Flight

Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf (HarperCollins India), editor of India: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press/HarperCollins India), and book critic at the Indian newspaper Mint Lounge

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Towards the Noor

Walking to work, Arzee stopped at the top of Grant Road bridge to look down at the railway station. He stood there with his chin on the wall for a long time, oblivious to the people passing by. Although he rarely took a train, he loved to admire the long sinuous lines and the expanse of the railways, the stationary and the moving elements. The gleaming tracks that came all the way from distant Virar, the asbestos roof pocked with holes and bits of rubbish being sifted by birds, the little figurines of people in their ill-fitting clothes standing in slack poses on the platform, and the shoeshine men beating their brushes on their boxes – there was something vivid, life-giving, about this scene, just as there was about the projection room with its heat and light and the celluloid running down the tracks of the machine. A train came in, moaning and swaying, disgorged a hundred people, who instantly seemed to be dragged up the stairs by some invisible force, and swallowed up some others.

Arzee saw the motorman lean out of his cabin to spit on the tracks. Then the train lurched forward again and pulled out of the station, its wheels clacking upon their runners. Men, and then women in the women's compartment, passed by, standing at the doors with their heads sticking out, taking the breeze. One girl was so beautiful, Arzee wished he could reach down over the bridge and lift her up with long, long arms. Now the tracks were empty again; only a foraging ragpicker wandered across. In the distance, another train was already approaching, just as one reel smoothly followed another.

"Nothing's ever simple or easy in this life of mine," Arzee thought. "Even on a day like this, when I rise up to another station, first thing in the morning I have to be told by Mother that she thinks I'm drinking too much, and then I dirty all my clothes by falling into muck, and get assaulted by a gangster. My working day begins in the afternoon, that's the thing – so there's a lot that can go wrong between the two points. Deepak! He's thin, but he slaps like a demon. Still, I kicked him one too, real good – I can still feel his shin on my toe! A thousand – it's a lot of money. Ten hundreds. Twenty fifties. A hundred tens! But I'd better go tomorrow, else these good days of mine will be shat upon by unpleasantness, violence, curses. I'll give him a thousand this month, and then next month we'll see – he's not going to get the money out of me so easy! I used to hate him too, all this time, but now... I'm not so sure. He wasn't so bad today... he talked about things, and asked me questions. It's all about vibrations! He felt the new strength in me, and had to give me more respect. I should get him on my side if I can, because he might be of use to me later on... this life is full of situations which require contacts and rough dealings. If he comes to the cinema once, and brings his kids, then I'll have a hook on him." He raised his head. "This wind - it's picking up again, and the sky's black with rainclouds. Let me get a roof over my head before it rains. Run, my friend! The day's troubles are left behind – run towards the finish line!"

Continues in issue 19. Order now.

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