A renowned writer, Santosh vividly depicts a scene of a street corner in urban India. She presents a slice of vibrant throbbing life in paroxysm of emotions. In a surprise ending, she thanks Santa Claus, celebrating the spirit of Christmas.
They were reminiscent of the card players of Paul Cezanne — the five bedraggled and grimy looking men sitting on five chairs, of almost equal degradation, one chair almost near breaking point.
They were the gadiya luhars, (the gypsy iron mongers) here one moment, there the next. Today, the pavement was their home, tomorrow it would be something else.
Here many a dream was born and died unwept and unmourned, where many a nightmare was unleashed every day and every starless night, where many a fire was kindled only to be smothered under gusts of a punishing storm, which forever lay in ambush, skulking in bulldozers, hiding somewhere in the uniforms of duty conscious cops, and under the honeyed smiles of wily politicians.
There was a bird cage on a ramshackle desk.
My heart went out to the captive inside, and Maya Angelou whispered to me of the caged bird, who sings” with tearful trill of the things unknown but longed for still.”
I almost felt like this caged bird, longing to trill of things unknown….I suddenly felt a ripple of fear, as a helicopter whirred dangerously close to the branches of a tree; the wind pounded my ear in relentless gusts – another politician planning to descend!
Seeing two kites merrily sailing in the sky, a red towel hanging from the clothesline, could not resist itself, and yanking away the clutches of the clothes’ pin, it liberated itself from the emasculating captivity.
Under the smouldering ferocity of the sun, the sons played sitolia, trying to ignore the fiery violence of the sun, and also their card playing fathers, who dexterously shuffled and dealt the cards, with a furious concentration as though their very lives depended on the cards dealt to them.
I seethed in rage as I saw a foreign tourist being besieged by a horde of beggars and vendors. A couple of bedraggled children even chased her, pulling and tugging at her clothes. When she reprimanded them in English, they slapped their thighs and burst into loud guffaws. Now, I turned purple in indignation as I saw the card players making obscene gestures in her direction and tittering in self-congratulatory mirth. The ferocious sun’s wrath paled before the wrath that I yearned to unleash on these card players. My eyes were turned to a huge cloud which was a ghostly contour against the sky which had suddenly become dark.
Right next to their temporary abodes was a temple, outside which there were garland sellers and prasada (offerings of sweets coconut, etc to gods) sellers doing brisk business.
Almost every day, my cab stopped for at least five minutes near the red light, where everyone seemed to be in hurry, honking and pushing, overtaking and jostling.
The wall behind their carts played host to ill spelt graffiti. Against this graffiti scarred wall stood a tree from the branches of which hung a forlorn little kite, its soaring ambitions cut short by the cut throat competition all around. The smell of incense wafting across to them from the temple tried to add some fragrance to their drab existence. I loved to read the graffiti on this wall, amused by its everyday transformation.
One portion of the wall advertised ‘Classic Classes’, which some mischief monger had changed to ‘Classic Lasses’ by deleting the ‘C’ from ‘Classes’.
Today, I was intensely amused to see the ‘L’ also removed from ‘Lasses’, now the wall said ‘Classic Asses’, and as if to prove the classicality of the claim, two asses stood leaning against the wall – a classic picture of unruffled repose, while the traffic swirled and whirled all around them.
With the smile lingering on my lips, my eyes moved to a tiny half-clad figure, who was heading towards the garland vendor. He stretched a tiny hand towards him, gave him a five rupee note and bought a garland.
Ah, a tiny devotee, I thought, but I thought wrongly.
No sooner had he bought the garland, than he put it around his tiny neck and romped home-garlanded and beaming!
From the fringes of society, his eyes had been witnessing the drama on the roads — on the centre of society — heavily bedecked cars, from which heavily garlanded politicians waved out to the lesser fries, faces gleaming, teeth glistening, white clothes scintillating. He had no reason to be left behind, so what if no one thought of this tiny raglet, he had the capacity to think of himself. He thought, therefore he was!
I loved this card that life had dealt to me. It was an ace, and I was a winner. So was the child. And the card players played on. The music of life played on. It was the food of life. Life indeed was love, and I was in love. Perpetual love…
I too wanted to buy a garland and put it around life despite all the snafus and snarls it had to offer. But before I could jump down from the cab and race towards the garland seller, the light had turned to green.
I also turned green with envy at the innocence of life, at the guileless glitter and gleam of life. The pigeons swirled and whirled overhead in a mindboggling choreographic unison, took a descending flight to perch themselves on the temple roof, and looked askance as one pigeon suddenly started yodelling.
Every man in his humour, and every bird too!
I turned back to look at the garlanded tiny tot, he was hopping around in untrammeled glee, touching and retouching the flowers, smelling them, inhaling the happiness till he was completely transformed. The dust and grime seemed to have fallen off his fragile frame, and he was a drop of golden sun.
A crippled song had suddenly found a crutch, holding on to which he now jumped and romped around. A flower child covered in the hues of happiness.
My faith in the power of magic was suddenly reinstated — the cacophony of the road faded into nothingness.
I was not bothered about what cards life would deal me in future, I had no intention of craning my neck to peer into other peoples’ cards. I had been dealt an ace, and had won.
I loved this delicious ambiguity of life. Was this a Christmas gift that had unexpectedly come my way? I looked around, was it my imagination or did I catch a glimpse of a red cap, bobbing away in the distance, the chubby cheeked face under it turning back to throw a smile at me, and then turn into an alley? Yes, I had been good.
I could hear the jingling of bells, and the sounds of a sleigh.
Thank you, Santa Claus for that drop of golden sun doing double duty as a garlanded child!
Pix from Net