Saturday, 3 June 2017

Travels within myself

[Written for a project 'Behind White Storeys' based on the Connaught Place Middle Circle.]

She crosses me and stands on my extreme edge, almost on tip toe, to catch the last few rays of the winter sun. Her clothes are damp and smell faintly of garbage; she is cold. There are a couple of hours of duty left, with two more garbage points to sort out, and then a long bus ride home. I am familiar with her tiredness; it makes her nearly sink into my rough macadam around this time every day. Her co-worker follows in a minute with a small plastic glass of tea, as he usually does. She smiles and starts telling him of her son's impending wedding. 
My body resounds with steps. They are so easy to distinguish. The fast step of the employed, who need to return to their workplace after a half hour away for lunch; the slow steps of pairs enjoying each others' company; the eager steps of youngsters with some money to spend; the laboured ones of men carrying gas cylinders; the leisurely pace of the odd tourist; the uneven shuffle of the shop owner who steps out for a minute to stretch; the weightless paws of dogs. My belly hums with electricity and the underground transmissions of water and energy. Above me, voices call out, chattering, discussing, instructing, commanding, buying, selling, informing, declaring, persuading, transacting, spitting, coughing, hawking, urinating... I barely miss a scratch or a hum. Horns honk incessantly, wheels roll, mobile phones ring often. Paranthas are chewed during the day, policemen are given placatory drinks at night. It all falls into a harmonious pattern, you'll be surprised.
Except when something strikes a discordant note, and I, for a moment, pay all my attention to it. A scooterist fell yesterday and couldn't get up. His not getting up was the loudest moment. But it passed; a small crowd gathered to help him. Or that young girl who drank too much at the expensive new bar and vomited. Her helplessness was screaming. At such moments, I shrink a bit. I want to gather myself to go help. But my role is to not move so that everyone else can. I can just lie here, in my circular solitude, bearing witness.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

A Summer-afternoon Ecosystem — Dehradun 1

In summer afternoons, Daalanwala would gather an air of full-bellied somnolence, draw its curtains and go to sleep in darkened rooms. You could hardly discern the movement of its breath. When we would return from school at about 2.30, and trudge trudge to our homes from the bus stop, an intense blue sky would be pouring yellow sunshine on a silent world of impossible peace. We walked down a silent road, crickets the only sound. The boundary walls of houses on both sides were low, moss covered, a secret world in themselves. Behind the walls, the homes were hardly visible from among the heavy litchi, jackfruit, guava, apricot, or mango trees. Old silvery Eucalyptus stood like patient elephants teaching the riotous red and yellow flowers in the lawns to shush for a while, people are sleeping. We picked their fallen leaves, and inhaled the lemony scent. 

At this time of the day the lawns would be content just being green. The houses themselves, low and bungalow-style, separated from each other by acres of land, asleep. Their windows asleep, curtains asleep. The odd stray dog on the road, her pups gathered around her, also asleep. Only the bumblebees brought life to the portrait, weaving along their drunken trajectories, their buzz and drone holding up the summer afternoon. 

When I reached home I would open a small black gate. To my right, a lawn with two bottlebrush trees, to my left a small mango tree, and in front a generous bougainvillea creeper going up the pale yellow house wall. The house was clearly well settled, full of rice, daal and raita, and dead to the world.

I would scrunch my way on crushed pebbles towards the porch which sheltered the old grey family Fiat. On one side of the car, the giant Bhotia we had – more hound than dog – would open exactly one lazy eye, move its tail sufficiently to make place for, say, a friendly ant, and go back to sleep. On the other side of the car, the orange cat would be magnificently uncaring, and would manage to show it with equal efficiency, using closed eyes or a direct basilisk glare. From beneath the car, two protruding human feet would welcome me. Chacha’s voice would emerge with absent-minded affection as he tinkered with the car’s undersides – the only human awake for miles – “Arre, tu aa gayi?”