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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Night life

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When the city sleeps, a new city wakes up. Streets overflowing with noise and smoke of vehicles of all sizes and shapes bear the deathly silence of melancholy which is only occasionally torn by a thud or siren. Commotion of chatter, footsteps, horns and chirping is replaced by regular slow humming noise. Colours of ambience are replaced by veil of yellowish hue emanating from street lamps. Boundaries of road which segregated walker from driver, left from right, rich from poor dissolve to bring another order. In the night punctured by garish brightness of scattered neon signs, an underground workforce rises to its feet and occupies large spaces on road and on footpath every night when those they aim to serve sleep in deep slumber.

Hundreds of men and women sitting or squatting on the floor move their hands in mechanical precision. A support industry of tea/coffee vendors, snacks sellers and beedis/cigarettes distributors amalgamates with busy masses to keep the task going. Conversation is at the minimum: there is deadline to be met. There are hundreds of competitors but there is hardly any competition. Earth is their shop and trust is their currency. What will earn wealth next day is carelessly dumped on the road by steady stream of career vehicles. An auto-rickshaw stuffed to brim, a motorcycle precariously balanced, a cycle rickshaw or a cycle carrying more that its weight, anything actually. There is no marking, for whom and from whom, but that place of road is signal enough for who it is intended. Mountains of product bundles lie hither and thither, trampled upon, marked, sorted and collated. Hands work like machine, turning a leaf, inserting another, folding one into another, giving shape to the final output from pieces and fragments which come together at that unearthly hour at night. Owners wander among crowd, giving instructions, urging workers to hasten up, and soliciting business from few folks who are there on that night but who don’t belong there. As night wears off, product is near final and ready to be delivered. Deliverymen come on their cycles or feet, pick their bundles up, and walk toward those residences and businesses where someone somewhere is eagerly waiting with a cup of tea for his day to start.

As the newspaper boy goes along with his deliveries, the city of night winds up and dissolves in the rising warmth of morning sun, as if it never existed, to not matter to denizens of day, and to come alive again next night.