Thursday, May 11, 2006

Elections

I log off my computer, gather my stuff and leave for dinner. The watchman asks me if I'll be back and I nod back, saying yes.
Dinner these days is at a small, dingy hotel, a 15 minute walk away on the main road, or a quick munch at a mess nearby. But I decide against either tonight. There's another place I've not been to for a while, but it's a fair bit away, so I'll have to take the bus.
As I walk towards the bus-stop, I hear the muted staccato of crackers being burst at the party headquarters. The streets are littered with the paper stuffing from fireworks burst earlier in the day when the results came out. Flags lie strewn along the sidewalks. They'd won this time, like on many other occasions in the past. And in true tradition of conquerors, they were celebrating riotously.
There's a liquor shop at the junction where the lane from my office turns into the main road. It usually stays open way into the wee hours of the morning. But it's closed tonight, and the rambunctious bacchanalia is conspicuously absent. These shops are government run, and the party in power just lost, so the connection is easy to make. There's a towering luxury apartment complex right opposite this shop, and I look upwards at the windows to see that most of them are asleep. And it's not yet ten. The noisy celebrations on the streets don't reach their ears, ensconced as they are in the cozy confines of their vanilla-painted bedrooms.
I get to the bus-stop, and strangely enough there's nobody there tonight. Most of the shops around are closed as well. The tiny newspaper kiosks, tucked away in the small space between the big shops, are still open though, their fliers aflutter in the breeze, proclaiming the victors and ridiculing the vanquished. I wander into one of them, looking for a comic, but I see none, just gaudy publications with women flaunting their wares on the cover.
A man on crutches walks up and asks me when the next bus is due. I don't know, I tell him. Anytime now I guess, I add. He wants to go to a place where not many buses go, and I tell him he might have to change buses at the nearby depot. Which is quite a detour by the way. He looks back at me, his eyes distant, and stares away, looking to see if a bus is coming.
15 minutes. No bus. The guy shifts his crutches from under one shoulder to another. I whistle a tune, and look at the moon through the neem trees that stand scattered around the bus-stop. The moon is waning, and only two days ago, it was full. It's a pretty sight alright. The newpaper kiosks are doing brisk business what with people coming in to buy the evening editions to know the latest reports. Who won. Who lost. The margins. The inside stories and news about the coalitions. Two people dead in election related violence, I espy a headline. But before I can read more, I hear a bus turning the corner.
Looking up, I see it's crowded. Men hanging out of the windows, and clutching at the doors for dear life. I swear, and look at the time. 10.20. I shift my purse from my back pocket to the front pocket, drawing the necessary change enroute. The bus screeches slowly as it draws to a painful stop. I look at the man with the crutches and he looks back at me. I turn away and board the bus just as it is about to leave, leaving a woman who came late stranded on the pavement.
I extend my hand with the change between two men in front of me, grab a ticket, and bull-doze my way through a few others to a corner at the back of the bus where there's some space to stand. And breathe. It's bloody humid inside and I feel like a wet sponge being squeezed. I look around at the people. Some returning from work, some who went shopping, and some who couldn't get any other bus I gather. A couple of girls sit giggling, smsing on their cell phones. An old woman dozes with her empty fish basket, oblivious to the obnoxious glances the others near her seem to be casting at her. A kid cries from somewhere up front -- from the heat, no doubt.
Two stops left. And the bus lurches and heaves as we cross a speed-breaker at full speed. We then hit a pot-hole at the same speed. The people at the back are thrown out of their seats momentarily. It's a funny scene, to see a row of grown-up people, all serious and glum-faced, jump straight out of their seats and fall back down, and behave as if nothing strange happened. A few of them do curse the driver, but even that is half-hearted. I feel a pressure at my legs and see a small girl, not more than 10 years old surely, being pushed around by other passengers making their way in. I give way and she weaves into the small space now created and clutches at the railing, her shirt sleeve drenched from constantly wiping her face with it.
My stop is here and I hop off but not before more bull-dozing and wrestling. I make my way to the hotel, and plonk myself on a vacant seat. And there are not many tonight, what with most of the restaurants deciding to call it a day early. The waiter comes up. He recognizes me and grins. We won, he says. I smile back at him, and ask him to bring me the usual -- a plate of four idlis. And a coffee to keep me awake through the night.
I gulp the coffee and polish off the idlis, like a wolf which has had no luck. I pay, and check my weight at the meter they have near the counter. The display says, 69. I note it down in my pocket-book and walk off to the bus-stand.
I find myself waiting for a bus again. Meanwhile, two urchins accost me. They're selling ear-buds. Just 10 rupees sir, one of them quips, for a pack of 50. I look at my watch. The irony of being sold ear-buds at 11 at night by a couple of kids who have no business selling them doesn't escape me. I shoo them away. It was only last month I bought a pack. And I still haven't broken the seal on the pack.
I watch them walk away, soliciting other prospective customers. A couple of party vans pass by, loud music blaring from an outdated music system, their occupants delirious with victory -- and whisky, no doubt. They throw pamphlets out the windows and shout at the the few of us waiting under the awning. A man curses near me. His party had lost. Poor chap.
A bus comes by eventually. Again overflowing with people. I go through my routine with the purse and board the bus. More wrestling. More bull-dozing. More sweat. More people.
***
I knock at the gate. The watchman walks up, his gait indicative of his inebriated stupor. He flashes a torch at me, and opens the gate, breathing heavily into my face, the stench overpowering. I glare at him. We won sir, he explains between hiccups.
I walk into my cubicle, log on and get back to work. There's a program I need to finish.
I set some songs up on my playlist and plug my headphones on.
It's business as usual tonight.
Nothing really changes around here.

14 comments:

shooting star said...

u see life......
very observant i must say...

Karthik said...

There are two things which i observe here and one which i can identify with. The first is the fact that irrespective of who rules ths state or center, our lives aint gonna be affected greatly. The second thing is the point of people boozing !! It's something like - if u believe in God, u wud goto a temple either if u are happy or u are sad .. Same way, win or loose - bottles wud be emptied !! And alcohol is a wonderful thing .. It gives u such a sense of high, a sense of floating amongst the clouds, a sense of making u feel like u are the king .. And people who work - i mean physical labour - have their body aching like hell .. So a quarter wud relieve them of all their pain and make them sleep well !!! It's kind of difficult to explain - maybe u shud get into it and find out urself :) :)

P.S - i am not a drunkard neither do i endorse alchol !! But i wud surely recommend it !!

Chandru said...

I have travelled in many buses....but never noticed in detail most aspects of what you' ve mentioned....made for some great reading dude.....

musafir said...

@ shooting star: :) - not really, there is a lot I miss out on and which is still unseen. I guess when you write fiction (most of this post is fiction) your imagination tends to fill out on what you miss in real life.

@ karthik: And alcohol is a wonderful thing .. It gives u such a sense of high, a sense of floating amongst the clouds, a sense of making u feel like u are the king .. And people who work - i mean physical labour - have their body aching like hell .. So a quarter wud relieve them of all their pain and make them sleep well !!! That's the lousiest explanation I've heard in defence of drinking and alcoholism!

See, I have nothing against drinking and alcohol as long as people keep to themselves and make sure that nobody else (especially their family) is affected. As for the so called effects you attribute to alcohol viz, "sense of high", "sense of floating", "making u feel like king", I have other sources for the same, which are safe, healthy, free and do not affect impinge on others' freedom. Writing for instance. The bliss I get when I put down that final line in a poem and look back on my creation is -- so far -- unparalleled. And as for people involved in physical labour, again, I have nothing against them drinking -- just don't make a nuisance of yourself.

And pray what is the difference between "endorse" and "recommend"?

Finally, no thanks. I think I'll give alcohol the go-by right now. I have other means of intoxicating myself :)

@ chandru: Glad that I could hold your interest. As for the details, I'm sure all of us would notice something or the other, probably we don't recolelct that much. I happened to write this immediately after a bus-ride, so could remember a lot of details.

Anonymous said...

been a passive reader all this while.This post has compelled me to post a comment-An amazing true description of buses and the people...loved that "i feel like a wet sponge squeezed"..so true.

Anonymous said...

been a passive reader all this while.This post has compelled me to post a comment-A very vivid account of bus rides and the people...loved that "i feel like a wet sponge squeezed"..so true.

musafir said...

@ anon.: Ah, another reader shows up :)

Thanks for the comment! Yes, I tried giving life to everything I saw around me in that ride, and looks like I've succeeded to some extent, at least from the comments that this post has got.

Do I know you by any chance?

Karthik said...

Aghh !! the pleasure of alcohol .. Somethings are never understood until u try them out da !! Maybe someday i will write a post about Booze and all that's good abt it !!

smita bs said...

y was the man with the crutches introduced...cldn't ne one have done as well? creative liberty i understand...just had the effect of unnecessary melodrama/pathos for me

musafir said...

smita bs

Your comment begs a lot of questions -- What is the purpose of writing (or art, in a broader sense)? Should it educate? Should it have a message? Should it mean something? Or (tending towards the post-modern), since there is no meaning anyway in life or art, should it just exist for itself and find meaning in the nonsense?

And then there are other questions -- If anyone else could have done, then why not a man with crutches? Why should a man with crutches invoke pthos/melodrama in the reader? What are the notions that you, as a reader, carry inside yourself which connect a cripple with pathos and not happiness? Are cripples by default unhappy, melodramatic, and more importantly, poor people? Why couldn't the cripple be a rich guy who wanted to take a bus ride for fun?

The post refrains from making social commentary of any sort; it just makes objective observations (even in the case of the man with the crutches) and keeps away from the subjective until the very last line, "Nothing really changes around here.", which is the thread I wanted to tie the post together with. And that ("Nothing ... here") is the only answer I'm going to give you :-) because readers have as much responsibility as the writers.

So what do you think of the man with the crutches now?

smita bs said...

its the readers privelege to purely enjoy and when the author is as obliging in answering as u r to question...
as to responsibility some pleasures come with more pleasure and not duties howzzat!!!!!!

smita bs said...

neways all those who comment seem to be in awe of u - me too haha- just thot cld ruffle u up a bit...dint succeed did i?

smita bs said...

the q was not rhetorical!!!! requests to be answered!!!!!!!!!

musafir said...

smita bs

Of course, one does not deny a reader the pleasures of reading without any "duties", but when the reader starts questioning, the writer (or rather, blogger) comes to expect a certain responsibility on the part of the latter.

Anyway, to answer your question (even though I dislike offering explanations/interpretations for "open" posts), the post is about how nothing changes in this state. As in, elections come and go, but the state of affairs remains more or less the same - the people who win celebrate and get drunk, the middle class continue to be unconcerned as long as they have their jobs and there's shopping to do and cell phones to talk into, the buses-to-passengers ratio continues to be pathetic, the little kids continue to beg and work in the hotels, the physically challenged still have to put up with an insensitive state(which should answer your question, I guess) and so on ... even though there are seats reserved for the physically challenged, the state could do more for them, as it could for those not physically challenged as well. And that's why the man with the crutches was introduced. Not for melodrama or pathos. If I'd written it well, the connection would have been made by the reader automatically. But I guess I fell short.

As for people being in awe of me, I don't think that's the case. They don't take me seriously enough to challenge anything I write, which is why your comments (or any comment that is out to "ruffle" me) are precious. Besides, ruffling a person is possible when he/she takes himself/herself seriously, no?

I'm usually off the internet during the weekends, so didn't see your comments until now.