Back in 2009, the minimum fare for riding in an autorickshaw in Bangalore city used to be fourteen rupees. That’s seven per kilometre, and to me, the concept seemed to be pretty clear. If you couldn’t walk two kilometres, you deserved to pay extra. In that time, I used to weigh a lot less than today, not because I was into any kind of sport or fitness fad, but more so due to the constant exposure to less nutritious food, nicotine and a strange affinity towards grain liquor. All said and done, the weight scales used to indicate a favourable BMI whenever I had the spare five rupees to spend on a stand-up unit.
The lack of any kind of schedule or routine pretty much made up for my intolerance towards any kind of extra expenditure. The fact that I had a girlfriend, whom I was supposed to meet every other day, didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I was a resident at the boys hostel of PES School of Engineering at Electronic City; a distant spot on the map of this garden city. The transport authorities of Bangalore had created a wonderful system for people like us, who had the burden of distant regular travel on their shoulders, all for the sake of leisure. It seems ironic now, but back then, the oblivion that surrounded me (thanks to the lovely lady who will enjoy the privilege of being unnamed in this story) often overrode my desire to be happy (read: peaceful).
Nevertheless, the oh-so-efficient BMTC travel routes could only contribute to cover about 90% of the distance between my college and her place. She used to stay in Kumaraswamy layout, not unlike a majority of other students who had the luxury of studying at Dayanand Sagar Institute. The closest bus stop to her address, was and still remains Banshankari, and in 2009, Bus route number 600K had been the one miracle missing from my life previously. (Of course it seemed that way, doesn’t it always?) I enjoyed the convenience of boarding the above mentioned bus just outside my college gate, and occasionally had to go through the trouble of walking to Konappana-Agrahara, the bus stop immediately preceding my college. It would take me through the dusty length of Hosur Road, turn left at the Central Silk Board junction, and head straight towards Banshankari. The journey would invariably last between half an hour to forty five minutes, post which I would find myself surrounded by what seemed like a tourist spot for anyone who had anything to sell without a trader’s license. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t despise people who sell stuff on the streets; but after spending 45 conscious minutes lost in thought about the last hundred rupees I had managed to save (scrape) over the week, I really didn’t like the idea of giving that away to… let’s just say ‘someone in need’. And that never made me feel bad about myself. In retrospect, I wasn’t earning back then, and anything comparable to a decent amount of pocket money was insufficient for my eighteen year old self, who had just been introduced to the awful pleasures of alcohol, smoking and intercourse (I don’t know why I used this particular word to describe the so called act of making love, it just seems valid now).
So here I was, in the midst of a busy bus station, sans the well-organized building that occupies Banshankari now. No, back then it used to be a single shed which was mostly occupied by bus conductors, all of whom looked like they’d just returned from Vietnam. And the newly created stall for apple juice wasn’t there either. So I could choose to survive on a dry throat, go for a tender coconut at seven rupees, or light up another cigarette (ITC Kings used to retail at four bucks).
The date, 23rd April, told me all that I needed to know, in order to make a good decision. I still had seven days to finish off the month, and I needed all the money I could save. I decided to walk.
Right then, the smallest and least significant of all things happened to me. I say that now, but at the time it seemed like a true challenge to my very purpose of existence. An obscure, lowly component of society (flinch now, but that’s what you call them deep down), approached me with the familiar sound of clapping hands. A eunuch, funnily clad in a green saree and sporting a thin tuft of hair that she (?) passed off as a ponytail; started taking what evidently appeared to be bold steps in my direction. I knew this was about money, with the certainty of a rabbit that’s being chased by a lion in the jungle, who knows it’s about life. To me, my money was my life, or at the very least, everything that life represented at the moment. I had already done some mental math to calculate that I would pay fourteen rupees to take an auto to Kumaraswamy layout, and my only other expense for the day would be my return fare aboard the 600K bus moving back towards Electronic City. The fact that I would be left with more than fifty rupees for the week was the only inspiration that could generate a smile on my face when I would meet my girlfriend. So, the potential threat of losing any amount of that money to (again, let’s just say) ‘someone in need’ seemed less than pleasing.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been scared of eunuchs. To clarify, I have nothing against the species, I know they’re humans, but for some unknown reason, the neatly combed thick brows and smug smiles would frighten me beyond my wits. I suspect it may have something to do with a movie trailer I had seen as a kid (I can vaguely recreate the image of the ever-versatile actor Ashutosh Rana with his tongue sticking out like a snake. Sadly I don’t remember the name of the movie. Long live Bollywood!)
All that momentum, combined with my pledge to secure the last bit of cash in my pocket drove me to make a run for it. Now here’s the thing about crowded places. You think you can escape whenever you feel like, but in reality, you can never get out, not unless you’re the guest of honour at a club or something. And when I think about it now, maybe the laws of the creator, mixed up in some unpleasant way with Darwin’s theories about survival, dictate that the oppressed members of society will have the maximum amount of physical agility in any given civilization. And this theory of mine is way too much evident in our society. Beggars and thieves can run really fast. I guess that’s how we have chosen to adapt ourselves into this ‘natural’ habitat of ours.
Once I realized I was cornered, I had no choice but to take out my wallet to look for signs of loose change. And as many wise men (and women, of course) will tell you, your last choice will often turn out to be the biggest mistake of your day. The decision to expose my battered wallet proved to be an extremely foolish one, and before I knew it, my nemesis clad in green had swooped in to snatch the hundred rupee note. Then, in an almost divine gesture, she (?) placed her hand on my head and started mumbling something that sounded like a blessing. I was repulsed, and shook her hand off my hair. In a dumb moment, I spat on the ground and made my way out. I was overwhelmed with the sorrow of having lost my last hundred rupee note. As I started walking away, I looked at the person who now had my money, and she seemed to celebrate. That aggravated me all the more. But being a loner thrown into a crowd of likeminded people, I knew it was pointless to retaliate. I started walking. I remember taking a lot of steps, angry steps.
It took me twenty minutes to cover the distance between the bus-stop and Kumaraswamy layout. Luckily, at the gate of Dayanand Sagar Institute, I stumbled upon my friend Lakshit, who was more than happy (seemed that way then, I’ll never know if that’s the case) to lend me hundred bucks for my rendezvous with the girl of my dreams (Ha! I know you sniggered).
My conversation with her consisted mostly of me making up a believable excuse for being late. No self-respecting almost-adult man would confess to being broke, especially not to a girl he intended to sleep with over the weekend. And after she went back home, I eventually found another way of saving some more cash. I ended up freeloading at a friend’s place, so that he would drop me off to Electronic City next morning in the bike his father had bought him.
The ‘relationship’ didn’t really last long, and although I was adamant not to believe in this statement, it probably ended soon because of the state of my finances back then. It’s amazing how money can change so many things. I mean sure, it isn’t supposed to buy ‘happiness’ and a lot of other stuff, but it really does a good job of keeping a fellow sane. So we dive three years into the future.
(A lot of stuff happened between then and now, but all that really isn’t important to the benefit of this narrative, so we’ll skip that. Let’s suffice to say that I went through some disastrous times and eventually found myself in a comfortable position. Luck? Probably.)
Its 2012 now, I work for a multinational corporation that provides an extremely comfortable mode of transport and takes me from my doorstep, right to my workplace and drops me back. And like most of my contemporary IT professionals, I’ve managed to buy a vehicle that caught my fancy. It isn’t much when I compare it to everything that I’ve dreamt of, but it’s a good bike. And the 220 CC Engine compensates for most of my daily disappointments.
The night in question happened to be one that involved celebration, accompanied naturally by a lot of liquor. And these days it’s almost always rum. I haven’t been able to explain my departure from grain liquor. In the words of my friends, Gin and Vodka just don’t ‘cut’ it anymore. It had fallen upon me to buy a bottle of Old Monk rum from the nearest Wine shop at Banshankari. (I now stay at Banshankari, surprise?) I moved my double wheeled companion from its resting place and started riding towards the main road. At the red traffic signal, I stopped before making a free left turn. In that little amount of buffer time between my thoughts, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the same green saree and the same smug smile. It’s probably my imagination, but the smile had faded a little bit. My hand involuntarily moved to my rear pocket, to feel my wallet, safely in my pocket. The love for my wallet has probably grown exponentially since 2009. Lack of money has been replaced with surplus money, plastic money, and some more types of money. Compelled by an unknown thought, I prepared to take out the new shining leather wallet and maybe shell out a couple of tens and twenties.
The light turned green right then, and the object of my obscure fears, started walking down the right side of the road. As I turned left, I noticed the steps she (?) took. Angry, angry steps.