Changing lanes

I was curious when the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation introduced their new fleet of buses sometimes back. They were way too swanky for the ‘Gods own’ roads and even made the old drivers look like misfits. I wanted to know what would happen to those coloured tickets.

I remember the KSRTC buses best for its excellent drivers apart from the rickety clang-clongs. Whenever I used to board them, I used sit in front behind the driver. It made me feel that I have entered a cockpit of sorts. Only, it was a light green coloured dusty corner with minimal and barely cool switchboards, meters, the usual barely functional gear/brake conglomerate and finally, a dejected but right-on-job driver. Apart from a Road Rash like view of the journey, there was something that I used to really look forward to then-the tickets. From the moment I enter the bus, I would feel restless to know which colour would it be-the brown, the dark green, or the rare and collectible orangish-yellow?

My worst fears were confirmed during my home trip recently when I boarded a bus and saw the conductor slowly coming towards me. The ticketborad, and its neat rows of tightly pinned tickets, was missing. Instead, he held in his hand, a small gadget in which he could enter the code of the place the passenger wished to alight and wait for a second for it to spit out a freshly printed white ticket. Had he looked a bit friendly, I would have definitely asked the conductor if he actually liked them any better. Besides that, I was too busy thanking myself for keeping the tickets from the last few journeys.


Making way

A tree was being cut down to make space for a new parking lot. It was some 7.30 in the morning and they were around seven of them, the cutters. With axes, saw blades and ropes, they went about their work rather lazily as it was made complicated than usual by the relentless drizzle. There were some 50 odd birds flying above, a worried congregation of crows and cranes. That meant some eventualities common with any such case of invasion; some nests would need to be rebuilt, some eggs will hatch prematurely, worse still; some chicks would take their first and last flight down. So under the grey sky, there were white cranes, black crows, grey cutters, and a pale me watching the formalities and watching in particular, the three cranes that were sitting on the topmost branch of the tree being cut, as if nothing was going on.

There were some Auto rickshaw drivers close by, watching the event curiously, sipping their first of the numerous cups of chai of the day. The tree wasn’t giving in easily, but the parking lot has to be built, and realizing the grave need, seven people battled the old wood in the rain in the best way they could. Two of them were holding a rope that was tied to the trunk to make sure the tree is brought down exactly where they wanted to, two people were axing around the bottom of the trunk and the two other stood nearby with the saw blade, waiting for their turn. The last one supervised the tough situation- the tree has to be brought down posing no danger to the commuters and it should not fall on the freshly put concrete in the future parking lot.

Five minutes passed, and the three cranes stay put on the branch that was now shaking a little with each blow of the axe. They sat stil, their claws gripping the branch as if they ar not going to let the tree fall. The others, had put their little brains into good use and are now just making noises and fluttering around. Some of them would have even thought of a new place to build their brand new nest. The cutters, now getting worked up, had found just the right way to begin an otherwise uneventful and wet day. Both cutters took turns and made an asserting sound as they threw each blow.
My eyes went back to the cranes, which were yet to find the going tough as they sat determined and stationary. My point of interest was, specifically, to see that moment when they let go, give up, take flight to join their friends up there and say ‘Goddamn it guys, we could done it if we were together’. The tree began to shake more violently to each blow. The cutters withdrew; content of doing a task duly and the two with the saw took over. The guys holding the rope checked the damage by pulling it hard and displaying to the meager public that no tree, after all, is too big to be shaken.

The saws were doing their job just fine and the tree showed all signs of going down after a good fight. The show was drawing towards an end. The cranes at least seem to be affected now. They moved up the same branch as the rope was pulled again to test if the tree was weak enough. They moved, settled by the root of the branch, closer to the main trunk, and changed their orientations such that they are now visible to everyone standing down. I looked around; there were anxious eyes, probably waiting for the same treat as mine were. To catch that moment of truth which has repeated itself in history, of human civilization winning over the adamant (in most cases like this, stupid too) fellow beings, to see man teaching a few lessons for nature to remember, to see the cranes leaving their branch, giving up and making us closer to our common goal. Oh what a moment that would be. Though we humans are not as silly as the birds to celebrate such a moment, I sensed that a few claps could be expected.

The men stopped sawing. The tree was to be pulled down by the ones holding the rope. They took a deep breath and took some steps backward to make the rope tensed enough. And with a roar that sent an explicit signal to everything on top, they pulled their first. The tree shook violently and the cranes had to balance themselves by spreading their wings. The others who were seated on the nearby trees took off momentarily and seemed to show their rebellious friends what has to be done. The men seemed to be more excited to go for their next try. The rope was tight again as they stepped back and looked at each other, to get the synchronization better this time. A matter of improvisation, though obscure to others around. The holds were strengthened and the tension tested, the one in the front led as he did a counted down to three. And there they go! The birds almost fell off and had to use their wings again but the tree decided to go another round. The spectators were eager, as the drama grew tight. Everyone knew the tree wouldn’t stand the next pull from the mighty ones down here. The other two men left the saw and joined the rope pullers. Added strength, lifted morale. It was all moving towards an end worth celebrating, no matter what the cause was. The count down has begun once again and the birds strangely, looked calmer than ever. The pull, as expected, was the best one, the old tree swayed and slowly started it’s fall, tilting forward and giving up just at the moment it should have swung back, if it were to stand another round, and descending at a pace slower than expected, the rope pullers gave way and some of us stepped back as the tree did its farewell bow. The sigh, which would pronounce the victory, reached everyone’s throats and waited for its turn. The cranes started to loose balance and as the tilt began, spread their wings, calm as ever. The tree fell elegantly and the three cranes never let go. The sighs, denied of their moments, choked the onlookers. The cranes had held on, and when the tree hit the ground were slammed to the surface, and were killed instantly. One had bounced off the branch, and was lying a little away from his friends who were still clasping the branch they were sitting on.

The crowd dispersed slowly, and some auto drivers were the first to move forward towards the tree, one of them with a plastic bag in his hand. He finally separated the dead cranes were from their fallen home and stuffed all three in his bag; they would probably be fed to some hungry kids later in the day. The cutters wiped their sweat and moved towards the next tree. I looked up as one of them worked his axe down the trunk. The perched birds flew off as the vibrations reached the top and settled on the next tree. Except for five cranes, on the topmost branch.


The beginnings..

It’s been a while since I had put anything new in here. The problem, as always, was time. This time though, it was not the lack of it.

I am home finally, and am spending my days sitting lazy, swimming in time. I know the statement might confuse those who know me as I do the same every other day and the days in between-whether I am home or anywhere else. The difference is, now, it just feels plain nice. I spend my day re-reading old books, re-watching the seen-films, re-thinking my old thoughts and re-doing things that I used to do as a kid (You know there’s always that convertible-corner that was your own private office-cum-bedroom- cum-kitchen-cum-car-cum-spaceship. Also there’s the wall that used to be your consistent opponent in the games you are yet to invent a name for).

I was, for a long time now, longing for such a homecoming. For those who don’t know much about my existence, home for me is a greeeen strip of land in a small village called Perumudiyur in central Kerala. Long time back, when I was still kid enough to shy away from lady nurses and bathing soaps, this place meant for me, the world itself, as viewed by the most inquisitive pair of eyes in the whole district of Palakkad, from a high enough level of four feet from the ground. It had everything and everyone that I needed. A huge old house, three and a half acres full of gallant trees with grass taller than me and under them, snakes, mosquitoes, snails and flowers; paddy fields in front of the house and a streamlet flowing through them, grandmother, her retarded brother (I am yet to find a friend so true) and a karyasthan who used to look after the cultivation and oversee both my spare time and the laborers. A world so wonderful, responsive, right and feudalist enough for a young boy to grow up and belong.

The place today, is only a pattern of reminders of olden times. A lot of things have changed. Corners have been straightened, walls brought down, people and conversations, buried.
But even then, not even once was this place unable of making that odd beat of my heart forget its turn when I entered its gates. That lump in my throat has never failed to choke me every time I walked to the place my grandmother is buried.I have felt lost each time I took a walk between the trees still managing to stand. I am so glad to be back here. I had once written to a friend of mine about how this place peels off everything that I’ve managed to gather in and around me for years and leaves me with just those memories that this place has given me.

If there is anything that would be of your interest among all this nothingness around me, I swear I’ll fight my laziness to keep you posted about it.