Thursday, December 3, 2009

That first time again

This was it. I had to do this. It has been a while, and I might sound like a horse, but I need to do this. For my self. For my peace of mind. For me to know, that I can do this. I squatted on the floor, placed my hands on my lap, straightened my back, closed my eyes and took a slow deep breath. As I breathed in I took in the ring of the electronic shruti. The amalgam of three basic notes. I separated them, unconsciously and chose my note. And synced my voice with the shruti and sang my first note after a long time. I felt my vocal cords vibrate and my voice surrounded me. I felt myself swaying as if I was swimming in the tone of my note. I was almost out of breath but I held on until the end. Then I took another slow deep breath. The silence was deafening. I sang the next note until my breath gave way. Then the third, and the fourth and the fifth. I was singing again.


A single drop of sweat ran down her temple and into the shallow cave under her jaw. The orange street light and the white light inside the bus reflected against that single line of sweat, accentuating her slender, oval face. An angry finger wiped it off clumsily. Little fringes of her hair stuck to her forehead, undisturbed by the rhythmic bobbing of her head. I couldn’t help being thankful for the humidity that day.

I was on my way back from work. On an impulse I had stopped for pani puri at the roadside chaat stall outside my office. Sairam’s stall was as usual swarming with young professionals refreshing themselves from a hard Monday’s work. I had to squeeze and push my way through to reach the panipuri wala. But I was in no hurry to leave. The traffic on the road didn’t encourage me to add my bike to it. I was rolling up my sleeves when the BEST bus came to a halt in front of the stall. It was so close to the pavement that the tires almost brushed against the concrete bricks. The bus was packed with the rush hour crowd. With every lurch of the bus, the crowd inside moved in inertia like a tribal dance.

She was a peculiar sight. I don’t know what was peculiar about her but there was something about her that caught my attention. She was seated in the front of the bus at a window seat. She had earphones on and an elbow stuck out of the window. She had long wavy hair that was tied in a pony tail at the nape of her neck. Tiny fringes of curly hair sprung out on her forehead. She was fair. There was a slight unconscious smile lingering on her lips. I couldn’t tell what her eyes looked like because they were hidden behind fat rimmed glasses. She was singing along with the music playing in her ears. I could see her only between a thickening layer of heads. But I saw that her eyes were shut, her head bobbed and her fingers tapped together in rhythm –

tap – tap tap – tap
tap – tap tap – tap

I suddenly lost my appetite. I asked for a glass of water instead. When the man gave it to me, I made my way out of the crowd around the stall. She had opened her eyes, and looked at the traffic jam ahead as if she had just noticed it. Silly girl, I said in my mind and shook my head as I poured some water into my cupped hand and splashed it across my face. I needed to cool my face badly. As I opened my eyes and looked up at the bus, still stationary. I noticed she was looking at me. She was longingly looking at the steel tumbler in my hand. Her eyes slowly shifted to my face and suddenly my face felt very hot. She looked at me with piteous eyes as if to ask something of me. A strange energy rose up in my stomach, past my chest. But as it reached my throat it came out in a sudden laugh.

I panicked. I knew that was the wrong reaction. And it wasn’t even what I wanted to do. I waited for her reaction. She looked at me one long second and giggled under her breath, a little embarrassed. I relaxed. The bus lurched further and suddenly I realized the bus was going to move. For the wildest second I considered getting on the bus. But I didn’t. And walked to my bike. And left.