“Long time no see”, she said, fidgeting with her handkerchief, and then looking down at her painted red toe nails. “You never came to this side of town before”.
“I changed jobs”, he looked at the signal. Still persistently green. “You wouldn’t know”.
She flushed. “I meant to call, but I have been so busy lately…”
“You always were busy” he said. “Why you were hardly ever home!”
“You know I didn’t mean -”
“I know, I know. You didn’t mean to work on weekends; didn’t mean to leave me stranded at the restaurant without even so much as an explanation; didn’t mean to cheat on me, but you did. You did!” He clenched his fists. “Anyway that’s all in the past now. Why bring it all up again?”
She passed a clumsy hand over her wet eyes, smudging her mascara, “Can’t you -”
The light changed.
In the morning rush-hour, the Mumbai local is jam-packed. Sweaty bodies packed against each other like sardines in a tin. All you can see around you is the coloured fabric of your neighbours clothes, or the shiny leather of her handbag; sometimes, the quick glint of her watch, or bracelet, or mangalsutra as it catches the sunlight. Above you there is a veritable mess of hands, clutching at the rods, and all around the pervasive odour of dozens of different perfumes mixed together. Amidst all this serene and regular chaos there was a woman, maybe 50 or 60 years old, placidly knitting. Her needles clicked, and the bright orange jumper materialized before my eyes. Something productive amidst the mad frenzy of ‘office time’.
In this crowd you would go mad with claustrophobia if you didn’t distract yourself. Some, like me, listen to music on their i-pods, mp3s or cellphones. Some squint at newspapers or books in the dim light that slants through the jumble of bodies; while others, with a snobbish shrug, use a Kindle. Some play games on their tablets, while some others are busy issuing directives on the phone. Amidst all this, there was also this lady, who was busy praying. Her eyes closed, she sat placidly, completely ignoring the mass of people around her, clutching her prayer beads, and serenely reciting the name of God.
Outside the station, the hawkers had already set up stall and were screaming out their wares. The food stalls made the most business at this time of the morning. All those who had sacrificed breakfast for a few minutes of extra sleep now tried to cram some nourishment into their bodies. Others who had forgotten to pack their lunch this morning, purchased food packets for the afternoon. Among them, there are also some mothers who had packed their share of into their kids’ tiffin boxes, because it is his/her favourite dish. For them the roadside dosa/vada is the only option now.
After the train, it is time to board a bus now. Just as crowded, but if you run, and are lucky you might get a window seat. I was extremely lucky today. I got a window seat. So while everyone else had to clutch at the handlebars and try to hold their insides in while the bus rolls onto its destination at breakneck speed, reminiscent of a roller coaster ride, I got to sit and admire the scenery of the urban jungle. Our bus stopped at a traffic signal, and beside us another car stopped. In the front seat there were two women, busy gossiping. In the back seat, there was a young child, about 2 or 3 years old. He stared at me with wide-open eyes and I looked back. After a minute I waved. A minute later, he tentatively waved back. A bond had now been established. Soon we were playing peek-a-boo, and laughing uproariously – at 9 o clock in the morning, at a busy intersection. Soon, the lights changed, and the traffic started moving. The car carrying the child vanished in a puff of smoke, and I was left waving. My quota for magical moments of the day was over.
The bus stopped and half-a-dozen people poured out.In front of the bus stop, there is a Sai Baba Temple, with a golden spire. 5 out of 6, stopped for a second to fold their hands in obeisance before the idol, sitting placidly in its marble sanctum with a golden spire. Only one stopped to throw down some coins to the dust caked hands of the beggar children with matted hair, sitting in the sun, with their arms outstretched.
It’s just another day in the city of dreams. Broken hopes galore and the defeated sit back and watch, while others persevere for a golden illusion they have heard whispers of. Still others have given themselves over to the rhythm of the city, allowing it to take them where it will.
(My first Writing 101 post).
Today’s Daily Prompt: If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?
Disclaimer: I greatly respect my family’s heritage and stock of traditions. This post is written with tongue-of-cheek, self-deprecating humour, and to be read from the same point of view.
Now that I have safeguarded myself from any angry relatives who might accidentally stumble across my blog, let me start the post – I will be truthful. On reading this the first thing that came to my mind was my grandfather hitching a ride with ‘Doc’ and ‘Marty’ (from the ‘Back to the Future’ Trilogy) and ringing our house doorbell, and jovially asking my mom – what’s for dinner? And asking me to go get him some of his favourite samosas from the store. My grandfather was a pretty cool guy. I don’t think he would be shocked by anything if he came over to dinner. But anyone a generation before would probably have a mini-heart attack, and die again! Assuming that they condescend to enter an apartment building, smaller than the servants’ quarters in their ancestral home, here are some things that I think they will find shocking:
- Coming from an aristocratic lineage where women were considered the ‘pride and honour’ of the family, I guess my ancestor would be more than a little shocked to find my wardrobe stocked up with jeans and t-shirts, and heaven forbid, my precious dresses. For all I know they might just hold a bonfire for all my clothes.Also the fact that I am unable to wear or manage a sari without my mother’s expert help might be a source of consternation to some of my late family members.
- The Biggest Shock would obviously be the fact that all my father’s brothers and my grandfather’s brothers no longer reside together even in the same country, much less the same house. Some are known to me and my sister only by names; the black telephone cord substitute blood line in case of others; some are just glossy photographs in a yellowed photo album, others are buried deep within the hard drive containing pictures of the last family wedding, ten years ago.Over time, one of the changes for the worse (at least in my opinion) is the widening gap between relatives, even primary ones. I talk to my first cousins over the phone maybe three-four times a year. I meet them in formal settings maybe once after two years. The camaraderie and mutual love shared by cousins once upon a time is as good as a fictional myth now. Once upon a time, in India (doesn’t it sound like the beginning of a fairy tale) the concept of ‘single child’ never existed, because even if you didn’t have your own siblings, you always had your cousins, and they were as good as.
- The fact that I can’t recite any Sanskrit hymns or sholkas, and am mostly ignorant about the rituals associated with worship will immediately earn me the trophy of the ‘Worst Daughter Ever’. Also seeing me mingle quite freely with guys, and girls from all castes and religions, would definitely be a shock to all my ancestors born before the mid nineteenth-century.
- The fact that both me and my sister can neither write nor read our mother tongue, Bengali, would be as great a source of shame for my ancestors as my parents, if not greater. To our defence we were brought up away from the region, and never felt the need to learn a language we did not use in our daily interactions.
- Once upon a time dinner used to be served in huge golden dishes with at least seven courses. Now it comprises of take-out pizza on microwave-safe dishes. I don’t think my ancestors would be staying for dinner after all!
- The apartment we currently reside in would probably give claustrophobia to any ancestor kind enough to drop by for dinner. Our apartment, situated right in the middle of the urban concrete jungle, lacks the open air, free space and outdoor gardens, our ancestral home in the village undoubtedly had. We can’t even see the sky from our windows, unless you try, really, really hard. The only greenery comes from the potted plants and flower boxes on the balconies.
- If my ancestors were to come over for dinner on a Sunday there is a good chance they would partake of a meal prepared by my father. Which would indeed be a radically shocking, socially upsetting and paradigm changing sight for even my great-grandparents. On most Sundays, to give my mother a well-deserved break, my father takes over the kitchen. He is a great chef, and a standing joke in our family is that after retirement he should open up a restaurant. An idea that would undoubtedly be seriously frowned upon by my ancestors, no matter how good his chicken biryani is.