Friday, June 3, 2016

Damsels of the Forty Second Pillar

(the Damsels of Avignon by Picasso)

Every day I pass by these metro rail pillars. When I reach Pillar number 42 I slow down.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about myself. I am Ramlal Sharma. Nice to meet you. I am forty two years old and that’s why I am so fond of this pillar. You may ask whether I was in love with the pillar number 41 last year or not. Not really, because this metro line became operational this year only. Till recently these pillars were inconspicuous behind the large blue metal boards that marked out metro work along the road.

When you hear my name, Ramlal Sharma and when I talk about slowing down at the pillar number 42, you may have already made a mental picture of me. A successful and happy gentleman in his car, with a tie around his neck, a pair of goggles to give shade to his eyes and a glowing Bluetooth ear phone fitted just behind his left ear.

I too imagine myself like that. I wish I was that. But things are a little bit different here in my case.
I go to my work place in Gurgaon by my rickety cycle. This cycle was given to me by a cycle workshop person for a sum of Rs.250/- a couple of years back. Before I got the cycle I used to travel by buses, often ticketless. I travelled ticketless not because of the thrill that it gave me but I really did not have much money for bus tickets.

Tell me can you survive in this city with three thousand rupees? I have a wife and three children. The rent is Rs.1200/-. As poor people we are always in need of money. Borrowing has broken our back. My children do not go to school regularly and whenever they go to the local government school the teachers ask them to get text books and uniforms. What to do? Shamed by everyday questioning by the teachers my kids have stopped going to school.

I am an office boy. A man of forty two remains a boy till his death because his earning gets him only that respect. If he is paid poorly he remains a boy always. They call me ‘chottu’ and some people give me a little bit respect by calling me Chottulal. That’s good enough. But many in my office call me ‘Sharma ji’. It sounds like an insult.

The lean tuft of hair hanging from the back of my scalp tells it to the world even if I want to hide it. I am Brahmin. May be that’s why I am proud and I do not want to send my wife to work as a housemaid. Back home, farming had ceased. Old memories were felt like shackles.

For sometime in the village I tried to be a temple priest. But as an illiterate Brahmin I could not convince the devotees that I was capable of mediating their issues with the God. And what to say, those who came to appease the God were also suffering like me. They wanted prosperity and I too wanted the same. I knew whenever I prayed for them, I prayed for myself.

When I came to Delhi years back, travelling with a low caste farmer from the same village as mine, huddled near the railway compartment’s latrine with my wife and my elder child who was then hardly two years old, without thinking much about the idea of ‘pollution’, the place was completely different.

I did not know what to do. We slept under bridges for many days before settling down in a slum. I started off as a helper to a tea maker and it was a sheer waste of time. All those rickshaw pullers and officer goers who came to drink tea and dry bread called me chottu. For some time I struggled with a rickshaw. My body was not fit for doing hard work. ‘Why don’t you join the metro work? I know a contractor,” someone said. But what I would do in a construction site? I couldn’t lift a brick.

I slow down at the 42nd pillar every day and at times I get down and stare into the thickets. I am not alone. There are many like me who stand and stare into the thickets. It was curiosity that brought me to the pillar in the beginning because I had noticed a few men like me standing there and watching something. One day I mustered courage, got down from the cycle and stared into the wild shrubs growing all over. Then I saw them; the objects of their collective curiosity. Three women.

I do not know their age, their names and their whereabouts. I just know that they are three women. I have not even seen their faces. What I see is the movement of clothes; a sari, a churidar, a pair of jeans? Do I see full red lips, inviting smiles and winking? Do I hear muffled moans?

There is a thrill in standing here and looking at them. They are sex workers. Nobody needs to tell me what they are doing there. Their clients came from the other side, jumping over the ledge, away from public eyes. But from this side, we could see movements. May be that was enough for me and people like me.

Policemen come and pester us. They shoo us away. So I have found out a way for not attracting the keepers of law and order. I put my cycle on stand and take out my sacred thread and pull up it to my ear. That’s how we keep pollution away while peeing. It is a safe stance and I could stand for a long time like that and see what’s going on inside the thickets.

During one of the initial days of this voyeurism, I had asked one fellow voyeur about the details. He did not tell me much. But he looked at me with some strange enthusiasm and said, “They say, hand job fifty, blowjob hundred and a full fuck hundred and fifty.”

I slow down there every day and pretend to pee. What do I want? I just can’t tell myself that I want a blowjob because I have never experienced it. In fact what is sex for people like me? We make love as if we were doing something wrong, in hurry and in shame. I am sure there are people who prowl in the slums to see couples making love. Fearing them we had made love in darkness. Each time we did it, for her and for me it was like smothering each other to death. To make love is easy in a shanty but to hold the noise is the real struggle.

A hundred rupees. Then I can have what I want. But I can never have it because each time I take a hundred rupees note out and day dream sitting inside the fuming hole of a kitchenette in the office suddenly I remember everything. The sad faces of my parents in some distant village. I have started forgetting them. The fields where I had worked as a guard. The temple where I was a part time priest. The face of my wife. I feel how the plumpness of her body parts has squeezed itself out in the years to make her a living skeleton whose very look evokes no other response than revulsion. The faces of the children.

I slow down every day there at the forty second pillar and look at the movements of clothes and faces inside the thickets. It has become a ritual. I feel like peeing when I reach here.

I do not know whether I will love the 43rd pillar or not by my next birthday. But definitely I will stop by the 42nd pillar. 

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