City Life – by Anirban Nanda

by TBLM

Visualise:

A bus. Of white colour, with two sky-blue stripes just below the roof and another two just above the wheels. On the white surface under the windows, Barasat to Botanical Garden is written in red, in Bengali. The road on which it is moving is not entirely smooth, and not without potholes. Therefore, while moving, it makes a certain creaking, drumming noise that is so common among buses in Kolkata. It’s a hot day. The sun is going quite strong. Right now, the bus is slowly coming to a halt at a signal, under an over-bridge. The bridge takes the bus in its shade. When the bus-stop ‘Exide’ is reached, the conductor shouts energetically, ‘Exide, get down, Exide,’ thumping the door of the bus. To help, he adds, ‘Rabindra Sadan, Exide, get down,’ for Rabindra Sadan is the name of the nearby metro station. The row of half-open windowpanes are trembling with the engine, a rhythmic thrumming as the bus waits for the signal to turn green; and from those half-open windows, faces can be seen – sweaty, oily and furrowed – peeking, staring, looking; some irritatedly, some absently. The faces are furrowed even though the bridge has shaded the sun. Among those faces, a young man is gazing outside. His view is blocked by the bridge and the buildings beside the road. His gaze is neither peaceful nor solemn. It can be described as a superposition of being surprised and disappointed.

That young man is me, and for a while, let me look at myself from afar.

He is the first from his village to get a job and come to the city. His forefathers were farmers. Subsistence was the only purpose they had in their lives. To not remain hungry. But he, the best student the village had ever produced, got a job and decided to leave the village. A rational decision. A decision to take Life a step forward. So, that’s me, this young man who ought to be excited being in his dreamland, the city, who looks surprised and disappointed.

I look outside. I look at the faces waiting in buses and private cars. I look sideways as the bus I’m in is too full to look ahead. My neck pains as I look sideways. But I keep looking sideways anyway.

I should look ahead. Forward. Where to? I’ll reach the office in an hour and spend the next eight hours doing something. Doing my job, if you want to call it that. Sometimes, I even forget what job I’m appointed for.

But I do get my salary on time. A templated message in my phone at the first day of every month. I get my salary. I send half of it to my family and spend the rest on food and rents. The meals I get are yellow and watery. ‘Rents’ is a plural.

I began with a commanding ‘visualise’ and now I can’t even visualise the dinner I had last night.

See: I, a nobody in a big city, am sitting in a bus. I have to go to office. This hour is called the office hour. Everyone goes to office at this hour. Everyone will enter a building and carry on with his or her job. Somany people who want to do their jobs. And hence, while we move, we take turns. We wait at a signal to let others move and reach their places of work. A perfectly normal thing to do when you live in a city. You wait everywhere for your turn. You even have people appointed to look over this waiting-for-turns thing. A cooperative system to help you live and let live.

I see:
- A lot of people are crammed in a small place.
- They go to work every day and the act of going is a big deal.
- They travel from faraway places to work.
- They are waiting on the road in moveable metallic boxes on a hot day.
- A rectangular plastic case on everyone’s hand.
- Many have earphones on. Music with high beats and a lot of shouting. Music to block the noise outside.

A poster: a huge muscular man wearing only underwear. His body has no hair. It is tinted with blue. What you wear under makes you cool: the poster says. A lot of pains have been taken to design the underwear.

Another poster just beside him. A sari-clad housewife recommending a spice made by a particular company for cooking the best fish curry. It’ll taste like it is made by your mom, she claims. Motherhood sealed, packaged, advertised.

Yet another smaller poster claiming to make one look attractive, that is, fairer within seven days. A big content face gleaming like a lamp beside it. The face sits horizontally on the same line with the naked man’s genitals, clearly discernible from the giant poster.

The bus is vibrating as the engine is old. The people are vibrating too because they are inside it. They are like ringing, vibrating phones waiting to be picked up.

I feel like vomiting. My vomit too would look yellowish and watery.

I have been drawing an arbitrary pattern with my sweaty fingers on the windowpane. It looks like:

Untitled

A meaningless thing: this picture.

I wonder why people live in a place so thick with other lives.

To be among the thickness of lives. Yes. That must be it.

I read news, or rather, news reads itself to me via this little plastic device I have in my pocket. I read about: unemployment, global warming, climate change, a new disease, some rapes, some murders, a new scam, an impending world war. I like the variety. But whenever I think about the news, I feel a strange suffocation inside my throat. Questions come to my mind. The whys. The hows.

I have a tooth infection. When I close my jaws tight, soothing pain oozes out of it. Sometimes there is a little blood. I enjoy the metallic taste for a while. But only for a while. Afterwards, I wash my mouth. When I am bored, I press that tooth hard with hand. Once the pain is too much, I leave it and smell my fingers. An awful stink. Inside of a body always stinks.

My body has a switch. I’d turn it on and a controlled pain would take my mind off from everything. Like walking on a tightrope, or handling a venomous snake. I am not planning to remove this switch. It gives me a certain something where I can concentrate fully.

A generic statement: A life’s ultimate aim is to use up all its potential till it dies.

The person sitting beside me is playing Tetris. I didn’t play it when I was a child. I played football.

I think Tetris is a philosophical game. You have to fit random shapes in your messed up design. Upon fitting perfectly, you are rewarded. Some of the mess gets cleared.

An intersex is tapping on the cars’ windows for money. What pronoun should I use here? He or she? ‘It’ is used for non-living things.

Why do they, the hijras, clap their hands like that? Do they like doing it? What is so special about it?

I see a person on the other lane allows his frothy spit to dangle for a moment and then fall on the road like a slimy toad: plop. Seeing him, I spit in the same way. The spit lies like a lynched frog.

The signal has been red for too long. The cars start honking. An unwritten rule: if you are impatient, you honk. I crane my neck out of the window to look what the matter is. A long line of vehicles standing still. Far away, tiny buses and cars are speeding past from left to right. On the other side, another long line of cars just like this one. As if a vast mirror were set at the midline. Come to think of it, this whole city is full of mirrors.

I think two thoughts:
1. If there was no traffic, it’d take twenty minutes to reach my office from my home.
2. Tomorrow, I’ll wait like this, at this same signal.

I repeat these two thoughts again and again. I know it is angering me, but I like this process of coming over with anger.

‘This fucking jam!’ I shout finally and jump up from my seat. I start pushing people deliberately. In return, they start pushing me. I am almost enjoying this.

They push me out of the bus. I am laughing and voicing the most offensive words I can come up with.

Soon, I am tired of it. I look in front and see the red point gleaming afar. It turns green. The engines are gearing up from all sides. Noises – coarse and loud – flood my ears. I am in the middle of the road of roaring mechanical beasts. The fumes enter my nostrils. I take a deep breath. I close my eyes and tighten my jaws. The pain fills my head. The noises recede slowly.

Blindly but decidedly, I start walking forward.

***