Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One point five...?

I reached the bus stand at around noon. That was the job. To go around Panjim and sketch. Bus stands were good. Railway stations too. Just a huge congregation of people not wanting to give a fuck. I would stay there for around four hours sketching people. Then go to Daily Bread around the corner and get an espresso and sketch some more. So many people. Tourists and vendors and clerks and misfits. Some with hidden agendas like mine. Most just waiting for the bus to take them home. Eventually. Snoring on the benches with their children in their arms, Spitting, yawning, selling, women in their sixties with tobacco stained teeth smoking beedis. You don't find that everywhere. All of this speckled with grotesque beggars who would caress your head and bless you if you spared them change. Two in the afternoon, the cleaning ladies wearing bright fluorescent yellow vests over their sarees would sweep all the dirt and all the spit and all the dogs away into designated corners. The spit would soon come back. So would the dogs. And the women would squat in their designated corners watching it all pile up again. People moved about, dodging mice as big as cats, towards the conductors who furiously, almost forcefully beckoned them towards their respective rides.  The whole setup was a careful pandemonium. And nobody gave a fuck.
"Excuse me, Sir, will you please lend me twenty rupees? I have to go to Mhapusa urgently and I don't have money."
He was small. Almost insignificant. He was wearing a dirty, frayed shirt and dark shorts which exposed his thin legs which ended in tattered slippers, holding a dilapidated little briefcase. He stood almost cowering in front of me, his round unshaven head bobbing up and down. You don't get to hear English like that from a person like this. The small man looked at me, summoning his sadness, his urgency.
"No change." I said and walked away.
I walked towards the other side of the bus stand. A little girl holding her mother's hand stared at me. I turned around. The small man was still there, looking for a pair of sympathetic eyes. I went to him and gave the money. I bought twenty rupees worth of satisfaction. He smiled. I smiled. For the next half hour. Nothing boosts your ego like charity.
I roamed around a bit more until I found a good spot to sketch. My model was a dog, lying seemingly dead except for the occasional whisk of his tail for the benefit of the flies around him. He was a Goan dog. No one could dare disturb his siesta. People sat around me, sneaking peeks into my sketchbook. I would get on with my work, pretending not to notice. Two minutes later, they would get on with theirs. People are like dogs that way.
A little boy wearing his school uniform came and sat next to me. Kids are fun. They don't know how to do small talk. Or mask their expressions. But then they grow up and start talking about the weather and the rain and the JanLokpal Bill and don't laugh anymore when someone farts. This one was stick thin and wore glasses too big for his face which made him look like ET. He sat with his schoolbag on his lap. His feet didn't even touch the ground. So he swung them in the air, left-right-left-right his thin legs went. I went back to my dog, who by now was too stoned to even flick its tail.
The kid got up as a lottery wallah approached. They knew each other, for the old man smiled and nodded.
"Abba kaise hain?" How is your father, he asked.
"Aaram hai."
"Aur ammi?"
I sat looking at the both of them. The old man was carrying the metal case slung over his shoulders like all lottery ticket vendors do. His silver beard struck a sharp contrast against his dark wrinkled face. The little kid opened his bag and took out his stainless steel geometry set. Opened it. I remembered it from my school days. A compass, a divider, a ruler, two set squares which we used to shine beams of sunlight on the ceiling and on the teacher's back as she wrote on the blackboard and a protractor. All enclosed in specific plastic compartments. The kid took out the plastic compartment to produce a neatly folded lottery ticket which he handed over to the old man. They had my attention. The dog didn't seem like he was going to leave anytime soon anyway. The old man proceeded to check the numbers against his list. His eyes moved with his fingers.
All three of us waited. Could this be the one? The kid tried to tiptoe his way into the list. I craned my neck. The old man whispered the lucky numbers under his breath..."Do, paanch, teen.."
"Nahi laga." Didn't win, he told us. Sigh. Tell you mother, he said. "Ammi ko bolo nahi laga."
The kid nodded. Took out a twenty rupee note from his little stainless steel safe and bought twenty rupees worth of luck. The lottery wallah left, his metal case bouncing with every step.
The kid neatly folded the tickets, worthless and priceless both, and put them back into the geometry case. I asked him his name. Yusuf, he said, as he packed. And then, before the grown up in me could think of any conversation starter, he swung his bag over his shoulder and ran behind his crawling bus, his slippers pittering behind him.
The dog was still there. It had to be dead.
Two hours later, the small, almost insignificant man with the little briefcase was still roaming around looking for a pair of sympathetic eyes.

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