But the one set of apricots to catch my attention more than any other were those being collected by an old man by the highway roadside a little after Biamah on the Leh – Kargil route via Batalik. Sitting hunched over, with tattered clothes and a Tibetan cap, his bloodshot eyes caught my eyes more than the rest of his condition, wrinkles and grey hair.
He was sorting apricots on his robe spread before him, and keeping the selection in a basket. The criteria was not very clear as the basket seemed full of all kinds of apricots, including rotting ones. As I took pictures from my car, he approached the same and started making some incoherent mumbling sounds. His mouth was salivating, and hands full of apricot syrup, all duly plastered over the open door window he was holding on to when he was close enough.
I tried talking to him, but neither of us could reach out to one another. He definitely looked mentally unstable to me, but not dangerous to anyone. But I did not want the fluids on his hands and mouth to add to my already dusty clothes, and offered him a ten rupee bill. He promptly took it – I am not even sure he understood what it was – and walked away to continue with his task at hand.
Why was he collecting these apricots? Was that all he did all day long? Was he more aware of his surroundings than I thought? What was the state of his mind? I will never know.