Four of us at dinner at a Bombay institution, one of the city's oldest Chinese restaurants, last night. As it turns out, I haven't been there since I was about 13 or 14, which by my calculations comes to, let's see, hmm, about 67 years.
Anyway. When we were done, we emerged from the restaurant and two of us walked over to the nearby paanwala to get, you guessed it, a paan. The other two, a friend and I, stood chatting on the pavement.
A small girl approached and asked for money. Also asking us for money were an ancient man sitting on the pavement behind us, and an equally ancient woman sitting on the pavement a few feet on the other side of us. After a few moments during which the girl kept asking, I fished in my pockets. No coins. I pulled out my wallet. Found a Rs 5 note. Gave it to her.
She ran off to the corner, and almost immediately two or three other girls emerged from there, also asking for money. Behind me, the old man grumbled. "You gave her money, you didn't give me any!" Then the first girl returned. With a smile, she said, "The note is torn!"
I took it back. It was indeed badly torn. Looked in my wallet again, no more Rs 5 notes. I pulled out a Rs 10 note and gave it to her.
The old man grumbled some more. The other girls asked again for money. My friend spoke to them, asking their names and where they were from.
Our other two friends came back with their paan. We turned to walk away, homeward bound.
Suddenly I felt an excruciating pain on the back of my knee. I turned around, hobbling for a few seconds. The old man had hit me with a long stick, the size and thickness of a police lathi.
"You didn't give me anything!" he shouted at me.
I just stood there, still in pain, looking at him.