Updated: Aug 13, 2021
The city has just been hit by one of the most devastating cyclones ever in history. We have been plunged into what seems to be an abysmal pit of darkness for the past four days which coupled with the acute scarcity of drinking water or water of any kind whatsoever for the same period, has shoved us, petty creatures, into uncomfortable and inconvenient corners of incessant irritability and desperation in the disguise of mock assurance and control which we fervently attempt to keep in check, along with our rising blood pressure, diabetes and lethargy, by walking on our rooftops, with ten times the passion and zeal of a morning or an evening walk on any other normal day without masks or viruses.
We are not OK.
We most obviously are not.
But we have internalized theatricality. Hence our pretend modes are on. We in all our affordable sincerity do not want this sycophantic ridiculous attempt at convincing others of our stable minds, unperturbed states of being and most essentially about not losing control of our lives thrown awry by a 195kmph wind and the oppressing claustrophobia of a city that has started to resemble a ghost town; to get lodged deep enough into our brains to let it emerge as the best stance at self conviction in the history of psychiatric science. We are in dire need to resort to the same science to perhaps tighten loosened screws of crazy behavior at it's unpredictable best. It makes nonsensical heroes of us all.
Especially at grocery stores where you stand at serpentine queues under a tormenting sun awaiting your turn at buying stuff for people back at home. And you happen to realize just when you are awaiting second in turn to access the Open Sesame treasure of the mudikhana that eggs or sliced bread has ever so closely escaped your procurement and the same gentleman who has been passionately and vociferously sharing your political views has proved to be a wolf in disguise and robbed you of your probable omlettes for dinner. In a blink of an eye you shed your concerns about the mounting volume of issues you are sunk knee deep in and create your own vocabulary to offer him your reverence in your choice of incorrigible words and phrases you deem he best deserves, in futile compensation for your frustration and failure. Hence we have gone shopping for candles. Nay, gone ransacking whichever shop that in any possible way was even remotely associated with the probability of having it. We have gone from the local grocer to the hospital pharmacy, the temple to the bookstore. In the last few days we have tread the thin line of sanity and politics precariously. On tiptoes. We went from - "That shop keeps garlands and flowers for the dead and the gods, that shop surely has candles you know. They must be keeping them for devotees" To - "That shop sells condoms. They must be keeping candles..." "Seriously???! Why?!!" You are asked. "Ahem. Ahem... Paritosh babu." You add clearing your throat and looking here and there to ensure you have no uninvited audience.. and use your best wicked snigger to whisper. "Do you not know why??! To use it in the condomic situation....which is to say situations which complement the use of the same." At which Paritosh Babu turns his fast balding but brilliant head to look at this Illuminated Candle Comrade and shakes it from side to side slowly to suggest with purpose that he doesn't know and he doesn't care about what it could be used for and lesser still to ask for a grammatical, literal or metaphoric explanation of the use of the word "condomic", if ever there happened to exist such an exquisite ornament of expression in the language the British forgot to take back when they were leaving the country for good.
"Kinky, "Paritosh Babu. "Kinky." He offers. "To create an ambience. Romance. Romantic. Candle light... and sex....love. Paarrfect you know."
What followed this near trance teleportation to his imaginary land of leather strapped women with long legs, high heels and brandishing whips was a giggle that not only jittered him with unnecessary amplification but also laid bare his tobacco stained teeth nestled in dirty pink gums. His red and yellow batik fotua clung to his protuding belly and moobs like second skin.
It is hot indeed. And humid too. You are speaking Kolkata in midsummer. With no electricity for perhaps the longest period in the city's history, we have mastered over 30 odd ways to start and continue sweating and drip away into our slippers too making them awkwardly squish and squash like a toddlers shoes. Whoever said that rhythmically swaying in stilettoes needed grace, poise and above all practice, didn't meet the defiance of gravity and lack of friction in the awkward waddle of our rubber slippers with pools of sweat. Beat that. We have also very less fear of the global loss of employment. We have started honing an altogether different skill to suffice in future and if need be to set up our very own independent business venture. To hell with the 9 to 5s. We are abduction specialists here. With no water in the washrooms or kitchens the dadas, the boudis, the Pintus, the Chutkis, the Dimmas and the Daadoons, are all in a zombie like frenzy of a survival game. If you wanna survive go in land, loot, kill and survive. If it is survival of the fittest, the not so fit members of the families cooped up in the sinister looking dark buildings choose their most outspoken and able member to represent their desperation to a fifty odd similar family representatives from different families to go highjack the men who are bringing in the surrogate diesel driven pumps to help pump water into the tanks atop these buildings. The tanks have of late have been receiving the attention and indulgence one only reserves for the new Audi one has bought with the Puja bonus or the latest version of a deliciously new curvalicuous girlfriend with the right amount of highlighted hair and latest manicure trends. For the dismal lack of the proximity of our "selfie-ish" partners, we now find solace in having picked up our best partners for selfies. The ever faithful water tank!! The tanks are our first loves. We need to keep them well fed. And the men with the diesel pumps are our Chicken Dinner. Abduct and ensure a full tank. Ensure happy but apprehensive eight families cooped up within minuscule concrete compartments we call flats in the city.
What when the water runs out?
Do we have to repeat the same drill again?
Yes. Like heck we will have to.
Remember you are honing professional skills. You are ensuring future entrepreneurship. So bring it on. Old faded T shirts with some quirky oneliners, nighties, house coats, half pants, joggers...ripped or otherwise, panjabis, pajamas, kurtas, kurtis show them who's the best in business. If you fail to cajole and coax the pumpers, scare, threaten, intimidate, shriek, rip your heart open. Who cares? Just kidnap. Raise the heist. Leave the rest of the drama to our politicians and Netflix.
Netflix is a distant dream honbuns, by now. A once upon a timer you took refuge to, over morbid covid death rates and wierd South Indian movies on TV. As if, that were not enough a Dementor, we met our very own You Know Who with our Ministry Without Much Magic facing a Death Eater onslaught, creating our very own four day version of the nightmare in which darkness wins and prevails. Still.
There is much magic however in the uninhibited exhibition of gross enthusiasm that the "Para" (read Bangla) and "Para"sitical (read English) entities can carry out over cigarettes bought off their fathers money, in small groups in smaller dingy alleys filled with perhaps the smallest chances of the presence of light. You standing at your verandah can only guess that such demi demons are in the vicinity by their loud raucous babble, uncessary rough and drunk laughter and slapping of backs and oh yes did I forget to mention? The beautiful unobstructed silken flow of foul language. They are the local club members mind you, who have no iota of respect for age or gender or class. They are now at their parasitical best. Living off your crisis having found sleazy content for their spineless and stupid stand up comedy.
One can only just begin to imagine the horrors of the landfall of the immense cyclone, if this is what we, who are still in possession of our homes are going through. Some people had a Messiah in the garb of a Prime Minister who vehemently propagated the need for a Clean India and funded the installation of hundreds of lavatories across the country. Who knew then that being the only concrete establishment in an entire measly house made of mud and hay, it would act like a bunker to families who held on, trembling to each other as the mad wind ravaged their homes and consumed them unapologetically.
Paritosh Babu manages to find candles. Many candles. Of different shapes, sizes and colours and dangles them in a transparent polythene as he walks home with his prized trophy and every next person asking him where he got them from with the same jealous excitement, women enquire after a saree of their favorite colour and embroidery they see someone else draped in. He smiles and waves off ambiguously. "Oithoh. There. That shop" he says and trudges home.
Last night it was windy. Hot but windy. There was no relief. The mosquitoes out did vampire bats on sly blood sucking missions. They had come in invisible and had come in thousands. The last candle he had lit had burnt out fast. He had tried to gaurd the dancing flame threatening to go off by cupping the flame with his palms against the direction of the wind. The flame had licked his palm. Scorched it. It was still smarting. Paritosh Babu smiled to himself as he dangled his candles home. A little scorch could be welcome in exchange of small pools of light in the deep deep darkness of the night. This night too. He was sure, would pass.