Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hare ram, hare krishna!

Sturgeon moves into a cheap lodge at the backpackers colony in Old Delhi. With a 500 rupee note in his pocket, he couldn’t have done any better. He pays 300 in advance for a tiny room with no windows and a broken mirror. The balcony of the room overlooks Hi hi! , a garish looking gaybar which lured customers by an equally garish board offering masseur services and free cutting chai

Sturgeon is not unfamiliar with Delhi’s underbelly. If anything, he has had a whiff of its dark and seedy life early on his life. Had it not been for his mangy looks and a jaw that looks as if its about to fall, he would’ve not passed as a harmless man to the guesthouse owner. His decision to move into defaced, debauched colony of Old delhi was fated not upon chance but survival. He was wanted by the Delhi police of three branches for a crime- too mischievous to be talked about (in the fear being caught upon by the reckless youth of today), and too immoderate to be forgiven.

However he was as safe as he could possibly be in the notoriously busy 6 tooti chowk, (translated as six times broken junction), serving home to foul-mouthed drug peddlers and rambling tramps not very far from the Old Delhi railway station. “Hare ram hare Krishna” being the usual, perennial exchanges between the two.

Hunger consumes his immediate worries of safety and income. Sturgeon had moved in with a pair of ragged khakhi shorts and a fake Nike tee-shirt. He takes a quick shower, slips into khakhi shorts and his old white shirt and leaves the room. Old Delhi is a difficult locality, difficult even for its outlaws. One would find every local’s face suspicious and devilish. The houses here bear the uncanny air of a slaughter house. All women look haggard as if lashed by the men in their house at some point of time in life. The dingy lanes can barely accommodate a vehicle, but the sounds of a honking rickshaw pervade the streets and subsequently wrecks upon mental peace. Yet the menacing faces and their subversive acts is what lends this place its own unique charm, and wholesome popularity among low-budget back-packers.

Sturgeon finds himself besotted by the bright, bohemian cafes offering luscious discounts on liquor and International cuisines. He begins to salivate. However, the prices are way out of his reach. The freshly fried samosas and sweets available at the street evaporate in thin air as soon as they are brought in the open. One fucking billion population! Sturgeon groans in agony of an unattended stomach.

Tired of walking on a merciless May afternoon, Sturgeon rushes into the nearby state library. He had seen the dusty, dilapidated board of the library plenty of times from the metro station that stood right above it. The walls of this desolated room instantly placate his nerves. He feels an enormous sense of calm, as he grabs one the termite-infested wooden chairs, close to an archaic table likely to be from Nehru’s office. He looks around inhaling smells of the bygone years. A woman in her mid forties occupies sits at one end of the room. She has seen men like Sturgeon before, they usually come to the library to answer to texts or sip a soda or two, waiting for their company to arrive.

She pretends to ignore his presence and carries on muttering old hindi chants from a thin book chipped from all corners. “Hare krishna hare ram, hare Krishna hare ram.. ram” God resides in library these days!, Sturgeon smiles to himself. He picks up a book from the closest shelf in order to remain inconspicuous. He forgets all about his hunger. Half an hour later, he loads up half a dozen books on the table. It’s 3.clock, the librarian has three hours before calling it a day. She calls her husband Munshad lal to see if the lunch was delivered to him on time. She hangs up in 3 minutes, she calls Pinky to see if she’s doing her homework. She yells on the phone and hangs up in 8 minutes. She calls Mrs. Sharma to bitch about her husband’s indifference towards her these days, and difficulty in raising children. She hangs up after 42 minutes.

She sees Sturgeon intently reading a hardbound. She yawns. Receding afternoons make up for best naps. She dozes off, Sturgeon dozes off. Sturgeon wakes up and sees librarian in the same spot as she was before with her mouth wide open, wet from blood and phlegm. Sturgeon grins, looks around, picks up a tattered cream colour ladies bag and walks away feeling satiated.

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