Wednesday, April 21, 2010

That Moment

It is another of those evenings. It is dark outside, clouds hanging by since afternoon, just like that without blowing away and without pouring down, a drop here and a drop there, every other second, a calculated rate, maximising their lives the clouds hanging onto their passing existence. It was another of those days that comes and passes by, that came and went, unnoticed and without noticing.

It is a different bus, not the usual one with comfortable seats, but an old Merc mini that must have carried school children or may be still does. The seats are all cramped and the half an hour ride gives one all sort of aches. No power nap in these seats. The front seat is empty and before long I have pulled open the side door. I hop on the seat by the driver, the only seat where it is comfortable to stretch legs on this mini. Slam the door shut and put on the seat belt, the latter being a condition of employment all signed when joining Schlumberger. Pull-hop-slam-buckle up. Ready for a ride. Few minutes later it is 5:15 in the evening and the driver puts the wheels in motion.

Putting the head next to the window I let the tiredness drain into the metal. It’s comforting, the metal, the mini (with cramped uncomfortable seats at the back), the hold of the seat belt, the slow motion of the mini (still within the company speed limit of 15kmphr inside the premises boundaries, till it hits the highway), all is comforting, the untiring metal takes the tiredness away and sends weights across the eyelids, weights that bring in rest and calm. About 20 yards ahead on the right the cat lurks, next to the exit. A big black giant of a cat, restless in the evening, this evening, just by the corner. The driver hits the radio button gaining my attention for a fraction of the second. It is the usual. Some Russian/Azeri RJ with some English hop/pop/hip/pip/hap/rap. We are at the exit of the company complex. A right, down the narrow stretch for a hundred yards and another right will put us on the road to the city. The black cat is sitting next to the security post on the left. Driver nods and waves a farewell and good night to the security guard, who acknowledges with equivalent gestures and we are on our way. I am half asleep already.

Nearly ten minutes later, a nasty pothole in the road shakes me out of the lazy sleep. This driver has taken the route through the hills, the new highway, not the usual short way around the hills next to the sea. This route is longer but calmer on most days. The driver keeps the vehicle at company’s maximum allowed speed of 80 kmphr (he has signed few conditions of employment as well) but that is not good enough to keep the others on the road behind. Yet, he being the driver of this city (where all drivers are apparently crazy), he drives on left, next to the divider on the road, in the supposedly fast lane. Others have to do the honours and overtake as they wish. No one minds the trouble here. They all are giving their fair share of troubles to others anyways.

I am looking at the dog-shaped hillock in the middle of the lake. It is quite a fascinating piece of rock, carved by rains and seasons in an almost perfect face of a dog, a kind of old and seasoned looking mongrel. A side of the hillock lights up, shining with a natural brilliance.

The driver hits the breaks. He is virtually standing on the brakes. By the time I look straight the steel rods on the trailer in front are two-three meters away. Another second, maybe. Maybe less.

A toddler falling on a heater or a stove (the details are hazy). A fall from the roof top, a fractured bone and a dislocated shoulder (there was pain but he got up, slid into the bed and moaning groaning slept through the night). The cries that stopped the entire market when that desi hakeem tried to put the shoulder back in its socket. An attempt to get one point for Aravali ending up in a twisted ankle (on the other side of both the pole and the vault). Later the ball flying from the hockey stick of an angry forward of some team made it a twisted ankle and a hairline fracture.

A smooth first ride (to the city) on the scooter. A crash into a building on the way back from the city. Spoiled groceries, a crushed big-toe and a lost big-toe nail. A doctor pulling out the other big-toe nail years later (while talking to his wife who is digging into the eyes of some poor soul on the next operating table). Mem letting go of the scooter handle after being surprised by an unnoticed pothole in the streets of Moga. A motorcycle at 100+ on road from Mansa to Sanam, lost control but stayed on wheels. Mostly safe, always surviving.

Father, mother, sister, brother, few wanted relations, plenty unwanted, many friends, few good friends, some lost friends, some forgotten friends, a love on the sidewalks. A first school, a second school, an only college, a first job, a second job, the last job. Kabirpur, Sultanpur Lodhi, Kapurthala, Chandigarh, Delhi, Pune, Bombay, Perth, flight to Dubai and to Baku, a taxi ride to Salyan highway. A day spent like any other. An evening like any other. A pull-hop-slam-buckle up. The cat walking across from the right to left as gracefully as a tiger. The pothole and a bump. The rock in the lake such perfectly carved, the trailer overtakes the Merc mini like all the others. The sad and slow clouds bursting apart to give a blow to the mountains. That natural brilliance on the dog-rock. The bolt of lightning hitting up ahead on the roads. A push on a break in panic up ahead on the road. Many breaks behind it. The thunder following the bolt, drowning all sounds. The trailer in front out of motion that instant, a dead stop. The driver standing on the brakes of Merc mini. Steel rods two three meters ahead of the comfortable seat. A well fastened seat-belt. A second, maybe. Maybe less.

Does life flashes by in that last moment? Do we remember the pains and joys and loved ones and hated ones and forgive and ask for forgiveness in those last moments? Maybe, if we are lucky and go peacefully lying discarded by old age and neglect. Maybe. Maybe if you are on US1549 and plan your crash on Hudson maybe you have time and then you get a second chance, maybe you are among the blessed ones. Not many are blessed. Hollywood hardly happens in reality.

A pull-hop-slam-buckle up. Nap-bump-rock-bolt-thunder-brakes. He has about half a second to go. And half a second is only half a second long. His last words are lost in the noise of skidding tyres and crashing vehicles and breaking glass and ending lives. He watches the rods come. His last thoughts are forming the words that he will say. He could not complete what he wanted to say. “Oh Shiiiii…”. Half second is over.

Crash. Pain. Lots of pain. Angels and demons. Fatal system error. Shut down.

No comments:

PRELUDE TO A RIOT

The cover of Annie Zaidi’s ‘prelude to a riot’ carries in red letters – ‘A white-hot novel about today’s India.’ White hot! Hotter than red-...