GLIDE THROUGH the city, artifice, keeping horrors at bay.
For minutes too short to count, I am in abeyance. Scarred
From without, gutted from within, unblinking façades sealed off
From the metro’s criss-crossing shutter-slide motion
New-to-me nomenclature, glass-eyed blue-white newness
Cold steel cutting through arterial knot. Home-loans shot
Into unwary ears, fusillade from armouries of aspiration. Way stations
Sold to highest bidders. A dot on a clear-tempered window mistaken
For a hawk. Real hawks wheel outside. Mosques gleam
Off glass-fronts. Termites consume what continues to stand.
Superimposition the last mirage. Decay at eye-level,
Comfort at face-value. Tanks on roofs, and dishes, washing,
Ladders, lanterns, living. No litany can grace this journey
From east to west, impermeable shell, so far from feeling
Normal. Warned by mechanical voices that terms and conditions apply.
Don’t they, always? Here there is no damp, no heat, no fug
Of swamp and sewer, no noise except the pinging bullet-point
Loans, no harmonica, drummer, yodelling singer, no singing beggar,
No blind and desperate eyes swivelling heavenward, no nifty contrivance
Of hooks that hover cunning little packs of sweets-n-savouries
To be snapped up for a steal. No Ludo-players, no lady-lovers, no mouth-
Movers and finger-strummers. No veggie-cutters and floor-squatters,
No card-sharpers and seat-swappers, no heart-to-heart gestures
Miming what’s mine will soon be yours. No identifiers by destination,
Me Thane, you Ambarnath, no shifting bums making room for yet more
Bums, generous, hanging half-in-half-off in impossible accommodation.
No street-fighting biddies, no long-distance buddies, no poshed-up struggling
Models posing for hired shutterbugs. No loose long hair flying in the breeze,
No breeze upsetting the flow the shutterbugs want, no agents in dandy checked
Pants taking the model’s calls, no assistants calling the shots, no instructions
To simulate ‘jo actual hota hai’ by rippling overhead handles in one swipe.
None of that jo actual hota hai, no ‘hawa kuchh galat ja rahi hai’
Because there is no wind here wayward enough to go in the wrong direction,
No what really happens in this antiseptic world which is not mine,
Not yet, maybe never, in which I ride, trapped by my need for speed
Impatient to exit, wondering who else is with me in this longing
For the world outside, just outside this capsule which I must leave
To revel again in glare and sweat and funk, snarl and din and blot,
Drama and consternation, awareness of time and disability,
Erosions, histories of heart — ramshackle — scaffoldings of skin.
— Illustration courtesy Joëlle Jolivet
— Excerpted with permission from Over and Underground in Paris and Mumbai by Karthika Naïr and Sampurna Chattarji, published by Context, October 2018
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