[Issue 9 / May 2014]
At a little past six p.m. yesterday evening, a gathering of vehicles near Ashram Chowk in south Delhi, motorized or otherwise, could not come to an amicable conclusion while debating which among them had the biggest penis. In the ensuing traffic jam, there were no casualties; although there ought to have been, in the interests of humanity and poetic justice. There were insults–to several religions, communities and lobby groups–but none as grievous as the one dealt to those of us who were trying to speed things up out there. At last count, there were six people scalded (after a tire was burnt; there was a mechanic’s shop nearby), at least a dozen drenched in dirty water and not one out of the fifty-odd crusty souls underneath the Nizamuddin tracks, stuck in an underpass jam, who made it out with wits and humour intact. We’re dirty drops, each of us, and with this great city’s blessings, together we puddle up.
- There was Bittoo, who sells pirated DVDs and badly-shot porn out of a little shack close to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. He was headed out to the Jangpura flyover after a hard day. The girl he had had his eye on–quite literally so, on the Metro–had stepped inside the ladies’ section with a certain triumphant sweep that was unfamiliar to Bittoo’s gently lecherous gaze. Introspection–and closer inspection–revealed that the Rani of his hopes and wet dreams had been cordoned off by marriage. It was then that he took the momentous decision of procuring a medium-sized bottle of the cheapest rum, to go with a small bag of the cheapest marijuana this side of the Yamuna, which he’d buy from the crack dens around the Jangpura flyover. Bittoo, on his Hero Jet bicycle, jangling heart and dangling spare parts, was stuck behind a Maruti. He cursed freely in the twilight.
- The Maruti was driven by Vikram, until a few hours earlier, CEO of a consultancy based out of Gurgaon. He’s just a guy with a beagle in the front seat. (She’s called Julie, if you’re interested; please ignore her barking, the jam has been tough on her). That morning the girl he had drunkenly groped (okay, maybe a little more than that) at an office party the previous night had sent him an email. A coward at heart, Vikram quietly resigned to save what was left of his career. His wife, who had been smart enough to file for divorce six months back, had taken the SUV, leaving him with three kids in a Maruti and steadily shrinking self-esteem. He’d stepped out of the car because he was at the end of his patience and good fortune. The object of his ire was a man as painfully thin as his own scrawny self. But this man was also a rickshaw-wallah, which, of course, rendered him invisible to Vikram up until the instant his callused knuckles met asshole-d face.
- Abdul the rickshaw-wallah, a glue-sniffer who can often be found indulging in a spot of astronomy, stoned and sprawled out on a divider near the road outside the Nizamuddin East police station, is bound to babble “Sitaaron ke aage jahaan aur bhi hain” when he discovers that he has run out of glue, or paint thinner. Every man, woman and child who lives within a mile of the dargah knows better than to hire Abdul before three in the afternoon, by which time he’s sober enough to push the pedals. There he was, thrashing the living daylights out of Vikram. Looking at Abdul’s spindly arms and scarily visible ribcage, you wouldn’t have guessed that he had it in him to thrash anyone, but a preternatural rage consumes him when his cherished narcotics are scarce. He had spotted a tire behind the bleeding Vikram, which explained the demonic gleam in his eyes.
- The tire had rolled down a little way from where it was originally kept, out towards the front of Ratan the mechanic’s shop. Apart from your humble narrator, Ratan was perhaps the only person stupid enough to try and help out with the jam. You can see him: trousers hitched up to just below the knees, waving his arms about, trying to conduct an orchestra that refused playing in tune. The bane of his existence is his wife, an alcoholic who spreads her legs for anyone with a bottle of hooch. Or so Ratan says. You really ought to listen to his rants about Islam, preferably after a round or two of that chillum he loves to tote around. Kill them all, he says, otherwise they shall take over and sleep with your wives and sisters. After a while, you learn to take his good-natured filth with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, he bears the look of a man cuckolded. Between violent gargles of spittle and pan masala, he makes sure that the underpass traffic is inching back to normalcy. Cars, bikes, rickshaws and auto-rickshaws; Ratan has historically been better with them than with people anyway.
- Flanked by Vikram’s Maruti and Abdul’s war veteran rickshaw stood Aarti with her scooty, nearly pressed up against the wall of the tunnel-like underpass; so close she had to cover her ears with her hands, for there was a train passing by on the tracks overhead. By the time she dared to uncover her ears, Abdul had set the tire on fire. She didn’t scream. She merely watched the flames crackle and hiss, the stench of burning rubber not bothering her in the least. An hour earlier, her Accounts tutor had stripped her naked, and asked her to bend over a desk at his dingy flat in Siddharth Extension. She felt trapped, for the tutor has naked pictures of her and her boyfriend, which he’d discovered on her phone one day after she had left it at his place. She is seventeen and fiercely intelligent, a combination that makes her fearfully stupid at the same time. Her anger scares even her legendarily strict mother these days. This makes it easier to hide the birth control pills. Just when it seemed she would give in to the urge to scream, her phone buzzed: a text message from her boyfriend, a student at Delhi University (he doesn’t know about the slime-ball tutor, of course). “For me, da scariest phrase on earth wuz ‘co-ordinate geometry’, but now it’s ‘statutory rape’ 😛 lolz love you”
- Karsan is the man you saw hunched behind Kiran’s scooty. Purportedly, he was one of two people who carried a pump used to clear some of the water-logging seen so often this time of the year near the Nizamuddin region. But really, he had only adjusted his position to gain a better view of Kiran’s breasts. That cleavage looks strangely familiar, he thought. Karsan, hitherto content with raping the odd street urchin and once, mugging a rich drunk kid near the dargah, is looking to move into the big league soon: musclemen and contract killings. There’s a local politician with big plans, his trusted friend (who owns one of several gymnasiums in nearby Bhagwan Nagar) had told him yesterday, as they both sat watching a porn film Bittoo had sold them a few days earlier. As a crazed Abdul started burning the tire, and Kiran finally screamed, Karsan remembered where he’d seen this girl–it’s the girl from the video, a scared-looking teenager being mounted by a fat man in his mid-thirties who was clearly having the time of his life. If he joins the politician, he can have three girls like that every day, he thought. He rushed to put out the fire, making sure to grab a quick handful of Kiran’s left breast on the way.
Which isn’t to say that my knowledge of them, and their circumstances, is mere coincidence in the larger scheme of things; anywhere but Delhi, this could have been the case. I could have been the innkeeper who listened to everyone, sang a merry song and maintained merry tidings all around. Instead, I listen to everyone, commit to memory the points that make the storytellers vulnerable, and then milk that information for all it’s worth. I know young Bittoo’s modus operandi and his special interest in schoolgirls, for instance, because he told it to me himself. I am the pandit of a quaint little temple not far from here.
It’s called the Manokamna Mandir, ironically–the temple that makes your wishes come true. In practice, this only ever happens for one person. Even now, as at all other times, I am calmness itself; this is the secret to the whole operation. If you, very calmly, sit down and tell people that telling you their deepest secrets is in their best interest and will calm them down, they will listen to you, eventually. Of course, being a man of God doesn’t hurt.
It was me who told Kiran’s tutor that a simple relocation of his pupil’s smartphone would yield interesting results. I similarly aided Karsan’s friend, asked him to convince Karsan to become a hired tough. His prospective boss, you see, is a frequent patron of our humble little temple.
I could pray to a God, I suppose, but I find the simulation of prayer to be infinitely more enjoyable, more immersive, if you know what I mean. So in a way, you see, I am not faking it. Anyway, this city has taught me enough; I know that any deity in charge of a people like us isn’t likely to be in a forgiving mood. My father, a priest himself, had told me one thing and one thing only, before I left our home in Jodhpur, “My son, speak no evil.” He was the first person I truly fucked over, and moreover, he said nothing of writing things down.
Aditya Mani Jha is a 25-year-old journalist and writer based out of New Delhi, currently working with The Sunday Guardian. His stories, poems and articles have also been published at Helter Skelter, NewsYaps and the Dead Beats Literary Blog. When working, he likes listening to Thelonious Monk, and when not, he likes watching James Spader movies and hunting down second-hand books all across Delhi. He studied Geology at IIT Kharagpur, which, strangely enough, hasn’t worked out too badly for him.