Streets and Storeys

writeup photoBarnamala Roy
Presidency University
College Street.

Pavements of sand, washed by water dripping from a deranged pipe of an ancient building.

Missing bricks. Open bookstalls at the mercy of the weather, like their cousin crops in the countryside. Lumps of people wrapped in blankets curling into a dream-world as cats step around them and make a dash across the streets in spite of the signal’s redness.

Dusty puppies with paper-thin tails sniffing the illness of the hospital’s emergency ward.

Bent spikes fencing in an official apartment and bamboo-trolleys with giant wheels heaved with bundles pushed down the lane with urgent yells for making way.

Tinkling of cycle bells, animal hides neatly tied to the back seats.

Omelettes tossed into the air, the oil swishing below, fried red and wrapped in bread which never expires.

The isle to our metro homewards. Security checks, sometimes strict, sometimes out-of-order. Cards with balance, which however, expires.

The red glow edging nearer through the tunnel of rail tracks and doors sliding open, shut, open- a sling of a bag wedged in the gap- shut.

Noise which drowns words recoursing us to the primeval mode of communication-smiles, winks, nudges, hooked fingers and shoves as stations fly past. More people with each station till we breathe on each other’s arms and drop pretence of decency.

Till you go off board. And before the door slides shut, you look back- waving a parting goodbye even when there is no one to wave back.

“Habit”- you say.

“Reflex-action”-I said. For you get over habits.


You lie on your belly, elbows propped, contemplating on a sprint of sunlit rain rising up from the cloudless sky, catching people mid-street in lukewarm wonder at a tap suddenly malfunctioning without any warning of roars-rumbles, flashes or gathering darkness. As the blades spring into life wiping trickles off the front screen, the hands cease their tapping on the glass of caved in locomotive spaces and the warm rain swabs palm impressions-chaotic in their superimposition. K with his leprosy-stricken legs has the benefit of an additional pint of pity, so L, M and N with their aspirations of acquiring a pack of new cards despise K’s extra 30 rupees per six hours, but when it comes to the group of T-s, they all acquire a cold mockery and excuse K. The T-s are intimidating, with extra daubs of paint on their hybrid faces and trinkets on their bodies, when their eagle eyes target and swoop down on cars with windows down, their hands blocking the glass from sliding up in time, their bass voices and flashing lips earn them a repulsed 10 rupees at one go-they don’t deal in coins. But when all handprints are wiped away, K, l, m, n and T-s scatter like jets of muddy water from the cruising vehicles moving through watery streets. Capital P twisting her way through the gaps of bodies on slippery pavements, trip and fall to resemble the snoozing small d, who wraps the plastic sheet closer and sleeps through the rain, the drops keeping off the flies which otherwise feed on the smell of his rotting hair. A few jitters and a couple of hands putting P upright but her purpose for the day has gone to sleep, the flame of her mood doused by the 15 minutes of sunny drizzle.
You edge closer until your nose touches the window sill and as suddenly as the sprinkling pantomime had begun, it ceases. All of it looked nothing like Paddington Canal, now that the sun rises again with reinforcing austerity; you squint your eyes and follow the already evaporating drops from tiny puddles and salty beads of animal perspiration fall on the sky.
To reach up “above the world so high”, you have to take the stairs, pass the wailing of the kindergarten-returned girl, ribbons till dangling from her ponytails, chided silently by her mother for taking up the role of the hairy wolf in her school play-“You let her be the Red Riding Hood, what stupidity.”
Past the odour of coconut oil being rubbed onto a hairless scalp-the rattle of weak joints- a toothless woman’s illiterate dedication to her long retired Alzheimer-stricken engineer.
Up the moans of an incestuous affair no one cared to gossip about, the eerie absence of a hanged life, the melody of an aspiring singer, the post-bath conch blown by a religious househusband.
All these storeys leading one to the streets into more stories, passing through the changing strata of time. Tiring. So you let Kundera’s Slowness seep into life as you live the days out in your upside down posture of contemplation – the world is a palimpsest. You can close your eyes and write and rewrite College Street over Gariahat, Gariahat over Jadavpur, myself over yourself. Each running into the second, an extension of the other, like Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York which had muddled your mind by constant ‘doppleganging’, you can now view every space as a mirror image of the other. So the inertia. So the silence, the abhorrence of reaching up to the swimming masses, to me, you are better off at the nadir of the sky, watching the rain rise up and daylight wane into darkness.


Miles Davis takes over the neon-night carrying text-message lines over the highway breeze-

one of these days,
you will st-rum the whirl-wind
of my hic-cuped wonders into
a meta-phor elysium and the
sig(h)n-posts of your whims
will slowdown the trains in mi(n)d-tracks-
steering me into, stirring into me
a No-where.

Sk(e)ins peeling to dis-pierce
polysynde-tonic profusion of my
lovelorn lip-syncs-
we’ll unleash the breeziness of
decades of crests-troughs-denouements-
and sleep under
canopies of velvet forgetfulness.

I awake with a start at the touch-tousling my hair for long numbs the muscles- “reflex action”, you thought.
“Habit”- I guessed, because reflexes work through habits.



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