He looked a 100. Bent and shrivelled, a sturdy bamboo stick in the hand ensured his stability. He had a long white beard and piercing eyes. Robed in ochre with wooden paduka footwear, he walked down our lane at least twice a day. We would hear his padukas go ‘kutu kutu kutu kutu’ rhythmically. Thus he came to be known as ‘kutu kutu ajja’ (ajja – grandfather in Kannada). No one seemed to know where he came from or anything else about him. He lived down our lane, in a hut on a thin narrow strip of land, no more than 200sq ft. that was sandwiched between a nursing home and a well-lived-in house. Despite he being a frequent traveller along the lane, none of our neighbours talked about him. It appeared like he was invisible to all. We kids were scared of him. He would stare you down with expressionless eyes that would send a shiver down the spine. At times he would stop along the wall right in front of our main door and look in towards us which would make us scurry away inside the house. There used to be an autorickshaw stand at the start of our lane. At times he would randomly circumambulate one of the stationed autorickshaws, three-four times and then be on his way. Some other time he would circumambulate people too. In all those years, no one spoke of him or mentioned him even in the passing. He always came to the house adjacent to ours (a huge empty mansion in the hands of caretakers) to draw water from the well. He had a wife, who seemed content to busy herself in their 200sq ft hermitage. They had a cow and you could smell the dung when you walked by their gate. These little aspects of his dwelling we discovered over a long period of time. I think we were told that he practised witchcraft making him even more mysterious and scary.
Then one day he was gone. I think he died. There was no fanfare about his death or funeral. We saw his wife a couple of times and then she too seemed to have vanished into thin air. Their house does not exist anymore. I always wonder where they went and who they were. The rhythmic ‘kutu kutu kutu’ has stayed with me. I can still hear it if i think about him.