Thursday, July 12, 2007

The World is a Voyeur.

Laugh all you want, but a window is a very important thing. In the room I lived in for the first seventeen years of my life, I had a window with an attached balcony. It just proves what a tiresomely unsocial kid I was, but it became the centre of a little drama that I watched wide-eyed everyday. The window looked down upon a little alley between two buildings, which was home to a little shanty inhabited by a chronically drunk durwan and his family. I learnt a few lessons through that window. As an unabashed observer, I learnt the most exhaustive variety of Bangla swearwords. I also learnt that the durwan, or Potbelly, as I called him, had the most terrifying gargle in the world - I was woken up by its sound at six every morning. I learnt that there were these two children my age who studied their lessons by the light of a Petromax, and that the wife took pains over her fish preparations, which were clearly a weekly luxury. I learnt their daily habits and their way of life, and how they moved and how they stood from a strange top-sideways angle that can only be achieved when you're looking down from the fourth floor. I doubt if I'd recognise any one of the family if I met them face to face, but I had every tilt of their heads memorised from my viewpoint.

The most important lesson that I learnt, however, was that no matter how poor you are and how frustrated you are, you do not return home sloshed at one in the morning, drag your wife and daughter out, and attempt to abuse them. There is this old neem tree that grew over the alley, and all the neighbours who had woken up stood staring from their worlds of four-walled rooms and balconies as the son broke off a low-growing branch, and hit his father full on the face with it.

My father crossed the hall at that moment, opened my door, scooped me up, and carried me away to my parents' bedroom. I wish he had let me stay.

There were other brawls in that alley, and a lot of merrymaking during festivals, with songs playing on a battered radio. Much dancing and raucous laughter. Wedged in between the two comfortable buildings, the alley was like a separate, parallel universe. I spent many hours by my window. watching a tall gulmohar that burst into flames every summer, and how the children collected the fallen blooms and decorated their doorway with them. By night, the neem tree and the alley became the focus of activity. They told me stories, and I grew up with them. Then I moved into a new flat in an unimaginatively civilised area this year, and left old Potbelly and his family behind. I got a big window that covers almost the whole of one wall, but looks out onto a busy road that stretches far into the horizon. It looks glitzy at night when the cars and buildings are lit up, and it looks quite glamourous when it rains and the raindrops make psychedelic light patterns on the glass, but there is none of the old familiarity that the alley gave me.

It rained gloriously the whole of last week. Our school remained closed due to a mysterious short circuit, and after many months I sat down by my window and looked out. It took some time to get used to, but I realised I could make do with this window after all. I could even create a new parallel universe. And I remembered, I am ashamed to say, in a strange slow-motion filmi sequence, the neem branch hitting Potbelly on his jaw, and the stunned, almost comical look on his face. I know I have always been a little over-dramatic, but I don't know why it's that one memory which came back to me. It's strange what one remembers sometimes.

7 kindred spirits have swallowed my rambling:

raghu said...

i hate such fights.. brawls n all.. this is one thing i really dislike..hate..really.

Full stop. said...

That reminds me of Ruskin Bond's story about a window through which a boy met a girl and they became friends. What was it called again?
And thanks for the mention. I feel spayshul.

Rajarshi said...

interesting! by the way, how did you come to know flamebird??

Priyanka Kumar said...

@ raghu: i agree. but it's like desperate housewives: you never know what your neighbours are hiding. frightening concept.

@ megha: the room on the roof? i think that's what it is.

@ rajarshi: met him at the US centre, when i was studying for the SAT. hwo do you know him?

new age scheherazade said...

beautiful. loved it.
I had a verandah too, from where you could see the huge number of people who rushed around rashbehari. it was fun, making up stories about them.and sometimes dropping balled up wet newspapers on their heads.
one time I and a friend did it and when we looked out for the fallen victim, the man, who had been waiting for us, saw us and came up to the apartment.WHAT a scolding we had. I got away with my puppy dog look, though. wonder what would happen if i tried it now.

Priyanka Kumar said...

he'd kiss you. :D don't look offended, i've known that happen to someone.

ad libber said...

..."and so wags the world away.."
which means nothing, but life went on for you, and one hopes it went on for them, if not undisturbed, at least more happier