Monday, July 27, 2009

Autobiography of a Road

I am a road. My name is Mahatma Gandhi.

I don’t know why these human beings named me that. It appears some fellow by that name did something noticeable with his life. So this is their way of honouring him. Having me named after him and then trampling all over me all the time. I find that a little strange, but well, they move in mysterious ways.

I don’t know how this Mahatma Gandhi chap had anything to do with me, but then, roads can’t really choose their own names. I hear I’ve namesakes in other cities as well. That’s alright, I suppose, although I’d have liked to keep the name for myself, given a choice.

The other roads do seem to make a bit of an issue out of my name. They think it somehow makes me better off than them. You get a good name and a good place, and they give you a good body and take care of you so much and so and so forth, they keep telling me. They even point out I’ve got better tyres running me over. Fat lot of difference that makes!

I hear that kind of shit all the time, really. The tyres keep bringing all the latest gossip in town to me. Good friends of mine, most tyres. Since we work with each other so much, might as well be on backslapping terms. Besides, it does get a little lonely otherwise. I do, of course, meet some of the other roads at the intersections every once in a while. But we tend to get a bit bored, seeing each other so frequently. Then again, they think we are a tight bunch, all of us, and they don’t tell me what their other friends have to say about me. Keep me from getting hurt and all that crap.

No, tyres are much better. They do make too much noise about their supremacy though. About how they see so much of the world while we stick around like shitpots. The human beings don’t help matters much, I must say. They’ve devised this utter crap with their language about us taking them from one place to another. I find it extremely humiliating. And the tyres, of course, find it hilarious. Rub it in all the time.

Wait, I've been rambling on uselessly, haven't I? Guess I must introduce myself better. After all, what’s in just a name?

I was born several years ago, not sure of the exact number though. Gets a little difficult to keep track after a point since they don’t really celebrate our birthdays every year. One or two of the other roads argue with me as to why I need to keep any sort of time at all, since it hardly means anything to us, in the condition we are in. But I think it is important. Anyway, coming back to my birth, I was born right here, where I am now. The whole thing is quite similar to how these human beings are born themselves. Requires a lot more people, of course.

One fine day, a truckload of chaps just land up with all the plans and relevant material and get on with the job. Quite painful really, what with all the heating and burning. And then just when one thinks the worst is over, that monstrous thing with those huge metal tyres comes and stomps all over us. That’s supposed to keep us in line, apparently.

I wonder if these human beings are like God to us. They sure have all the ingredients, I should think. Just that they don’t seem to be right and fair and caring and all of those things all the time. I am Mahatma Gandhi, of course, and I get treated a little better. But some of the other ones are in dire shape, I hear. Then again, these human beings die long before we do. Now that’s not how their God seems to work. I am not sure how they know that but they do make a big deal of believing it, so I guess they know something I don’t.

I like late nights the most. After all the traffic thins out and the place is calmer. And the conversations with the tyres, though infrequent, become more vibrant and chirpier.

It doesn’t get dark for me though, with all those yellow lights waking up. But before those things were put in place, I could look at the dark sky without trouble. And see the moon and the stars wandering about throughout the night. Did depress me a little, seeing that even they had scope for such movement while I lay prostrate on the earth. I’ve learnt since that apparently I too am moving about with the earth the same way they do. That makes me feel better about myself, though it still does not make me feel any motion. Mind you, I am not complaining about the yellow lights. After they’ve arrived, I sense that I can see myself better if I wanted to. I probably look better too; the lights must make my complexion glow!

The days aren’t too bad either. I make so many new friends every day. And then there’s the Sun. It also wanders about the sky throughout the day, just as the moon and the stars do. But the Sun looks more powerful. I am told that this is not strictly correct. I don’t know why that is.

The only time I get really pissed off with life is during the rains. That’s when all those sewer pipes down there get all high and ambitious and have their time under the sun. We keep them where they belong most of the time, those retarded fucks. There’s a reason they’re down there below us, I say. But then, the rains come and they take every opportunity to puke their filthy guts out all over us. I don’t know what they think they achieve with this utterly disgusting exhibition. They think this will cause some kind of revolution and people will start travelling through them instead of us? Such absurdity! They did have their moment of glory when they started the underground metro in my city. But I don’t think that’s made much difference to anything at all.

Truth be told, I am quite happy with the way my life has turned out so far. You get used to the world making a fool of itself on top of you in time. It is quite peaceful after that. Comforting even, knowing everything’s alright every day. Yeah, I would’ve liked to go see a few friends in other countries. I keep hearing how roads are more cultured and all that. But, at least, the tyres don’t get to do that either!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Ride

I walk out of the shopping mall, polythene bag in hand, in quick measured steps, confident that this simple act of exit would not be botched up. And I don’t. I descend the familiar flight of stairs that lead to the main street and its jumbled traffic. I must cross the street for I have to travel in the other direction. This too I accomplish without anxiety, no mean feat in the milieu of ferociously accelerating vehicles hoping to avoid the impending red lights and even more ferociously accelerating vehicles hoping to avoid the cops once the lights are red.

It is only when I safely reach the other side, that my confidence abruptly deserts me. I am engulfed in a deep sense of foreboding. The journey ahead, though the path is familiar and the destination known, poses challenges that I am most fearful of. For it is now that I must face my most intrinsic insecurities and inadequacies, delve into the darkest corners of my mind and soul, engage in a cathartic dialogue with myself. For I must now find myself a willing Auto Rickshaw Wallah.

They stand there in haphazard formation, dozens of them, waiting for an opportunity to deny me a ride. I am engulfed in their midst, in despair and without escape, needing and loathing them more than ever. My gaze wanders amongst them, seeking friendly eyes, compassionate faces, desperately keeping my mind from straying into territories where I know it eventually must. But I find none.

Distraught, I venture to enquire a couple of them if they would consent to aid me in my quest to journey homeward. They quickly glance back at me, shaking their head in a direction perpendicular to the one I hope for. It is a tight rope travellers like me must walk. If the destination be too proximal or too distal, rejection must be accepted. The Auto Rickshaw Wallah’s nobility must neither be shortchanged nor exploited.

What an odd relationship it is between the driver and his passenger. They have never seen each other before. They know not what the other is like. They know not whether or not they have anything in common. They know not how, precisely at that moment and in that spot, the other is present. And yet through the infinite other possible cosmic combinations, they find each other to spend a few minutes with. And yet, they, perhaps, do not even talk to each other. The passenger sits, calm and observant, comfortable in his or her assumed superiority over the driver, while the driver guides his vehicle through the mayhem, master of their collective destinies.

What must I do, I consider, to find myself one such driver from this group. Must I tug at their heartstrings, stating how my body bears the brunt of a deadly disease? No. That would be selfish and inconsiderate. And unethical, perhaps.

Must I then, appeal to their sense of duty, informing them how I must make it to the said address in time or catastrophe may befall me? No. With a shopping bag full of items of leisure in hand, the suspension of belief required, would be beyond them.

Must I be aggressive, shrieking and threatening them if they refuse? No. My disposition is too cultured to trouble theirs.

I watch as a pair of lovely young ladies walk up to one of the Rickshaws, simper coquettishly into the man’s ears, and immediately secure permission to sit inside. How I wish I were born a woman, I muse. Then I check myself. Would this be interpreted as sexist? And if so, which side would I have debased? Or, I reflect, I could I wish I had a girlfriend in tow. I always despise it when I reach this point in the introspective arc. I have noticed that I seem to be reaching it with increasing frequency as the days pass. Whether I must or must not have a girlfriend is an issue I fail to address with logic and composure. It is an unconquerable conundrum for me. There, of course, exists a more elementary problem in this case. I fear the day I decide that I do need one. Because I would not know how to go about finding one. For all my conversational talents, I remain sadly devoid of the knowledge of the art of courtship. Not that I have ever actively sought to hone it, but I have a feeling it is the sort of thing that does not require honing.

The crisis at hand still remains unresolved. The auto rickshaw wallahs have by now lost all hope in me. I feel like I have disappointed them. I wonder if I will ever be able to make it up to them. But then, I remember, these men are shorn of their rights of refusal. They are a mode of public transport and public service cannot be conditional; thus have deemed those with knowledge and power. I almost convince myself that this is indeed true before I understand their folly. Auto Rickshaws are as much a form of public service as any private industry. They run their own business and make their own money. And they must have the right to choose who they do or do not do business with. Trains and buses are public transport. And those that drive it are employees of the government. They have fixed routes and fixed incomes. Auto rickshaw wallahs don’t.

Anyway, I walk home.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Internet Cloud

I login, as ever, soon as I get up in the morning, and scroll down the familiar application window to check how populated my friend list is. I do this every day without exception or purpose, like a dog dusts itself after an severe scuffle in the mud with another. My fingers coil over the mouse with confidence, each one at ease with what is expected of it. The mouse’s incarnation inside the screen transforms the uneven human motion into a more graceful glide.

I see the same familiar faces. Familiar names. People I know, spread across the planet, unified together in this moment by habit and digital codes. They will stay here, throughout the day, always within reach, and yet I may perhaps not offer them a cursory greeting.

And yet, I continue to scroll. A million times a day. Minute after minute. Hour after hour. For what? Hope?

And then some day, I shall find that unfamiliar name. The name that I have been waiting for. The name I have not seen in days. Perhaps months. All this time, I’ll have been glancing perfunctorily at the other names, recognizing but not registering. And then, just as perfunctorily, your name will be sitting there, unassuming in the crowd.

And then I’ll be taken over by that most mystifying of all human traits – hesitation. Should I greet you immediately, desperately? Or should I wait, nonchalant and impassive as any other name on your screen, escaped from notice? I’ll wait. I’ll open a dozen sites, grown bland and uninteresting as canteen food, and sift through them, as if your name on the screen will be watching my every move. Every once in a while, I will steal a glance towards where your name ought to be, satisfying myself that you are still here, intensely proximal. I shall pick out other names in the list and greet them, names I’ve not spoken to in ages. Some of them will return the greeting, some will not. Of those that do, some will strike further conversation; some will simply stare at me out of that screen, through all those 0s and 1s, without a word.

Some days, I will be too late. All at once, you shall disappear, as suddenly as you appeared, from under my watchful eyes. And I shall be heartbroken I waited too long. But then, I will think, if you were only there for these handful of minutes, I could not have had a conversation anyway.

Some days, you will be too late. You shall just float there forever, I know not for what reason, but long enough for my desperation to pump through my heart and into my fingers. And I shall type ‘Good Time of Day’ and press the fatal ‘Return’ key before I can stop myself. I will stare in horror at my foolhardiness, wishing I could turn back Time and not do it. But it will be gone. Like words spoken.

Then shall begin the excruciating wait. Would you respond? Or would you ignore my sudden bursting forth, perhaps with a chuckle, as I do to so many who dare do the same with me? Again, I shall go back to my dozen sites, browsing through them, checking mail, playing games, as if everything were fine. Hell, I would even close the bloody window with your name on it, dismissing you from sight, as if it did not matter whether or not you replied. All the time, desperately hoping, that suddenly, out of nowhere, the window would pop up again, with your lovely written words in it.

Occasionally, it does pop up. An impersonal ‘Hi, how are you?’ to my warm ‘Good Time of Day’. Words that can be spoken anywhere and to anyone and mean nothing. Hollow. But at least, there is a reply. A chance to extend beyond. So I think about what I shall write next. Again, nothing too personal so quickly. Something simple, witty, unique. ‘How’s the city treating you?’ maybe. And then I must wait again. This time, more heartbreakingly than before, for hope is replaced by expectation. For infinite seconds, nothing happens. I implore, with all my might, you, all vestiges of civilized indifference devastated in your ‘Hi, how are you?’. Then slowly, the window flickers. There are those extra words of agony next to your name ‘ typing’. What will you say? Will you enchant me with a description of your city? Or will you dismiss this question, beseeching you for words, as an innocuous demand upon your time? Or will you start to speak, as you already have, and then simply let it hang, dashing my hopes with ‘ typing’ for eternity?

Whatever you do, I shall be waiting for you the next time too.