Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Observations on a train..

I have always liked observing people in public places. It’s a strangely satisfying activity. One is surprised at the conclusions you reach, just by seeing how people behave or interact with others. Recently I had a 10 hour long train journey where I had ample scope for people observation. It also happens to be the most unpleasant train journey I have ever had.

Things were going fine till, at a certain station, nearly 50 people barged into the compartment, which was one of the few reserved, AC compartments on the train. It turned out that none of them had tickets, but they were all high ranking railway officials, so they considered it their right to travel in an AC compartment, irrespective of the fact that it was reserved and no one had tickets. Obviously, the ones who had tickets protested. What followed was the first ever public brawl I have witnessed. Voices were raised, abuses were hurled freely, people were getting agitated, tensions were running high, and I was suddenly scared. Scared at how suddenly the peaceful compartment had exploded in rage(thank God there was no violence), scared because I had never heard so many men shouting together, scared because the people behaving in this manner all were decently dressed, educated, middle aged men, not street side thugs.

After a bit of delay and some chain pulling and more abuses, the train got going. The ones without tickets were still there, breathing down our necks, blocking the passageways- very disconcerting. But what was more disconcerting was their complete lack of embarrassment or remorse. Some were feeling bad and were talking about getting down at the next station, but there were others (there was a particularly nasty man in a horrible peach colored shirt standing near me) who were smirking, their air plainly saying that they believed they could do no wrong. And the ones, who were talking about getting down early, didn’t do so either.

I was appalled at the anarchy and lawlessness of the whole situation. One would expect the officials to bear in mind that there are certain rules to be followed for the smooth running of any system. These people definitely expect others to follow the rules, but for some unexplained reason they think the rules do not apply to them. As if being a part of the system separates them from the common mass of humanity.

It is perfectly understandable that they didn’t get reserved tickets, but they didn’t have to travel in an AC compartment. Not being without an AC for some hours wasn’t killing anyone and why would they take certain priviledges when they were certainly not entitled to? Sadly, none of this seemed to have come up in their thoughts. I heard what some of them were talking about and all of it was so amazingly petty that I couldn’t imagine people even thinking about such things, let alone have lengthy discussions and conspiracies. I felt like yelling at them to stop and pause for a moment to reflect on what joy all this pettiness had brought them all their lives. But I refrained.

And every time my nerves had eased and I had settled down comfortably just about to enjoy a nap, another heated argument followed. Ultimately, even though I was dead tired, I couldn’t sleep a wink.

But there were other disconcerting things coming to light in the wake of these events. A couple of young boys were seated a row ahead. One was in class 8 and the other in class 11. When all the shouting and abusing was taking place, these two had taken an active part in the proceedings, even standing on the seats and shouting alongside their dads. And no one told them anything.

Again, I was stunned. It didn’t matter that they were right and the others were wrong. Because what was wrong here was that two young schoolboys were behaving outrageously, raising their voices and abusing people three times their age, and their parents found it something to be proud of. I’m not saying that standing up for your rights is wrong, but when there are elders already doing it on your behalf, there is no need to abuse others. If there was a situation where some older people were picking on kids and taking advantage, you are surely entitled to stand up. But even that can be done with dignity and respect. These boys then seemed to be very satisfied with themselves and their parents followed suit, singing their praises, rivals in the tales of extraordinary intelligence and bravery shown by their respective children. I listened and cringed.

Again another thing I noticed was the general tendency to show off in public. There were constant discussions about thrilling tales of trekking under the most difficult circumstances, about how their kids dismantle computers and hard drives at lightning speeds. I didn’t know whether to laugh at them or be sad at the pathetic pettiness of their lives. At first I found the conversation entertaining, but soon it got on my nerves- no one stopped blowing his own trumpet! How amazing! Especially as showing off is one thing I have always been repulsed by and one thing I have never seen anybody in my family doing.

All in all, a horrible train journey, where all my nice thoughts were invaded by ugly brawls, irritation, distress at the current state of affairs in the country, and dismay at the way people choose to conduct their lives.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Holidays

I’d never had holidays this long before. And never one in which I had less to do. So in a desperate bid to lessen the boredom, after devouring too many books, I pull out a pen and an old diary and try writing… it doesn’t work so I shift to my laptop… and churn out incredible pieces of highly embarassing, sentimental trash I never thought I was capable of producing… all the effect of utter joblessness and queer moods. Sigh.

And then I wander about aimlessly, having the messy but strangely satisfying orange sticks, even as tiny bits keep falling off into the dimly lit, desolate neighborhood streets. Sometimes trying a jhaal muri just because I love watching them make it …. Going to Park Street or College Street with friends or cousins and wander about aimlessly again… spend hours in completely futile adda sessions, hunt for second hand books in the narrow streets… stopping for a phuchcka or a roll, despite the heat….Going off to New Market or City Center at the slightest pretext and buying bags, slippers, loads of chunky jewelry that I know I will never wear, obnoxiously bright nail paints which I just might try on due to the sheer magnitude of my boredom…..

Eating at Flury’s, t3, kookie jar, dominoes, KFC, Pizza Hut, CCD and also zeeshan, coffee house, aminia, nizams… and feeling guilty about gorging, trying to convince myself that I’m home for not very long so I deserve all the heavenly food, and then dragging myself to swim at 6 in the morning in a hopeless attempt to check the calories….

Or sometimes I go up to the roof when the sun is about to set and stare at the flaming sky for God-knows-how-long till I can almost see the stars, trying to spot the shapes in the clouds, the colours in the evening sky, trying to make out the silhouette of the far off Howrah Bridge through the smoke and dust and the city lights, trying to find a pattern in the way the cars snake along the busy broad way, trying to make sense of all the chaos, of whatever is happening around me, trying to understand my ever changing moods and emotions, trying to figure out a reason, or an excuse… always trying… but then I get tired of trying and I just decide to let things be… and revel in the fact that I so love being home, not just because of my mother’s awesome pampering, or my sisters awesome cynicism, or even the air conditioned bliss in these amazingly sultry days, when I’m almost sure the monsoons have decided to abandon us… its more because of the fact that I know me better when I’m home and am not always running at a frenzied pace, I’m less confused and I can breathe more freely, but most importantly I can think…. Think about nothing and everything at the same time and keep thinking without anyone or anything ever interrupting me… so I keep thinking, even as I lie peacefully, into the wee hours of the morning, sleep not being able to pervade the world of my fantasies, gazing dreamily at the dancing shadows on the moonlit wall, the hint of a smile lingering on the corners of my mouth….

And now I am rambling so I guess it’s time to stop......

P.S. Actually, I did do something this summer- learnt driving! Will be getting my license soon. And then Calcutta streets, look out- here I come!