Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ticket to Ride

Sahi?

Okay?

Theek hai?

The words are spoken by a man behind me, I don’t know what he looks like, but he has a heavy and loud voice.

Route no. 534 from City Select Mall at Saket to Anand Vihar. And I’m on it. So I get to hear this, experience a lot more.

The hair on the young boy in front of me curls nicely, like a cat’s tail comfortable.

A man on the street puts a cigarette in his mouth, lets it dangle and then lights it as the bus moves on, leaving him behind like a flash in the noon light.

White and brown spangled belts, on two different people, one of them has an orange skin tight nylon shirt and a big blue square watch on his wrist, embroidered blue jeans. The other disappears before I notice him, apart from wearing a belt in keeping with that of the orange shirt man.

On the road someone is selling helmets in blue, black, green, they are heavy upturned caves waiting to be filled by cooked heads. People working far away on dry fields, are visible. Trying to grow something in this blazing heat that makes everything wilt and bake is an amazing enterprise.

On the passing pavements now, rows of red tomatoes, ripe to bursting, their colour heightened by the strong sunlight, asking to be picked up and washed and eaten, or they will squash very soon on their own.

Cucumbers peeled and cut in the open-a cool invite to passersby.

Balloons now, shaped in all kinds of toy forms.

The bus conductor calls out, “Mother Dairy Depot, Anand Vihar, Anand Vihaaa…aar”, hoping to drum up ghost passengers from the pavements.

The boy with the curly hair leaves. Two girls with their mother now occupy the seat in front.

The kids, almost twins in the fact that they look alike except one is older, obviously since she is slightly bossy, are dressed in nylon pink and green dresses, their hair tied on two sides tight, as ponytails, with old fashioned ordinary long-forgotten use of red rubber-bands, no fancy stuff here. And despite the heat, and despite this nylon cloth clinging, and despite the fact that their mother occupies the seat with them, and she is not slim, they are excited. I can feel the excitement in the way they look out of the window, chatter and talk to their mother about this and that. Their hair is long in curls, but brittle and brown with split ends, lots of conditioning needed here, and the younger one scratches her hair, so most probably it is lice ridden. Their father, darker-brown skinned, grey and balding already, sits in the seat in front of them.

The mother takes out a coin, one of the girls hands it to the father and the father throws the coin far out. It is for a beggar on the pavement near the traffic light where the bus has stopped. The beggar slides along the hot pavement on his thin behind, his legs are thin, useless sticks, and picks up the coin with the mutilated fingers of his right hand. There is no emotion on his face.

"Lao ji," says the conductor to no one in particular. “Give, please” this means, money for your ticket to ride.

Char ka mera.” pipes up the guy next to him. He is not betting on anything. He is saying that he wants a ticket for Rs. 4/-.

The bus is decorated in the front with the usual posters of gods and goddesses of the Indian pantheon. What is new here are two steel rods strung with multi coloured bangles which add more colour to the colour. A tall thin man comes and stands in such a way that my view of the front of the bus is blocked for the moment. My attention shifts to the girls and then outside.

“Lao, bhai” the conductor is on his prowl, brown safari suit suits the predatory nature of his approach. In his simple words of “Give, brother”, a world of meaning. It means fish into your pocket and take out the fare.

“Teen ka dena” and the conductor hands over the ticket to the person who asks, quietly. He does not argue or ask till where; people who are regulars know their route cost.

The bus moves at a monotonous speed as though the heat is taking its toll on it as well, and rocks and jerks and makes straining noises like an old man trying to gather steam. This swaying and the drone of the engine and the heat hitting the face from outside, the people within, all combine to make me want to close my eyes and doze off. I clutch hard onto my purse in case I do.

“Now at Kalkaji mandir, I am in the bus, standing, will reach in fifteen twenty minutes, it will take the time it will take,” says a man into his mobile, philosophical like.

“Family passenger, gate par chalo, stand aane wala hai,” shouts the conductor suddenly. He is asking some family members to disembark. Which ‘family passengers’, I try to see.

“Maharani Bagh wali family passenger, aage se utro.” The conductor is shouting for the family to disembark, we have reached the Maharani Bagh bus-stand. I see a couple get down. They are the family? The conductor’s terminology foxes me

The girls in the front are fidgeting, they want the destination to arrive, and tell their father about how they have traveled this route before and seen the Akshardham temple, which their father is pointing out to them, earlier already. So he says nothing then, and returns to his thoughts.

“Do rupey kiske hain?” Whose two rupees are these? asks the conductor, and someone extends a hand out to grab the two rupees, acknowledging his ownership

Gulmohur trees blaze orange in the sun, so do the bougainvillea in their pinks, purples and reds. The amaltas blooms a soft, soothing yellow. The parks where the children are playing despite the hot summer sun, are parched dry and barren of grass. A stray growth here and there indicates what might have been. A forgotten green.

Stanislavski has talked of an actor’s journey. The actor’s path is set, but how he reacts to the beautiful events that he sees as the journey unfolds is what helps him create his acting. I cannot see anything beautiful on this journey of mine. My path is set too, but I just want to get home, the sun’s heat brings tears to my eyes.

School children clamber on to the bus, their white shirts hot emblems in the sun, their navy blue shorts dark against their brown skins. Their faces are tired after a stultifying day at school. There is hardly any joy or laughter among them, though some smile shyly when I look in their direction. I smile back.

A man behind me talks loudly into his mobile, chomping as he talks, and it is not because he is eating something, it is a harsh chomping of the jaws, as if he wants to destroy something, the world perhaps.

The bus turns a corner sharply and I grip onto the seat with my buttocks and grab the hand rail tight so as not to fall off my seat and onto the bus floor. The bus careens around, then stops abruptly at a red light, and I look at the crowd standing within the bus and wonder as to how they have not fallen onto each other, how they can maintain a centre of balance despite the antics of the bus. Man is capable of anything, I muse to myself.

We are approaching Balco, a local market, and the labourers laying bricks on the pavement doze on their haunches, their head between their legs, right there on the street side, impervious to the traffic, noise, heat, dust, flies—nothing bothers them right now.

Somnolent slumbering in the mid-day heat, and the bus moves on, an elephant that grunts and splutters as it makes its heavy way in the city jungle.

*

3 comments:

Spacegirl said...

brilliant observation skills... tip of the hat to you abha!

Crepuscule Colour said...

Your writing reminds me of Ruskin Bond's but this was even better than his.. :)

Abha Iyengar said...

Thanks!