I stepped out of the rusting wrought iron gate and stepped into the alley that runs past the house with graying walls. The alley was waking up to the morning, shafts of morning light lit up the gray walls, water dripped from freshly washed clothes on lines and from freshly watered flower pots on banisters. He sat on his porch reading the morning news, his gray head lost between the centrefold. A little ahead, some early graying heads were huddled together over earthen cups of steaming tea. The tea stall just before the bend in the alley had a gathering of some boys too, waiting on the wooden bench, bantering about football, cricket, IPL, Modi, Mamata and the impending civic polls.
In the midst of a busy mid morning I sat looking out around me as the “shuttle” autorickshaw made its way through the noise, the people, the market, on to the bridge over the canal, past the shanties before heading out towards the busy intersection. Houses all around me wore various shades of gray, some sported decaying iron lattices, some had peepul growing in abundance from rain water pipes, cracks and parapets. Men with heads of white and gray made their measured way towards their usual, weary destination, stopping once in a while to exchange pleasantries with other graying neighbours.
I was on my way to wait. To wait on a cold steel chair, in a cold, sterile, sanitized corridor washed with a white luminescence. I look around me as I waited in the coldness of that corridor, and a sea of gray met me. The lady in an ivory silk sitting next to me had accompanied another graying lady with her foot in a cast caused by a fall from the stairs. A renowned doctor, in his seventies, was rushed in to the ICU, with a cerebral haemorrhage, his friend for the last fifty five years by his side. Another lady accompanied her ailing husband aged sixty five, complete with pathology test results, blood reports, pulmonary test results, echo cardio graphs et al. For a second I was tempted to stop and ask the aged couple, ‘where are your young ones, your sons and daughters?’
I had seen it before but had never realised it till today. My old city today looked weary, gray and old. My city wore the look of a war ravaged city, a city that had sacrificed its youth to a war, only in case of my city, it had been a war within. A war in search of a classless society that in all its eagerness chased away the young, the intellegent and the vibrant. A city that had lost its youth to a bloodless revolution, a class struggle and chased them to seek aspirations elsewhere, to seek better jobs, better pay, better life in other cities but here.
Today I was surprised to see so many aging people, standing by each other, patiently waiting the return of their young natives. Too many old people, a patient wait writ boldly on each and everybody’s face. The gray generation was waiting at the brink of life, feeling dejected, like a residue left behind to take care of themselves on their own. Just like the graying, peeling facades wait for repair and a fresh coat of paint, the gray clouds wait to rain and wash away the grime from every leaf, the graying population waits for the return of their brood.
My city seemed to stir in its century old slumber, it seemed eager to untether itself from the old shackles, impatient to break free. For once I want to believe in this urge to change, I want to believe that my city is ready for a change, for a facelift, a lift in its decaying spirit, I want to believe in my old city again. I want to believe that it can lure its youth back. It can uproot the weeds that have taken over the bare skeletons of mansions, broad parapets, half broken window shutters.
A part of me, that part which is so steeped in fond memories, wants to remain lost in them, not ready to face the harshness of reality. But the adult knows that life is all about moving on, so I will have to cross over and face what the other side has in store for me and my city.
What does the graying, old city need to get its youth back? A new administration that promises the moon to dwarfs? A long monsoon shower to wash off the grime from graying walls? More spanking, new malls towering over the dilapidated mansions? More bridges? Or just a return to hope.
Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame