My car wasn’t there!
Pride of the family, envy of the neighbours and the best thing to have happened to me, apart from the one college romance : my Maruti Zen, was gone.
Gone meaning, it wasn’t there where I’d left it. I’d parked my car in front of the Royal Cinema, right where I was standing at the start of the matinee show. Now, it was almost 11:30 and the road that had been teeming with late evening shoppers and foragers was quiet. It was a chilly night on the well-lit road, and the only shadow on the road came from a Neem tree that stood nonchalantly under a lamp post casting a misty light upon it. The entire length of the road was deserted, and my car was nowhere to be seen.
I looked around frantically. For a minute, I tried to be like, ‘what the heck, where can it go? It must be somewhere over here. I’d parked it probably in this alley, or in that one. Lord pardon my forgetfulness.’ Quite insane actually, for I knew from the inside that something had gone very, very wrong. And after a brief but thorough look in all the deserted alleys around the cinema hall, I was standing on the side if the road, with my heart almost sunken to the level of my gut, and my mind absolutely kicking myself for coming to the matinee show all by myself. And that too, to this cinema hall! Why didn’t I go to a decent cinema hall which atleast provided it’s customers with a parking space?
Some people find it hard to believe, but it so happens that the Royal Cinema doesn’t have a parking space, simply because none is needed. Its clientele consists of mostly the low-mid class people, who don’t give a damn about the facilities, as long as the screen shows something. It’s also a hangout for broke college kids, a class which always looks to save an extra buck. People who belonged to these classes did not own cars. I had once been a part of the latter class a long time ago, and today, to again relive those golden days, and also to escape the cold realities of a humdrum married life, I’d come here. Only to see it turn into the most expensive trip of my life.
I’d been standing at the side of the road for about 10 minutes now, with millions of thoughts crisscrossing my mind. This car was the only thing that had kept us afloat in society circles. We, who had no good sofa set like the Mittals next door, or a German tea set like the Rais down the corner, had only this car as the saving grace, the showpiece of our status in the neighbourhood. If the car was gone, we’d become just another ‘average’ family and as my wife had made me to believe in course of her countless outbursts at my ‘uselesslness’ , being ‘average’ was the worst thing ever to happen to somebody. I recalled all the loan applications I had written, all the anticipated salary cuts, and the exhaustion of all our savings before we had the car. And then finally the look on my wife’s face when we finally drove it around the neighbourhood for the first time. Oh, how beautiful she looked, beaming all the way. and how that glow had increases manifold, upon seeing the look of open jealousy on Mrs. Mittal’s face…
“No, this won’t do”, I sturdied myself. “I must ask somebody about it. Maybe it was parked in a no parking zone, and the traffic police had come and ‘craned’ it away.”
I knew this idea was farfetched; neither was this Delhi, nor that traffic police SP a male avatar of ‘crane’ Bedi. “Don’t panic. Steady. THINK.” I took a deep breathe and paced up the street, trying to clear my head. And then my eye caught a Pan shop at the corner. And I knew what I needed.
I went to the still open pan corner, and got myself a cigarette. The shop owner was talking to someone about the increasing thefts in the city, and about the b***** Government’s inability to do anything about it.
I wanted to ask the Panwallah about my car, but I knew that was futile. As the first puff began to show its effect on my mind, I realized that I had no option now but to make a complaint. I shuddered at the prospect. Going to police means getting them to write your report, showing up on court hearings, and coughing up a substantial sum if your car ever is found. If it is never, all the time and energy spent is wasted. But then I thought, philosophically, going to police is one of the necessary evils of the modern day society. You have to do it. Like a bitter pill. You have no alternative.
So I started walking the 2 kilometers to the nearest police station. I slowly began to grow nervous again. The cigarette had pretty much had its effect. I was feeling pretty low, not just on account of my stupidity in losing the car, but also because of the hard, cruel chill of the night, and the vastness of the empty streets and marketplace surrounding me. I put my arms alose to my chest, and still could not help shivering. I pictured myself, walking alone through the broad deserted street, keeping as small a form as possible, going past a never ending row of huge buildings. And I felt small. The wind hit me hard again. I tightened my arms around my chest to keep warm, and felt smaller. The lifeless buildings were huge, the road was vast, the night dark, and the wind chilly. Where was my existence among all these…
My mind again drifted to thieves. And I was terrified of nature, terrified of destiny. Grandmother’s teachings from the Bhagwad Gita, dished out to my indifferent ears of a restless kid, began to haunt me. ‘Do unto others, what u want others to do unto you ‘,’Jo kare, so bhare’….now my car had been stolen.
‘Why did this have to happen to me! I never stole anything.’ Grandmother’s rasgulle and mother’s kaju-kishmish could hardly be classified as ‘stolen’ objects. Even lord Krishna took that much liberty from virtues in his childhood. I wasn’t even in a government job, that I could be accused of stealing government property. Mine was a clean job in the private sector. Although at times I’d wished I had a more ‘milky’ job than this one. But thinking of some fast bucks could not possibly amount to stealing…
Maybe there was somebody whom I wronged so much that to balance things up, destiny had to deliver me this blow…well, I used to be a strong boy for my age, and had beaten up numerous boys in school over pencil-rubbers and later, girls. There was this guy, my neighbor, who used to keep an eye on my college sweetheart, and I’d beaten him up like hell. But I was friends with all these guys now. I’d even treated my neighbor to a lime soda, despite being broke, after giving him that cow hiding that very night 15 years ago. ‘No’, I shook my head, ‘I haven’t done anything to deserve this. Destiny’s just having having some fun at my expense. Just like the entire neighbourhood will do tomorrow. Life’s unfair!’
I was nearing the police station, a mere object of destiny’s bitchiness, my clean soul demoralized and beaten by the world, and the powers that be, when my cell phone rang. I regarded this physical object with disdain, for a moment, for having disturbed the greatest philosophical and soul cleansing monologue since Hansie Cronje’s confession, and pushed the button to listen to my friend Vimal.
“Hey Rajesh, where are u? Done with the movie?”And after I had mumbled an affirmative, “hope you’re not worried. I’m coming to pick u up. Where are you?”My head gave a click for his choice of the verb form ‘worried’, before I could say anything, he elaborated, “Yaar sorry I had to go meet the minister’s PA for my wife’s transfer. You know when u go meet these little bastards, how far can a car go in creating a better impression? You were in the movie so I thought not to disturb you, and took your car over there. Don’t worry; I’ve taken care of the petrol. You’d forgotten your spare key at my place yesterday, remember? Rajesh, Rajesh??? Are u there, HELLO!!!”
I was there and I wasn’t. You asking me how was I feeling? How did George Bush feel after getting elected the second time, when he himself thought he’d been beaten? I could once again walk in my neighborhood with pride. The Mittals still had their sofa set, and the Rais their tea set, but so had I, my car. I stood up, and downed the chain of my jacket, and started walking back towards the cinema hall, with long, proud steps, defying the chilly wind with just my shirt and what had suddenly filled my body, walking tall, Oh so tall, past the dilapidated, sleeping buildings of the banal, nondescript marketplace…
PS: originally wrote this story for Prof. Marathe’s assignment, and reaceived a blast. Rewrote it, and brought it to this form. Do tell me how it reads.