Agla Station

Agla station…

This feels weird. Okay, I get it that the train is late, it always is, but there’s a feeling in my head that this is weird. It’s one of those moments of obscurity when the truth is veiled by obvious patterns. And when the winds of instinct flows, the shroud flutters.

I spot a coolie who’s so old that he could be carrying this enormous baggage of failure straight to the graveyard without a single tear being shed for him. There’s a lad who’s orbiting around a pretty face with the pretty face in dark about a potentially hostile satellite. There is an unsuspecting and up-for-adoption bag which is drawing more attention than a child who looks almost ready to bid adieu if he skips another meal. I shouldn’t be looking at the bag, though. There are plenty of faceless people moving up and down an assembly line with their attention glued to technology. That goddamn train should arrive soon, or I might kill one of these folks instead. My conscience is rattling under the leash of acceptability, waiting to break free.

The city was good to me in the beginning just like an encounter with a stranger. You shake hands, force a smile, ask how’s life, small talk about weather and traffic and religion and ISIS, while trying to force down the rising bile in your throat. I was serenaded by its busy life and busier nightlife. The City of Dreams. The City that never sleeps. That’s a contradiction right there. If you don’t sleep, you don’t dream.

When did it all go downhill? When did the City turn its back on me? Maybe it was when it dressed itself in huge billboards from which successful people smile at you. They are paid to smile, paid lakhs of rupees to flaunt their pearly whites, some of which are photoshopped of course, while the ones who actually break sweat are swaying in a bus surrounded by hundred other swaying bodies, exchanging glares and sweat galore, beneath the very same billboard. Or maybe it was when my neighbor, the guy who helped me move my as-heavy-as-a-continent bed to retrieve my keys and who always used to share Biryani and kheer from his kitchen with me, was arrested on preemptive suspicion and then swallowed by the city never to be found again. Or was it when a drunk mob lynched a man just because he thought that kicking a dog and hitting it with sticks is not cool, and the city just stood silent. Part of the scene, part of the crime, as the old adage goes. Maybe I will never find out when the switch tripped. Maybe I will never find out when the terror was born inside my head.

The distant sound of the approaching metal-on-tracks is requiem to the ears. All the things are in place. Except for that guy, a walking advertisement for America, who is caught right at the periphery by a Ticket Examiner. The announcer in an almost un-understandable accent announces that death would be indeed arriving on platform no. 2, and I have a visual confirmation. Others, continue their nonchalant motions oblivious to what they’re about to witness next.

The weirdness in my head is pushed to the periphery by a storm that’s almost grinning at the prospect of causing mayhem. Unleashed and untamed, I took a deep breath. Years of failure and disappointment greets me. A final push, perhaps? I desperately need to get to the other side, and when the moment arrived, I took the leap.

_____________________________________________________________

…Khar road. Next station, Khar road.

The faceless men are back. And they are all staring at me. They come close in a poetic motion but are pulled back by the clutches of inertia, when the train screeched to a halt. Damn! I missed the train. Again.

 

Thy shall be one

“So you always carry that on you?”
“Mostly.”
“And that’s not a totem?”
“No.”
“Do you want another drink?”
“I’m good.”
Damn, she thought. Here was a man, brooding, deep-set eyes, well-chiseled face, and despite all her best efforts she was neither getting him talking nor getting him drunk. The guy across the table in the emo haircut, was appearing lesser gay with every passing second, and it was only a matter of minutes before she abandoned her hopes and jumped ships. Not without a final swing, though.
“Where I come from, they usually have something to go with the dice, you know. Something to play with.”
She edged closer.
“Something to get your hands on.”
She was almost leaning over him. Loud music, that was going to be her defense.
“Have you tucked it somewhere in your pants?”
“Excuse me. I’ll just come.”
He stood up, dodged a waiter pulling off a balancing act, a guy showing off his dancing moves and a girl in the middle of a vanishing act, in one swift yet graceful motion. His reflexes hadn’t slowed down a bit, or was that his omniscience coming back? He would never know for sure. All he knew was that it was time for the roll.

 

‘Get Lucky’ blared from the speakers as he made his way through the crowd, the kitchen, the door. The alley was narrow but moonlit enough to make out the surroundings. It wasn’t like this always, him relying on external sources to make decisions, but now it was an addiction. He could barely go for an hour without his dose of probability, without a roll of the dice. Leaving fate to spin and luck felt more adventurous than knowing every single incident that is ever going to happen. But it was more than just an adventure.
It was about meeting a constant. Universal, timeless, unaffected by conditions and situations. It was almost like meeting your maker. Almost because he knew it isn’t the maker. He knew who he was.
Removing his shoes he sat on the hard concrete. It felt cold. He placed the dice on the palm of his left hand and raised it to his eyelevel. Six sides. Six numbers. Infinite questions. Always one answer. When the thought had first struck him, he immediately knew he had struck gold, found a worthy successor. The creating bit was fun, but the daily maintenance was taking a toll. And the best part was, that like him, even the cube was an advocator of the larger picture. Things always even out in the longer run, the only thing you need to do is take the leap of faith and run. He clenched his fist loosely around the dice, felt its weight, gave it a shake, and let it loose on the ground.

 

The dice rotated with the grace of a seasoned ballet dancer. The world stops while it spins. Thoughts come to a halt, background comes to a pause, while you wait. Wait for your verdict, for your answer, for your calling, for your number.
1
What a good day to feel one again!
With that, he went through the doubts in his head, the staff in the kitchen, the revelers in the club, back to the girl. She wasn’t in the same seat where he had left her, not that he had ever expected that, but he walked to her nevertheless.
“Hey, I thought you’ll never come back.  What took you so long?”
“A game.”
“Who won?”
“Me.”
“And who lost?”
“Everyone.”

dice

Invitation to a rural odyssey

Come to my village in Uttar Pradesh. It’s a minuscule dot on the map of India when observed under a magnification of 1000X. You can either take a train or catch a flight. Or commute by your own private vehicle. The trains will be always crowded with dacoits who look like politicians, IAS officers who look like politicians and politicians. You would know exactly what they ate for lunch if you are sitting beside them by breathing in the air which originates at the posterior end of their excretory system. The nearest airport is 5 lac politicians away, which is equivalent to 500 kms of under-construction roads since Mayawati.  And if you are coming by your car please make sure that it has insurance, it’s bullet-proof, rampuri-proof, dacoit-proof and comes with Lord Krishna as the charioteer.

Your journey would have been smooth as a guy’s moves in shady pubs. Hope you have carried your Adamantium-Vibranium Hybrid body suits along because trespassers are prosecuted here and that is not the worst part. It is that you never know when you trespass. You would meet countless people vying for your attention. Half of them would be politicians. The other halves would be rickshaw-pullers who look like rickshaw-pullers and they pull rickshaws. The DNA of these people has an accent-neutralising gene. So even if you say Bheydaurey with a heavy tongue they will paraphrase it as Bhidura and will chat with you during the entire journey to Bhidura in fluid Bhojpuri despite you not getting a jackshit of what they say.

Finding my house would be easier than finding the potholes leading to my house. If you are really unlucky, you might be stopped by the Sarpanch, who has a nebula-shaped mole on his face, a milk-dipped moustache and will engage you in a lengthy chatter about Bhoomi and Vidya and your role in the marriages of Bhoomi and Vidya while Bhoomi and Vidya would be giggling, lurking behind the shadows of the doorframe, a perfect Rembrandt picturesque.

My house is big. It would be a welcome relief from the cubby holes in Mumbai which we call houses. And the house next to me is so far away that the other year, an entire IPL like tournament was organised in the space between the two houses. The tournament had only two participating teams, but they still insisted on playing the Group stages or else their parents would have sent them to the fields to be human impersonations of a scarecrow.

A not-so-distant house has a not-so-cool history of naming their kids weirdly. They have a Pudai, a Sankhata, a Badka Bau, a Chotka Bau, a Nappu, a Chappu and even a Gajodhar! Their best offering to the Telephone directory so far has been a Pappu and Pappu is a politician. No. Not the one you are thinking of.

Apart from houses, my house is also surrounded by plants and trees. During nights, they sway and bring sounds from the neighbouring villages though Ma says that’s our granny snoring. While walking around my house, you could stumble across a peacock dancing to a distant Himesh Reshammiya song to impress the peahen. There will always be a Himesh Reshammiya song playing somewhere in the village. Seems like Himesh’s penetration is deeper than the Africans. While you continue to walk you might meet wrinkled skins stapled to frail bones, looking at you wide-eyed. They have an eidetic memory and can recognise a person by just looking at the embryo during the sonography report.

Speaking of the villagers, you will hardly understand the sounds coming from their mouth. At first go, it will sound like a rap battle between Autobots and Decepticons. You might also hear strange noises resembling an animal who we have left far behind in the evolutionary ladder. Speaking of animal noises, did you know that the dinosaur noises in the “Jurassic Park” movie were made from recordings of tortoise sex?  Coming back to the farmers, you will realise that the strange noises is due to a fact that everyone loves to eat paan. And talk. At the same time.

The female contingent are pretty. They would be prettier if they get rid of their let’s-giggle-at-the-drop-of-a-hat habit. This year, half the girls who have crossed puberty have been married off. The other half would be married off in the next year.

If you still want to come to my village, do extend your stay for more than a week to unlearn everything you might have picked here. And if you’re still waiting for some concrete piece of advice from my end, here it is. Marry Vidya, she’s prettier and, the last I checked, free of herpes.

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