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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Such warmth...

I step out of the auto-rickshaw outside itself for I want to delay the inevitable. I fish for a twenty but the smallest denomination that I have is a five hundred. I go to the paan-beedi shop to meekly request for a change. I am greeted with an explosive “Arrey saab aap (Oi, its you)!!!” I don’t recognize him but I produce my widest smile to match his enthusiasm. No, he still cannot break the five hundred. But I can always pay him later. A twenty quickly makes its way to the auto-rickshaw.

I am still dreading to step in there. You see, it’s been four years since the last time I was here. It’s not like I am scared of anybody or have any ghosts waiting for me in hitherto undiscovered closets. It is just slight apprehension causing just the tiny bit of anxiety that is forcing me to avoid others’ eyes as I simultaneously glance sideways to try to recognize any familiar faces. You see, I have learnt from the encounter with paan-beedi shop owner. I want to be able to recognize them first so as to have an important head-start that would allow me to save my unapologetic face.

I walk towards the security guard to sign the register as a visitor. He is looking at me in a peculiar manner. I return the gesture along with an imperceptible nod. The imperceptible nod is my proven defense against the unknown. His face contorts itself into many folds to produce the warmest smile imaginable. Sagging unironed skin has never looked so good. Before I respond in some uncouth fashion, he says,

Kaise hai saab? (The English translation is – How are you, but translating it that way would be equal to the assassination of an entire culture spanning thousands of years)

Yes. I have been caught from the most unexpected angle. I proceed to respond in an uncouth fashion anyway. I produce a fake joyous smile and mumble something that sounds like a flushing toilet. He vigorously shakes his head in all kinds of directions and insists that he be allowed to fill in my name in the visitors’ book. For old time’s sake, he says. Am I a celebrity, I wonder.

Other guards gather around. It seems like I am going to be arrested. But they are merely enquiring about my whereabouts and how weak I seem to have become. Do I get food abroad? When am I coming back for good? I improvise.

Four goddamned years. Four fantastic years. But it seems nothing much has changed here. And a lot has too. It’s a different office. Buzzing with a carefully concocted potion of hope and intensity with careless sprinkling of warmth. India unbound but contained.