Thursday, December 28, 2006

No Time for Time

The best way to lose track of time is not by not wearing a watch.

Some people do this in the (mistaken) belief that being freed of this handcuff automatically leads to a sense of being unhurried.

Having been a daily watch-man since Class IX when I was gifted an Anglo-Swiss by my father, I’ve been a slave of the ticking hands. And have tried often to shake off the feeling of being watched over my shoulder and rushing from one task to another. And I’ve failed.

Then, on a Saturday morning in Bombay, unable to laze around any longer in the transit flat’s comfortable bed, I sprung up, grabbed my camera, but not the watch, and set off to the nearby Hanging Gardens for a walk (someday I’ll give up the mobile phone as well). There was nothing unusual about the morning: the expected set of joggers, walkers, exercisers were all there… from the portly to the sprightly. I walked around – aimlessly for once. A path led past a temple and went down to Chowpatty for which I didn’t have energy enough to explore. On the way back, a chai-walla’s fare tantalised the tea-drinker in me and, for three rupees, a glass of freshly-brewed chai was had. I tried buying a couple of his glasses off him and failed – “Nalbazaar is where you’ll get it for five rupees each”, he directed me.

Again, not quite in the mood to seek out Nalbazaar, I went back into the park and marvelled at this oasis-like space in the concrete stalagmites reaching their ugly fingers up into the sky. If the voices around weren’t overwhelmingly Gujarati and the benches didn’t have donor plaques with Kapadias and Shahs and Mehtas on them, I could have been in another city.

Incidentally, why do people have this desperate urge to put the names of their kin on benches when they donate them? I mean, am I supposed to thank the deceased for giving me a butt-parking space every time I sit down? Isn’t the ideal donor the anonymous one?

But this was Bombay and three garrulous old men wouldn’t let me forget it. Under a gazebo, I sat on a Doshi-donated bench (or could it have been a Kapadia?) and was soaking in the golden morning sun when I began to eavesdrop on the conversation between these three retired gents (straight out of that Basu Chatterjee comedy, Shaukeen). They went effortlessly from discussions on Bombay’s income tax contribution to the country’s coffers to the miserliness of a Marwari colleague’s wife to the perils of flirting to a morning satsang… and I listened in shamelessly.

That’s when it struck me that none of the three wore watches. They had evidently worked hard enough (or inherited enough) to live in the most expensive area of the city and be completely bindaas about life. Time meant nothing to them except as a means of catching up with friends and reminiscing happily. Not once did I hear them discuss politics or rape or murder or inflation. It was either an unwritten, pre-determined code that kept ‘bad news’ out of the laxman-rekha. Or perhaps it was just the way they were.

I’d like to believe the latter.

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