They call this city – ‘a city of dreams’.
Billions of dreams rise up every moment of everyday. Some of them realize into reality while others get squatted mercilessly. But the dreams never stop rising up again in a hope to see the light of the dawn, breaking the shackles of a nightmarish reality the city hides within itself.
I came out of the 8 P.M local after a gruelling day in the city. Somehow, I managed to brush past an ocean of men and women who seemed to rise above the tide of the cacophony to jostle and submerge into the ocean again. I was pushed, I was bashed and I was broken in spirit. But somehow, I did not seem to mind that at all. A pity from within caressed my ‘inconvenience’ when I realized that this was the way the city seemed to move forward, the way dreams were being chased relentlessly in pursuit of nothingness.
I looked down; sweat dripping from my brows, my eyes fixated on the railway tracks after the local had disappeared into the smog.
“Where have they come from? Where are they leading to?”
Do the travellers really have a destination? An end to their journey?
Why do they pick themselves up every day and unfold the same story day after day after day?
What has this city given them? Food, shelter, livelihood?
A hand reached out to me, derailing my train of thought. It was the everyday child, soiled in the blanket of the city’s dirt, stretching her hand out to me as if I owed her something.
“Why is she begging of me? No, No! What is she begging of me?”
I’m not a messiah. I didn’t owe her anything.
“Is she asking me to give her food/money?
Or a ransom to rescue herself from the spasms of atrocities that were evident on her wrinkled face?”
What was I to do but to simply move on? I can’t trust every child extending its arm to be valued with my concerns. The city has taught me to be wary enough to snub away such emotions. I give myself a resounding justification of the propaganda that I’ve always found convenient – not to encourage child beggars.
“Was I wrong this time?” I asked myself.
Nah. Probably not.
I couldn’t be bothered on an empty stomach.
Slowly mounting up the stairs into the land of the surface dwellers, manifestations of the city pierced my eyes. A cool breeze swept past me which smelt like the rheumy, nauseating stench from the gutters of the city – home to some, a workplace for some in the city. Out of repugnance, I clasped the railings of the stairs which led me to the exit.
My senses gradually came back to normal. I had to catch a bus to my ‘home’, my destination for the day. On the edge of the road, I looked towards left. And then I looked towards right. And I looked towards left again; I had been taught this in my school. I had to survive while getting across the street. I had to come out alive on the other side of the road to make it to another day.
Is this what the city’s stooped to offer me after all this time? A few seconds of emptiness on the road, every day, as an offer to see my loved ones?
What did the city offer me then? My life? Love? Or an endless hamster-wheel run for me to never stop and wonder who or what put me on the wheel?
On the other side of the road, a few faces appeared resembling the autumn leaves ready to be shaken off in the wind. Ignoring them seemed the best option. The bus stop was a shaded respite for many during the day. During the night, it became home to a few. I took support of a dented pillar and waited for the arduous journey back to the hole from where I crawled out of this morning. Time never seems to pass when you’ve to wait for the last leg of your transit if you’ve already pictured a cold shower and hot food.
I took notice of a few girls playing at the other end of the bench. One of them was hitting the other for an arm that the latter had pulled off from the doll of the former. There was no crying, no tears in the eyes of the one who was hitting. Just a 10 year old stern face. She probably knew that no one was bothered about her emotions over a broken doll which had no use whatsoever. Tears rolled out of the girl who had been hit. Her cheeks had reddened and soiled with her tears. May be she wasn’t mature enough for the kind of life she was dealing with at the age of 5.
Wait, did I have some money on me for them to buy a new one? I checked my wallet. Green notes only. Bad luck for them, I didn’t have change to spare.
Not my fault.
As I looked to the other way, a thick plume of smoke had started engulfing the area. I choked and coughed, trying to frantically fan away the poisonous smoke from my face. The smell – Carbon monoxide – caused due to incomplete combustion of organic matter. This knowledge came in handy today to decide whether I should bear with more of the revolting smell from the city or not. As the wind changed its direction, I could vaguely see a silhouette of an old lady fanning a burning log of wood. There she was sitting on a red brick, gazing into the fire lifelessly. She was wearing a tattered old yellow sari, which refused to cover her entire body.
My eyes had become watery and pain had become sharper. It had become unbearable.
“Are you mad lady? Why the hell would you burn a log in a public place, in the middle of summer?” I wanted to shout onto her face.
I chose not to. She was boiling water for a handful of rice, probably the only morsel of salvation on this devilishly hot and humid day. I realized the fact that losing control over one’s patience over circumstances governing your life had no meaning in this city. I could have shouted. She could have simply ignored me. She was probably deaf for all I could have known.
A lady in her late forties was sitting besides her doing the same thing I had thought in my mind just a while back. She was as lean as the dented pillar itself on which I was leaning. She was carrying a child in her arms. I assumed it was a couple of years old from a brief look at them. The child had woken up from its sleep and started wailing loudly which irritated the mother to no extent.
For the lady with the child, the water had been boiled too long and the smoke made her child weep uncontrollably. For the lady with a foot in the grave, it did not even matter if the water had already spilled and doused the fire. For both of them – No attention paid, nothing to lose, and no love lost before ending another day.
I asked myself again, what has the city given them? The answer was not a difficult one – Whatever they’ve managed to snatch.
The bus came hurtling sideways and screeched to a halt. I climbed in after being heckled again. It was irrelevant. It meant no disrespect if people involuntarily violated you. They were the same passengers as was I. I took a seat and looked out of the window. The fibre of the window made a rattling noise as the driver slammed his foot on the pedal. I looked out of the window and saw the same old, dreary bus stand. On its side was a poster – ‘Keep your city clean’. Clean, the city was – of dirt, not of people. I threw a last look at the old lady in the tattered yellow sari. Faint feelings of pity churned up in my heart. She did not have anything to look forward to at the end of the day, not even a soft bed.
The bus crawled forward. I looked on as the lady as ancient as the city itself, rose up from her seat. She tore off the poster from the stand and laid it flat on the pavement. She then proceeded to empty the cooked rice on it and offered it to the baby in her mother’s arms.
I had seen enough for the day. I had picked up plenty from the city.
Now, it made me wonder again… what did the city then finally had to offer?
An answer that simple doesn’t exist. Even if it does, it changes its form and meaning every moment for everyone, everywhere. In reality, it might not suffice anyone’s curiosity after all.
But one thing’s for sure though, the city never lets you lose hope or stop dreaming for another day.