Drunk, old men watch silently as the chief minister’s motorcade rushes past everyone else, quite rudely. I watch the drunk, old men. I see into the future. I swallow a dry, bitter fruit.
An elder gets into the cab, hauling her heavy bag into it. I move aside, making room for her. She rummages through it and brings out coins for the fare. I’m always drawn to such old people, who still have to worry about livelihood and cannot afford to rest in old-age leisure like many others.
-Mei, phin leit shaei?
-Polo, nga sah ha Polo
And we start conversing. She tells me about her being punished by the Governor’s gardener when she and her friends used to steal sohkhlur from there as children. How they would say sorry one day and be back at it the next. She chuckles.
She goes on about her father’s house which was made of thatch in Laban and how she misses it.
As we drive past Secretariat, she expresses her amazement that all those buildings could have come up in, what was once, thick forestland. She manages to draw a map of Shillong in every sentence and I try to envision all of it in my head.
In Keating Road, a beggar man comes up to our car and asks for “tea money”. She explains to him that she has no money either in proper Hindi. As he moves sadly away to the next car, she heaves a heavy sigh, looking back at him.
I pay for her and she is so grateful it startles me. I can not help tearing up as we separate and I thank her profusely, which must have startled her in turn.
She was just telling her story.
I have come to realise that such profound warmth and empathy for fellow sufferers is not alien to the poor and as I walked through the detritus of PB- that place with its SUV driving crooks and self-indulgent brats- I could not help but tremble as I thought of that old soul, walking down Jail Road, trying to navigate home.
We talk about power. Simply talk, nothing substantiated. No real idea about where and what shape and an unwillingness to place it solidly in their own hands. We drink tea. My old friends talk about new gadgets and compare new salaries in a shifty way – tokens of prestige. I have never seen this side of them before. After tea, we walk with accompanying hush over new roles as government tools – chest beating and filling papa’s shoes or mother’s.
After all this, I look and recall a car filled with friends driving around Police Bazaar, gnarling at people, looking for a high at midnight, howling, clawing, wild swinging animals in a motorised menagerie. Angry, younger, yes but filled with hope.
Now, are you the same ones in that classroom who debated ethics and society? Are we the same ones who wanted revolution? After all that praise and promise, I always thought we’d be here together. After that rebelliousness out of reading rebels, the avant-garde rebels parading in our hearts, the rebels whom we wept for: where are you now, beloveds? What has happened to those classroom brats who spat at cash, who pissed on prestige, who swore only by high beliefs. Beliefs without office, without church, only spirit.