Tuesday, September 8, 2015

This City is not Yet a City

You are my Shesh Nag (the great serpent that had given umbrella to the infant Krishna). In the heat of this city of political intrigues you hold an umbrella above my head as I wade through the turbulence of strikes on my either side. People like waves move and give me way and you with your thousand hoods tower over me. Policemen women, with their bangled hands gesticulate and share gossips. I wonder whether they could hold a weapon in those tender hands. They just look like helpless women in uniform. Another set of women clad in white overcoats demand equal rights and justice. They are nurses working in the government hospitals. There are tribals and Adivasis waiting eternally for the justice to come from the huge building behind them. They see the wrought iron fences turning green and flowering. They also see those fruit laden branches bending towards them. I can see hope in their faces. They are still searching for their god. Nobody sees the one who is walking under the shadow of his beloved. He is divine; but none notices.

This city is small and beautiful. Still it does not have the qualities of a big city. In a big city, whichever it is, I look for bookstalls. Cities should have bookstalls and newsstands. I do find them anywhere I go. One day I stood below the balcony of my beloved. She could not come down. I kept staring at her. She unlocked her hair and let it flow down. It was long still it was not long enough to reach the ground. If it was I would have climbed on it and reached. Like two souls on the either side of a river of embers we stood there for a long time. Finally I walked back. I went to a book stall. There were three or four of them in the same row. I browsed through them and found out a book of cartoons that reflected the poverty stricken people of our country. In another bookstall I spoke to a small girl at the counter. I was looking for my kind of books and all what I found there was children’s literature. Soon I realized that it was a children’s bookstall. You never know, there is always something in those books which you had not learnt when you were in school.

In this city I walk into a newly opened and refurbished bookstall; it is a combined effort of two huge book store chains in our country. Uniformed boys stand in attention though they itch to speak into their mobile phones. They know me by now. It is my third visit after its inauguration a couple of weeks back. I ask for Salman Rushdie’s latest novel. The uniformed boy who looks like having heard of all the authors in the world approaches me, gives me a smile and asks what I want. I tell him what I have been looking for. He utters the word ‘Rushdie’ three times as if he has just heard a word newly invented into the medium called language. As I stand near the Malayalam book section, he goes and searches for Rushdie in the Malayalam books section. I politely tell him to look for it in the English section. I open my phone and show him the title. Then he comes up with another book by Rushdie. By this time another boy too has joined him in the frantic search for Rushdie. Exasperated finally they say, ‘sir, it has not come.’ This is city is not yet a city. In Delhi, I could have browsed my favorite bookstalls from home.

I like shopping for books. Even if there are online portals that ferry used and fresh copies of books to your doorsteps, I like going to the real book stalls and looking for my choicest books. It is a wonderful ritual, not just browsing and buying but the whole aspect of going there. You get into a metro, get down and walk all the way to the stall. You sweat but the moment you are inside the bookstall you are all cool. Your body heat evaporates in the cool presence of those books. Interestingly, you walk all the way for a particular book and the moment you get the real copy in your hands, you open it, flip through a few pages and disappointed you keep it back on the rack. It is not your kind of book. The review has totally fooled you. Here too I walk all the way to a bookstall where I had ordered for a few books. The manager looks at his subordinate and she looks at her subordinate. And then they together tell me that the books have not come. This is the fifteenth day of my booking. This city is not yet a city.

I walk further to meet an intellectual friend. He tells me that he is in a bookstall a kilometer away. I walk and finally when I reach there, the girl at the shop tells me that he has gone for his lunch. I stand there at the footpath and start reading a book. People pass by me. I do not give any damn to them and they do not give any damn to me either. People reading on the pavement are no longer a new thing to people here. Thank God, this city is tolerant, at least. Then my friend comes and we go around and look for a small tea shop where we could sit and discuss things. He takes me to nearby supermarket. People mill around. They go in and go out of the huge building like bees do in their comb. It is decorated in a kitschy way and a lot of people click their selfies before the garish sculptures of mythological characters with horrendous enamel paint on them. We walk into the air conditioned atrium and find two chairs so that we could talk in a cool climate. We discuss Carl Marx and religious fundamentalism, and an impending people’s revolution. Out there sun blazes in all its power and beauty. In here we cool ourselves off under the blow of cold air from air condition ducts. Then we part ways. Revolution should start from cool climes, I suddenly feel.

This city is not yet a city for the roads are still potholed and the traffic is in disarray. I suddenly feel alienated. I walk further to the bus stand. People stand and watch how workers stand in neck deep dirt and clear the main drainage of the city. Just on its bank a tea and snack business thrive. Just a few paces away people stand almost in the middle of the road so that the buses would stop for them. Auto rickshaw drivers look for their next prey to burn holes in their pockets. Idle people walk by and fortune tellers sleep off. Lottery ticket sellers display their poverty in order to get clients for their luck business. I walk past them all. My lady Shesha finds it difficult to run behind me. She keeps her hood spread so that I will not be burnt by the wrath of the sun. Now I am in a bus and she disappears into the air. Then she comes back into my phone as a blue dot. She smiles and tells me, your city is not yet a city. Come back. 

No comments: