Friday, November 25, 2011

Urban Bawl 3

Here is the third in the series of Urban Bawl columns in Time Out Mumbai for their 'Back of the Book' page.
Two small stories involving articles of clothing, centrifugally and centripetally engaged.

Two stories from a Mumbai Local

While returning home in the late afternoon, I am tired and sleepy and rush to find a window in the first class. I am lucky and soon, nearly nodding off. While I was alone to start with, now I notice a man come in, look around and leave. This doesn't register until it happens again. I pull myself up and look around. On the window seat opposite me, there is a white knitted skull-cap. You know, the kind worn by Muslims at the back of the head. The kind that Narendra Modi recently refused to accept.

Then another person come in, sees the cap, hesitates and moves to the opposite corner and sits near the window there. And then another, who winces visibly and finds a place as far away from this forgotten and forlorn object as is possible within the small enclosure of a railway compartment. I observe this silent opera, as the seats fill up one by one, all, except the one opposite me. Others prefer to remain standing. Finally, a commuter enters, sees this seat as the only empty one, and with two fingers gingerly lifts the cap, tucks it into a corner, and sits down. The train starts, and in its gentle sleep-inducing rhythms I am left to wonder, how much meaning gets invested in so ephemeral an object.

6.30pm, Mumbai CST. Platform 1. The Harbour line.
It is the cusp before full-blown rush hour. A young couple, uncharacteristically entwined, walk the length of the platform towards where the first class compartments would arrive. The boy, almost all in black, encircles the girl’s waist with one arm. The girl is slim and short, a petiteness further enhanced by a really tight pair of jeans and a top that fits only too well. She has, over one shoulder a biggish ladies bag with several dangly bits. She wears fashionable heels, giving her an inch or two. With her free arm she clinches the boy back, tightly. It is unusual to see such a public display of affection, especially in a railway station in the evening.

The boy can only see her eyes.
The girl’s face and hair are obscured, wrapped completely, a dark dupatta forming a very makeshift naqaab. Both are engrossed; they bill and coo to each other as they wait for the train. Soon, the Vashi train trundles in, quite on time. The girl raises her head and gives the boy a peck on his cheek, right through the dupatta. The boy disentangles himself and gets into the general compartment. The girl walks a few steps down to the Ladies First Class.

Even before she finds a place to sit, with one smooth motion, she whips away the dupatta from her face, her hair falls to her shoulders, and once again she becomes Everywoman.

No comments: