The story of the self -stylized newspaper stand
THE BORN IDENTITY
At the very instant those searching eyes set on me and glued concerningly on the event of the fire that broke in the city last afternoon, I shouted to myself in the mind - “Data! Data! Data!” As the fingers moved linearly across each word – the hands revealed a fresh scar of burn revealing through the antiseptic – the eyes constantly blinking – with breaks to adjust the blurry eyes; often caused by overexposure light or being around vapour. Sudden longer pauses to carefully analyse the facts and then a certain turn of the head – in slight relief and anxiety. “The game is afoot !!” - I breathed. You may think this sounds genius, I say it is “Elementary, my dear !!”
Standing for years, and literally so, I have had the advantage of knowing the habits of the people of the city – and the city by itself. It is my pattern of lifestyle that makes me look through the structure of the city – not just to identify the wrong but also analyse the right. “To a great mind, nothing is little” and I say this sententiously. So, I use my methods, to recognize the student who is cleared the Madhaymik (secondary board) examination from the one who has struggled. The gentlemen whose team has yet again won the famous football derby in the city and even the resident who over time has significantly lost the eyesight but now hides it behind the thick glasses.
Dear God, what is it in your funny little brains, it is so boring!! Why can’t people just think !!” I would have wanted to end the world, but rather settle to recede under the fading lamppost light by night, awaiting eagerly for the noise of the whistle next morning.
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Details, details, details !! – unnecessary ones, insignificant types, the relevant breed - all sorts of details and more details. That is what I am made up of, as generations unfolded in front of me as well as through me. My name – “I really do not have one”, but for the people I am the newspaper stand and it is my business to know what other people do not know of.
Born, into the narrow alleys of each para (the neighbourhood), I was a constant figure in a suitable wall against a building. Located strategically, so that the laziness usually associated with the people of the city never deterred them to approach me. With a distinct black smooth surface and an ornately detailed borderline, my vignette was easily set out among the rest of the street features. The city had chosen one among them, to then give me an identity - rather a sobriquet each day. Whistling through the street, with my cape, fitted under the arms, I would be bathed with a lather of glue at first as the printed words would start to align over me. Followed by a few gentle dabs a neat overspread of the hands across me, I was in business. The city would slowly walk towards me and unravel themselves unknowingly through their habits, their opinions and perspectives.
Shuffling within each other like a pack of cards, they would keep redistributing to ensure that they read me at length. Slightly voyeuristic at first, but I got used to it over a period. While the pack shuffled, I learnt to see the details. The fresh bhetki on one’s hand, the rattling of the red and white bangles, the moist black frame due to the hot cup of tea and even the Charminar cigarette bud held against me. The observations suddenly interspersed by loud unfurling of voices. The “hai bhogobaan” (Oh god!!) or the prolonged word like “eeessssshhh” or “phataphati” (amazing!!!) breaking suddenly into conversations that debated Gandhi v/s Netaji, Mohun Bagan v/s East Bengal or Communism v/s Marxism, all at once.
Chaos would cease by mid-morning, as the Bannerjee’s, Ahuja’s and the Khambata’s would get busy for the day, passing glances at me over their shoulder. By evening the morning whistle tone would reappear, and after neatly pulling of my morning cape, I was adorned yet another. This time, usually by local evening daily. Preying on the curiosity, the scandalous and the inquisitive or the rather eavesdropping tendencies of the city, this print would usually leave stories that would cause murmurs till the night in the neighbourhood.
Sometimes these whispers would venture into such obtuse and banal discussions, I had to grasp and say to myself “Dear God, what is it in your funny little brains, it is so boring!! Why can’t people just think !!” I would have wanted to end the world, but rather settle to recede under the fading lamppost light by night, awaiting eagerly for the noise of the whistle next morning.
Allow me an epiphany here. On certain days, which now I realize were quite frequent, I never got the usual printed word cape on myself. Rather, it was a chalk mark that wrote over me, with a screeching sound. Now that I could read words in the mirror format, it would often state in the local language “aajke bangla bondh” (Today is West Bengal Strike) – and these words sketched on me would imply the print was not at work. This did not prevent the city to gather around me – even if it would mean reading this one sentence. The gathering had the same flavour, the noise had the same intensity just expressions of one news I observed brought out so many tendencies – few laughed, some smiled in joy, others in angst whereas the rest were livid. Just observing these expressions, I realized I was getting to understand the city much more.
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Are you wondering if I am tired? Tired of being in the same routine for all these years. Exhausted in observing people, reading the city, reading for the city. Sapped? - because no longer am I resting on wall, but standing precariously on metal frames at an insignificant corner.
More than I thought I would. The age, profession, background, class, profile, tendencies, mindset of each individual and the city as a collective uncoiled in front of me. I was like a cesspool, in which the city irresistibly drained. “I became the brain. The rest of me was mere appendix”. Are you wondering if I am tired? Tired of being in the same routine for all these years. Exhausted in observing people, reading the city, reading for the city. Sapped? - because no longer am I resting on wall, but standing precariously on metal frames at an insignificant corner.
“No: I am not tired. I have a curious constitution. Though idleness exhausts me completely”. The city as of today has plunged me into idleness through isolation. The visits have been irregular, the glances absent, the focus missing. Replaced only with scrutinized observations of news of only vested interests. The shopping sale notice, the stock exchange fluctuations, the verdict of the election and other such event oriented information. No reading, just collecting particulars.
Coupled with pace of the generation and the access to technology, I have learnt to be discreet. ‘Alone is what I have, alone protects me’. “My mind” I say “Rebels in this stagnation. Give me problems, give me work. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only kind in the city”
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The game is afoot, I cheered. The hands, now with the fresh application bandage over the wound has reappeared in the evening. The eyes have quickly spotted the news in the local daily. This time I read with him. The eyes are in fear, my mind in ecstasy. The print now entails more in-depth coverage – some are facts and the rest assumptions. The motive has been identified, the communal angle is listed, and the age of the instigators is narrowed down. It all adds up. Adds up to the figure standing right in front me with those eyes almost haunted with the memory of the incident. The deductions are substantiated. I know it.
“It is easy for me to know it, than to explain why I know it.” The head swirls and dashes out, as I restrain my deductions with a smirk and in exasperation looking at how the city is sauntering in front of me nonchalantly into the dark
Do I appear or sound like a psychopath!! No, today as I stand, “I am a high functioning sociopath”. Do, your, research!!
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