Dolly Koghar admires the infinite human capacity to adapt.
Thailand is amazing – nothing else explains the big gap between the number of tourists just awakening from their COVID-slumber, and the return of traffic to pre-COVID levels down good ‘ole Sukhumvit road. But we, the denizens on La Rue De Sukhumvit, are more ajooba; more unique; to us, Sukhumvit sans traffic felt funny, and we sputtered on the unadulterated oxygen without the PM2.5. The return of traffic makes us happy, as it translates to vital plasma finally being injected into our dying economy, and it’s back to the thrills of manoeuvring our cars through a magical wormhole without knocking down the pesky motorbikes, or denting any of the enviable number of ‘paeyae-dang’ Mercs, Beamers and Porsches, crawling neck-to-neck with the fleet of one-passenger-to-one cars.
The hotel lights are starting to come on and the purveyors of adult entertainment have already hogged our non-existent sidewalks; soon the shutters of both reputable and disreputable ‘massage’ parlours will
roll up and lure back the lecherous tourists. But what about those souls that, through a cruel twist of fate, have been forced to leave their former lives with just the clothes on their backs and maybe a pair of flip flops and a bundle, and have made the doorways of shuttered shops into their homes, indefinitely?
On my beaten path of commute revolving around the grandkids’ schools, Benchasiri Park, Villa Market, and Big C, I routinely pass these destitute souls, who, contrary to popular belief, are neither deranged nor crazed, and with time, many of them have morphed from anonymity into faces I recognise. A handful fit the description of a vagabond: bedraggled, caked in dirt, with matted manes; however, despite the dire hopelessness of the circumstances, many of them are stoically holding on to their dignity without doping themselves silly, exhibiting exemplary tenacity to adapt and even outshine the glamour and clamour of the uncaring world whirling by at its own speed.
Amongst them, a few have devised unique ways to deal with being what the world would consider a no one, with nothing. First, near the Soi 3 shingo (crossing), is a sprightly, Muslim woman in her 70s whose get-up screams for attention, but it’s her punctuality, focus and rigour of routine that really stays with me. She wears a long lacy black kameez over black slacks, and dons a black hijab, but only does so after her routine, which starts with plucking stray hairs on her clean-shaven head, then meticulously painting her face a clown-white, her eyelids a Dracula-red, and drawing two circles in the same shade on her cheekbones. After applying a matching blood-red lipstick, she’s ready to go.
Then there’s this chubby fella in his 40s that you can’t miss, standing diagonally across Emporium. He does full justice to the costume he dons as Superman: cape, leggings et al; he keeps his right hand raised throughout the day, as if he too can fly up into the sky, à la the superhero, while supporting his impaired left side with a crutch and balancing himself on his good right leg.
But the most intriguing is a woman of medium stature, in her 40s, who’s almost certainly living on the granite ledge in the raised patio of Benchasiri Park, where my husband and I visit so regularly that even during COVID’s peak, the guards waved us in without ado. By the time we reach the park, she’s either rounding off her exercises, reading the paper, or having her breakfast on that very ledge. Then she shoulders her black canvas duffle bag, which carries the three pairs of leggings and four t-shirts in basic, dark colours that I’ve seen her wear in the last two years. She leaves the park, her hair in a neat ponytail, with a demeanour defying the ‘destitute’ label, to be seen some early afternoons, walking with the same slow but purposeful stride alongside Benjakitti Park towards Emporium, lugging the same duffle bag. She’s an enigma; maybe she’s a wannabe writer, like me, and is living incognito as someone homeless, gathering fodder for her upcoming best-seller.
Lord Buddha has said that, “life has no meaning in itself but it is itself an opportunity to make it meaningful.” While circumstances have snatched away all the opportunities that were due these unfortunate, displaced persons; you and I are afforded the means and the opportunity. So, let’s not be passive bystanders and indifferently watch the world and time pass us by, but choose to make the world a little better, to make a difference, however small, even if it is in the life of just one person!