Some people are scared stiff of heights. Some are terrified of confinement. Some fear the dark. I remember watching a video that had a woman who has been terrified of making a left turn in her car. These are phobias – fear. It means, all these people have one thing in common – they love the comfort of safety and are content with the normal.
I am no hero. I have my share of qualms. I shrink at the very thought of it. I can still remember being accosted on a train bound for Calcutta. Calcutta holds a very special spot in my heart. The street food in Calcutta is something unique, not just for its sheer abundance, but also for its brilliant flavors. I never regretted indulging even though I had to stop the entire tourist bus to addend nature’s cries of anger. The buildings, the buses, the tram, the people, the food - it’s all an amazing haven for a traveler or a photographer or a foodie. Now I won’t tell you how bloody brilliant it will be when you belong to the ‘all of the above’ category. College road was where I was first introduced to the idea of movie CDs being sold for Rs. 20 out of a hand woven jute basket that in most of south India, would have housed a dozen neatly stacked oranges to be sold to heads that popped out of a bus that is almost always parked too close to the urinals. Maidan market was a sea. A sea of thieves that understood your Hindi but refuse to acknowledge it while you struggle to dominate them while haggling. Belur mutt and the Kali temple, I don’t remember much. But I will never forget the food - the mishiti doi and jaal modi that accompanied me wherever I went. It was the first time in my entire life (until then that I had gone a week without touching curd rice). I was in my mid-late teens.
But all my mental visions of Calcutta are mostly blurred, not by time, but by another vision. It was on the train. I was standing by the door to the compartment, enjoying the wind slapping my face and blowing my "wanna be rock star hair" from all over my face and into the back of my head. When I turned back, I found my self the center of a semi-circular group of clapping, singing, cursing, bitching and demanding set of people. They were not calling for attention. They received it. I never saw them beg. They always demanded. They were an extremely loud, raucous and supremely confident set of saree clad people who intimidated me. I could not help but shiver. I was not comfortable. I was never comfortable when someone wanted some money from me, as I never had much. But now, I was demanded to produce cash. I was demanded to procure atleast Rs.10. I was more disturbed than I was angry. I talked my way out of that group and headed to the sanctum of my bay and curled up under my sheets, shaken.
This little scene is the start and with every start, I always need an end. I was recently riding in a thickly populated street of Chennai on a weekend an as the story should have it, I was surrounded by a group of very much similar people. The difference being that this new group was accosting me in tamil while jeering amongst themselves at my suddenly stiffened muscles. I winced and reacted by withdrawing my arm when one of them made an attempt reach for my elbow. She was wearing a tight and bright red tank top and a matching skirt. Yakka, ivan nelyarartha paathiaya??(Sister, do you see him squirming??). They were right. I was not going to be arm twisted into paying them anything. Even if they said the donation would bless me with a beautiful wife. I sent an upper cut in the form of a sarcastic retort flying back as they all joined in to laugh at my qualms. The air around us became so thick I could hardly breathe. I realized none of them were laughing anymore. Most of them detached themselves from the group and settled themselves on the steps of a building while one of them turned to me and said none of us wanted to do this for a living, but no one here offers jobs for people. I did not have a quick retort for this. I was defeated. More importantly, I felt bad for hurting a person. I still feel queasy around them, but I can now sympathize better.