Thursday, February 05, 2009

India V

It was many years ago, I might have been about 10 at the time when I had walked into this run-down building at the end of the road from where I lived. I went there because I'd been told not to go near it.

It was mostly dark inside and the floors were greasily dirty, hadn't been mopped or swept in years. I could feel the grime even through the soles of my shoes. The stair corners had paan stains and the cement walls were bare.

I was in the elevator when the power went out, trapping me inside. The lift had stopped where the floor outside, beyond the lift gates, was at the level of my eye. I didn't call for help. I'd gotten myself into this, and I'd damned sure get out of it myself.

The yellow-red evening sun streamed through rusty grilled windows, lighting up the floors, drawing obtuse shadows that grew every minute, all angles and blocks. These slanted columns of sun were made distinct by the shafts of dust they illuminated. Glittering dust that seemed to flow this way and that within the light, that would suddenly disappear behind shadows, where the sun was quiet. As though the Sun and the dust were playing a game of seek & find, as though the dust moved because the Sun permitted it, as though the dust was simply preening before the Sun called it back to the heavens. Angel dust.

The dirt on the floor was now in front of my nose as I stood trapped in the cage. I knew grime, sweat, sand, insects, all played together here and I'd become an unwilling audience. It was strange though, watching the game from as close as this. Each player had grown larger than life at this distance. So much so that I felt I could throw a hat into the ring myself.

The sand wasn't the dull brown colour I'd expected. The grains were distinct at this close distance, each glistening like a crystal ball, lying quiet on the floor, as though they were done telling fortunes. A spider walked tent-legged over these grains, an elaborately improvised dance over crystal glinting in the setting sun.

The stains on the floor had disappeared now, in my two-dimensional world. I could see length and breadth, but couldn't conceive height. When a dried leaf fluttered to the floor from above, the ants and I were equally surprised. I let them examine the leaf for me, because I was still caged, my eyes now two limbless points, hungry to learn about this new world. Life in this microscale played out harmoniously, rhythmically, so different from our chaos-infested world of giants. Every particle, every creature had its own flow and its own rules. There was an invisible stream here that floated each entity, carried this world from age to age, independent of ours, oblivious of us, except when we interfered, when we played god and decided to stamp out life or simply to sweep the dirt.

Back here in Bombay, I looked hither, tither, idhar, udhar, at the life all around me as Ranjit led me to his house through the galis of Dharavi.

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