Tuesday, March 25, 2008

To earth thou shall return.........

The shopping street was bursting at the seams with shoppers. They were undeterred by the intense heat of the Sun at it's best. The footpaths were occupied by hawkers selling everything from film star posters which gleamed due to their lamination and perhaps because they carried the image of current box office stars, to ropes and strings which could have as varied uses as hanging clothes to keeping pajamas in place. Jostling for pace among them were standee vendors selling lip smacking channa chor, cool cucumbers, delicious nariyal pani and even cubes of sugarcane. Crowd of shoppers congregated around these guys seeking respite, not from the sun, but from the non-stop shopping. Everyone had at least two bags hanging from their hands. It is amazing and paradoxical at the same time…this inexhaustible appetite for shopping…and the dooms day prediction of inflation.

Breaking the monotony of happy, colorful shoppers and happier shopkeepers was a sparkling white ambulance. It was standing parked at the foot of a building from where a staircase leads to the floors above. I tried to remember if I had ever seen an ambulance caked with mud, or much the worse for scrubbing. Not even close, I cannot remember an ambulance vehicle with so much as a speck of dirt on it. I understand the sanitary concerns and all that but just could not help wondering. A group of individuals had gathered near it. They were about 6-10 of them, people of various ages. A body, completely wrapped in stark white cloth, was brought out from the staircase. It was hard to make out anything of the individual whose mortal remains the stretcher was bearing. I briefly glanced at it, not letting my eyes linger more than a few seconds. There was no emotion on the face of those waiting around, no wailing women either. They placed the body in the ambulance with surprising quickness. Perhaps they had to make it to the cremation ground at the appointed time. I was preparing the cross the road when my eyes fell on an aged man, standing silent and watchful. He was standing by the side of the ambulance with a small cloth bag in his hand. A carrot or two peeped out of its top suggesting he’d been shopping for veggies on a street which sold anything but that. He looked at the building once, trying to guess perhaps the floor from which the body had been carried down. And then he looked at the body. His hands shook. For a fleeting moment I think he thought about his time here.


I went and bought myself a white pin stripped shirt.