Pressure Cooker's Confines
When a sumptuous mutton delicacy or a mouthtful of sweet, juicy paan holds out so much promise; when the promise is coupled with the prospect of being able to re-live good times with one’s friends and family, and when the prospect is ornamented with the hope of meeting up with a long-lost but oft-remembered someone, the beckon becomes difficult to ignore.
There are contrasts, and then there are contrasts. All I notice are the latter. One side of the street is full of hotels where business executives wrapped in fine formal-wear would drive in to attend conferences or party in general. The other side is mostly populated by slums or worn down buildings, interspersed with 'General Provision Stores'. The greatest contrast probably possible was that of an old beggar sitting on the stairs of a near-perfect looking, multi-storeyed hotel-cum-restaurant. If the grandiose architecture and lighting was the manifestation of a steady 8% annual GDP growth, what did the beggar represent? Ahh, one shouldn’t derive robust inferences from a single datapoint!
Everything can be had, but for a price. Have an income tax arrear of two thousand rupees payable to you? You can definitely get it as long as you give the IT Department official five hundred rupees as “lubricant”. Want a domestic gas connection? Pay a thousand rupees more than the declared price to get it in an hour. Follow the process and you’ll wait for six months.
Everyone is a demi-god here, in their respective realms. Over-attitude and defiance are the order of the day. Look at the shopkeeper vending his/her wares as if doomsday were near. Or the auto-rickshaw driver refusing rides at will, especially when they are most needed. Or the landlord treating tenants with the same neglect and disdain as a prison guard would his convicts.
It takes some conscious effort to overlook how evenly the good elements are juxtaposed with the bad. Every gruff and snappy bus conductor is matched by a considerate or beautiful fellow traveler, depending on the latter’s gender! The highest volumes of traffic thrive on the widest of roads, whereas the narrowest by-lanes host grocers selling the freshest of vegetables. Every next smell of human nuisance gets quickly countered by the trail of perfume left by a passer-by.
And then there are hopes and aspirations. Unfathomable and unbounded. I’ll conclude this account of the pressure cooker’s confines with two experiences that will warm my heart for a long time to come.
A road-side shed selling sugar-cane juice is a welcome sign for the weary traveller. I and my brother happened to stop at one such raswanti griha for a tall glass each, with an extra dash of lemon thrown in. The teenage lad manning the shop seemed to be a lot more hygiene conscious compared to the nearby competing juice sellers. Both in attire and the condition of the shed. After he handed us one round and saw us merrily sipping away, he came and sat down beside us. He talked about what he aspired to be and how he planned to get there. We wished him the very best, and ordered a second round of juice!
During one of my desparate search missions to secure a place to rent, I came across a real-estate agent’s office that seemed off-beat. That was because the young “agent” wasn’t swarthy, nor looked cunning or street-smart. Rather lanky in appearance and of average height and build, he was seated on a plastic chair and trying to concentrate on the mattered pages of an old book. Upon approaching him, I learnt that the real agent was out on business and would be back after twenty minutes. I decided to wait, while my companion returned back to his tattered book. Boredom and natural curiosity made me ask him what he was reading. He said he was studying electronics, and wanted to secure a job in a reputed electronics firm. Real-estate deals were for pocket money. I was impressed.