She stood shaking hands with the mourners who had come for her husband’s funeral at the Parsi Tower of Silence.  I stood in line and watched as she solemnly held each person’s hand, tears glistening in her eyes. When I came to her, she lifted her eyes and looked at me, “Bob,” she sighed, “There was not a day he didn’t read your column! Sometimes if the newspaper man came late, he would walk down the road in his pajamas and shout to me that he couldn’t have breakfast before reading Bob!”

I bowed, nodded and slowly walked away, a tear forming in my own eye.

I got into my car and told my driver to wait awhile. I looked at the empty seat beside me and tearfully looked back at the Tower of Silence.  It was on this seat where he’d sat every month when we finished our board meeting and returned home. He lived on the way and since he otherwise took the public transport, I dropped him home. One day, I asked him, “Do you read my column in the newspaper?”

I heard him mutter something. “Once in a way!” he said with a tone of finality.

“And how do you find it?” I dared to ask.

It was like a garbage truck overturning garbage into a yard. He did not stop as he poured out a bowl, nay a bucketful of criticism. I listened, shocked by his words and it was only sheer respect for his age that stopped me from telling my driver to offload him from my car.

He got off at his normal halt and I drove on in silence that day. I was furious. I had wanted to show him copies of all the papers I wrote for copies of  which I’d  stuck in the  rear of the front seat. I had wanted to argue with him about how little he knew about writing. But something prevented me from doing so, though I wondered whether I wanted to give him a lift anymore.

I even stopped writing for a day or two, and then decided to think of what he had said.

Very gingerly I picked up my pen again, this was before the age of laptops and computers, and very timorously started penning my column. But now I started being vigilant. Everyday, I heard his tirade in my mind, and wrote attentively.

Slowly, in the lifts I continued giving him I heard him commenting positively about this article or that, and even discussed and debated some of them and knew he was following them every day.

As I drove away from the funeral, I looked back at his wife, as she stood greeting each mourner and was it my imagination that made me think she looked up at me, and softly whispered, “Bob, criticism is tough, but you heeded him and won him over..!”

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