife was surely going to be happier, thereby almost ensuring that the leftover part of the weekend was going to be quite pleasant.
The weekend did go wonderfully well, and the life went on. Thanks to the variety of watches in our collection, I visited the watchmaker a couple of more times in the next one year. It was easy to realize that he is not only very hardworking but quite sincere too. At each cell replacement, he would carry out a minor service of the watch, free of charge, which added longevity not only to the cell but also to the watch. And every time he would remind me to keep using the watch rather than leaving it ideal, which was quite difficult, since each of us have higher taste for one particular watch. He would try his best to change the cell then & thereon itself, unless a particular cell would be running out of stock. In one of these visits he complained that people tend to leave their watch with him, which puts a huge responsibility on him, since some watches are quite expensive. Despite his repeated reminders and protests, a few of his customers never bother to collect the watch in time, thereby making him quite nervous. The severity of the problem is so high that he has to think twice before even taking a bio-break and whenever he is forced to take one, quite quickly he needs to be back in his seat!
As the time went by, our relationship grew in warmth. He shared with me how his children have grown to study well, why he is happy that they are not following his footsteps as far as choosing a profession is concerned, why it’s so difficult to get a time off during the week since on all days, except Friday, he would work from morning till late evening and on Fridays, he would go to the wholesale market in main city to get the stock. In each of these visits, he warmly asks about my family’s and my welfare. At rare occasions, he briefly broaches a small discussion on a concurrent political or weather-related topic, which lasts only until the work on the watch is ongoing. I quickly disperse the moment his task is completed, and he really appreciates this quality of mine. In all these years, there has not been even a single instance, where either the cell has expired before one year has elapsed, or the watch has suddenly stopped while in use. Over the years I have seen one watchmaker or the other being forced to close the business, because of low volumes, but for this one. In some way, this watchmaker inspires me with his humility, perseverance and hard work.
Very recently, my wife and I visited the watchmaker in a little bit of emergency mode, since my wife’s favourite watch had not been functioning for some time due expiry of the cell, and she wanted to wear it on a special occasion the next day. He welcomed us with his characteristic style. “Arey sir aap bahut dino baad aaye (Sir, you came after many days),” he said. I informed him that it has been the case due to my extensive travels. He patiently mended two watches of another customer, who was already present when we reached, while my wife and I indulged in enjoying sharing a coconut water from a nearby vendor. After he replaced the cell of my wife’s watch, he asked me how my own watch had been doing. As a natural instinct I extended my wrist towards him to confirm that my watch was doing just fine, without realizing that I was wearing my latest Apple watch, which I had very recently bought from Singapore airport duty free. He politely congratulated me for my latest acquisition, however the obvious looks on his face suddenly made me a bit sad and emotional.
PS: After the above incident, I’ve been secretly wishing that my wife continues to have her interest maintained in her analog watches, so that I have a chance to continue to maintain my beautiful relationship with this watchmaker.