01 – He sets out each day, to rekindle yet another of his overdue desires.
For the path he takes, the anticipation of his arrival is its life-giving breath.
The crowd is dense, filled with sounds and faces, saturated with urgencies, adorned with umpteen entanglements and many pauses. I am in this crowd, of this crowd: this crowd is mine, always, every time. There is no need to be afraid here when someone calls out to you, no need to be fearful when someone carries you away. Here, the flight of each bird is fuelled by a hunger. It’s a hunger for today, it’s one’s own, it never produces wounds. What is this ‘here’? That place from where someone has spoken this time? That place which has been designated for eternal speech? Or is it that place from where someone may potentially say something, some day? ‘Here’ is a level plane, as also coarse and jagged, and it is undulating too.
What may that place be, from where we don’t desire for someone to withdraw, come back? This conception of place too constitutes this ‘here’.
A bird has dashed into the sky. It is visible to all. To her, standing on a roof, far away; to him, waiting for the traffic signal to change; to her, who is still at work; and to him, who is calling out to it, bidding it to return. The bird is in its full vitality. A vitality that is carrying it further and further away from the earth, and closer, still closer to the sky.
02 – As you delve into time, its form changes. One episode of time joins another; time enlarges itself. Its shadows mount. Contemplating its linkages is like admitting yourself into a crowd.
Twelve cups of tea on his tray, shielding himself from the inattention of others, letting his own attention wander, now and then, to things other than the cups filled to the brim, he is threading his way through everyone. He pauses, hands a cup to someone, then continues on his way.
Expelling thoughts of ‘who is my own’, ‘who is an outsider’, ‘where would this person have come from’, and ‘how do I fare in relation to him’, he is occasioning new relationships and, so, moulding this place. Separations and divisions abound in every street, but everyone can still find ones routes and corners through and in them. Is this just how streets are, or is this something continuously renewed and refreshed?
03 – They are all here: the invited, also the uninvited, and even those who are yet to appear in our imaginations. But no one walks around with sealed identities through which we may say we know somone, not know someone, or call someone a stranger. A force prevails, which doesn’t let us recede away and insulate ourselves within our own self, and at the same time doesn’t permit us to merge into another, and so lose our self.
This place feels too filled-up for any more people to squeeze in, and yet anyone can find a foothold here. Some come here to display, others come as spectators. Even when bodies are still, eyes travel. Everyone seems propelled forward by the movement of all the others around them. In a crowd it isn’t forbidden to follow the gaze of another, to go where someone else may be going. It’s as if the entire city is out on the streets. If night were not to fall, the thought of returning home may not occur to people for days.
04 – It is evening. Some shops are on the brink of closing for the day. There are people here – who show the way to someone who is lost, find an address for someone here for the first time, direct someone to the right shop, protect the lane from a danger that may appear from outside – but there is fear too. Ambiguity brings with it a helplessness in thought, a powerlessness that comes from not being able to think clearly. To wish for streets to vanish because of our fear of ambiguity is inappropriate.
05 – A road is not an open book, neither is it a thought that can be pushed away or brought close through comment. Road is ink. It can be wet, it can be thick, it can be light, bright or faint. In it one can find new languages for ones own predicaments and flexibilities. When you return, you won’t be the same as you were when you started. When we are in search, when we build, we create surprises for ourselves, and for others.
If there are no vehicles on the road, no people sitting or standing in the street, if no one can be seen, the tools of their trade in hand, leaving for work or coming back home, if no street vendor ambulates the streets, if there is no path leading from your home to the workplace, from your house to someone else’s home, what image of time and space, then, will the mind conjure? Such would be the moments when roads, streets and crossroads get effaced from ones imagination of the city.
06 – I am indistinct for somebody, and someone remains undefined for me. This – being hazy to each other – keeps us present for, and before, one another. Neither are we like each other, nor are we opposites, and no one contains the other. Then what is it that is able to bring us all together?
All directions are open; every-one is in motion. It is for him, who is my intimate even though I know him so little, that I prepare myself and set out each day in search of new ways of expressing myself. When there is invitation to bring anyone into your dreams, it is impossible for just one image to contain the entire picture.
07 – Breathtaking feats of life are attempted here. Everyone knows this. That is why they all come, to be swept off their feet, be dazzled, get infected. They are all here: the ones impatient for their turn in the sky, the ones reluctant to leave the surety of the ground, and the ones who dream of flying, but feel they could never really let go. Here, someone crash-lands; there, a graceful touch down. Look at them alight, slowing down, but roaring, letting out fumes, emitting fire! Young children run after them; their feet leave the ground on which they run.
A green horn is tempting fate today. All those already in flight have moved aside, they’re making room. On the ground, onlookers behold this sight, brace themselves. The earth steadies itself for the descent of fire from the sky; the airborne incandescence steels itself for the land fast closing in on it.
08 – Fire and fog dance, side by side. Not to erase each other, nor to wear the other down, but to give fuel to each other. Everyone hurries towards them, to fold themselves into them, to immerse their bodies in their vapours and, so, become untraceable. There is such joy, so much laughter here. From the heights they have soared to, they look down, seeking a patch of land that can hold them.
09 – Light from this street lamp rarely wavers. It lets ones gaze travel beyond things that are immediately visible. It gives a direction. Bodies are finding their way to it. They jostle and stumble, regain their balance, and keep going, each one searching potential destinations this direction opens out. The possibility of a bare street joins the abundance of a crowd.
Radiance. Things, bodies, dust on the road, a building in construction, a crow perched on a wire, water gushing out of a bore – they all seem to move in this direction. Porosity grows. Tunnels connect everything – a web of intersections, a current through all things, a road from one self to another.
10 – Who is this? Not a life crafted to be hemmed within the pegs of a few questions. What is the air that passes through it? It’s a life that has never cared for boundary walls. A life that considers its own anyone who comes to it, becoming one with them for a while. This is the magic of one becoming many. It shades us in the changing spells of time.
11 – The one who created the sky didn’t first make a count of the wings that would glide in it. Some paths are made, some stumbled upon, some stolen. They have their own routes, turns and crowds. Some have many storytellers. There is a storyteller for the path that never grows, the path that seldom flows, the path that appeared and then lost its way, the path that remains a secret to this day, the path that stands before others like a stage, the path that must be crossed at least once in a lifetime, the path that has been forgotten, the path that stayed hungry, the path joining the thresholds of homes, the path that is called a dark alley, the path dressed up for the first time, and the path about to breathe its last.
To be told, stories must first be made. Stories change according to their listeners. Who is the one listening – with this begins the difficulty of how a story will end.
*Translated from Hindi by Shveta Sarda.
** The publications of Cybermohalla Ensemble include Trickster City: Writings from the Belly of the Metropolis (Penguin-India, 2010) and Cybermohalla Hub, Sternberg Press (Berlin/New York), 2012. The South Asian edition (Sarai-CSDS/Sternberg) is forthcoming.