Working on a data-visualisation project on the Dandi Salt March, reading through the Thomas Weber tome on the subject, one takes note of the uneasy voyeurism of all these data-trumped narratives. This is where I confront the difficult relationship I have with the personal and the digital and what it means to excise work from the other thing.
We were sat in the second floor of your typical Mumbai office building—not one of the IKEA-perfect new ones, but an old one that leaked and the elevators refused to run up and the dogs slept on landings along the staircases. We were discussing openness in the comfort of an air-conditioner drowned in cups of masala tea. I was quoting Doctorov and Siddhartha Lal and the mechanic at the RE dealership in Kozhikode in an attempt to flip their buttered-side-down views on confidentiality and trust. The stories I told were probably too balmy and rounded-edged, but it managed to refill my own faith in businesses and people. I left happy they may probably not be hiring KL11 for this project. These are very good people to have known; building this product from a private, commendable vision up.
In the evening, I cycle downhill to the theatre, hoping to be on time for Leela. One realises it isn’t a theatre anymore, but something lesser, sinister, lodged in the slowly moving parts of the city not unlike cheap 2T oil. One realises it is wrong to expect theatre-ey feelings from something that clearly isn’t. The multiplex is housed on the third floor, a Maslow’s tomb of fastfood, clothing, beauty parlours and coaching centres. The gate is closed and the security, bored and sunburnt. He shooes me away, with a “cycles aren’t allowed” and I protest, “this is a vehicle too,” holding the bike in between us and putting the weight of my words onto it. I secretly wish for a moment it grows a heart of internal combustion and a couple of whiskers. That it envelops me in petrol fumes and makes the afternoon sun shine through, silhouetting me against a firework of colours. He wouldn’t have any of it, flips the table, and walks away. While I had planned ahead for some sufffering at the ATM, this humiliation was not prepaid for, after a sweaty ride allover campus and down JVLR. The logical thing would be to dump the bike along the road, hoping it doesn’t get resource-shared while I look away from the popcorn stand. Instead, I mount the less-than-vehicle and ride all the way back in silence.
The city smartens up, giving the Chinese a run for their oxygen masks. The online ticket-machine wants you to ride a bicycle down to the movies. It is cute. The metropolis is saying it is my fault being single and riding a non-vehicle in summer. Maybe it will open up if one burns some petrol at its altars. I catch myself wondering what it will take for us to pause and revel at the screwed up visions of tomorrow in our waking dreams. What it will take for the Decathlon crowd to realise the lines over at their Strava account are only smaller, less significant versions of the lines they could draw over a city of traffic jams and cowdung and potholes and beautiful strangers in brightly coloured polyester.
I feel like the city has rejected me for something I believed was an act of deliberation, made to feel much less than welcome for something I thought was an act not less than a stolen kiss. Don’t get me wrong. I think spark-plugs are wondrous things, like fireflies or stars over a Gurgaon sky. I just want us to remember two-wheels and pedalling can be beautiful too. Till then, you can take the user experience of that bicycle icon and shelve it up places unkissed by the summer sun.
One could say the bus driver had a weird taste in music. One could say that about almost everybody else also. He loved old numbers with hard-to-follow lyrics and peppy beats. The kind one always recalls hearing the day before and spends the rest of the day humming to its imaginary beat, putting ill-fitting words onto its sick jigsaw puzzling joke of a words’ nest until it is too late to even give up.
His favourite in the mornings was Raat Baaki. As the bus exited Gita Mandir bus-adda and entered Sardar Bridge, he would start thumping the horn to the song’s beat, and as he passed the flower market abuzz with predawn sales, he would reach the second stanza. On low-traffic days, he would just skip to it anyway. Tea-and-biscuit-wallahs join him on the bridge, their cycle bells and chains on freewheels texturing the not-yet-morning into the tempest off the insides of a young one in love—not disillusioned enough, not cynical enough, not yet.
Then the wind carries the song over to Ellisbridge, onto Jamalpur and beyond, waking everything up into its embrace. The city wakes up in love, longing for the night to fall again.
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JNU Students have a YT Channel up and the lectures are worth an all-nighter, if not a last-minute train journey to Delhi.