Trespassers will be Prosecuted
Situated at the ground level, the space opens directly onto the road from one side. From inside, all day, one can witness vehicles and people. Of all kinds, at all speeds. No visual barrier, no privacy. Even the ones outside have access to the interiors. On the other end of the street, its limits are marked by a long cloth that performs the role of a curtain and a series of empty cardboard cartons, hidden behind. Of various sizes and shapes, mostly of food products – biscuits, instant noodles and chips and the others of necessities – soap, shampoos and even toothpaste.
None of them purchased – but collected patiently over the last few months, each morning from the nearby yard and then arranged to fit themselves to act as a partition. For on the other side, lives another family, who faces out onto the other road.
Facing the street, the roof slopes from right to left, supported on either side by huge supports– that is ordained with graffiti art and remains of torn away pamphlets of political manifestos on development, some advertisements for education and few bank offers for house loan. Within all this a few scribbles of names, some notes and even some trials of writing words in the English language. Mostly belonging to them who stayed here earlier.
Towards the right column, there are lesser objects placed – for it has more headroom to walk around. Just a rope tied to hang clothes, a broken box that acted as a chair and a small mirror tied to the rope for daily needs. On the left-hand side, is the storage. Stacked trunks, a wooden plank on which were kept plastic boxes of food grains and other essentials, a few utensils – the bare minimum to prepare a meal and a stove. Few slippers, some worn out clothes, a stitched school bag and few long bamboo sticks also found its space next to the column. A few bricks stacked one above the other alongside the column houses a few frames of God.
Underneath the roof, on the bare ground, sleeps a woman, barely managing to fit herself and her son in the mat that is ripping from the sides. A single sized blanket covers the two – the young boy full covered, the woman just managing to hide her face underneath it. On the far left, is a man – her husband, who sleeps awkwardly - seemingly almost fallen into the ground and slippers still on his feet. Close to the woman hangs a torn out red and white saree acting as cradle - in which a child rests -peacefully.
As the woman fidgets inside the blanket, to cover her ears from the growing noise arousing from the vibration of the roof a more irritating and scuffling noise at the ground – towards the road draws her attention. She lowers the blanket and peeps. A dog on a leash, is moving the soil and settling itself for its morning chores, as the lady standing beside in sneakers and track pants – busy fiddling on the phone, permits the pet to continue. The woman gets up and just stares. The dog finishing its duties is least bothered, the lady while looking at the woman cares even less. The woman adjusts her saree, rolls up her hair, sits and admires her morning’s first sight. Then she looks to the right and sighs to see her husband lying on the ground.
The morning takes motion and the sign of it is the growing rumbling sound on the roof. It is almost rhythmic. A sudden jerk is heard in every two – three second interval right above right side of the column. The woman can almost measure the time of the day through the noise. Coupled with that is the growing sound of vehicles honking at the street level. More erratic, more jarring and in the inside it almost reverberates. Add to that, the voices of people. Some passing by, some sounding and vending, a few just shouting to stop a vehicle and at times a ‘bow-bow’ from the stray dog chasing the other. Each calibrating in different frequencies to act as a morning alarm.
The woman quickly checks the cradle. The toddler is still sleeping. She sighs and hands over the necessities to her son to freshen up and take a bath. He arranges the objects and makes the ten minute walk to the nearest public toilet. The woman pulls up her saree to her knee length and then immediately pulls them down, as two men walk past. One of them casually spitting the chewed tobacco in front. The woman has two residual patterns on either side of her frontage – one by the dog and the other by the social animal.
She fills water in the mug, then takes a broom and attends to it both. She uses half mug of water and the remaining she comes and pours into the vessel to make a meal to last the day. She crouches in front of the stove, add some rice and then covers it with a lid. The vessel starts makes a bubbling noise. A group of men alight themselves in front. Each carrying a plastic cup of tea break into a loud laughter and clap their hands in excitement. The woman sitting takes a quick look at the cradle. Then each light up a cigarette. The claps continue. The woman glances again. Each turn their lips away from the street and exhales towards the inside. The smoke across the stacked objects and almost settles under the roof from where the cradle hangs. Now a steam arises from the vessel.
The woman shifts the lid to let it pass out and its starts filling up the space in between the roof and the ground. It reaches the top, hits the roof and slowly dissipates and finally the leftover reaches the group of men. They move their hands in front of their nose and scoff in unison. They take a glancing look at the women, still smoking the cigarette.
Their eyes settle on the source of smoke, but also on the hole in the blouse of the below her armpits. The woman takes notice and draws her saree. The men butt their smoke on the ground. The vessel bubbles. The men continue laughing.
Suddenly cars start to pile up in front. It is almost instant. Till then everyone was moving, now everyone has just halted. 'Beep, beep, beep' each car roars in their own wavelength. One stops the other starts. The engines rumble. One stops the other starts. In between few even shout out peeping their head out of the car. Beep, beep, beep the sounds echo. The vessel inside intensifies the bubbling. Engines rumble more. The loud voices increase. Beep, beep, the vehicles continue, the bubbling now reverberates and now a loud weeping noise emerges from the cradle. The weeping noise now becomes a screech. The woman rushes to lift the child and wonders which way to go. Beep, roars, rumbles, shouts, honks and from nowhere even woofs surround her from one side. On top are thumps, bumps and clangs. Inside the bubble. Now even the man wakes up and calls out loud. The woman holds the child and sits down keeping her close to her bosom and leans over her. Her hole in the blouse is now a visual for everyone caught up on the road.
A policeman arrives to solve the problem. He stations himself at one point and moves it hands and whistles. With the other hand he smacks his wooden stick on the ground and draws the attention of the woman. The man sleeping on the ground has passed out again. The woman turns. The policeman keeps smacking the stick and looking the woman blows his whistle at the vehicles. The policeman now raises his eyebrows and enquires, “When?” The woman walks up carrying the child and in a low and negotiating tones says, “I will ask him to come this weekend and pay you at the station”. The policeman nods and concentrates on the road and whistles harder as the woman stands with her child next to him. As the cars begin to trudge ahead, the woman looks down.
Now the frontage, which she cleaned is dotted with other articles. More cigarette buds, small toffee packets, tobacco sachets, a half-eaten apple, peeled skin of oranges, a few floating plastic bags all settle them self in front of her feet. The woman watches engrossingly as she is suddenly disturbed by a hoking sound of a motorcycle accompanied with a large roar. The man on the motorcycle raises his hand towards her in a dismissive way as if to complain of her absent mindedness. The woman carrying her child steps back. The man rides past and dives down into the road. The policeman on the opposite side witnesses the event and walks away.
The afternoon calms down the proceedings. The woman spends times with the little one as her boy and husband are now out for their respective work. It is not a usual afternoon through, as the interiors starts to get darker. The sun has now disappeared behind the roaring clouds. The woman lights a candle. Puts her toddler in the cradle and then rushes towards the edge of the street. Whatever clothes, stored items, slippers and boxes lies closer to the road she drags them inside, marginally. As she starts to drag, the inevitable happens. The sky breaks upon and it starts to pour. It rains thunderously. The lighting and the roar of the cloud is roof breaking. She sprints a couple of feet and embraces the child in hers arms and sits in the darkness by the side of the candle and watches the scene unfold.
Slowly the pipe from the roof starts to drain down alongside the right column. The water gushes down towards the road but also splashes inwards. The ground starts to erode, the water starts to settle and move inwards. People scamper from across the street. Some holding their umbrella and some without any shelter. The rain intensifies. Not finding a more suitable place, they all align in a queue underneath the roof facing the street. The darkness gets darker.
The ones holding the umbrella place it inside and let the water drip and flow on the ground. The water moves down towards approaching the torn mat laid on the ground. Few of the people even open their shoes, drain the water off them and even squeeze their socks to dry them up looking inwards. The litter of packets, sachets and the orange peels now start to settle into the wet ground and some under the pressure of the standing people.
A man looks around catches a glimpse of the woman inside and engages in a social commentary as he has time in hand till he shelters under the roof. “These migrants should be stopped from entering the city and making it dirty”, he makes an opening statement. His friend taking advantage of the free time adds, “Anyways where they are staying is illegal, this is public property!” They both shake their heads and chuckle in disgust. Each having no more to add, then indulge in personal enquiry, “So, how is your dad? And is your house deal done?” To which the other more assertively replies, “Dad is doing good. Have not been able to go home since I have shifted here. It is been three years now. And yes, the flat work is done. The apartment is built on some disputed land – some lake bed or something – so apparently the developer got it for subsidy by pulling some strings. At the end the rent for us is manageable. That is all the matters!”
A gesture of an appreciation follows, as one of them steps a little inside to rub his shoe on the dry ground to clear the muck. The others standing in line follows suit and one by one left their dirt. A lady even wipes her moist face and drops the tissue paper behind. The woman sitting beside the candlelight, holding onto her child, waits for the darkness to clear.
inspired by the writings of Subimal Mishra