I think everyone observes people. I had the habit from schooldays. Here I developed it as a practice and brought some order into it by making notes and doing it in select spaces and places. One of the common practices is to try to guess the story of the person you are watching. Suppose you see a man wearing just one shoe and is running behind a bus to Howrah. You try to construct a plausible story behind him by answering certain basic questions like where he is coming from, what his occupation is, where he is going to and what his purpose is etc. Sometimes you get a story or thought which stays, sometimes not.
Yesterday, a Sunday, surprised us with rain. I sat in the room, sulking till late in the afternoon. Then the thought of tea got the better of me and when the rain showed promises of dwindling down I set out to the nearest tea shop, 'the hardworking's' [Because they open earlier and shut later than most places in the city]. As usual rain tricked me. It gained momentum as I walked towards the exit of the institute. After tea when I saw the nearest momo shop open, I decided to have lunch. Chowmeen.
In first year, in canteen when one of my professors was having egg chowmeen I remember making a wry face and asking him how he could eat that and telling him that I could never like chowmeen. He said I would in some months of being there. Well , it took a year and half of me being here, but yes, his prediction has been fulfilled. Of course, I make it a point never to have it in his vicinity.
While waiting for my egg chowmeen I saw a woman, about 30, who had taken shelter under the eave of the shop. Peach was the colour of her shirt. She had an unusual headphone, with a microphone and I was wondering why she would use such a thing for a phone conversation or to listen to music.
How do we discern if a person has a story behind them or not? How quickly we compartmentalise people as ordinary, peculiar, weird, extraordinary et al. We trust our intuition and experience and take pride in it. Yes, we are right most of the time, but not always.
Just before my half plate of steaming chowmeen was placed on the table, I saw the woman's wrist. It only had scars. Deep. One of them had not healed, or it never would. It had left a gaping hole. It was not empathy or sympathy that I felt. Pure vexation. I hated the world that moment. Lost appetite. You know how in movies it's a common technique to generate silence as soon as a big explosion happens, running everything in slow motion. Tried and tested method to convey the feeling, I suppose. It happened in real for me. I would never be able to understand the woman, her story or her scars. Didn't bother to think of what her story would be. If they were self inflicted wounds or not. Nada. She left before the rain stopped.
It's an eerie coincidence that I had made this sketch only a couple of days ago. I will never forget her and her abused wrist, arm. Once in a year, I think all of us need disillusionment bouts which make us aware of our own silliness and insignificance. Once in a year we can all go to hell.
|Stitched: water colour and pen on handmade paper|