Thursday, July 21, 2011
I spent some time out on the street today. I don't walk anywhere anymore. I don't even drive. I have become the much-dreaded, much-reviled 'Driver, gaadi laana' memsaab. Anyway, the driver in question was on leave today. Although Pramod, well, his job description goes much beyond driving, doesn't it? He is what Jeeves was to Bertram. I am Bertram, yes, in my bumbling, absent-minded ways. But I like to flatter myself that those are traits borne of my writerly life. Who knows where the truth lies? To come back to the point, I went to pick up Adi from his school-bus. I was terrified I'd forget and recently Padma had told me a story about how a kid from a nearby school had been dropped off at his regular stop. Except that no one had come to pick up him. He was found later, crying and bewildered, by some passerby who noted the mobile number given on his id card and called the parents. Yes, these are the stories that parents have to live with. It's a surprise we are able to sleep at nights at all. And so I reached half an hour in advance. Fortunately I'd carried my book along. Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith for those interested in details. Fine book, for those interested in reviews. I stood under a tree on the pavement and tried to focus on the text but given that I normally read in the plush confines of the car, this turned out to be awkward. I gave up after some time and looked up and down Linking Road and decided to people-watch instead. A few minutes later, the car right next to me, in the same spot where we park everyday got towed away. It was all most exciting. Three lithe young men in dirty overalls got down and rammed their rods of steel under the car. One of them opened the door-lock in a surprisingly swift and effortless move with a steel ruler, released the parking gear and lo, the car was gone. Lo, as in take, aye lo, yeh toh gaadi le gaye. Lo, as in lo and behold too. Being rather shamefully mean, I wanted to hang around to see the car owner turn up and to witness his expression of dismay which I thought would be most comical. Then I remembered how years back, my own car had been towed away and suddenly things were not that funny anymore. I looked away and saw rats diving into the gutter than runs underneath the pavement. How removed I am from this world, how consciously I avoid all forms of dirt and filth. What an escapist I am, in my life and in my writing. Just no place for the ugliness of the world. Even the book that I am reading, its comforting presence under my arm is delicious because it is gentle, because it describes a London that is warm and people that are far from being cynical. A cyclinder-wallah passed by, in that funny facing-the-wrong-way cart of his, filled with LPG cylinders. He stopped abruptly by the side of the road and took out an empty cylinder and placed it on the pavement. Then he sat down on it and took out his snack, a vada-pav wrapped in a bit of newspaper. He ate quietly and without hurry and I looked at him surreptitiously, aware that it was rude to stare while he ate but unable to help myself. A couple of other parents arrive and I try to make conversation, a little awkward like I always am around strangers but determined to forge ahead anyway. The school bus pulls up and the kids swarm down. Should we take a rickshaw home, I ask the sweaty, tired little boy with his hand in mine. He looks up at me and I am startled by the eyes once again, so much like mine. Naah, let's walk. And so we do.