I have long been trying to map out the office-home bus route, to get a clear picture of what roads I’m actually travelling (might be of some help if I ever get lost in this huge city). There is nothing remarkable along the way, just an endless crowd that streams out of niches and cracks in every wall, people shuffling down pavements (where they exist) or down the middle of the road; risking their lives to get to the other side of the road, patience being an unknown quality. Unbroken chains of kebab shops line the roadsides, rickety stalls and tiled rooms, men in soiled vests toiling over frying pans, a boy pouring out tea as a winter-touched breeze blows over the aimlessly roving city. (He reminds me of the boys who go to the plains to earn their living in Ruskin Bond’s Dust on the Mountain– no reason really, but that is just testimony to Bond’s power of conjuring up realistic pictures.)
Happy Meat Shop– reads a board. More meat shops, with white roosters and heavily-muscled men painted across their walls, chunks of dead animals hanging in the shop-fronts, birds squawking in terror and misery as the butcher wrings their necks to give somebody his dinner. Pot-bellied men breathing heavily after hurried walks, women rushing home from work (some ironically conspicuous in burqas), their worry probably being the next meal, enervated children waiting to go home so they can change and settle down to another round of learning by rote and interrogation on tests and report cards. We definitely are an intelligent species if we’ve managed to create a mess that we can do without.
Nobody looks happy. A smile is an extremely rare commodity, given only in exchange for one, but never spontaneously. Frowns crease every forehead, childhood has to be redefined in the dictionary, for it now stands for something different than what it did forty years, or maybe even ten years ago. Momentary joys come and go in the form of full marks in tests, a cricket match won, a movie enjoyed. A temporary euphoria that sweeps people away before they inevitably fall back into their monotonous lives.
The bus passes the Hussain Sagar Lake, but it isn’t something I want to talk about, having known the splendour of the boundless sea and the endless skies on rose-tinted mornings and neon-lit evenings. Lakes are pretty and soothing, but not when they are choked with dirt and debris. The road is an unbroken chain of potholes, a long drive past monuments, buildings, a few gardens (almost all these places named after Congress politicians now gone), and beneath the country’s newest infrastructural attraction- the PV Narasimha Rao Expressway. The hills are encroached upon, broken buildings piled up anyhow like an ugly outbreak of warts. The land on the outskirts is barren, rocky outcrops untouched by human activity, their unproductivity being the saving grace. Dry, lifeless shrubs wave listlessly at passersby, discoloured by the dust stirred up by passing wheels settling on them.
People change. They move. But always in circles.