Saturday, September 25, 2010

I could feel the two pieces through the blotted paper, cold and heavy.

The bajjis were hot in bhimli. Yet, I paid my ten bucks and walked with a steadily soaking newspaper in my hand.

The walk to the park had felt noisy. Two temples set up competing wails of prayer on opposing sides of the road. There had been an interminable sawtooth of cricket chirps, hacking a way through the sounds of traffic and loudspeakers.

Finally I found my seat, empty in spite of the Sunday evening throng, and the sea finally made itself heard, I spite of everything.

It was six thrity pm and an awkward hunger that always follows an afternoon nap close at its heels made me finish them fast. It was difficult to eat thus, amidst a pounding flux of feet that cast wayward shadows in the patch of grass in front of me.

I wanted coffee. I had a front row seat to the shore, it was a terraced cliff with a step-wise descent into the sea that stopped abruptly at a rough wooden fence that zigzagged the precipice of the park. Yet, I did not look at the sea, counting off ships to the harbour. The old man who wove between lounging legs swinging a shabby jute bag full of thermos flasks did not come visiting. I looked backward instead of forward, scanning groups of people with legs stretched, some flat on their backs on the freshly rin-dried grass, groped through popping glares of phone camera flashes for a shabby jute bag and rubber slippers. I attracted quite a few looks of annoyance in return. Many faces, especially those in pairs turned angrily upon me as if I had been staring at them.

I glared back briefly, shrugging away any momentary interest I might have felt in them. I too am a private person but mine is an inoffensive privacy that does not grudge a noisy tread, a long glance or a phone conversation conducted within close quarters.

I could not keep my eyes on the sea for very long. Hallucinogenic cries of “Coffee tea. Coffee tea” rang through my ears at intervals when the buzz of the blaring road and the play of children stopped awhile to catch its breath.

White figures still sat upon elevated bits of rock that dotted the shore, braving swerves of salty splashes and the thickening tar of dusk. I both envied and feared for them. The fragile fence, a leg’s length away from me was merely a line of two parallel wooden bars reinforced every metre or so with inverted horseshoes of wood. Children sometimes leaned over the fence that was swathed with overgrown bushes from the other side. Some hung bravely till they were whisked away under scolding arms, others scuttled back frightened by the howling black mass and the thorny bouncing fall that the height threatened.

Two boyish feet skidded within an inch mine. I looked up startled to see tow children holding a collection tin each. “change akaa?” The jingled it earnestly. I dropped a five rupee coin in one and two two rupee coins in another’s. Only twenty rupees remained in my wallet.

One never noticed beggars in Vizag. For all the silvery skinned boys that roamed its beaches, one never felt the slightest disgust at dropping them a coin. Healthy, well fed, shod feet prowling the sands in search of “change”. A much better picture. Not miserable malnourished faces with mangy red hair setting loose a slack-jawed lament of hunger at clogged claustrophobic traffic signals that made one cough and inch away deeper into the auto.

At length I walked upto the road under the pretext of crushing the oiled paper, onions intact into a dustbin. I found him at the margin between the road and the park, a footpath choc-a-bloc with ice cream vendors. “Coffee.” I almost shouted in relief of finding him there. It was almost as if the sea and its shiplit waters wouldn’t return to sight unless I drank his coffee. It was past lukewarm , cold even, but it still had that pleasantly chocolaty tang that I liked Andhra filter coffee for.

I returned to my seat with the cup still to the brim, no mean task for I could have tripped over many times on the way. The park was denser than ever with shuffling feet in search of seats but by a miracle mine lay waiting for me.

The white figures on the rocks swam back to my notice. So did the cobwebbed skein of spent white foam that glistened under a moonless sky for an instant before receding into a gutter-like purple pool.

The people who were at the heart of the silent skirmish between rock and water, weren’t they afraid of the darkness. The moved like silver pawns on a chessboard of grey and black, among the tar-like sea and the blurring black outlines of the rocks that kept them safe. Maybe it didn’t seem so dark down there as it did to me. If I swallowed my fear and followed them there perhaps I found find lights that didn’t make its way upstairs where prudence kept sea sounds at bay.