On Thursday night, I went to meet M. M was close to finishing writing up her thesis. (She has finished as of day before.)
We were sitting tight, eating away at the potatoes and the meat, and chatting about everything going on in our lives. Suddenly, we realized that it was pouring. We thought it must be the usual rain that will settle down in some time. The first time around, the rain seemed to settle down a bit. We thought we’d move out in five minutes when the rain would completely stop. Then, the downpour began all over again. We sat down again and continued chatting. Again, it seemed like the rain would stop. It did not.
M was worried about my getting back home. I was without my bike that day.
Lately, perhaps since last year when I got involved with HasGeek, I haven’t been nervous about getting home by myself, late at night, without my own transport. On some nights, I ride the Scooty back at 12 or 1 AM, and it does not matter. I wasn’t so worried about getting home, all by myself, that night. I guess that when you organize events, you learn that you have to move forward even when there are constraints.
Finally, at 9:30 PM, when it seemed that the rains would not stop, M and I moved out. We left Queens’ restaurant and walked through the alleys between the buildings connecting Church Street and M G Road. It was after such a long time that I was walking through those alleys. The last time I was there was some days before my marriage in 2008, when K wanted to pick up a Discworld graphic novel. Walking through those alleys made me reconnect with Bangalore – the city that I knew when I used to come there in 1990s and early 2000s.
On some days, I desperately want to reconnect with my field – the city – which has been the area of my research. I try to watch, but awareness happens in moments when you are unaware. Few days after The Fifth Elephant got over, I went to Shivajinagar to pay off the dues to the furniture rental company. The manager at the shop took us inside the alleys of Shivajinagar to connect us with a metal craftsman. While we were waiting for the craftsman to turn up from the mosque, I noticed a man climbing over the electrical transformer. As I watched the man climb, the manager explained that the transformer often went bust after a night of downpour. Workmen from BESCOM come the next day, climb the transformer and try to fix it. Some men die during this process because they get electrocuted. I kept watching the man working on the transformer. Then I’d shift my gaze to the open drains between the shops in that alley. Then my gaze would go back again at the transformer and the man at it. At that time, I once again thought of my own connections with the city, and what was becoming of me as I had moved off the trails of research into a world of business and media.
Cut back to Thursday night. M asked me to wait inside the alley while she went to get me an auto. She found me a driver who asked for twice the fare. I agreed. I got in. The driver began to drive the rickshaw. Close to UB City mall and Kasturba road, the driver said, “challenge” which meant that it would be a challenge to go forward. M called just then, asking me to back up and come over to her house. I almost thought of latching onto the offer. But then, I wanted to get back and sleep in my bed, close to K. So I said to her that I’d go forward until Lalbag, and if the traffic looked messy there, I’d turn back. She agreed to my decision. I kept moving forward.
At Shantinagar bus stand, the auto driver turned left and drove crazily through the lanes and alleys of Wilson Garden where I saw people huddled around shops, waiting for the rains to stop. At many points, the road would turn pitch dark and I would lose sense of direction of where I was. I must admit I was slightly nervous then. But the auto driver rode on, and I continued to see ahead, despite my feelings.
We hit Bannerghatta road finally. There were no major jams. At G D Maraa, soon after Shoppers’ Stop, we hit a major block. It seemed like the traffic ahead was completely stuck. The driver asked me in Kannada about mori. I knew he was talking about drains i.e., storm water drains. He meant to ask if there were drains ahead, on the road, and whether the water would drain out. He also meant to tell me that if there was flooding ahead, he did not want to risk driving his auto through the waters and getting stuck. Finally, he spoke to me in Hindi and asked his questions. I said I don’t know in response.
Then, he asked if he could smoke. All along the way, he was singing. He was singing even when we were both getting splashed with water on the roads with cars coming from the opposite direction. I permitted him to smoke. Partly, I was inhaling through all the tobacco he was exhaling, and feeling high in the cold, wet weather.
The driver kept asking everybody, along the way, about the jam and flooding ahead. At one point, when the traffic did not seem to move further, he asked me how far away was my place. When I said two kilometers, he asked me to get off and find my way. He saw some BMTC buses and asked if I’d take them. I agreed.
I got off the auto and jumped into the closest bus. It was packed. The conductor let me in, but after sometime, when I said I needed a ticket, he said he closed ticketing. This meant that I had to get off and get into another bus. I got off, cursing the conductor, and started walking. There were other men walking on the roads. Some men were trying to move their motorcycles on the footpaths. The two wheelers were getting stuck with the occasional breaks in the footpaths which were opening out into drains.
I kept walking until I hit the Bilekahalli roads. I am not sure what happened, but suddenly, the footpaths were broken into drains at three spots. This meant that if I wanted to walk on the footpaths, I had to leap across at every point where there was a break. I am often afraid to leap, because I fear missing out. Plus, with two accidents already this year, I wasn’t keen to take a chance with breaking another leg. So, each time I’d see someone coming from the other side, I’d ask for their hand. These were complete strangers, often workmen, who’d lend me their hand as if it were a matter of fact and then we’d all move on. At the last such junction where I had to leap, there was no one to ask for help. A man was walking his motorcycle on the road. He looked at me, standing in a lurch, and said “walk with me on the roads. It’s all clear here.” He was right. I walked with him and reached the end of the road.
K was supposed to pick me up from there. I was waiting for him. A burkha clad woman stood there, called an autorickshaw. The rickshaw took another passenger. The driver looked at me, asking if I wanted to jump in. I said no. Later, a man came there with a child on his shoulders. He stood waiting for a rickshaw, and watched as I waiting.
Finally, K came along and we got home. It was 11 PM, and all in all, it was an amazing adventure.
For many months now, I haven’t been running. I miss running, but I am unable to motivate myself enough to get down to it. That night was a completely unknown adventure where I interacted with several strangers, through spoken and unspoken language. For once, my sense of awareness had returned. For once, the city was offering me an experience that brought words back to my fingers.
I don’t have a conclusive ending. All I have, is a sense of gratefulness for what my life offered to me that night. I hope I am at my life’s receiving end, in such ways, always …
M and her laughter!
My latest BFF – threepointone!
Ravi Rao who looks so different now!
James Hughman to who I am always writing emails in my thoughts and mind!