I love my bubble: the pristine, serene, detached world of the gated complex. As I leave, at 8am, it is still very quiet, but for the drivers greeting their 'saars' as they open the car doors for them, and the children skipping along to the bus stop. There is a large gate that separates the 2 car households and fragrant lawns from India. From the outside, passing manual labourers and maids can catch a momentary glimpse of the villa-lives being led inside, through the gaps on either sides of the figurative port-cullis. The gossiping aunties, a white family, the antique Volkswagen sports car and of course, fellow labourers and maids all make for a wonderful study - the gated complex is complex. Ahh, the suburbs.
India hits you the second you step out of this neat and tidy world. On either side of Regent Place are open drains, choc-a-bloc with garbage and hopeful street dogs. Across the newly laid road are a plethora of modest, 2-3 storied buildings that have bakeries, garages or hardware stores on the ground floor and a few tiny rooms above. Muddy tracks run through these buildings - after the rains they glow red-brown. The Regent Place gate is tall enough to keep out jealous looks from the upper stories. At this time of morning, only the bakery is open.
Everything about the morning is so refreshing. Children eagerly await school buses on the road-side, freshly bathed. Their playful chatter breaks the silence that otherwise drapes this place. Some children are going to middle-class CBSE schools, some aren't wearing shoes and wait for appa on his TVS moped to take them to the local school - all of them poke fun at the street dogs who really don't want to get out of bed just yet. They are not like the children of Regent Place, who stand half asleep at the bus stop, waiting for the air conditioned Volvo bus. I smile and wonder, as I pass 3 tots praying in front of shrine that watches over this stretch of suburbia. They are praying hard - their eyes are closed as they frown, muttering words, earnestly, silently, under their breathe. The temple boy smiles at their mother, who returns it, as he gives them each the morining tikka on their foreheads. This is innoncence like you've never seen it. The obonoxious music from the temple nearby now reaches my ears.
I cross the estuary of a mud track now. I walk at a gentle pace, savouring the tranquil morning air - the sun will soon spoil it. On the corner, sit men. Men of all shapes and sizes, quietly going about their business. There are thin old men who smoke beedis and sit cross legged on the ledge, watching the world go by. There are fat middle aged men who chat loudly as they adjust their dhothis. There are young office workers who give the coconut-water vendor his day's first business. There are college guys my age, who run past me, towards the stop as they see a bus approaching; their slippers slap the road loudly as they run. All shapes and sizes sit below the small trees that occasionally line the road. All size me up as I pass. The morning air is cool and dry. The morning itself is rather uncharismatic - no sun, just cloud cover and gentle breeze.
The last thing I cross before I reach Thubarahalli bus stop is the ironing wala. His day has started. His business is run out of a wooden box the size of car stood on its front-lights. His iron is primitive, his brow drips with sweat. On the floor, sits his wife, folding clothes and staring affectionately at her daughter who finds entertainment this morning in an empty coconut husk.
And finally, after a near silent 5 minutes, I reach my stop. As with everywhere I go in India, I am stared at for a few seconds and then judged. Across the road from the bus stop is a large, unfinished gated complex. Skeletons of white marble villas rise intimidatingly out of the dusty ground. The gate and walls have already been erected, yet the work site is now still and silent. It has all the makings of your gated complex, yet the bubble is only half done. I wonder what has happened. It's like one of those deserted warehouses that kids explore in ghost movies or final fights take place in, in action flicks. There are 2 rows of dazzling white bungalows but not a worker to be seen. What has caused work to stop? It sits on prime land and will surely be a success when finished. But why is the job half done? India in a nut-shell.
The bus trudges towards the stop. I get on, pop a few coins into the impatient conductors hand and grab a railing. 20 stares cut into my thick skin.
So begins my mute commute.
walking on fire
6 days ago