Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Winter Note: Stray Dogs and Big Umbrellas

(Picasso holding umbrella for his girl friend Francoise Gilot)

Winter this year, I feel, is like a long expected guest who has sneaked into home when I was out for some quick work. I have been impatient, like many others in the city, looking at the calendar, watch, sun, moon, wind, stars and innumerable dress codes that adorn the streets of the city, searching for the signs of its arrival. It befooled me once again. I had just stepped out for a few days and by that time it was in. Once I open the door, winter jumps up at me calling out ‘surprise’, tickling me with its drizzle fingers. I embrace it rather reluctantly for I do not like surprises like this. These ghostly appearances within the darkrooms with faces glowing at the reflected lights of computer screens or television screens fill me with a sense of dejection. I try to present an easy face, hiding my discomfort in having encountered with a cheeky surprise. Winters have never been so before. They used to come dressed up for me; dark chiffon lined with fiery orange in the morning, grey gowns in the afternoon and red silk in the evening. Night they used to be natural, sending me inside the duvet unnaturally clad in several layers of woollen. Winter used to dance naked for me. This time it behaves like a rogue.

I come out of a metro station along with many scurrying towards workplaces, shopping ends and eating joints. I have a book to pick up from an upmarket book mart, which I had ordered a month back. Holding myself together I hit the street and it starts drizzling. In this city, people love water because most of the year it remains dry. Show the picture of a sea to anybody who is a natural inhabitant of this city, they will throw up their hands and run towards it. Anything that resembles more than a bucket of water, send the citizens here into a holiday mood. That is the sense of the citizens who lived in landlocked areas. While people from south run towards hills, people from north rush to sea sides. On the seashore, a north Indian adult is a child. You get to see men in skimpy underwear managing their enormous bellies while rolling along the retreating waves. Women get drenched in their hapless daily wears inviting more lechers than they would have had they been wearing swim suits. Art of art is concealing art. In beaches, in India it becomes true. Democracy ends where gender begins; that is the rule of seashore. I have digressed enough.

I look for a place of shade so that I can protect myself from getting drenched. But I think only I am looking for a shade, rest of the people are walking merrily as if they do not discriminate between sunshine and rain. Suddenly I realize this city street has no awnings. If at all they are there, the owners of the shops have rolled it up to their necks so that people will not over crowd before their shops barring the view of the street. I turn by body in forty five degree angle and walk along thinking that holding a palm over my head and turning the body sideways would keep me protected from the rain. It is a foolish belief that most of the people do, exactly the way they crinkle noses to prevent an ugly smelling from hitting the nostrils or cupping the palm over the ears to hear something clearly or even opening mouth while applying eye kohl. Some foreigners stand like cardboard cut out pasted against the walls wherever a little bit of awning is jutted out. I hurry past them and reach the book store and it seems to be a bit overcrowded for its size. Rain. Rain has brought more customers even to a bookstall, I imagine. The attendant in the shop greets me as he knows the purpose of my visit and immediately hands over the book. Your Radio Benjamin, sir. I thank him, make the payment and come out.

It is still raining outside. The cold has increased. I do not want to move my body sidewise again. So I wait in the corridor that leads to the inner lane of the market. Suited, booted, gypsied and pepsied people come pass by each one making a competition with the other in looks and affluence. Fat stray dogs taken care of by the shopkeepers and the animal lovers from the rich neighbourhood, sleep around wearing jackets firmly tied around their obese bodies. An one legged young boy approaches me with some bead chains and pleads with me to make some purchases. I tell him that I do not have any use of those chains. He hovers around me for some time and finding no kindness oozing out from me hops away from there. Another young man comes with two rotis and starts talking to the dog in jacket sleeping next to my feet. My mother has made it butter. Please eat it, he says. Then he breaks the bread into pieces and places it before the dog. The dog gets up unwillingly, smells the crumbs and goes back to sleep. He is too full and feels like a garbage bin. We exchange glances and go back to our worlds.

It is raining still. I see people holding very large umbrellas, under which you can start a wayside food stall. That big umbrellas. In our villages we hold small umbrellas. In cities people hold big umbrellas because they don’t want to get drenched at any cost from any side. There is a different psychology to it. It is a social marker. Big umbrellas show your bigness. You can carry a big umbrella in the boot of your car. Office going public cannot carry such umbrellas. Those who carry it show their affluence. Above all, big umbrellas occupy more space in public and big umbrellas and big cars serve the same purpose; occupy more space in the public domain so that you can show your importance. I see an umbrella shop at a corner. I go there and ask for the price of umbrellas. Shop attendant opens a big umbrella with a flourish by switching on a button. It slowly goes up and covers a four feet diameter. Rs.750/- He says. I shake my head. He opens a small one; the plebeian types. Rs.450/- I put my hand out under the sky and the drizzling has decreased. I do not want to make an invest in that umbrella. So turn my body once again in forty five degree angle and reach the metro station. Winter follows me like a shadow clad in greys. 

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