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

 

Short

Smooth

Disguised

Essential

 

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.

 

Paint

Mould

Bamboo

Sheeting

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

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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

Also read:

Arundhati Subramaniam's Song For Catabolic Women

Kala Krishnan Ramesh's What the Peacock said to Ganesha about his Brother’s Lovesickness

Karthika Naïr's Line 1

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