Every once in a while, I get up in the morning and wonder, just like that, why exactly I chose to be a journalist. I ponder over why I choose to run around the city all day long, burn under the sun, punish my lungs and skin with the pollution and put up with the weirdest assortment of people. These come gushing in to my mind, in a rush. And then I think of the stories I hear, the fact that every day is a different day, that I would have killed myself out of boredom in any other job that is more disciplined in its hours and its job profile. Every once in a while, something happens, I meet someone or hear or see something and I am reminded of all that I love about what I do, that despite everything, its the passion that brought me here, its that same passion that keeps me going.
Why did I start this now? (Ma's right, I really can't stop writing once I start!) Ah yes, this morning's story. Walked to my assignment this morning, rather clueless and feeling very hot under the scorching sun. And then I walked right into a slum!
I was sitting there, waiting for a long time but for once, even without a book, without messaging, I was not bored. I saw there so much of life, the kind that is so raw, where human emotions are stripped of its usual masks that society, education, culture and propriety teaches us to don. Crude words, loud shouts that were heard above the blaring speakers. Naked children, chattering in crass words. A dog sleeps in front of a closed door, oblivious to all the commotion; for once the little kids are not bothering him. There is a bright blue door. Next to that a green one, with big yellow dots, red lines within that. A stench that I have come to associate with slums everywhere. A little baby, wearing what is probably her elder sister's hand-me-down. Very narrow lanes, crowded with clothes hung out to dry, some framed picture, another dog and an open drain. A tiny store that is dispensing bubble gum. A subtle hierarchy that I begin to notice among the boys and the men around; some rather stylish in dangerously low waist jeans and pierced ears, some older with girls drooling over them, some watching on in awe, anticipating the day they will do all that. Flirtations, among those of all ages, a girl in class 9, whose sister befriends me, is all eyes for a taller, older man who shows off to her his swanky mobile phone.
I am mistaken for an orchestra singer! Must admit, I did look very out of place. The stage is milling with children, in all sizes, in all variations of baritones! For a while, I can't help but wrinkle my noise at the smell. A little while later though, my eyes take over and watch another side of life. The houses are small, I am tempted to peep into them, but then, that would almost be a romanticisation of the idea of the glamorous poverty life, I chide myself. Yet, I strain my neck a wee bit and see pots and pans stacked one upon the other. A thin trickle of dirty water flows by. There are some wet clothes that are yet to be washed on one side. On the other, more clothes hung out to dry. Slightly older children are amused for a while. The beat of the drums gets them tapping their feet. But the younger ones look up and suddenly, the we-don't-really-care look is back on their faces and they move away to resume a game. The little ones, with either too short or too long clothes hang around and are silenced by the adults every few minutes. But the drums begin to beat and they cannot stop their feet from taking steps of its own. Uninhibited joy. A bored girl looks by, her eyes skirt away from the teen who is posing nonchalantly for her benefit. A slight twinkle though appears in the corner of her eyes. I turn back and see some eyes look at me with curiosity, some with other thoughts. Staring in front of me and on the sides is better, I decide. The speaker blares every now and then. A girl, Vijayalakshmi, I think her name was, talks to me. She passes on a rupee coin to her sister and gets a bubble gum. Her sister is still in school, she dropped out some time ago, she smiles when I ask her why. I guess I understand, she had to look after the house and the younger siblings; its a common story I hear. Her younger sister flirts with someone she definitely has a crush on; he seems to reciprocate.
In a little while, the place fills up. One of the organisers plops himself in front of the microphone and reels off a list of people that he wants to come on to the dais. Through the noise and my amusement, the programme begins. I walk out after a while, a girl smiles at me prettily. There is no longer anything there that interests me. I am through observing life on the other side of the road.