Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inadvertant Voyeur

My fountain pen needed a new nib. In search of the pen-wala
on the pavement outside Regal Cinema, I trudged from Gurgaon
to Connaught Place. Pen repaired, I walked back to my car, parked
near Hanuman Mandir from behind Allahabad bank, passing
the newly built Cervantes Cultural Institute, down the adjacent
alley where an unusual scene unfolded. I couldn’t stop to savour
its sights and sounds, as the smell of garbage was offensive. But
did notice the lone man who tended it all; sorting glass from metal
and bio-degradable, stacking them in green municipality containers,
neatly lined by the side of the street, labelled in English. He wore a

blood-red coat over khaki pants and a pointing to the sky, dirty beige,
knitted topi and sat on a rickety chair, soaking in the fading afternoon
sun, smoking a bidi. Dogs of every mongrel shape and variegated hue
were his companions, snuggling in the warmth of garbage dumped.
Especially drawn to the toekadi’s[i] that lined the lane, brimming
with fabric remnants, probably from a nearby garment manufacturing
unit, in each I spied a tightly curled up pup, its head lost in the heap;
a little mound of fur among the rags. The melodious strains of Umaro
Jaan’s “dil cheez kya hai, aap meri jaan leejiye, bus ek baar mera
kahan, maan leejiye[ii],filled the air. I wanted to stop and stare,

photograph each eccentric  nuance in visual memory, but my heels
refused to pause their clicking stride and the odour killed my curiosity.
It isn’t a scene oft encountered and was enchanted not for the way of
life it afforded, but in realization this too is one, albeit far removed
from mine and yet not; for right there in the middle of elegant steel
and glass towers of corporate might, alongside Delhi’s churi-wala
bazaar[iii] and famed Hanuman Mandir, I was reminded by this topi-
coat-wala[iv] of my own frustrated struggle through unkempt minds,
of living amongst those who haven’t yet learned to clean up

for themselves. I wanted to ask about his family, where he was from,
where he lived and how he had come to take on this job; if he hated it
or not. Iwondered why the labels were in English, how literate he was
and what language he spoke and wanted to know how he coped with
the smell: ploughing through dirt for his trade. I thought of the dogs
wrapped in cut ends and wondered what they’d say, if I gave them  
a lush blanket in a wicker basket bought from a luxury pet store.
Instead, strutting in my high heels, tight jeans, manicured hands
and fragile nostrils, I ran as fast as I could, for I knew what a life
could be where the stench was too much to bear.



[i] Locally made bamboo baskets
[ii] From the Hindi film ‘Umrao Jaan’– “oh what is my heart worth, take my life instead, but just once oblige me by doing what I may ask of you.”
[iii] Bangle[glass] market
[iv] Hat and coat man
 
Published: Brown Critique e-journal
August 2012
 
 

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