This is a middle-of-the-night post: you know, the kind where you’re left alone with your thoughts after a whole day of people, names and faces. There are evocative little pictures forming in your mind and you think they’re dazzlingly pretty. You are wide awake; sleep is for the weak. (Is this lucidity real or deceptive?) And you have to write. The words won’t take no for an answer. Have you ever felt the facade fall away at night, seen how the deepest soliloquies don’t seem so private any longer?
So because I’m being forced against my better judgement to write, I’ll tell you of an evening from not too long ago. I am standing by the vegetable vendor’s handcart as he comes ambling up, tearing himself away from an absorbing conversation to be plunged into the monotony of weighing and selling. There must be joy in his money, of course; what some of us wait for in bank balances at the end or start of the month, he sees everyday in the crumpled notes and coins under a grimy piece of sackcloth.
But what really catches my eye is the group of boys hard at play in the narrow lane behind him. Harsh yellow light from the streetlamps competes with the rapidly fading daylight. It tries, but fails miserably, as it tries to steal the sheen from pink-streaked skies. It is the kind of evening that brings to mind stories read and loved at school. O Henry’s While the Auto Waits. A Saki story with two (or three?) soldiers and a twist in it. Perhaps most importantly, Anita Desai’s Games at Twilight, studied at school and particularly remembered for the way it resonated in the head of that fourteen-year-old I once was. I used to be a cross between a heroine and a martyr, feeling self-righteously grieved at slights perceived or real, at the same time imagining that at some point, I would save the world single-handed. Happily enough, adulthood hasn’t disabused me of all my silly notions from the past: I really wouldn’t know what to do without them and without the imaginary world which, created at a very young age, has continued to be the bottomless receptacle of my various secrets.
But back to the yellow street: the young cricketers remind me of when we were kids. They bring to mind the 90s when we were children, slipping off our shoes the moment we reached the park where we played everyday to feel the stubbly grass underneath, warmed by the sun but deliciously damp from the gardener’s hosepipe. The concrete steps that led up to the statue in the centre responded to our pattering feet, at once a part of our games, turning into land or water as we chose. We were a motley group, ages six to fourteen, about as remarkable as any of the twenty other groups which must have played around us. We played, quarrelled hotly, burst into tears and scraped our knees. A computer at home was a novelty and we clustered around eagerly when one was available, experiencing the marvels of MS Paint and dial-up modems. People in their twenties getting published and winning Grand Slam tournaments were wise old men and women, and there was still plenty of hope that we would someday be famous and noteworthy in our own right.
But there is no point going back to where I must have left off last time in one of my numerous tirades on the passage of time, on nostalgia. I can’t turn back time, nor do I really want to. At this point, I don’t even know what I’m fighting against. This could be because I have a sneaking suspicion that this post is just an exercise in indulgence; I shall find out when the smell of coffee knocks some sense into my head tomorrow morning. For in broad daylight, the most ethereal fancies turn clunky and turgid with rapidity, leaving you to rue the consequences of your own impulsiveness.