The Power of Woman

The sun is scalding the dusty streets outside as I walk towards the administration building. I curse my luck on getting some of the lousiest beats in Lucknow as a rookie reporter. Can’t be helped, since I am the juniormost.

I am covering Lucknow University and it’s not a pretty beat. Posters of 35 year old student leaders stare hostilely at you from every wall. These neta’s do samaj seva and use bombs, guns and knives to persuade the recalcitrant. I met Vinod tripathy and had an almost meeting with Ranjeet Singh Baghel, two worthies of LU. The gentlemen are members of the Student’s Union and hate each other’s guts. Their supporters regularly shoot and hurl bombs at each other in every imaginable place; outside the VC’s office, inside the hostels, under the bike sheds, in the ladies toilets and occasionally in jail as well.

I walk into the Pro-VCs room without knocking. I need some quotes from him. He sits in a run down room with red paan stains on the wall. I sit opposite him. He is talking into the phone and to two people at the same time. Once he finishes he stares at me from behind his half-moon glasses. Next, the pan stained mouth opens and he asks me what I want? I reply I am from the ‘meediyah’. He is instantly ingratiating. I begin asking him routine questions for my story and he parries wonderfully. He talks without revealing anything.

The room has a stale smell about it and the overhead fan whirrs disconsolately. His chaprasi is hovering behind him like a cork bobbing in the sea. He has a worried look on his mousy little face and a spitton ready for when his boss will put two fingers to his mouth and spit out a red stream of pulverized pan and beetel nuts. The air conditioner in the room is on the verge of break down.

The Sane and the Insane

It was a chilly evening and I was waiting for the bus. When it finally arrived at the bus stop I boarded it. Inside, it was not so crowded that I couldn’t get any breathing space…but crowded enough that when I walked to the rear I brushed against elbows and stepped on some toes. People were cursing me under their breath. One guy was singing a song. He was standing facing the window and holding onto the overhead bar. His body was swaying to his own tune. I stood silently beside him. He finished his song and looked around for applause…there was none. Everyone around him was absorbed in their own thoughts. He caught my eye and saw that I was looking at him with interest…time for another song. ‘Pa, pa, pa, ni, dha, pa’…he sang. He was singing loudly and he was enjoying what he was doing. A few people around us gave a weary look, as though disturbed from some serious contemplation by a madman, shrugged, muttered to their neighbours about ‘public drunkenness’ and went back to staring out the window. ‘Mr Drunk’ didn’t notice. He had already moved on to his next song, an old MGR song that must have been quite a hit in its time. I didn’t understand the words, but did it matter? He rolled his eyes with each note, jerked his head this side and that as if indicating each rasa and gave me a big smile. “Saar, ne ennake marakave mudiyadu,�? (you will never forget me) he told me. I nodded and gave him an encouraging smile. That was what he needed. He launched into his next song. Maybe this was a Shivaji Ganeshan number. He was a single man, all-in-one movie orchestra. In between stanzas he would do the percussion and then the flutes and the veena. The low lighting of the bus lent a surreal-comic tinge to his face. A few people were now looking at us. What did they make of the spectacle? A drunk disturbing the ‘public peace’ and an apparently sober youg man egging him on! I was fascinated with my new found friend. The bond that had formed was only visible to the two of us. He evidently didn’t give two hoots about maintaining the decorum at public places. He was happy doing what he was doing, giving expression to his joy, paying obeisance to his screen idols, maybe living out his childhood fantasy of being a singer. And us sane people were pitying this ‘insane’ man? I looked around me. I saw the sad faces of my fellow travelers. Maybe the one sitting in front of me had financial problems, the one behind me had marital problems and the one on my left couldn’t get an erection. We put the ‘sane’ and the ‘insane’ into air tight categories. And woe betide any man who accidently gets locked up in the jail marked ‘insane’. He is instanly judged by the world of the sane. But that night on the bus I couldn’t figure out who was really sane – the half-dead zombies all around me – and who insane – the merry man dancing to his own tune?