Monday, January 23, 2006

The best part about staying alone is that you experience what it is to be free – you can actually see that the choices you have are quite equivalent, and that it's you alone who will choose, which gives you a sense of absolute power, total control over your life. What that means is that you can be as whimsical as you want; you can do without a second thought or a qualm what would be frowned upon at home or in a hostel.

Case in point was the evening of this Friday, one on which I, suddenly, on a whim, told myself that I would gift myself an evening of pursuit of impulses and fancies without questioning, without any sort of preconception or prior planning whatsoever, suspending deliberately all strategic thought. Just for the heck of it, just like that.

It kinda kicks you to know you're going to astonish even yourself. It's a beautiful way of loving yourself, this surprising yourself – keeping from yourself what you'll be doing the next hour, or even the next minute, and deciding what is to be done with an instant of time when you get to that instant, and not anytime before.

It does, of course, help that I am in the possession of a steed, whose presence makes them journeys pleasurable that are for most people interludes between more significant events.

So I began - just ambling around with steed. I kept going, every once in a while deciding to change direction rather suddenly – it was amusing to see that random a series of acts, it'd seem loony to you – it was that arbitrary, the paths I took through the evening intertwining in a strange patternless, empirical, capricious zigzag.

Passed home, went cityward, turned off the highway towards this township where pedestrians crowded the road sufficiently to force me onto 2 nd gear throughout – which was just as well, because I'd have missed seeing what was around if I'd gone any faster. Kept going, turning, taking detours at random until, to my surprise, I reached this place I frequent often – place called Bhel Chowk, one whose name, when uttered in Hindi sounds rather suspiciously like an abusive term – you, gentle reader, being in possession of sufficient quantities of perversion, will be left to figure the said insult out.

If you've extricated yourself, dear reader, I was at Bhel Chowk, around which considerable hovering was done, and upon reaching another intersection, my whim ordained that I go back towards the township I came from. Unquestioning obedience being the only ground rule for an evening of complete freedom, orders were duly followed.

The corner of my eye pounced upon a glimpse of the word 'Bhel' in paint, and compelled the rest of me to direct my attention thitherward. The next command – dinner time. It was a stall, for a change from the gazillion gaadis I'd been patronizing so far. Basement. Front desk harbouring young couple who handled sale of packed mixtures and chips. Backstage – their grandmom making those chaats. And *I* thought I'd seen it all. Three dishes – sev, tikki and pani puri. Dinner done. At least for the time being.

Had this ugly cramp as I tried to start the steed. Ugh. Limped off steed. Hobbling, somehow managed to place stand underneath steed. Clutched hamstring and almost lay down on the road – the piercing pain that tore its way through me made me feel so terribly lonely, so enormously helpless, so massively insignificant and incapable, I couldn't believe it was me.

In our most joyous and most agonizing moments, we're all alone – no one else can come close to really knowing or fathoming us. Before my eyes appeared my worst fears, everything that could possibly go wrong, everything that had, driving me relentlessly towards a state of inexplicable panic. It was a state of discontinuity, one frightening simply because it managed to exist. Solitude and loneliness are sometimes much closer to each other than we think. Perhaps we're never really free. However, the hamstring eased up, the smoke cleared, the steed being the Muse that dissipated these thoughts and brought in a supply of fresh air.

Went past Bhel chowk(pronounced appropriately, of course), fiddled around streets, lolled around in first gear going through trafficless lanes, glancing at times at them houses. At one point it struck me that I'd never ever looked at my own house that way – with this weird wistful expression of wonder, of love – in fact, I'd deliberately avoided going back to houses, streets of my past when I'd revisited those cities.

A couple of sharp turns, then down a couple of desolate roads, telling me that I was some distance away from the main roads, by now my sense of direction rather distorted by the repeated random turns. Across a bridge over a drain – slowed down enough to pluck a glance at the glare of the streetlights in the shimmering dark water riddled with wrinkles. Dead end. About turn, pick the other road. Followed the twirling road, hadn't a choice. Up a steep incline next.

It hit me with its suddenness as much as its brilliance – I abruptly found myself at an elevation, a perch upon a hill. One side of the vacant road had apartments, the other had, well, nothing. That side was a balcony view – darkness yawning immediately underneath, but a carpet of the twinkling city lights stretching away, scattered across the horizon. Not absolute, not complete, without a pattern or design, yet the randomness, their sporadicness making their infinite stretch one that would be endless in variety just as well.

Not continuously or finely spread but haphazardly, randomly, at varying distances and distribution, the yellow incandescence of the metropolis an attempt at mirroring the white dots that glowed upstairs. Sometimes in clumps, occasionally in clusters, some others all by themselves in proud solitude, but always twinkling, glimmering, glistening, winking. Not stale or stagnant with constant light, but full of the life, change and volition that the constant on-off of the flickers indicated. Not loud so as to intrude upon the comforting darkness where I stood, yet exuding a kindness, a benevolence by whose glow my spirit warmed itself.

I stood in the darkness, the steed turned off, watching this great tapestry of sparks dying and coming alive every moment, looking at the rest of the city that stretched away before me.

From nowhere a streak of white whizzed into the darkness immediately below me – the tubelights within a train that went flashing by, gliding away noiselessly in the silence, as the train stretched on and on, a vision that made me grin, smile uncontrollably. As the white stripe faded away into the expanse, the darkness and silence fell softly, gently back in place, ensconcing me in a warm, tender hug.

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