The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Connaught Place: Whither the Cycle Begins? Part II


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II
Why do I remember the event even after a year has passed?
Well, precisely there is a context now—as I try to find meaning of all that I did during my day-long loitering about Connaught Place, I suddenly discover that. After all, it was not an unqualified wastage of time; I was doing something useful as I kept wandering. Certainly, it was not an answer to my wanderlust. It was my self-test: how compatible I am to the setting that has developed without my consent, yet to my supposed benefit, nevertheless. I just tried to find out if I understood the place in the changed context, no less than the others crowding there did. I should make it sure that Connaught Place, with its changed merchandise and clientele, itself struggling to retain its old primacy in the economic and commercial map of the metropolis, trying hard to withstand the ravages of time, continues to have something to offer me. I just wanted to be sure that I had not grown irrelevant, even at an old and familiar place of mine. Oh yes, I know this place since 1978, the lovely old spot of commerce and culture, knowledge and progress, even before a market could come into being under the ground.
And that is why I visited Connaught Place: to wage a mini war against my obsolescence, against my irrelevance! And to win a victory for my reassurance…and for a new bounce in my steps. Such wars must be fought every once in a while to keep one’s receptiveness intact, to administer a maintenance dose of sorts for one’s knowledgebase. After all, window shopping has not done anybody poorer, never ever! If it does anything, it takes the shopper nearer to the street culture, the phrase my sympathetic friend probably coined that day in Chennai for my benefit.
The Coloured Path
From Sardar Patel Chowk to CP—going there by walking continues to be a choice, very much available even today, for Delhi as of now has not been so crowded as to frighten the pedestrians. As I say this I have the scary images of other crowded cities of India in my mind, be it Chowranghee of Kolkatta or Anna Salai of Chennai or even Dak Bangla Chowk of Patna. But then again, why walk when the world-class Delhi Metro Rail is in place? Am I afraid of using the facility? Do I fear that the barricade would close even before I entered the station or came out of it? Does the escalator threaten me to jettison me overboard when in motion? No, I should prove that I’m not afraid. Delhi might have grown more sophisticated but so have I. I have used metro trains in Frankfurt, Paris, Lausanne, Bangkok and Netherland. I’ve also used the escalators at the airports, the ones that not only take one vertically up to a higher level without effort but move one horizontally ahead making walk totally unnecessary. So I’m trained to make use of Delhi Metro now, even though the distance does not qualify. Using any other transport is out of question, neither the Vinoba Express nor the Flight Number 11. Oh yes, what I mean by all these epithets is walking again. Doesn’t a pair of shapely legs liken the number 11? Didn’t our beloved Vinoba Bhave cover India by walking to beg land for the landless? Oh all these are old stories, forgotten glories. The new version of progress is metro: only eight rupees for reaching the next stop. So, as a modern fellow using a modern facility with ease, I travelled from Patel Chowk to Rajiv Chowk by metro. No issue.
Hold it: there was an issue though. While trying to come out of Rajiv Chowk, I dropped the token into the contraption at the entrance barricade, but the blessed gargantuan of thingummy did not let me go. Oops! What should I do? Was it not too embarrassing? Was it not going to prove me a ticketless traveller? Would it not lead me to cough up a fine of god only knew what amount? Of course I had read the instructions written on the notice boards on the amount of fine to be slapped under a similar situation, but then completely forgotten that by then. Very sheepishly I contacted the ticketing staff to help me go out. And lo! He agreed to help me without a murmur, let alone ask me to cough up fine. Probably he knew that exit barricade had asserted its independence throwing the rules of automation to winds. So it had behaved inimical to an unfriendly traveler like me.
Out of the tube, I had nothing in particular to do except walking. My first stop was the open air bookshop, a few steps before the movie hall Plaza. After a copious morning shower the bookseller was trying to rebuild his stack—his Book Manhattan. The person behind the stack was invisible—so lofty was the stack! I wondered who would buy them and when would he finish his stock. Is anybody reading books these days? The last euphoria that visited us was when J K Rowling wrote about her Harry Potter character. And she went on repeating it for a decade or even more with different magical episodes and became one of the rich and the famous of the world. Writing brought her riches. There was a rare bonhomie between goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati in her case. That is gone now. Even Ms Rowling has herself changed to one Robert Something, a nom de plume. Choosing a penname after such a great literary and commercial success? I don’t think changing name will bring her the same magic once her magic character Harry Potter cast on her readers.
God! My attention was riveted by the instability of the Book Manhattan. It was as unstable as a house of cards! Nay it was like the cardboard house in an earthquake-prone land. I warned the bookseller, ‘Watch out! Your book stack is going to crumble.’ And the confident fellow (a fellow resigned to fate?) replied, ‘Don’t worry. They won’t fall.’ I understood what it meant. ‘Even if it gets flat and the books get wet in the process, what difference is it going to make? The unsalable books are otherwise destined to meet their fateful end someday just like that. This one is merely the last stop in their final journey to nothingness!’ 
Coffee in a Soup Bowl
    
The coffee shop then: Costa—a big name for big people. Suddenly I felt thirsty. At other moment my thirst would have meant the deficit of water in my body, indicating the need for buying a bottle of water, but now it meant the deficiency of caffeine. And I knew it for sure. The counter girl welcomed me, without bothering to mind how I looked. I was adamantly attired to look like somebody who would not spend 166 for a cup of coffee, and to add to that, I had nonchalantly kept the folded umbrella under my armpit, a style a rustic farmer would have liked to adopt just to frighten the clouds to behave friendly. With a smile that was the only reason of her attractiveness in my reckoning, she went on asking me question after question: whether I’d like coffee or cappuccino; whether I’d like it with a lot of milk or black; would it be a cold one or hot; a full cup or half; what would be the flavor of my choice and so forth. Oh god, one would have to answer so many questions before deserving a cup of coffee! Only one’s willingness to pay was not enough; the fellow must possess the ability to answer questions too. It was like the famous proverb: Money is not everything in life.
She had not finished asking all her questions. Smilingly I pleaded her to spare me the questions. I was ready to drink whatever she gave and I was sure she would give me the best. She had already discovered the lovably naive spot in me. Aha! A Simple Simon met a pie man…. While waiting for the coffee-ccino or whatever to reach me I sent the message to my children narrating my Q&A session with the not-so-critical coffee girl and then came the reply: Aaahahaaaaa!!!! Poor daddy! And then I had to send the result of my coffee expedition—a photo via whatsApp.
There was also one more activity—a rewarding one though—at the coffee table. I read the content of the two pouches: one was sugar and the other one was demerara. Demerera? What on earth was that? A sugarfree sweetener or what? Quickly I searched for the word in my mobile apps. One app had no such word in its database but the other one helped me. Demerara means a light brown raw cane sugar from Guyana. It tasted sweet but, as for me, the sweeter was the taste of achievement, adding a further word to my already unmanageable vocabulary.
[To be continued…]
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By
A N Nanda
Shimla
18-08-2013
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