Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Untold stories

[Snippet 4] elaborated...

The serene stillness of the vehicle and calm rhythmic beat of its engine contrasted the looks of weariness and impatience on the faces of its passengers who were in a hurry to reach numerous destinations. Their bus bore without shame or self consciousness, evidence of rugged use, neglect, wear and tear of unkind roads, tolerance of ill mannered children who cut the lining on its modest seats and adolescents who etched their names on its sides, immortalising their desire for cheap fame. But the vehicle which had singularly served its rural village route for nearly three and a half decades looked much older and frail even considering the fact that it was toiling well past its retirement age. Perhaps it was not an icon of reassurance and dependability in the minds of its passengers, but even strangers who boarded it hardly found any reason to doubt its commitment to take them to their destination.

Passengers, who sat themselves on its rigid seats or prepared to endure the rocking journey with the aid of a steady metal pole fixed to its roof, rarely expected the ride to be comfortable or fast. A dented front bumper, gashed grill, smoky lights and rusted wipers that drooped across the scratched windshields, sculpted a look of profound sadness on its face, which was accentuated by occasional wails and shrieks of invisible body parts. Engineered into the body of this lifeless machine was however an eerie reflection of the sadness that some of its passengers bore deep inside.

The hollow metal chassis afforded them a space in which they were free to take off masks of stern looks and tight lips that they had worn through the day. It silently offered them comfort and empathy; perhaps because it is easier to embrace sadness in the company of others who are sad and therefore can understand and empathise with us in our misery. The burden of misery is amplified in the company of those who are happy, whose happiness enforces itself on us and compels us to smile out of fear and guilt, that any hint of sadness on our faces might rob them of their fleeting moment of bliss.

Yet the bus did not inhibit happiness. In fact it had witnessed on a daily basis, emotions ranging from the blissful excitement and hopeful anticipation to moments of life-altering happiness. For well over a generation, it had witnessed courtship, the composition and exchange of love letters which it often also couriered along with their bearers and recipients, a first brief kiss of lovers, holding hands and secret whispers.

It had hosted meetings of long lost friends and companies of youth on adventurous road-trips. Its windows had reflected smiles that passengers often stole from a bygone memory, an imagined conversation or a happy surprise; in the mysterious solitude within a community of tightly compressed commuters. At times those same windows may have framed and showcased a spectrum of emotions on those faces to a curious bystander standing by the roadside.

Even though its metal heart was too rigid to melt and dissolve with tears of a despondent soul, it was often sensitive enough to dry those tears with a murky breeze or hide them among stray raindrops that sometimes flew in through open shutters. The passage of many years had taught the rickety old metal beast to appreciate the richness of human life and the broad emotional spectrum of human experience.

There have been a few rare moments in its life when it actually felt more 'human' than the soulless, lifeless and senseless machine that people who nervously crossed the road in front of it, often suspected it to be. The driver and conductor harboured an unfurnished gratitude for the share of hard labour it had contributed to sustaining their lives and feeding their families. But with every pothole that it crawled back out of and with each passing year, the frail metal box and its wheels lost the ability to satisfy their patron's demands for comfort and speed.

Few of its passengers if any, held it in their thoughts, let alone feel a debt of thankfulness for its part in easing their daily struggles. Perhaps it was fitting that they didn't, because the bus would have been tormented by the guilt inducing suspicion that it may have robbed from its patrons, moments and thoughts that belonged to their own loved ones. Their mechanical slave that ungrudgingly took them to work, to school and to the markets in the city; did not possess any faculty to love its clients and so it did not make demands of love and affection from them either, or even make them feel obliged.

Yet the dead metal of its body, the worn out seats and wooden floor held in fond memory; each stop that punctuated the torturously monotonous journey that it repeated a dozen times each day. It remembered with affection, the faces of those who got on and off at each stop.

It paid equal attention to their moods each day and with patience and silent wisdom, watched their lives unfold. A child whose birth was excitedly announced within its chamber had grown into a man and had children of his own, and confined over all those years to the same narrow stretch of road that linked the green fields of an anonymous village to the intimidating highways and bellows of a crowded gray city, it chronicled wordlessly the unobserved stories of a nation.

(Published in The Sunday Times - Mirror Magazine (20/01/2008)

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