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The marching coloumns

Every day is a swing between highs and lows, and in the last two months that I’ve experienced them, they’ve never been periodic. Setting off the work, the mood depends on the weather: cloudy is good, buoyant, rain is more than welcome, but a clear, blue sky and a blazing fireball in the empyrean is a dampener on my spirits, if not on anyone else’s. How will I work if I’m sweating all the time? Hmm.

The traffic in my erstwhile small city has grown to draconean proportions. Some argue that it’s a good sign, a sign of the city turning into a metropolis. I don’t like it. It not only places more minutes, more hours between work and home, home and work, between the factories and the beach, between the railway stations and the travel-shops, but it turns nice auto-drivers into pissed-off tyrants whom you simply don’t want to run into.

It takes nothing to precipitate all this but the clock striking 6. Areas and wards transform from familiar crenelations of microscopic economies, communities of traders, sweatshop toilers, and flower-braiders to hotbeds of rage, of exodus and maddened intra-urban migration… Suddenly, friends want to leave, fathers want to be left alone, mothers want to vent, and sisters want only to know what the hell’s going on.

If you’re in Chennai and traveling by auto in the evenings, I suggest you carry a book, or a Kindle, or a smartphone with which to kill time. It’s a time-warp, absolute and unrelenting chronostasis, with a profanity-drenched metronome ticking away like a time-bomb in the seat in front of yours. Of course, there are also people pushing, people shoving their way through the maze of vehicles. For every mile, I suppose it’s 10 points, and for every deceptively shallow pothole surmounted, 50.

In this crazy, demented rush, the only place anyone wants to be is on the other side of the road, the Place Where There Is Space, a vacuum on the far side that sucks the journeymen and journeywomen of Chennai into a few seconds of a non-Chennai space. When I ride in an auto on such days, I just don’t mind waiting, for everyone to pass by. I don’t want to make enemies of my fellows. At the same time, I never might know them better than their mumbled gratitude when I wave them ahead.

The driver gets pissed off, though. Starts to charge more, calls me “soft”, and that I don’t have what it takes to live and survive in the city. I tell him I can live and survive in the city alright, it’s just the city that’s not the city anymore. Sometimes, the driver laughs; most times, it’s a frown. In that instant, I’m computed to become an intellectual, and auto-drivers seem to think intellectuals have buttloads of money.

The only thing these days that intellectuals have buttloads of is tolerance.

Tolerance to let the world pass by without doing anything about it, tolerance to letting passersby jeer at you and making you feel guilty, tolerance to the rivers that must flow and the coloumns that must march, tolerance to peers and idols who insist something must be done, tolerance to their mundane introspection and insistence that there’s more to doing things than just hoping that that’s a purpose in itself.

It’s circular logic, unbreakable without a sudden and overwhelming injection of a dose of chaos. When the ants scurry, the mosquitoes take off, and the elephants stampede, all to wade through an influx of uncertainty and incomprehension and unadulterated freedom, real purpose will be forged. When children grow up, they are introduced to this cycle, cajoled into adopting it. Eventually, the children are killed to make way for adults.

With penises and vaginas, the adults must rule this world. But why must they rule? They don’t know. Why must they serve? They don’t know. Yeah, sitting in an auto moving at 1 mile an hour, these questions weigh you down like lodestones, like anchors tugging at the seafloor, fastening your wayward and seemingly productive mind to an epiphany. You must surely have watched Nolan’s Inception: doesn’t the paradox of pitch circularity come to mind?

The grass is always greener on the other side, the staircase forever leads to heaven, the triangle is an infinite mobius spiral, each twist a jump into the few-seconds-from-now future. Somewhere, however, there is a rupture. Somewhere inside my city, there is a road at the other end of which there is my city in chronostasis, stuck in a few-hours-from-now past.

Where auto-drivers aren’t pissed off because the clock struck 6, where fathers and mothers realize nothing’s slowed down but just that their clocks have been on fast-forward of late, where snaking ribbons of smoke don’t compete for space but simply let it go, no longer covet it, only join in the collective sorrow of our city’s adolescence.