Where I write because a little demon inside tells me to.
Pune is a bit like England: it is close to 11 pm, and the sky still has some colour in it. None of the all-enveloping darkness of night here, just a pale moonlit silver sky with a hint of pink. Where do these strange colours come from?
There are no skyscrapers or high hoardings in this part of town, and I live in a society that brings Firozsha Baag to mind for some reason. A wide variety of characters populates this world: grocers, hakims, BPO employees, pensioners, among others I‘m yet to learn of. Every morning, an elderly man fusses with his violet Bajaj scooter, by turns coaxing and cursing it till it succumbs to his incessant kicking. One day, as I descended the stairs, I caught his eye and smiled. He looked sheepish as he smiled back; I wanted to tell him that I understood his troubles and that a truculent old scooter was nothing to be ashamed of. Haven’t we all lived life as depicted on the heartwarming Doordarshan serials of the 80s and 90s? Certainly, those of us who live in this society are not like the children who are growing up behind the fortress walls in the next lane: we don’t drive up and down the road in a Ferrari or a BMW, we don’t feel the sense of entitlement that almost always accompanies inherited wealth and power in this country.
Coming home from work, I hear a woman shouting into her phone. “How many times will you call?” she screams. “You called yesterday and I told you that you had the wrong number!” She sounds like a wary mother from the movies, and I move away before she breaks into colourful invective. We are not genteel, and most people who live in this incongruous little compound, forlorn and dowdy when compared with the Grecian mansion not too far away, seem to have seen the rough-and-tumble of life in small-town India.
Next door is a magnificent tree, which spreads out its expansive branches over their huge courtyard, and in that benevolent action seems to have adopted us as well. The moon always slinks behind the leaves and casts an eerie shadow on my wall. I will admit that I have sometimes been startled by movements on the wall, only to realise that the wind had set the branches swinging. This glorious tree is also home to a koel, which has a propensity for singing at some rather unholy hours, but is a real treat to listen to on a Saturday morning. Another tree like the weeping willow drapes itself on the wall separating the two compounds; its silky leaves remind me of the glossy white wigs without which no Hindi horror serial is complete.
Friday afternoon, I sit at my desk and watch the sun struggle through the grey clouds. There is no clear winner in this routine tussle, for the monsoon seems determined to make itself felt and heard, and the sun seems equally determined to foil its plans. Four boys materialise on one of the little rock islands in the river, and start skipping stones on the dark grey water. Whom should I think of but Rusty, Somi and Bisnu, the usual suspects, who know of every brook in the Garhwal Himalayas? A herd of buffaloes then walks in to complete the picture.
But this river carries dark secrets, unlike the pure icy mountain springs. Upstream from where we are is a cremation ground, which they say doesn‘t contribute to the river‘s burdens, but where else would the ash go? Much of the city’s debris is also washed into the river, ending up in unsightly heaps on the rock islands. Are we eventually to stop seeing the numerous birds that grub in the river and then sneak into our garden for a romp with the flowers?
I have complained and snivelled incessantly about being uprooted from the south, and I should be thoroughly ashamed of it because I‘ve had it rather easy. The Hot Chips outlet on the main road employs two boys from Dindigul, who speak only Tamil fluently but make do with bits and pieces of Hindi in all probability gleaned from the movies. They smile readily, never fret or complain, even though necessity has brought them so far away from home. But you know where their hearts lie as they count out the change, when you hear Moongil Thottam playing in the background.