To begin with a confession, I am a believer of stories. Real stories, true stories, fake stories, bizzare, absurd and even the most inconsequential ones; as long as they are good stories. Stories stay with us, we jog our memory banks and they appear and reappear both in our daily lives and in our dreams. Am sure you’ll agree to that. But what we often miss is the memory of the storyteller. Think about it. Yet the storyteller always stays permanently with the story somewhere deep inside our cerebral memory cards.

I realized this recently upon an interaction.

Last moth I was in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh on a situation analysis/ field visit for a Sanitation Programme steered by the Aga Khan Foundation, India. Sitting under a tree with the village folk, openly interacting with men and women alike on the issues of sanitation, drinking water, health and hygiene, an afternoon was slowly moving towards a sunlit evening.

My eyes were fixed on one particular man in a crisp blue shirt sitting in the front, articulate and expressive. He would often make a point loudly and clearly and then turn to the village folk for approval. As one of the prominent speakers in that session, he knew his place in the community. But that’s not the reason for my gaze. The face looked familiar.

1997, Delhi. 50 years of an independent India and the city was buzzing. Me and a friend were shooting all over the city, talking to people on their ideas of independence, their dreams ahead, their ideas of the nation and all that. On the 15th of August, the Independence Day, we were in the corridors of Bara Hindu Rao Hospital, talking to patients in the queue when one man took us aside and started telling us his story. There was nothing remarkable in his narrative. Just that his relative had a broken leg and that he was with him waiting for a doctor. I almost felt ‘Is this why he pulled us aside, for this story? Or was it the camera?’ It was clearly footage wasted but what stayed with me was his confidence, his need to tell us his story. Over the years, I have often wondered what would have happened to that man and his relative.

2016, Bahraich. As the session ended my gaze too was now itching for a closure. I pulled that man from the front row in a crisp blue shirt and asked him “Bhaisaab, have you ever been to Delhi?”

“Many times”

“Did you ever…like go to Bara Hindu Rao Hospital, 1997?”

“Yes, my relative…he had a broken leg”

The penny dropped. Yes he was the same man, nearly 20 years later.

“Do you remember telling your story to us on the camera?”

“No wonder! Even I was wondering where have I seen you before!” and he hugged.

My years of trivial wondering was now complementing the village sunset.

The fact that we connected on a trivial story with a strong memory was enough to keep the storyteller in him-alive in me. Followed by the usual ritual of the moment like a selfie on our phones, we both forgot the obvious – exchanging names. But the storyteller had permanently carved a niche in my memory card.

Learnings, there were some:

  1. The storyteller is as good as the story, even if it isn’t a good story. The Messenger is as important as the Medium.
  2. Who said such coincidences of reunion happen only in Hindi films?

As for his name, hopefully some day in the future, in Delhi or Bahraich.