Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just Another Day

Rickshaw-walas can be a rather entertaining bunch of people when you are in need of a mood-lift. They drive around their little bug-like vehicles and stop at the wave of a hand and like to think of themselves as the kings of the road. Andheri station is one of those places were they do tend to assume a certain kind of authority. Commuters don’t tell the rickshaw-walas where to go; they go where the rickshaw-wala takes them.

Now, after a killing shopping excursion in Colaba, when one is made to stand in a crowded train from Churchgate to Andheri, one is entitled to be grumpy and have a strong desire to rest the rear end wherever possible. So, when a rickshaw-wala standing right outside the station readily accepts to take you to your destination, you will only thank good heavens for the little mercies He grants.

So here I was walking out of Andheri station, tired as hell with sore feet and having to go to Prithvi Theatre for yet another errand. And there I see a rickshaw-wala waiting for me; who doesn’t hesitate to take me to my destination. I waste no time in bundling into the rickshaw. Rickshaw-wala also sits, turns to me and asks if I could wait for a little while so he can get another passenger. This has now become a common practice in Andheri station, by the way. Now, I know it is rather unlikely that someone who wanted to go to Juhu would be at Andheri station because it is closer to Vile Parle (why was I there? I took a fast train so that I need stand for a smaller time period).

So I tell the rickshaw-wala, “haan haan, theek hai theek hai as long as you let me sit in your rickshaw.” Now, we are waiting for another passenger and to pass the time he asks if I’m an actress because I want to go to Prithvi. I said, ‘No no. I’m only going there to meet someone.”

I don’t think he heard what I said, because he next tells me his brother is also into script writing. “TV ke liye likhta hai. Voh SAB TV hai na? Uske saare shows ke liye mera bhai hi likhta hai.”

I admit it. I’m a sucker for rickshaw stories these days and a brother of a television script writer, who drives rickshaw really caught my attention.

“You know? My sister-in-law – bhai ki biwi… she is a reporter. She comes on TV as that journalist hota hai na? All this News channels na? She comes in them.”

I asked him in Hindi, “Saare News channels ke liye kaam karti hai?”

He insists on speaking in his version of the English language, “Yes! (eyes pop out and lips take on a grave downward curve) She reporter for all.”

I nod, imitating the grave downward curve of the lips. At this point, a couple of younger colleagues of his looked in to the rickshaw and asked him what he was doing.

“Just waiting for somebody else who wants to go to Prithvi Theatre” he replies in Hindi. The two smile at him and look at me with caution in their eyes. They turn to themselves and say ‘Buddha fir shuru ho gaya.’ I smiled.

“I also sing”, he popped. This caught my interest again. “You hear name of Asan some-thing-or-other? Your genrashun don’t know. Ask your mother father” gives me a pitiable look and continues, “You hear movie, Paras Mani?” I shake my head. “Gana toh suna hoga, ‘Hasta hua noorani chehra…’?” Who hasn’t heard ‘Hasta hua noorani Chehra…’! I got very excited.

“My father write that song. He was big song writer in Bollywood.”

It didn’t matter whether he was saying the truth or not. In a city like ours, it is, after all, possible that the son of a song writer, brother of a script-writer and brother-in-law of a TV reporter, could be a rickshaw-wala. I humoured him on. He looked like a middle-aged man with an incredible imagination. He had few teeth, all of which had deep dark paan stains on them. His speech was a little slurred which I attributed to the lack of adequate number of teeth.

It had been a good 10 minutes waiting for another passenger, so I told him to start the rickshaw. He was kind enough to inform me that the ride will be costly and that I wouldn’t be able to bear it entirely. I insisted on going and said I don’t mind paying. He started the rickshaw and we crawled through the heavy rush-hour traffic.

Only after a little distance did I noticed that he had not pulled the meter down. And only after I asked him to pull it down did he care to mention that his meter was was not working and that however long it takes, I may pay him Rs. 50 for the ride. The ease and confidence with which he seemed to state this and all his eccentricities before, should have put me on alert. But I was still nursing my sore feet and Rs. 50 in the kind of traffic we were in seemed like a steal to me. So I agreed.

He was a very good driver. He knew how to weave his way between large vehicles and cleverly change lanes to get ahead. He even managed to avoid a verbal battle with a rather burly and short-tempered young man in another rickshaw. Half way to my destination I realized he had had two large bottles of water in the rickshaw filled to the brim at the beginning of the ride which where both half empty by now. And I also noticed the impossible angle he stretched to, to take swigs from the bottle. But it was not until he asked me for the third time where it was that I wanted to go, that I realized that there was something wrong. Then he began to take me in the wrong direction and told me I am wrong when I gave him the right direction. He did realize he was going the wrong way and corrected himself. He then looked back at me and laughed and only then did I realize that the man was drunk.

I calmed myself and then I calmly told him, with a dry throat, to please stop the rickshaw. He said, “But this is not Prithvi Theatre.” I said, “Don’t worry. Just drop me here and I will go on my own.”

He took offense, stopped the rickshaw, turned to me and said, “No no baby, I know the way. I will drop you.”

I said, “No no uncle, here is your Rs.30 for bringing me this far now I’m going to get off.”

“Paise ki baath nahi hai, beta. Mein chhod doonga. Paise nahi chahiye.”

I placed the Rs. 30 on the seat, got off the rickshaw and said, “Agli baar thoda kam piyoge toh achha hoga” and walked off. I crossed the road and started walking. But I noticed that son of song writer of ‘Hasta Hua Noorani Chehra’ was taking a U-turn to follow me. My hasta hua chehra lost all its noor and I ran to the nearest corner and hid myself. The rickshaw-wala drove past me, waited for a few minutes at the corner of the road and then rode away. Only then did I come out of my hiding place. There was a shorter way to my destination from where I was and so I walked the rest of the way.

Ever since this encounter, there has only been one thing eating in to my peace of mind. Who after all is the song writer for the song ‘Hasta hua noorani chehra…’? It is a great song.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

There was a slight chill in the air. A light breeze kept tugging at her dress. The concrete bench at the park felt colder and harder. It was a small park that not many knew of. There was an old couple sitting at another end of the park watching their three grandchildren play in the grass. A boy was walking his dog and a man who sold chana chor garam on the streets was sitting in a corner and counting his day’s earning. She sat at her bench looking at them, her mind somewhere else. Somewhere, in a restaurant, her mind saw him again. He was staring in to the eyes of someone else and he had the smile that used to be reserved for her. They were holding hands.

Her greatest fears had been realized: she felt nothing.

She walked away from the restaurant, feeling nothing. And now here she was, sitting in the park. Why did she feel nothing? The peaceful atmosphere teased her temples. They tortured her ears with happy sounds. She pinched herself, to make herself cry. But her eyes remained dry. She became angry with herself. The wind screamed in her ears. It felt stronger than a storm. She hated herself. She got up with a start and stomped her way towards the gates. She fixedly gazed in to the far distance and told herself that she was lying to herself and him. There was obviously no love between them. She marched along the road and suddenly stopped dead in her track.

“Where are you going? I was just coming to meet you at the park.”

She stuttered and walked a few steps back. She couldn’t think. The world had come to a full-stop. She looked at the woman with him; the same one from the restaurant. She did not know what to do.

“I came to the restaurant” was all she could manage to say.

“You did? What were you doing there?”

“Someone told me they saw you there and I thought I’d come there instead of waiting for you at the park”

“Yeah, we were at the restaurant. Didn’t you see us?”

She didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even seem to care that she had found them!

“Well, we were sitting in a corner. So it’s no wonder you didn’t. Anyway, this is my cousin, Shaila. Shaila, this is my girlfriend, Prachi”

Prachi could barely stretch her hands and shake Shaila’s. She wondered if Shaila noticed how sweaty her hands were or how her legs were shaking. She was sure she was blushing. She couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

“What happened? Why are you laughing?”

“Nothing…” She turned to Shaila and said, “It’s good to meet you.”

Shaila did not miss the embarrassment on her face. She tossed her head to one side and replied, “You’re not the jealous type, are you?”

Prachi blushed again and buried her face in her hands. It is only then that she felt the little drops of tears hanging from her eye lids.