A pleasant pink spreads across the sky in the rush hour of a dense, cluttered city. Amidst the filth & grime below, the horizon above looks an enormous ceiling, painted and bedecked with gentle colours.
I’m rushing past scattered groups of people, skipping, trodding down a lightly soaked pavement from a recent afternoon drizzle. It’s humid, I’m still somewhere between jogging and running, just enough to let people know I’m in a hurry, without giving any offence. You never wish to offend elite men in loose ties and baggy shirts, with dry lips from their 6th cigarette after a weary afternoon shift.
I’m trying to get past the crowd, balancing my two bags flung across both shoulders, while also trying not to trip and fall face first on the slippery sidewalk. Reaching the gate, I look around, “6132” ..muttering out of breath, “613 .. there you are!” Spotting my tiny, bulbous green carriage I skedaddle and cross the road, narrowly escaping a splash of muddy water from the wheels of a rushing sedan and land unceremoniously in the backseat.
Green carriages like these are pretty common in big cities. They are small but spacious enough for three. Swift and ventilated. Cheap and easily available. In concrete jungles, essentially built to cater to the comfort & indulgence of the rich, these carriages were a method to not let the working class get trampled beneath the rising rent & underpaid jobs that are the prerequisite of a bada sheher (big city).
The carriage driver looks at me through the rearview, giving me a toothy grin and chimes, “Hurrah! you made it, I was just about to cancel the ride!” I wave my clenched fist in victory & try to nod, still trying to catch a breath. Carriage driver, a plump man in his 40s, with his face flushed and chubby further added, “I was about to leave Ms,” he twinkled, “when, judging by the pace and intensity you were speeding at towards me, I understood my customer is here.”
I burst out laughing. Partly because of how witty & good humoured that thought was, and partly because of the sigh of leaving an awful glass building early and the joy of heading home in a nice, dewey weather.
Still peering through the rear view he added, “Ms, please don’t take offence, but I must say it’s been a while I’ve heard someone laugh so khul ke (freely) in this city,” he spoke kindly. We exchanged a happy glance when jolting the carriage back to ignition, his eyes darted back to the clogged road attentively, never looking back again. I blinked.
I still think about that evening from time to time. I admit I’ve been told to have a fairly contagious laugh, enough to turn a few glaring public eyes. But somewhere, and I say this with all humbleness, his kind remark was more than just on the visual or auditory anatomy of my laugh. I should like to believe, he was recognising the rare, carefree, kind and guileless quirks of a laugh with no buried intention. A laugh meted solely because of the incapacity to contain the happiness of whatever inspired it.
Why did he take a moment and appreciate something so plain? Perhaps, propped on his driver’s seat in the afternoons, with a metal box of roti and saag, he too notices the grim faces and empty eyes of the people whiling through their lunch breaks trying to make it through another day.
Perhaps he too wishes for a merrier, warmer world. Where respect and kindness are offered without prejudice. Perhaps when we laugh and acknowledge the presence of another breathing thing, we fix a tiny gash somewhere in the fabric of world.
Hope you’re keeping safe & staying inside while the Earth takes its time to reboot. To those suffering due to the pandemic, hope your grief heals a little through this prayer.