College was over, i was broke and an opportunity of getting a job came by. And thus i found myself in Lucknow. The station was crowded and dirty and it was a damn hot place. I’d got a tiny shack for myself off Faizabad Road. It wasn’t quite a place but surely it was a quiet place. The good part was the cheap Beer Joint right outside my window, the bad part was that electricity was a luxury and spending ten straight hours in the beat summer-scorch was a part of the whole deal.
Office-work was okay. All I had to do was teach law to a bunch of nice little brats who reminded me of myself. But let’s not get into that. I’m not here to tell about how i moved my sore ass around in office and you are not here to hear about the same.
Like all bums and all the members of that great lost tribe who keep on rambling without caring about destination, heat couldn’t deter me from roaming around. I like busy sidewalks and crowded marketplaces of unknown cities where one can safely hide and can observe the maddening tumult of folks strutting and tumbling around to procure food and a place to stay and to keep themselves clothed, with sheer awe that comes with the objectivity of being invisible. I felt like being this phantom haunting the streets and slums of a big city just for kicks.
And then of course, there were these country liquor joints throughout the city. I would sit there for an hour or two and drink in silence, with bits and pieces of stray conversations of the fellow worshippers of Dionysus-in-His-desi-avatar bashing against my eardrums and falling flat. And when all these bored me, I would trudge back to my room. By the time I would reach my 15-by-15 room with pink walls which had faded with years of indifference and lassitude like all pink and red and green and blue and yellow and white and black walls do, i would inevitably be:
d) All of the above
Taking care of Option (c) wasn’t possible. I hadn’t got my paycheque yet, the city had no brothels and the tawaifs and courtesans of the Lucknow we get to know from books and movies are lost in the quagmire of apathetic time because of its attempts at globalisation and because of the junkload of morality that is being heaped upon the heart of the city by politicians of every colour since independence. There were no kothas, no tawaifs, no shayars and even the music there has been butchered to death by Bollywood and its lackeys.
Inside my room, i was pretty much cut off from the world. Telephone and internet bored me and i stayed away from those. It was nice in a way. I’m not a sucker for solitude and neither do i hate it. To me it’s just one of those inevitabilities of life. It’s there like other stuff. I remember those sultry summer nights which were so lonely that even the dogs refused to howl. I would lie on my back, and listen to the crickets for hours till i passed out. There’s a blasted poetry in life and you get to feel it when there’s no one you can reach out for living or dying within a physical radius of around a thousand kilometres and a virtual distance worth the effort of a pressing a few buttons. Sadly, the allure of reaching out gets to us eventually. And I’m not sorry for digressing.
Mornings were painful. I would wake up, often in a pool of vomit and reeling under a giant hangover, rush to the washroom to clean the bedsheets and my body. Luckily, i believe in nudism for convenience and in a power-cut prone place where the average day temperature hovers around the mid forties and the night temperature hovers around late thirties and given that i was staying all alone and all by myself, i had acquired a proclivity for my flabby hairy birthday suite dotted with juicy red boils. Hence, i didn’t need to wash my clothes – washing my puke-stained body would suffice. Nevertheless, bathing was a sordid affair. There was no shower and bending down to scoop out water from the green plastic bucket with a red plastic mug and pouring the same over me was an enterprising endeavour for which i was too lazy and way too much in pain. Even the water was hot. After pouring a mugful of water or two, i would stand there and itch and press the boils and feel droplets of puss oozing out, and i would stand there and observe ants moving in nice straight columns across the washroom walls before pouring water on them and scrutinising the frenzy as they drowned like the inhabitants of Sodom and feeling godly in a way because i was relieving them of their misery. The world’s surely a bust place when it’s this hot and when you can feel real blood smashing the walls of those arteries around your forehead and temple in brutal rage, seeking to burst out and devour what that’s left of you like a pack of hungry wolves. It was on those enlightening minutes and seconds that i learned what being deadbeat is all about.
Sunday mornings were different. There was no compulsion to get up early. I would lie in bed for hours until the power-cuts, the heat and the screeching and honking of automobiles got to me and then i would get up, and indulge in the following activities:
1) mutter curses aimed at the world at large and at the god of electricity in particular
2) light up a crispy bidi,
3) sit at the loo and spray rum-shit and whiskey shit all over the shitpot,
4) feel good about that
5) wash my ass and flush the shit down
6) clothe myself in whatever cloth appeared closest to my reach
7) lock the doors and get the hell out to face the first blow of searing gust
I would naturally be more hungover on Sundays than on weekdays and that used to perk me up to fight my relentless duel with the blaze. I was constantly walking and riding up and down the city, constantly swearing at the heat, challenging it to throw me off the burning avenues and bleating alleys, to get the better of me. My eyes would burn and i could feel gallons of blood mixed with gallons of alcohol rushing up to my head, but i was tough enough not to buckle. It was thus that i got to know the city.
Folks are similar everywhere, pissing on their own lives, making a mockery of living and dying, existing for someone else, enduring through all sorts of pointless dump. They are all the same, just like mannequins.
Then again, each city has its own smell and Lucknow smelled of harshness, fuel, kebabs and gutters.
It had its own say in history: there were bullet holes from the Mutiny on the walls of Residency, and the imambaras and mosques and clock-towers were there too, all stone and concrete, and there was this sturdy dark passage where morons and tourists get lost and pay the guides to show them the way out. The idea of the lost ones paying someone to find a way out amused me. And it still does. Suits all morons and tourists I guess.
The city has eaten all its history up, digested most of it and has crapped, farted and belched away the rest. Now all that remains are the towering structures which might well have been at some other place without making much of a difference. It has become like a canful of stale flat beer, beyond all grief and compunction. The gardens were nice.
Despite everything, when a city affords you good cheap food, it’s hard not to grow fond of it. I never care for the big and famous eateries because they don’t offer that real deal which lies in those small shacks that sell food for the street-folks. And having those kebabs sold for 20 bucks a plate from near the Railway Station was one of two the things i used to look forward to after weary days spent slogging it out so that my employers could get richer, the other thing being returning to my room and drinking myself to sleep.
I’m back in my hometown now. I haven’t quit my job or been fired yet. I’ve been transferred. I hate attaching the load of worth to things or to experiences and all i’ll say about my one month out there fighting with life, hangovers, the heat, and with the inevitable necessity of jumping into the bandwagon despite being fully aware of the pointlessness of everything is that i was there, i was alive and that’s about it.