Monday, May 15, 2006

Orchestrations at a red light

" A city without a soul" , said a writer about the national capital. About delhi. About my home. Coming back to delhi after a long break was enough to have the wind knocked out of me. The city is undeniable in its insolence. It provoked me each time I confronted it. Each confrontaion left its mark. But each encounter brimmed with the possibility of a story......

The teeming millions were milling about right here on the ITO crossing. They leapfogged from Tilak Marg onto Sikandra road and onward to the local train that would take them home past the slums and shantytowns - wastelands beyond which lay towers of glass and cool air. But the teeming millions breathed the sticky air ripe with scent of sweat. The city breathed in tandem with the rhythm and pulse of traffic signals, the movement of buses and the chugging of the trains. And so the urban drama would play itself out - a silent musical with an unseen beat.

The old man clinging to his polythene bag for dear life, trying to brave the merciless traffic. The crude man beneath a veneer of sophistication in his big car, cursing the old man who totters shamelessly in front of his expensive self. The traffic policeman in his stuffy uniform who watches the charade and thinks of his tenement in choked West Delhi and the power cut that awaits him. The young college going girl, aimlessly chewing gum and ignoring leering men with studied indifference. the scrawny urchin who momentarily forgets to beg as he is distracted by the burst pileline under Tilak bridge that is spouting jets of water and wetting motorcyclists. The bus conductor who shouts destinations at his flock - the passengers - while chewing on his cigarette and simultaneously tearing those coloured bits of paper marked 2, 7 and 10 Rs. The daredevil hangs perilously from the footboard of the bus hoping the girl chewing gum will notice. The auto-driver ignores the boy and concentrates on his unsuspecting passenger who he has successfully fleeced. He adjusts his rearview mirror to get a good look at the smooth-skinned lady even as she inwardly rebukes her own insolent driver for not having showed up that morning. Visibly upset at being caught in the sweltering heat, she eyes this alien mass of humanity about her from behind her dark shades.

A sick boy throws up on the side of the bus. A rickshaw driver pulls up under the drooping laburnum tree and proceeds to doze off, apparently oblivious to the heat and the stench from the festering drain nearby. The man selling cold water out of a hand cart for Re. 1 only, pours himself a glass of water. The old man has made it to the other side of the road. The traffic signal blinks green, everyone moves on gratefully. Elsewhere, a biker picks a fight with an autowallah. A cyclist wins the fight.