Potla Buro was a demented old man who used to roam around in our neighbourhood with a huge cloth potla(clothes wrapped in a piece of cloth). He definitely had a name which no one knew and was popular by this moniker.
One winter night, I had kept my back door open and was watching television in my room. I then went to the attached bathroom and when I came out, I saw an old man with a huge potla standing next to my bed. For a fraction of a second I thought it was an illusion and the next thought was that this man was a ghost. My dog that was sleeping in the corridor probably sensed something and came running to my room and started barking. Well, my dog belonged to the category ‘barking dogs seldom bites’. It was as scared as I was. So, the scene was such that this man was standing in my bedroom and I and my dog both equally scared and petrified were barking and screaming respectively without moving a single inch. My dad heard it from the other room and came rushing to find two of his kids gone berserk and an old man standing in his daughter’s bedroom.
It took some time for Dad to understand the situation. After gaining composure he asked the man who he was and the man asked back ‘can I stay in your house?’ This is not something Dad expected. He fumbled for an answer and sternly replied ‘No’. The man didn’t move an inch and kept standing there like a statue. His eyes fixed on my dad’s eyes, almost pleading. My Dad, then asked him where he lived to that he replied ‘I don’t remember’.
We carefully looked at him and he didn’t look like a street side ruffian. On the contrary, he looked from a decent background. He was wearing a trouser and shirt, he had a fair complexion, his hands and feet were neat, he had slight stubble, and the only odd thing was his potla. In the meantime, few of our neighbours had gathered outside our house. The Aunties were shocked to see a man standing in my bedroom at night and the first question they asked were if the old man tried to do anything to me. I don’t know if that question was out of genuine concern or with the intention of some gossip story.
That night the man was handed over to the missing department of Police. We all sighed relief. For few days the entire neighbourhood was discussing only the man. Multiple speculations were drawn, few claimed he was demented, others claimed he was just acting and his main intention was to enter a girl’s bedroom and cause her harm, others said he belonged to some gang of robbers and the moment he was caught he lied to escape. However slowly all these stories died down and the neighbourhood went back to its normal routine.
Suddenly, one night when I was in the kitchen busy cooking, I felt someone’s face was in my kitchen’s window. When I turned towards the window I saw Potla Buro standing. His eyes fixed on me. I almost missed a heartbeat and felt my mouth was going dry. I couldn’t even scream. I stood transfixed; my face must have turned like a white paper. He didn’t seem bothered and asked calmly ‘can you give me some food?’ His question brought me out of my trance and I called my Dad. He immediately rushed from the next room. Seeing my Dad the man slowly moved away from the kitchen window. My dad went out of the house to chase him but he was already gone.
Gradually, Potla Buro became a regular in our neighbourhood. He was spotted at odd hours asking for food and shelter from various homes. By the time his clothes had got tattered, his beard longer, and his hand and feet became dirty. He started resembling like a street madman. The only thing that remained same was his potla. He was now no longer the topic of discussion in the neighbourhood but had become a regular. Like the street dogs cats and beggars that frequented the locality, Potla Buro also became a part. He mostly lived in the verandah of a shop in our area and ate whatever food he managed from various houses and shops. People had started taken pity on him and most of them started taking care of his food. In my house, he usually came in the morning to have a cup of tea with two biscuits.
One day, I woke up to the chattering of people outside my window. When I went outside I saw people discussing almost in disbelief about Potla Buro. The words that came to my ears were ‘bhabte perechile?’( could you have imagined?) My curiosity increased and I asked what the matter was. To this, almost everyone replied in a chorus ‘do you know who Potla Buro was?’ I obviously had no clue.
Early in the morning, a Police jeep had come to our society followed by a big luxurious car. The Police van and the car stopped in front of the shop where Potla Buro used to spend his night. A finely dressed man had come out of the car and woke up Potla Buro and called him Baba (father). The guy said he had been searching his father for almost a year. He said that his father was Assistant General Manager with a nationalized bank however following the death of his mother he became demented and started leaving the house frequently. Initially, they used to track him down in nearby places. But the last time he wandered too far and it took them almost a year to find him back. Potla Buro’s son thanked the entire neighbourhood for taking good care of his father and took him with him. I just wondered what good care we all took by serving him mostly stale leftover food and letting him stay on the Verandah on cold winter nights.