Our hero stands despondently on the edge of a road, dully watching traffic pass by.
It was a hot day and the sun blazed in all of its glory. The air smelled of sewage and dust, exhaust fumes and sweat. The heat and humidity was like a living creature, smothering him even as he stood perfectly still.
“It is always hot in this city. This hideous city…” he thought, as he waited for the lights to change.
“Not that it makes any difference, the animals that live here never obey the traffic rules in any case…look at them! Its pandemonium…” he fumed, absently reaching around and unsticking his soaked shirt from his back.
If you, like him, had just spent the better part of two hours roaming up and down a three kilometer stretch of road packed with humans, cows, cars, bikes and shops (but completely lacking a footpath) while nimbly dodging both vehicles and spit stains, perhaps your mood might be just as foul.
It all began the previous night, when our hero departed from work.
He mounted his motorcycle with the great pride of the winning side after a battle. You see, he had just completed a good day at work – rare moment in his career.
Still overflowing with feeling of victory, he started the bike with a single, powerful kick.
Perhaps it was his own emotions that somehow jumped from man to metal. Or perhaps it was the faulty wiring which he had not bothered to replace in three years.
Whatever it was, ‘it’ caused a surge as strong as his pride to burn through the circuitry. For the briefest of moments the blaze his lights blazed white.
And then the front headlight popped, dying a quick death…patently unable to handle such turbulent sensations.
As our hero sunk his head onto the handlebars and cursed loudly in the darkness, his mind reminded his weary soul of that old adage – sometimes we win the battle, but lose the war.
He managed to ride the bike home, getting more religious in darkened alleys where the possibility of an unseen but open drain was high, but returning comfortably to atheism by the time he went to bed, feeling all was not entirely lost.
That, my dear friends, would happen the next day when our hero stepped out of his home to embark on Operation Bulb Fix.
It did not take long for him to quickly re-discover that great Murphy’s law – no plan ever survives contact with the enemy.
And trust me, after riding around for an hour to seven different mechanics, each one of whom doled out vague and unhelpful instructions in their native tongue (which our hero does not speak), the mood was definitely combative and ‘the people’ were most certainly the ‘enemy’.
Even as he parked his bike at one end of the road to hunt for a replacement bulb, having finally found one mechanic who managed to mime out the concept – get bulb from this road and I will replace it for you – our hero could not stop himself from thinking,
“They told me…when I first told people I was coming here. They told that these people are crude and rude and unhelpful and will make your life miserable. I did not believe them.”
Cursing himself for ignoring the simplistic explanations in search of a nuanced truth, our hero began his quest.
The afternoon sun dipped lower into the sky, but the heat remained unchanged. The sweat began to flow freely. His feet started their tingly protest for being forced to do what nature had evolved them for, instead of doing that eternal promise of technology – as little as possible.
His eyes ached from having to squint at unfamiliar sign boards. His brain wearied from being unable to decipher the strange squiggles painted upon them.
More and more he found himself muttering, “They call this a language? Why? And why are they forcing it upon me?”
He stepped into shops and showed them the burnt out little bulb, holding it outstretched in one hand and pointing at it heatedly with the other, hoping that the blank looks would change once they deciphered his question.
Sometimes he even said it out loud – “Do you have this bulb?”
The blank looks remained unchanged. Or sometimes they looked the other way after a curt “no” or a shake of the head.
“The lazy bastards! They didn’t even move.” he thought as he moved on. “They probably…no…they definitely understand what I am saying. They are doing this on purpose. It’s like they all said. They are just that kind of people.”
He tried again and again. But all he got was blank looks and his own thoughts.
“What sorts of people don’t bother to learn another language? Animals! They have no culture! Just greed and laziness! They just want to make money without any effort!”
The more he walked, the more he understood – This is the problem with being soft. With being understanding. In the end it is just us, the better ones, who get screwed over. It was as simple as that.
“You give an inch and they will snatch your whole body…” he said out loud, confident that no one would understand him.
“In any case,” he reasoned to himself, “Why is a single bulb so hard to sell? These people are backward, both in thought and progress. In my home city this bulb would have been easy to buy.”
He knew it would have been. In his home city it would have been a five-minute job. He was sure of it. But here some two hours of trudging was proving fruitless.
“They can tell who I am, so they are punishing me. Because we are more cultured than these people they are jealous of me. Because we are softer, we are all being taken for a ride by these bloody ignorant, backward savages.”
“But my day will come,” he told himself. “One day things will be different. Oh yes. They will see the error of their ways. They will pay for all of these humiliations. Time is a wheel is it not? It will turn.”
He could feel his cheeks flush and clenched his fist impotently. “One day.” he swore to himself.
He tried one last time, in one last shop. He repeated the pantomime for the benefit of his blank-faced audience.
“No. Go right. Signboard there. It say Jyothi Shop. Go right. From junction right” was the reply, with some pointing towards the signal outside the shop.
He narrowed his eyes skeptically.
“They were just playing with me.” He felt.
But the sun was setting by now and without a bulb he could not ride his bike. He had no choice but to accept.
“Today I am down, so I must obey. But one day…” He told himself and left the shop, tossing out a perfunctory “thank you’ over his shoulder.
And so here he is, waiting for the light to change to cross the junction.
It eventually did change, and as predicted several of them jumped the signal, one of them nearly hitting him as he stepped out onto the tarmac.
“No manners, no concern for other’s safety. This is all a result of this degenerate culture. You need to be separated, away from us better people…” he muttered as he slouched down the alley.
The signboard was nowhere to be seen.
“Liar! They are all liars. It’s in their blood.” he fumed as he stopped, breathing heavily and staring into the distance.
He could not, would not, take another step in this foolish quest in this land of animals and liars and uncultured heathens. It was all so unfair. He should be treated better. He did nothing to deserve this he should not have to put up with this kind of ru…
“You want bulb?”
He turned towards the voice that had cut through just when he was getting to the good part of his rant.
It came from by an old man, bearded and grim, standing inside a small, dark shop. When their eyes met the man pointed to the blackened bulb, still clutched in one limp hand.
Even as our hero stepped into the shop, an absentminded glance upwards let him just about make out the name on the bi-lingual signboard as it flashed by above him.
“Jyothi Enterprises.” he mouthed.
Hours later, as he got into bed for the night, his mind kept drifting back to the afternoon.
Frustrations are odd seeds, he felt.
They take root somewhere deep within us, without ever telling us that they are there. But their little tendrils are constantly moving ever outward, little by little.
In the dark and long and hot hours they grow, until, in time, they are as much a part of you as your soul.
Then one day the words of angry men on pedestals will seem like direction. The answers will transform into useless justifications. And one day the world will become just that much darker while the solutions would become just that much simpler.
He closed his eyes, visions burning underneath the lids. He reached out to the night stand beside the bed and felt his hand close around a shiny new bulb (he had got two, just in case).
While weeds may never be removed, he knew he kept his well-trimmed.
Whatever else, this much was certainly true – He still had his light. The dark was far way. He could sleep the calm sleep of the peaceful.
And here, we shall also leave of our hero, taking with us his last thought from that magical moment after wakefulness departs and sleep is just about to overcome…