The Man in the Antique Shop (a short story)

The Man in the Antique Shop

My acquaintance with him began a year ago.

After being laid off from my well-paying job in York, I had taken up a job in a factory in Manchester, fifty miles from my home. The job was tasteless, but at least it helped put some food on the table. My wife had cleaned me out after the divorce and my resources were meagre.

Every evening after work, my factory bus would leave me at this bus-stop. Here, I would have to wait for a connecting cross-county bus to take me on my hour-long journey back to my home near York.

The wait at the bus-stop got to me the most. It would be late in the evening, almost night by the time I reached the bus-stop. The street would be deserted. There were no other buses making their stops there at that hour and I would be the only passenger getting on that bus. More often than not, I would have to wait for up to an hour before the bus arrived. Needless to say, my wait was always long and lonely.

The bus-stop itself was an eyesore, the seats hard and uncomfortable. A lamppost near the wall behind the bus-stop was the only object that offered some cheer, its bright light dispelling some of the darkness cloaking the lonely street.

There would be nothing else to do but wait. So I would pull my overcoat round me, take a swig from a bottle of rum kept in my pocket and ruminate on the past. Ruminate and regret. And I had a lot of past worth ruminating and regretting…

One day, the bus was unusually late. It was Christmas eve, but for me, just another working day. I preferred it that way. With no family or even friends for that matter, I didn’t have anyone to celebrate the holiday with. Besides, I could always use the extra overtime payment.

I looked around. There was no semblance of any celebrations on the street as well. No houses or colourful shops on the street to provide the necessary Christmas décor and ambience. The street comprised of old warehouses, many of them unused, and a few office buildings—all of them had closed for the night. Some token lanterns and coloured light bulbs shining apologetically in a few of the windows in the buildings were the only indication of the holiday season.

I looked at my watch. It had been over an hour and there was no sign of the bus. Dog-tired and irritable, I cursed my luck and glared up and down the lonely, dark street.

My eyes fell on the shop located just behind the bus-stop. It was dull and sold antiques. Not having any interest in antiques, I had never paid much attention to it earlier. In any case, the shop was managed by an unfriendly saleslady with a perpetual scowl on her face.

The glass frontage of the shop was dimly lit and offered a hazy view of what was inside the store. I peered through it.

And that was the first time I first saw him.

The dense winter fog swirling around me precluded a good view but it was a man; that much was clear. Probably a new salesman, I guessed. He was of average height and stood unmoving. On impulse, I went closer to the window and noticed he was looking at me. I turned away, lest he think I wanted to buy something.

A few minutes later, my attention was drawn back to him. Perhaps it was human curiosity. Or perhaps because he was the only other human being on that street that night. This time the fog had abated and the light from the streetlamp shone on his face, illuminating it.

I could not help but stare at him.

His demeanour was of one who looked much older than his years. His face weary and tormented, essentially tired of life. Tired of the innumerable harsh blows that Fate sometimes rains upon the unfortunate. His shoulders drooped from the burden of his troubles. The wrinkles on his forehead and his furrowed brow characteristic of a distressed, cynical man. And his sickly reddish facial hue bespoke of one drink too many, probably oft repeated throughout the day. And night.

A cold nausea began to creep inside me. Who was this man…?

Unwillingly but ineluctably, my gaze focused on his eyes, for I had heard that the eyes conveyed the most about a person.

The man in the shop’s eyes told a tale of continual losses in life. Loss of opportunities, loved ones, wealth...everything. The pain, bitterness and hopelessness within them was palpable. I searched his eyes for the slightest hint of a positive emotion. There was none. In fact, as I probed deeper, I could perceive a sense of loneliness. Profound, gut-wrenching loneliness.

I jerked my gaze away from him, shaken by the sight. How could anyone appear so morbidly sad…? Somewhere, I was also overcome by regret, for despite feeling pity for him, his appearance sickened me.

Fortunately, my bus arrived, and I left the Man in the Antique shop behind me.

But the same man did not leave me. I was haunted by his face that night and throughout the next day. More and more, I was realising an uncomfortable but undeniably profound connection with him. When I arrived at the bus-stop the following evening, I could not help but check if he was in the shop.

He was there. Once more, I was struck by his depressing disposition. But despite my disgust, this time I tried smiling at him. He smiled back, hesitatingly. Not a cheerful, amiable smile, but a forced, watery, minimal widening of the lips. God, I felt, even his smile doesn’t look happy.

I stood at the bus-stop stealing a few glances at him whenever possible. At one point I got the eerie feeling that that he too was assessing me. Probing me, analysing me; my mind, my emotions, my weaknesses...

Finally, I turned away and swore that I would never look at him again. I felt an intense pity for him, but it was just too depressing and unsettling for me to look at him.

“Hare Krishna. Sir, does the bus to York stop here?”

I looked up in surprise, for in the past many months, I had been the only passenger to board the bus from here. I answered him in the affirmative. The gentleman who had asked me the question thanked me and smiled.

I stared at him for a minute. I had just witnessed the smile of the Man in the Antique shop. And now, the smile of this gentleman. The contrast between the two was so striking.

This gentleman’s smile was so…well…happy! It was open and friendly, but distinctly, even more than that. The smile reflected in his eyes, lit up his face and created a warm, cheerful aura about him. It seemed to stem from a perpetual fountain of internal bliss and contentment. It made me want to smile as well.

I did so and just then, our bus arrived, and we both got into it.

We were the only two passengers travelling on the bus that night. As the bus trundled along the countryside, we began conversing about the weather, as all Englishmen are apt to, and the topic soon got round to our own selves. Govind Das (as I learnt he was called) was a full time Devotee in the ISKCON Temple in Manchester and was on his way to York on some work.

We chit-chatted about this and that for a while, and I soon found myself warming towards Govind Das. Govind Das was the kind of person with whom after spending a few minutes, one would get the feeling of having known him for a long time.

Shortly, Govind Das asked, “If you don’t mind me asking, Prabhuji, what were you doing outside the Antique Shop? I could not but notice you looking at something inside it for a long time.”

I hesitated for a moment and told him about the Man in the Antique shop and my opinion about him.

Govind Das smiled and replied, “Actually, according to the Hindu scriptures, especially the Bhagavad Gita, everyone is suffering to some extent in this world. Some more, some less. But there also does exist, a way to end all that suffering, a means to eternal bliss.”

I sat up in surprise. “Permanent bliss? Is that even possible?”

He nodded and smiled. “Most certainly.”

I was struck by a thought. “Is the means to eternal bliss accessible even to a person devoid of all hope and happiness, like the Man in the Antique shop?” I asked.

Govind Das looked at me seriously. “There is hope for every human being in this world, even for the Man in the Antique shop. One only had to walk the prescribed Path.”

He chuckled and continued, “You have given me an idea, Prabhuji! Perhaps it would be a good idea for me to find out and know more about the Man in the Antique shop. Perhaps I could show him that Path. I’m sure that he will certainly find true eternal happiness and bliss.”

I fell silent for a while. Govind Das seemed the kind of person who was willing to help any person, however wretched, who was in trouble. He also seemed experienced in solving people’s problems for them.

I decided to take a leap of faith. “Do you think you could help me with my problems, Mr. Das?

“Of course,” he replied, “and please call me Govind Prabhuji, for that is how we are addressed.”

I poured out my heart to him. In response, Govind Das gave me a lot of practical and useful suggestions that could improve my life.

“The first and most important step,” he continued, “is to chant the ‘Mahamantra’.”

“What’s that?” I had heard this for the first time.

“It is the mantra, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. The most ancient scriptures in the world, the Vedas, proclaim Lord Krishna to be the Supreme Origin and Controller of all Creation. Chanting His Holy Names in the form of the Mahamantra is the best way to attract His attention.”

“How will that help?”

“Gaining devotional love or bhakti for Krishna will ultimately solve all your problems. Or in the least, they would not affect you anymore.”

That sounded like a fantastic deal. I urged him to tell me more.

Govind Das went on to explain what constituted a ‘Krishna-Conscious’ lifestyle and its benefits. He discussed some of the philosophy and it appealed to me. He invited me to attend some programs at the ISKCON Temple in Manchester.

“Oh, looks like we have almost reached,” said Govind Das, glancing out the window. He opened his bag took out some Indian sweetmeats. “Here, these are good for your spiritual health,” he said and smiled. He also gifted me a copy of the English edition of the Bhagavad Gita and urged me to read a few pages every day. “It will transform your life,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

That entire evening and night, I sat in my humble two-room flat and thought hard about our conversation. On one hand, I was sceptical of these mantras and stuff—it all seemed hocus-pocus to me. On the other, I was deeply impressed by Govind Das’s conviction in it. What the hell, I thought, might as well give it a shot. That night, I kept the copy of the Bhagavad Gita Govind Prabhu (as he preferred to be addressed) had gifted me on my dining table. Gazing at the image of the Lord Krishna on its cover, I began to softly repeat the Mahamantra.

Days passed and I started chanting the Mahamantra on the regular basis. I would chant on the way to and from the Factory. I even managed to get in some chanting while I worked. Soon I began to actually enjoy chanting so much, I would do it almost throughout the day. It was strange and confounding. I had begun to perceive an addictive, candy-like sweetness in each syllable, a mellow taste that Govind Das had promised would come with a few weeks of heartfelt chanting.

A week later, I got off the factory bus and saw that the Antique shop had closed down. A notice on the shutters said that it was closed for renovations and would reopen after several months. The Man in the Antique shop was gone.

I soon forgot about him.

Govind Das and I became good friends. In fact, he was my only friend I had in the world. We would call each other often and discuss philosophy. He would inquire about my progress in chanting.

I started to attend some of the programs at the Manchester ISKCON Temple and soon became a regular visitor there.

Through Govind Das’s encouragement, I solved my drinking problem, gave up eating meat and began a yoga and exercise routine. I even stopped visiting the blackjack card club that I used to frequent in my neighbourhood. The owner of the club was sorry to see me go, for much of what little I earned went into his pocket every weekend.

Later, with some help from Govind Das and a few devotees at the Manchester Temple, I was able to leave York and move into a small house in Manchester, closer to my factory. The time I saved in traveling and the additional qualification enabled me to apply myself to my job better.

I also used the additional spare time at my disposal to complete an online course on business management. A few months later, I saw an opportunity where our company could make some simple changes in its working. This would double our sales and save a lot of money. It took me a month to get an appointment with my company’s CEO, but when I finally pitched my idea to him, he was speechless. A couple of days later, the CEO called me for a meeting. With a smile, he told me I was being promoted to one of the top posts in my company, handing me the entire responsibility of an important project, with four times increase in my salary.

Meanwhile, I got more and more deeply involved in Krishna-Consciousness. Six months later, I became a full-fledged, initiated devotee at the ISKCON Temple in Manchester.


Two years later

It was Christmas Eve. My Mercedes was cruising on the same street where I used to take the bus to York. I suddenly noticed that the Antique Shop behind the bus-stop had reopened. The memory of the Man in the Antique Shop flashed in my mind, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to check to see if he was still there.

I asked my driver to pull over near the bus-stop. Getting out, I slowly approached the Antique Shop. The winter fog swirled around me and rolled down the street, filling me with a sense of déjà-vu. I stood in front of the glass window with my hands in my pocket, waiting patiently for the fog to clear. For a second, I wondered what I was doing. Would I still find him in there?

A second later, the fog abruptly dissipated, and I could see directly into the shop.

I gasped. He was still there.

Then I paused and looked closely. It was a man all right, but was he the same person?

This man stood tall and erect, exuding an air of supreme confidence. The drooping shoulders were gone and so was the slouch. No, it cannot be him, I thought.

Then my eyes widened… It was him. But how? His face…gone were the wrinkles and the furrows—all the signs that had made him look decades older. This was the attractive face of a youthful man, glowing with energy, health and vigour.

My silent acquaintance from the past year was gazing back at me with equal surprise and recognition. I felt overcome with delight. I smiled at him, and he smiled back. I gasped for a second time.

His smile was the smile of a man who had achieved every single ounce of happiness in life. Serene, blissful, and yet bright as the sunshine in the first week of spring.

I remembered his demeanour a year earlier, and tears flooded to my eyes. An unexplained, immeasurable sense of happiness for him overwhelmed me. For an insane moment, I felt like rushing inside and hugging the Man in the Antique shop!

Then I scratched my head and wondered, how had all this happened?

A second later, realization dawned on me. Govind Das…

Yes, it had to be him. I remembered his words during our first bus journey together. My dear friend had said that he would try his best to get to know the Man in the Antique shop and show him the Path to Bliss.

Govind Das had kept his word. He had actually done it…with colossal success!

I had heard of people who could touch the lives of other people and transform them completely. Govind Das had not just transformed this man’s life. He had resurrected him! Ah, Vaishnava association, I salute you, I thought to myself.

I happily nodded to the Man in the Antique shop. He acknowledged the same with a nod, with a knowing look in his eyes. He knew the truth as well as me.

“Excuse me sir, if I could be of any assistance…”

I turned to see the smiling, well dressed gentleman addressing me. He was evidently a salesman, working in the Antique shop. He had come out of the shop, presuming me to be a prospective customer.

I thought for a second and felt, why not? It was time I actually met the Man in the Antique shop. In fact, I decided I would do more than that. I would invite him home.

With a smile, I nodded my consent, and the salesman ushered me inside the shop.

“I commend you on your excellent choice, Sir. This masterpiece is a royal heirloom, and is over a hundred years old,” the salesman commented, as his assistant carefully packed the beautiful, ornate, brass-bordered full-length mirror that had been standing in the display window of the shop for just over a year now.

“And yet, despite its age,” he continued, “it has a reputation for reflecting whatever is presented to it with exquisite clarity and detail.”

I could not agree with him more…



In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes this material world as a ‘dukhalaya’ or a place full of miseries. Here, each and every human being without exceptions is subjected to good and bad experiences. And while we easily forget the good experiences and the sense of pleasure derived from them, the pain and grief of the bad experiences affect us deeply, and stay with us for a far longer time.

These bad experiences are necessary, however. They remind us about the impermanence of material pleasures and direct our attention towards our real goal, love and service of God.

Unaware of this fact of life, many of us succumb to the negativity associated with these experiences and take to drug and alcohol abuse, an unhealthy lifestyle, destructive habits like gambling etc. We develop a cynical, negative attitude towards their work, relationships, in fact, life in general.

Sometimes, we are lucky to get the association of a true, knowledgeable devotee of God. From him, we are fortunate to hear about Lord Krishna, a healthy and spiritual lifestyle based on the greatest manual of life, the Bhagavad Gita. By chanting the Mahamantra, reading the scriptures and by associating with these devotees, our misery-filled life takes a dramatic turn for the better, materialistically and spiritually. By adopting a Krishna bhakti-centred life, we become proactive, make positive changes in our life, and do our best to solve our problems. Magically, those problems that we cannot ‘solve’ get dissolved. That is, they cease to remain as problems.

No wonder then, that Lord Krishna boldly declares in the Bhagavad Gita (8.15):

“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogīs in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.”

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