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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

13 March, 2005

A song

It was hard to imagine they were playing a song like that on the radio at prime time, but there it was, an uncontestable truth. He adjusted the headphone in his right ear, and stood on the platform, hands punched into the pockets of his denim jacket, waiting for the Andheri local to come chugging along.

Like a Bridge over troubled waters
/ I will lay me down...

Simon and Garfunkel had always held a special place for him, and it was one of his favourite tunes: one of their most popular tunes, but that did not deflect from its very obvious genius and melody. A woman named Ayesha had called up the radio station and asked the RJ to play this song for her husband, Arun, and he had smiled at the beautiful absurdity of it all. In some way, he had wished he had called up some RJ during the heydays and asked them to play a song for them, but it had never happened. And he could not fathom why.

The train arrived, and the usual eight-o-clock rush almost overwhelmed him, but he stuck close to his target: located the door of the approaching carriage, and stood in a direction not exactly in front of the doorway, but beside it, so that when the train stopped and the steady stream of humanity pushed, shoved, released outwards, he snug in, beneath the extended armpits of a middle-aged Parsi man, and slithered to the middle of the carriage, where the two doors on either side were equidistant. Then he readjusted the headphones. This was the routine.

The Parsi man was wearing a black blazer over a white shirt and grey synthetic trousers. His name was Faraaz, Contractor and he looked at the young man who had slipped in the train, avoiding the angry pushes of the rest of the commuters from Elphinstone Road station. He smiled, it was all so beautifully resilient, somehow: this borrowed pride from a face in the crowd he would probably never see again. The boy was listening to music on his walkman, and his eyes were half-closed, but Faraaz could see that he was alert, as alert as any man could ever be in the throng of a crowded Bombay local. He had a red bag strapped around his shoulders, and while one hand gripped the overhead beam for support, his other hand was curled protectively around the bag. Faraaz thought he could hear the wafting strains of some music from the walkman, and he smiled to himself in the imagined melody. But the train had slowed down for Dadar, and he blanked out momentarily, stiffened himself for the throng that would soon shove its way into the already crowded carriage.

The faceless young men with the red bag around his body and Simon-and-Garfunkel in his soul opened his eyes and looked around. The crush in Dadar had been terrible, but he had been saved the worst part of it, because of his vantage position in the middle, his back against the seats-partition. The song had finished and the RJ was reading out dedications now, but he still found himself thinking about Ayesha and Arun, her husband, dancing in some remote corner of the city, in what could be nothing more than a rented one-bedroom-hall-kitchen, to the strains of the song. A part of him wondered what Ayesha looked like, and what Arun had done for her, that she was this impressed, and a chuckle escaped his lips. He wondered whether he should have taken tips from Arun, and then decided that it would not have been of much use.

Matunga Road was like the quiet breeze just before the storm, Faraaz Contractor thought to himself. He edged slowly towards the interior of the carriage: he had been able to stand the terrible throng at Dadar, but entertained no such illusions about his prospects in Mahim. The junction was not marked a big red in the station-chart that hung overhead, it was a chrome-blue like the other ‘minor’ stops, but the oncoming rush at Mahim was always too terrible to imagine. And, directly after Mahim, came Bandra, a big red circle on the chart.

Faraaz sighed, and wondered why on earth he ever allowed his wife to convince him to move from Colaba, in the first place. But then, he reminded himself that the flat had sold for a good sum like Rehaanaa had said it would, and it had certainly got rid of all the debts they had. Santa Cruz is a nice place to live, really, he mused, but it was the horrendous journey every morning and every evening to and from Churchgate that so irritated him. As he glanced at Red Bag, he wondered not for the first time whether he should buy one of those walkmans and portable radios that he had seen so many of the young men around Bombay hitch onto their waists. And then he gave a little chortle as to how his son’s eyes would widen on seeing him head out to work in the morning with a walkman hitched to his belt. But, aaaaaa, to revel in the music – and he widened his smile in a stream of imagined Beethoven.

Ayesha had come on the line again, and explained to the RJ that her husband had surprised her this morning when she came out of the bathroom with a dozen long-stemmed red roses lying there on the bed, while he himself was no where to be found. The RJ laughed and asked her whether Arun knew she had called up to ask for a special song for him, and Ayesha said, she didn’t think so. That was when the RJ had his brilliant idea of getting Arun’s cell phone number from Ayesha and said, he would give the busy husband a call, so that they would play a little game with him. Ayesha, of course, was quite delighted at the turn of events. The RJ started playing Kiss Me, by Sixpence None The Richer.

In spite of rehearsing his lines, the forthcoming exchange made him smile, as he listened to the RJ’s banter and Ayesha’s obvious excitement. One of the newcomers at Mahim had collided with him, even as he stood by the side, pressed against the partition, but he had ignored the fierce look the Mahim commuter had thrown his way, and tried to catch a breath of fresh air in the crowded train. And he tried to think of his lines, that he was going to tell her, when he reached Khar Road. She would be waiting at the restaurant on S V Road, and he would have to go and tell her the lines he had agonized over for days and nights now. Hearing Simon and Garfunkel talking about troubled waters had not exactly been easy, either.

She would sit at the table he knew so well, away from the busy road, towards the back of the restaurant, with the open window, overlooking the lawns on the right. She would glance at her slim, detailed watch, and frown because he was late, and order starters. She was used to him being late. It would probably be the grilled prawns.

“I’ve been thinking about us - "

Would that do? Or would it seem, as if it was a festering problem..? “I have something to say about us – " But it had been festering, hadn’t it? Hadn’t he better be honest now?

“I want to tell you something – "

Should he pause? For how long? “This is not going to work.”

He hoped it wouldn’t be like in the movies, and she would think he was making a joke. He hoped that she would recognize the import in his voice and eyes and understand what he was saying. She probably would. She was different, in that way. Different, and yet –

“I love spending time with you. I love being with you, - but – "

“There’s nothing else that I can see. I’m not in love with you.”

“I don’t see where we’re going with this – "

Or, “I don’t think we’re going anywhere with this – “

“It would be best to call it off. I don’t think we should go ahead with this – "

“I don’t see myself spending my whole life with you. I’m sorry – “

Did that sound too cavalier, too condescending? Should he apologize? Perhaps it would be better if she could hate him – though he wished she wouldn’t...

“I’m sorry.”

Faraaz Contractor roused himself from the reverie he had suddenly lapsed into, and realized that he had completely missed Bandra. What was the matter with him, he wondered, a bit frustrated at himself. At this rate, I’ll find myself half-way to Borivilli again, like the other day! It won’t do, loosing track of time like this – this would never happen if we were still in Colaba – I never dozed off in the bus! And he chuckled, despite his self-directed ire: Colaba seemed such a long way away now.

He looked sideways at the young man with the walkman who slumped heavily against the partition. He seemed preoccupied with something, and his eyes were closed again: Faraaz thought about shaking him slightly to make sure he didn’t miss his stop, but then he noted the flicker of white below the eyelashes and knew he wasn’t dozing, after all. There was, once again, the faraway gleam of music from his walkman, and Faraaz made up his mind, now. The music was necessary, he decided, if only to distract, if only to attract, if only to make him miss all his stops on his future journeys – and he laughed, because of the bad joke directed at himself. He would tell Rehaanaa tonight.

Khar Road arrived. Arun had been called up by the RJ, and told that his wife had called in to say that she felt neglected by her husband – and had he anything to say in his defence? He had been embarrassed to be questioned like this on air, and he fumbled and hemmed and hawed, and said he had no idea why Ayesha would think this about him. He had always tried to be a good husband, he protested, even as the RJ grilled him about their love life. When the RJ asked him if he had done anything nice lately for his wife, Arun said that, well, he had left a dozen roses on the bedside – and then both Ayesha and the RJ yelled “SURPRISE!!!!” to a flabbergasted Arun. The episode had been successful, the RJ wished the couple all the very best in their life together, the audience level had soared in the last few minutes of the drama, and the RJ invited anyone else who had a personal story of love and life to narrate to call the radio station. As he played Arun’s request, Ayesha by Outkast, the faceless young man in the train patted his red bag protectively again, rechecked his headphones in his ears, and alighted at Khar Road station.

He had news to give, and he walked briskly down the platform towards the overhead walkway, from where he would hire an auto rickshaw to take him to a certain restaurant in S V Road, where a young lady had probably ordered grilled prawns while she waited for him.

Faraaz Contractor stepped off the train at Santa Cruz, and began his own walk down the platform, to climb the overhead walkway. He had a certain skip in his steps, though he would deny it if someone told him so. He was whistling a tune, something he had imagined he heard from the young man’s walkman when he had departed, a station earlier, but it was really an old little melody that Rehaanaa and he had danced to ages ago in their little flat in Colaba, when debts did not seem quite so burdensome. The night was a trifle chilly, but Faraaz never noticed the nip in the air.


Blogger Anil said...

Very nice story although I've to admit that I was a little confused initially as to who was listening to the radio station and who was thinking about stuff to be had to go back and read the necessary parts again to clear it up! Your description of the Bombay locals was especially vivid.

13 March, 2005 15:34  
Blogger livinghigh said...

hey anil. ummmm... on hindsight, u think the confusion wud have been averted had I changed the gender of the faceless young man to a faceless young woman? Food for thought.... thanks for commenting, buddy. ;-)

13 March, 2005 18:41  
Blogger Dan Husain said...

i sailed through three parallel lives effortlessly with a sense of deja vu... as if i am riding the local with a similar tale...wonderful...more living high

13 March, 2005 23:56  
Blogger livinghigh said...

thanx, dan ;-)

14 March, 2005 12:14  
Blogger Prat said...

Three lives, one song and a moving finger that unites all three together effortlessly.
Loved the point blank narration.

15 March, 2005 20:25  

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