Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Happy Half

There must be something ironic about being a reluctant frequent flyer who finds solace in Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar. Or is it nostalgia that drives me deeper into the pages of this 1975 travelogue I discovered only last week by chance?

It was a hot humid afternoon walking down Sudder Street, the hippie-haunt of Calcutta and treasure trove of second-hand books on adjoining Free School Street. Both streets exist only unofficially, their current names being something else. I know that the latter is now called Mirza Ghalib Street and have often wondered what the शायर would have thought about having a red-light road named after him where autos and rickshaws will gladly take the perspiring tourist to a place of pleasure.

And then I remember the auto – that ubiquitous symbol of Delhi – with a couplet silkscreened on its yellow back:
शाम होते ही दीपक को बुझा देता हूँ, दिल काफी है जलने के लिए.

If you’ve ever been on one of these autos that scurry around the capital, the mood of the शेर is completely incongruous with the character of the mobile medium. But then, who am I to judge the anonymous poet or the happy plagiarist who copies it minus any credit and prints it on the auto? It’s better than seeing cheap website URLs advertised, I guess.

‘Only connect’ wrote EM Forster in Howard’s End. And the mind connects the auto with the mobile phone, with the शायरी SMS’d from Bombay every so often by a friend who, in turn, receives it from another, a full-time brand consultant and happy half-time couplet-creator। The medium does nothing to detract from the depth of the poet’s mood and I wonder whether we’ll soon see a tiny book on SMS शायरी…

Here’s one that came my way recently (copyrights are reserved by the Happy Half, as he will be known here only because real names are not to be mentioned in my world of masks):

Bekhabar maut aane ka bus yeh gham hoga, mohabbat bayaan karne ka waqt kam hoga.
बेखबर मौत आने का बस यह गम होगा, मोहब्बत बयां करने का वक़्त कम होगा.

Time, indeed, is running out and sleep is what I’d like most right now as I sit on yet another flight (my fourth between Calcutta and Delhi in the last ten days) and wonder at the marvel of cheap fares that make it possible for almost every person to fly. Paul Theroux could well write a sequel: The Great Indian Airport Bazaar. (Or maybe I should.)

I have, for company, on this trip a Bengali family of eight that includes one number non-Bengali son-in-law along with wife and month-young child. The patriarch is evidently the only one who’s flown before, everyone else is a first-timer. My hunch is that even Baba has flown just a few times before but, like it is in the villages, the one guy who’s been to the city (even if it is for a week as a peon) becomes the expert on urbanisation. Or on airplanes and all things related. Much ado is made about sitting together because their seats are scattered and Baba vociferously takes over, requests people to adjust (that smooth act every seasoned traveller does on trains when berths are to be shuffled so that womenfolk do not have to sit next to strange men). I voluntarily move back a row in the interest of domestic integrity but have to suffer the ignominy of seeing a wife quickly shifted away from me by her protective husband and question whether my unshaved appearance has anything to do with their fear that I may join the mile-high club with Mrs Dumpling.

Dumpling can’t help but smile to herself when the aircraft picks up speed on the runway and one can see years of ambition being fulfilled. This is the only time I admire Air Deccan for getting the insight right and capturing it in their launch TV commercial: we all want to fly, only some are lucky enough to get a cheap fare.

Dumpling’s equally chubby hubby, a thirty-something, wants to know what to do with the juice carton he’s just finished; his wife nudges him and shoves hers into her purse. The matriarch, it seems, hasn’t approved of her oldest daughter’s marriage to this North Indian (I later realise, he’s a Muslim) for she sits silent, sulking almost, smearing sticky sweet red mixed fruit jam on to her kulcha (no non-veg breakfast for her, thank you). She’s the only one not dressed to the hilt; either she had no time this frenzied morning to change into the finery flouted by the rest of the family or she’s still silently protesting and going along because she simply can’t be left alone.

From their conversations, it’s evident they’re flying to help the new parents settle down in Delhi – older daughter must’ve come home to deliver the baby… another stupid Indian custom in which the expenses of childbirth are picked up by the girl’s parents and not her in-laws or husband.

But I’m sleepy and another Happy Half शेर comes back…
या तो एक कन्धा हो जिसपे सर रखके रोयें, या चार होँ कि हम हमेशा के लिए सोयें.


1 comment:

Subho Ray said...

I hear that the street is named after Mirza Ghalib since he stayed there.