Welcome the night
- In the dark, I am one with the streets I walk; I am one with the houses I pass. I am the soul and the world is my body
Apr 10, 2015-
I slip out under the cover of darkness and start roaming the streets like a cat-eyed insomniac: I am one with the streets I walk; I am one with the houses I pass. I am the soul and the world is my body. It’s the day that creates limits; nights are when boundaries melt.
I see a man trying to cross the street. His gait is unsteady, his eyes bloodshot, his hands move in a rhythmic counterpoise to his legs: he is drunk, he is swearing loudly.
He reaches the divider where I am standing, holds the railing for support, lifts his foot and places it on the tarmac. Poof, his soul flies. A speeding truck hits him even before he can take his first step. His brain splatters on the tarmac. I do not even see his body undulating for one last time.
His lifeless body is lying on the street. A police van comes, packs him in a white bag and drives away.
They are cheated, those who fall under the spell of Morpheus, the winged demon. Those who don’t, become themselves in the dark. Night is when humans sleep. Night is when beasts prowl.
The man worked small errands throughout the day. At night, the alleyways rang with his curses, until that final day.
There is a lady who sells knickknacks on the roadside. I see her, sitting on a worn-out mat, her back slightly hunched, next to an open basket full of goodies, throughout the day: a child tugs at his father’s hand and points at a packet of biscuits; a mother placates her wailing baby with a cheap candy; a man stops to buy a cigarette. She even feeds the dogs. They round up around her every morning for what she has to offer: brittle chappatis, viscous dal, stale vegetables.
I see her at night. She is out of her house after fighting with her drunkard husband. She is sitting on a cold iron bench in the corner of the local bus stop; she is stark naked; her clothes, packed in a loose bundle, lie next to her. Our eyes meet under the dim light of a streetlamp. I let out a thick plume of smoke to hide my face. I watch her through the smoke. There are no tears in her eyes. They just look angry.
Then there are these little urchins who roam around the mohalla during the day and rule over it throughout the night. They hunker around garbage heaps during the day, looking for plastic, bottles, paper scraps and any other thing that brings them money. One can even mistake them for poor street children making a living out of garbage. But when the sun sets, their revelries begin. They sniff dendrite, chew grains of raw opium, smoke weed and roam around in a wolf-like pack. People fear them, and they love it. As the night falls, they scare kids playing one last match in the alleys, catcall women and taunt shopkeepers.
Finally, when the world goes to sleep, their day begins in earnest. They sit huddled around a tiny fire and wait for prey. I see them trying to look as inconspicuous as ever. They encircle the fire to make it almost invisible, their bodies, wrapped in filth, melt with the night. But their eyes are as keen as a hawk’s.
Any wayward stranger, adventure seeker or innocent tourist becomes their quarry. They encircle him from all sides. One approaches him from the front with hands spreads. He is smiling. It’s not the smile of a beggar expecting alms. It’s that of an assassin ready to make his final move. Now that the prey has fallen into the trap, I see another boy running towards the man. He darts, he snatches the bag and makes off, sprinting quickly, vanishing into the darkness in seconds. The confused victim is helpless.
It’s nearly four in the morning now. I can hear rickshaw pullers coughing. Some auto drivers are out wiping their vehicles. Milkmen start delivering milk, bakers’ boys ride scooters overloaded with bread and buns. A mullah calls to his faithful for the morning prayer. Crowds start gathering outside temples. A dead fire marks the alley where my room is. Around it are four boys asleep on a garbage heap. One has a roll of notes sticking out of his trousers’ pocket. Another is sleeping atop what looks like a leather bag.
Even the road has been cleaned of its midnight mess. It must be a municipality cleaner’s work, I assume. And the bus station is empty. The woman must have gone back to her house. I’ve run out of smoke, so I light the last bidi and go to sleep. I hear the beasts snore. I know they will wake up again at night.
Published: 11-04-2015 08:54