November 17, 2010

Winter in Delhi

It’s a day in the city just like everywhere else. Only in cities, time’s an amateur marathon runner; It seems to be desperately trying to adhere to some pre-set pace, sometimes allowing excitement to add wind under its feet.

It is mid November weather in New Delhi. Winter is ready to take over everyone’s lives, and like a cold-hearted woman, she seduces you at first with promises of pleasure. So, for now, the air is fresh and the skies are mostly blue. The city thinks its stepped out of a cold shower.

During this time, the metropolitan people are more alive and more active. They do not wilt away into air-conditioned rooms and afternoon siestas like they did during a few weeks ago, during summer. The sun, rendered near redundant, is like the last king of a long and celebrated bloodline of stars.

Sporting baubles and boots are the pretty young maidens of his city. Moving from here to there, being everywhere, reaching nowhere. They pass a group of urchin children.

“Didi, paise dedo, didi. Bhook lagi hai, didi. Khaana khaana hai. Sukhi rahogey; shaadi hogi… sundar didi.” Such lies fall out — literally— from the mouths of babes who long ago learned deceit is survival skill.

A longhaired beauty teases one of the children. “What if I’m already married? You’re saying divorce ho jayega is wale se? Phir doosri shaadi? Touba touba!”  Toothy smiles on both sides testify to them enjoying the banter. She is too young to be married — only sixteen. The kids aren’t hungry either — they ate from a nearby dhaaba an hour ago. Harmless as the dishonesties are, the girls extend no alms. Neither beggar nor brat is any better for it.

The children will eventually find themselves a sucker. Some day the girls will meet a person who genuinely needs a hand. The question is, who will recognize the truth then? To be fair, naivety, through no fault of its own, is easier to spot than sincerity.
Eye on target, the children run around their mark. Before he knows it, he is parting with his small change. Men are easier to fool than women, some studies say. The urchins could help verify these results.

The sucker — the mark — will then go about his day with a chest swollen with good intentions and pride at fulfilling them. He opens a few doors here, smile a bit more than usual there. No sense in breaking a streak, he thinks to himself. Eventually he will be on his way home, joyful heart near busting and he may find his wallet gone. Streaks find a way to get broke.

On days it is not too smoggy, people will visit the older parts of the city. Old buildings, filled with loud and confused people moving through crazy and colourful things. If one was following society as a person, this is Indian culture in its tweens.

There's old men smoking beedis and spitting out paan. A man with a beard till his knees is driving around two young boys in his cycle-rikshaw. They talk incessantly; are boisterous and cheerful. The tired old man is none of these.  Yet, his mind is full with thoughts of a young wife waiting in their jhuggi with a cup of rice and watery lentils.

Old ladies bustle about picking up diamonds and dreams for their daughters. Haggling, screaming, pouting are the accepted mannerisms here. Still, no one would dare push a woman around. They are content to stare from a distance. It’s unclear which is the better way.

The sun may like shining on the Red Fort on such days. It bathes in warmth the road that leads up to the majestic structure. Here a mosque, a temple and a church reside side by side on these roads — as do the temple-goers, the 5am-crooners and the bible-readers. Because it gets around, the sun sees that a more socially mature city remains in uproar about a mosque being built near its churches and schools.
As time speeds along, it becomes the moon’s turn to watch over the city. It wrestles with shadows to indulge in voyeurism.

If the moon is sentient, it may be thinking that we’re all pretty fucking pathetic. Millions of us crammed up in a tiny little space ball and still living in fear of being alone. Here is the moon, singular since time immemorial and not a single droplet to be found. Now that is what you call proud. Or maybe, just like all the pretty girls, the moon’s all cried out.

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