THIRD EYE – Indrani Raimedhi, [email protected]

In the middle of a freezing January afternoon, I did not go straight home from office to Netflix as I always do. For, if the truth be told, I had a date. A date with a stranger I had always known but could never solve the enigma that was him. My car cruised to a halt. I told my driver to stay put and walked eagerly forward to our tryst. There he was with his broad chest and silent lips, his proud demeanour and the indifferent air of not caring whether I came or not. A chilly breeze blew as I watched him with love and yearning... the Mahabahu Brahmaputra, vision of my dreams surging, restless, yet serene, rolling towards some unknown dawn… sweeping down from the mountains, at once cruel and life-giving.

Since he would not talk with me, I decided to walk along the bank from Kachari Ghat to right below Raj Bhavan. I left my bag and cellphone in the car. I felt liberated, uplifted to a higher consciousness as I walked briskly. There was so much to see, to wonder at. The flocks of birds scattering into the sky from the old trees in a dance of feathers and caws. The canopy of green branches bent benevolently over my head. Tiny shrines on the hollows of tree trunks, decorated with flowers, tiny tridents, vermilion and turmeric. An ancient sight in a city speeding towards the future.

“Walking past the park, I hear the furious cacophony of curses spewed by a young woman. She is a skinny little thing with big hair and is so furious with her lover that she slaps him hard, to my consternation.”

And then, the people. A haggard man lying on a grimy blanket on the pavement, bearded, defeated, too spent to beg for alms. Women in brilliant saris washing fish pans, scales and knives, pushing aside blocks of ice. Winding up after a hectic day of selling their wares. A very old woman, short and bandy-legged, walking faster than me, overtaking me, to my mortification. An enormously obese old man standing on the pavement holding on to the railings. His sad, bulging eyes focus on the scene across the street. A youth, ruddy cheeked and grinning, holding a mic and belting out filmi songs. He is full of rude good health and exuberance, twisting his lithe body in an ecstasy of movement. My eyes darted from the old man to the boy. What wistfulness was there in the old man’s bulging eyes… of lost youth, lost health and approaching extinction. He stood there for a long time, inert, his eyes drinking in the sight of the carousing youth leaping about without a care in the world.

A park runs along a part of the bank and amidst the foliage, young couples sit on ornate weather-beaten benches weaving dreams of gossamer silk, threading their lives into each other, cooing endearments, voicing the immensity of their love for each other. The birds caw overhead, the river listens and is unmoved. A chilly wind blows, cars drive by. But the lovers are in a cocoon where the only thing that matters is they are together. Some pairs do not seem to have much to say. The girl is busy directing her beau to take pictures of her from all angles. He obliges, eager to please his lady love.

There is a darker side to some love birds. Walking past the park, I hear the furious cacophony of curses spewed by a young woman. She is a skinny little thing with big hair and is so furious with her lover that she slaps him hard, to my consternation. With colourful and unprintable curses dripping from her mouth, she flounces away in rage. I walk past with a shrug. Who says love’s path is smooth. They will sort it out eventually.

By now there is a pleasant ache in my legs. I think I have exerted myself enough to cheat a bit on my diet. Some more strides and I will walk back to my car.

Just then, there is another diversion. The high wail of sirens reaches my ears. A convoy of sleek cars, police vehicles and an ambulance fly over the road and is gone in a flash. This sudden and direct contact with the powers-that-be is not so good for my nerves. I thought there were laws about speeding. I thought very important people would slow down and feel humbled in the face of the primeval power of the river. But they only seem to go by TS Eliot’s refrain, “Hurry up please, it’s time.”

I retrace my steps, it is still a long way to the car. The cursing girl is at it still, shouting at her miserable man, not letting him have a single word edgeways. If he is smart he will make good his escape. If she is smart she will know the last kind of woman a man wants is a shrew.

Walking has its own hazards, I am terrified of getting into the middle of a pack of snarling dogs but fear climbs a notch higher when I have to cross paths with a lunatic. On this day luck is clearly not on my side. A tall, grimacing man in rags comes towards me. Quaking, I see he is also carrying a stout stick. Scarcely daring to exhale, my eyes lowered, I hotfoot it past him. Far from having any desire to harm me, he was muttering with glee, “It’s good that I didn’t marry, now I can eat all the fish of the Brahmaputra by myself.”

A safe distance away from him and later, from the car, I called Junior. He burst out laughing.

A last sight awaited me. A young couple was standing on the pavement. She was in her college uniform, a very pretty girl with curly hair and peaches and cream complexion. Plump with large brown eyes, she looked cherubic. The youth was in jacket and jeans. Nothing remarkable about him. Except that right in front of me he delivered a stinging slap on the girl’s cheek. I saw her cheek turn red and her body tremble as she began to weep. I could not let this go. I glared at the youth, “How dare you slap her?”

“It’s our business.”

“No, you have no right hurting her. Look here, Mister, I am from the press. I am calling the police right now.”

The girl turned towards me, one cheek bore the imprint of his brutal slap.

“Please Aunty,” she said in a heartbroken voice, “I’m okay.”

I walked away, deeply troubled. How can you protect someone who does not wish to be protected? In this day and age, when young women are reaching for the sky, there are weaklings who cling on to abusive partners believing they have no choice, anxious they will be left alone. I wonder what the young girl did to deserve such humiliation. I will never know.

Finally I get into the car, carrying a fistful of tiny tales.