This is a collaborative piece.
TLJ X PASSERBY
Text : Syed Farhan Aqeel Zaidi
I have believed for quite some time that we are living in the fantasy sci-fi world we have seen in the cinema of 70s and 80s.
We are just short of holographic projections, flying cars, android servants, teleportation and time travel. We have almost taken care of the first three, but people have always taken time travel and teleportation for granted.
Instead of teleportation, I, however, have a more feasible dream – a harmless sedative with a timed effect. Take one capsule for a one-hour long journey when you are in your seat. Fall back and close your eyes as the capsule lulls you to an hour long slumber. Wake up and voila! You are there. Teleportation.
Nobody will take the pains to invent a useless thing like that (you just wait) but travelling in that rickety tempo from Subhash Chowk to Huda City Centre metro station in Gurugram sure makes you sorely wish for that pill. If teleportation is a shortcut to save time, that tempo is a shortcut to save money (the trip costs Rs 70 in an auto and Rs 10 in the tempo).
Plying from Subhash Chowk to Huda City Centre metro station in Gurugram, the 'devil' never sleeps. To and fro, back and forth, it runs, teleporting our bodies, tucked violently into its belly and sedated by the warm glow of sweat and spinning headlights for twenty minutes. It's an apparatus that reminds you of the dystopian post-apocalyptic world of frenzied fighters warring for food and petrol – ever ready to crumble, recklessly fast, overburdened, understaffed and always riding in the face of death.
It all starts with a battle cry beside the Subhash Chowk traffic signal:
“Huda, Huda, Huda!”
“Huda waale, Huda waale, Huda waale!”
People who are going to Huda city centre metro station are Huda waale. I am a Huda wala. Every evening, I am joined by other expectant Huda waale who are not ready to spend their hard earned money on the luxury of comfortable autos. Each fellow traveller has different priorities – some scramble for the shotgun seats and some run for the back seats. The unfortunate ones only get to sit on a thin strip of metal and hopelessness right in front of the back seat. I wait. I had stopped running a long time ago when I realised I couldn't beat time. I board a relatively empty one and wait for others to come.
Entwined in an eternal embrace, people remain packed in the tempo with a crude precision, rocking now and then by jolts of inertia – twelve souls banking on the driver's motor skills, four in the backseat, four in the front and four on that patient strip of humility.
As soon as they board, most of my fellow passengers take out their mobile phones and drown themselves in the light emitting diodes. Sitting stuck between the invasive elbows, I have only one option: listening to Mehdi Hassan, while looking around and admiring the metallic beauty of Gurugram. In those moments of arbitrary companionships punctuated with grunts and groans, I find, in the faces of the people around me, the lost stories of this city, and think about the present which has become the future of my dreams.
It's not the clean and green cities of the third millennium I think about when I talk about the future. I think about the 'third world' ghettos, the abandoned nations, the rivers blackened by industrialisation, cities blighted by greed, smoke bellowing from towering chimneys, tiny tin boxes rolling in a perpetual symphony orchestrated by red and green colours of control, little deformed kids selling wires and whatnot, space-age subway trains running past little blocks of life seen through transparent windows of high rise buildings flanking them as they run like insects crawling through concrete grass blades, carrying hypnotised heads bowed down in front of the screen – the mean machine, a screen to welcome you home, to bid you goodbye, to tell you where to go, what to do, who to love, what to be proud of, what to hate and we oblige. We always waited for the future but never realised when it came and surrounded us with its carbonated haze.
The thoughts flood me as I sway and I secretly wish for the teleportation pill again.