In passing

By passerby

At the Mosque's gate

He sits by the evening light, yellow indoors and deep blues outside compete for space. His chin rests upon the hollow body of the guitar, his ears tuned to noiseless plucking. The little bulb shines in a dim tint of gold, peeping from behind it's translucent shade. The clocks ticks away. Sometimes an eternity walks into spaces like these, transcending the walls of time. Very soon they shall leave for the evening and the silence will melt away.

He wonders at the irony of it all, how naiveté is drained away, what the pitfalls of socializing can look like. Once they reach, it is comfortable. Warm yellow pervades the space of a closed room, draped by curtains, by Impressionistic murals, by partial air-conditioners. Little pizzas come and he chomps away. More rich food awaits and he is a bit apprehensive.

But importantly, there is laughter. Laughter that turns faces red and eyes tearful. He realizes this isn't how it always is... these are the little moments when guards are let down. Only a few sit still like statues along the walls. It is a good evening, especially when weighed against the possibilities inside his head.

And then, he drives back. What is the most normal easy thing for so many, is a big uphill challenge for him! Crawling traffic lines up the flyovers, late night trucks jostle for space. He is alert and moves slowly, perhaps irritatingly for ones trailing him, but that isn't important. He is urged on. The passengers, unlike him aren't worried. They take almost twice the time to reach home and it is time to rejoice. By the time they hit the beds it is 2:30 AM and plans for the following morning are almost thwarted.

He awakes and there isn't time to be lazy. Driving has become a major ordeal for him. They drive to the metro-rail station, find a suitable spot to park and board the train. In a rush for buying tickets, running up escalators, extending arms through the open doors of a waiting train like one does to elevators, they are in. He worries about his friend having to wait for his negligence. Perhaps he castigates himself for not being punctual often enough. He feels irritated and is hardly in the moment. The train rolls along. The city is like a sprawling king down below. Wide roads, arching trees, more construction, it seems like a scene from lego-world, a pleasant city from high above. The train is clean, a variety of people line its well-lit wagons. It is a most enjoyable ride but somehow he is unable to resign to his fate of being late.

They reach the old city. Hints of chaos, of religious men, of trees with little temples beneath, of beggars and sound greet them. He spots a group of foreigners, in bright T-shirts and brighter orange bicycles planning their route through the old city for the day and suddenly feels wistful and excited. He wishes for a group of photographers on cycles he can ride with and negotiate their way through the crumbling alleyways of the old city. The prospect of it gives him a sudden dizzying high and he hopes it will happen some day.

The Red fort is a blaze of colourlessness, the light is as bad as it can get. He tucks his camera into the bag. As he walks in, the fort seems like a wrapped box without a gift in it. Parts of it worth exploring are locked away, the ones visible aren't as impressive as one would imagine. There are families from the outskirts, perhaps on picnics, few foreigners getting off rickshaws, as tourist guide-books suggest, the occasional couple... But there are a host of pigeons, squirrels, parrots and a variety of other birds. The museum isn't too fascinating and the toilets are closed.

They head off towards the famous Jama Masjid, where, it is important to note, they charge Rs. 200/- to allow a camera in! Nowhere else does this amount exceed Rs. 25/-. Most other historical monuments in Delhi don't charge anything at all. It is one of those places one can spend time in, shoot portraits, movements and pieces of life within the courtyard, praying grounds. But his two companions aren't exactly photography buffs and they have paid for only one camera. He can't afford to go into that "trance-like" phase friends and family of photographers complain about. Importantly, there are shoes to be carried around and walking back barefoot through the dingy roads isn't the most appealing prospect. The visit becomes about snatching glimpses, making notes for the future. Sadly, it isn't as much about the present as he ideally likes.

But then the food follows. They enter a little courtyard through a passage where you almost hunch downwards and squeeze through. And when you've popped out like a bubble, you see the famous Karim's right before you. Posters from various magazines like National Geographic and Time recommending it are lined along the wall. The Chicken burra they order is good, but nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps they have arrived at the wrong time and much on the menu isn't available. He sees an old man sitting alone on a table, hunched over his food, relishing his meal, a couple of women sitting on a table next to them. One of them wears green, has a face perhaps like a man's, more happy than attractive he imagines, and perhaps even a bit intriguing. Not like the fair faces hidden behind those large designer glasses Delhi is abound in.

With partially filled stomachs, they find their way to Parathe wali gali after walking through thin lanes lined with people below and wires above. The most famous restaurant there has Nehru (Independent India's first Prime Minister) and his daughter Indira Gandhi's photo on its walls, who had dined there. It is a tiny space packed with tables facing the road, choking with fumes from open stoves. The waiter is enthusiastic and definitely a magnet for tourists. He virtually orders for them, perhaps having a feeling they wouldn't mind experimenting. They enjoy a delicious meal. No wonder the people who pass by the lane have such bulging bodies! He is sure to return, With S, when the weather is more forgiving.

Some photo printing follows, a bit of scuttling around in the heat and then the drive back. It isn't something he envisions doing, but manages. The evening is filled with table-tennis on a slippery floor that doesn't allow them to move. His opponent is feisty and he enjoys that. The conversations that flow into the night are sleepy-eyed and have no hint of nostalgia in them. A part of him has always wondered if nostalgia is a natural state to fall back into, though another part of him scoffs at the illusion it brews. It might be mere resistance that may break down over time.

He realizes after a re-read that he mentions only events, but memories find spaces elsewhere. They get entangled in a web of the senses, in the little smells, the tastes, the sounds of voices... in all places unexpected and unknown.

Sign in or get an account to comment.