#4 India Posting: People on the Side of the Road

For Issa. An ardent ‘fan’ – he says – of my writing. Yay readership. 

When I start off with the infamous line, “This has been a long time coming” I trace it back to a few weeks ago. India leaving-time is coming and you know how we all hate transition. Also, I know that my previous ‘India Posting’ well posts haven’t had any subtitles but this had to as it was mainly based on my walking-to-and-back-from college experiences that ‘inspired’ me (if I may!). In the line of formalities, let me also apologise to my *ahem* ‘readership’ for not having written anything sooner. I’m in my emerging-adulthood phase where I try to negotiate with realities 😀

I like to consider myself an observer. I try to be a passive one, so that my opinions are not formed on biases. However, the stereotypes are strong in mind and at times, I find myself, not-overlooking what ideally should be. I’m just using my human form as an excuse.

The goats. No they are not people. But they are ‘persons’ I see most mornings and every evening. We had a change of route as a result of the two-month-long construction that was obstructing our usual one. For a non-animal lover, I find the smelly goats an essential part of my day. I need to see the goats, whom I named Blacky and Spotty for obvious reasons and lack of creativity, at least once a day. My mind inquires their absence, if there is one.

The Harijan slash Untouchable slash Dalit man who peddles a bicycle with  a huge gunny bag attached to its rear end. I wonder how he manages an uphill climb. A few days ago I left college early. I was tired, annoyed and had a splitting headache. If walking in Colombo at 1.30 pm is bad due to humidity, walking over here becomes worse because the sun roasts you. Upon reaching home you start to sweat and realise how dehydrated you were. Point being, be with humidity; it protects you. While walking home I see this scavenger (they are called) stop his bicycle on the side of the road where the shadow of the building provides adequate shade. He sits on the ledge of a pavement, leans back on the wall probably covered with various specimens of urine and closes his eyes. I am walking on the opposite side of the road when I see this. My pace slows down and my mind races. Should I give him my bottle of water? But there isn’t much, so would it be of use to him? Would he take offence if I did give him water? What if he attempts something else upon me handing him the bottle? Why the fuck do we think so much. I accelerate my pace and walk home.

The little girl who sets her book on the pavement. She is as tall as my knee.  She takes a book out of her bag. I notice her bag having many broken zips and safety pins. She is as tall as my knee. She takes out a book and sets it on the pavement. She kneels down as well. I look at her with curiosity. I want to ask her many questions but my inability to speak the language keeps me away from this. Does language now truly become contextual as I always advocate? My Hindi is worth a tuppence probably. She has found a feather. A crow feather, my limited understanding recognises. The book is an English book. She is learning the alphabet. She places the feather on the picture depicting a quill for the letter ‘Q’. As an English major, I think to myself, why would any child want to know what a quill is when learning the alphabet? How long would it be until they use the word quill? How would a teacher differentiate to the child learning “Q for Quill” different from feather (in appearance) and a pen (in function)? Should we then not make our words in an everyday context? “Q for Queer” would have been more contemporary, appropriate even! 😀

Street vendors. There are many of them. From the ones who sell fruits, to the one who sells vegetables, to the one who sells jewellery, to the one who sells luminous coloured belts and brown wallets and plastic combs, to the one who sells sacred threads whom some of us, out of artiness accessorise it as anklets of wrist somethings, to the vendor who sells ‘chappals’, to the shish kebab boy, to the one who sells pirated copies of The Oath of the Vayuputras with the last few pages missing, to the North-Eastern momo-guy who sets up post 5 pm, to the chat-walah and to the pani-puri walah. I’m sure I missed out on many more of them selling all sorts of well, commodities that can be sold. Oh, like my bajji aunty and roomie’s kati-roll walah. While part of me advocates for relocating these street vendors to a common complex to avoid unnecessary pedestrian traffic, we would not only take their comfort zone away from them, but also not have the tapioca-chips-walah on our way home from a long boring day in college.

Then you get the occasional drunk guy lying on the road. 8.30 am, 2.20 pm, 4.50 pm, 7.00 pm, 11,26 pm. It doesn’t matter what time it is. He will be there, down some road, waiting for you to pass by him, look at him and probably pity him, abuse him or weave him in to a blog post.

So I don’t know where this brings me to. I am aware of their presence in the road. I best like a road when there are no obstacles. Even my jogging track has little potholes caused by rain and mud that present themselves as obstacles. But at the same time, responding to the cliché, I believe that this a very part of who we are, constructed in ourselves through others.

India, will always have a very special place in me. I abstain from using the word heart because I force myself to not think from my heart. Fuck those romances.

I haven’t written an India post this long and as I proofread before publishing, I’m glad I did.

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