Sunday, September 7, 2014

Standstill

Ramu shifted uncomfortably in his seat, jamming the horn two more times, drowning Honey Singh’s melody within the car. Slanting rays of the sun scattered through the dust and smoke before falling on the hanging form of Hanuman carrying the mighty Sanjeevani. The monkey God swung violently every time Ramu stepped on the accelerator. The car lurched forward through tiny capillaries which the driver spotted in the clogged road.

In the back seat sat a man who was referred to only as Sharma sa'ab within the car’s confines. Ramu could see in the rear-view mirror above the monkey God that sa'ab was busy with his computer on his lap and his phone sandwiched between his left ear and shoulder. He was in a hurry; Ramu had fifteen minutes to make sure the boss got to his meeting on time.

“Lower the volume,” was the command. A knob was turned. The horn blared again through the static traffic.
“Be’nchod!” swore Ramu quietly. What would normally take him twenty minutes was now taking him over half of an hour. He felt the cards in his pocket, and thought about the game he had won the previous afternoon. The memory calmed him.

He slid the window down halfway, leaned towards it and spoke over the noise of the expressway, “Problem kya?”

“Pata nahin (I don't know)!” said the rickshaw-wallah whose vehicle stood alongside his own.

A motorist managed to squeeze in between Ramu’s right-side mirror and the auto-rickshaw. “There’s an accident in front of us,” he said, staring ahead through the cracks between trucks and SUVs. He nonchalantly closed Ramu’s rear-view mirror and passed them, expertly entering the gap between the bus and the divider.

Sharma sa'ab saw the motorist’s action and momentarily stopped his work to swear at him. “They are idiots, sir,” said Ramu in agreement. “They are from villages. They don’t know better.”

Sharma sa'ab stared ahead at the stubborn vehicles in front of him, and eyes widening, looked at the time on his laptop screen. “Jaldi!”

“Yes sir,” said Ramu, hitting the horn again forcing the traffic to move another centimetre. “Bloody fellows chose to have an accident today.”

“Yes, my luck is horrible,” said Sharma. “It’s always like this.”

Ramu looked at the dashboard-clock, then at Hanumanji and then at the red tail-lamps in front of him. Suddenly a gap opened up in the corner and Ramu, with all his experience, was the first to react. Driving is always a series of challenges and achievements: you overtake a supercilious fool, you give way to an old lady, you joust with a young man your age…

Ramu stepped on the pedal and turned the wheel ever so slightly, thus throwing the car brilliantly into the gap on the left hand side, stealing the rightful space of the vehicle alongside him. He glided between the remaining vehicles almost as if he was cutting through the jam with a hot knife. Horns blared behind him, and this satisfied both driver and boss greatly.

“Bas five minutes, Sharma sa'ab,” said Ramu as he drove out of the jam. The man in the back seat dialled a number. The car emerged from the cluster of vehicles, passing the sedan with a shattered windscreen - the culprit. As Ramu sped through shards of glass scattered across the asphalt like the brilliant stars of the night, Sharma saheb spoke on the phone – “I’ll be there in five. There was an accident in the middle of the expressway. One car has brought the city to a standstill.”


The driver adjusted his rear-view and kissed the locket around his neck as he peered into the mirror: police, stretchers, strangers and a boy whose world had come to a standstill.

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