Small Town to Big City Experiences
I grew up in small communities, where everything was within walking distance, where most faces were familiar even if they were unacquainted. Moving from one such small town to the neighboring Chennai city was a new, unexpected experience.
To go from an idyllic life to the noise, the traffic, the crowd and the sheer size of the city took a little getting used to. One curious scene that held my attention were the public buses during the morning rush hour. These vehicles were so stuffed with people, that the door-less entryways at both ends bulged with passengers who hung from the steps or footboards. The effect made these buses look like incredibly pregnant organisms as they creaked and groaned, leaning precariously, winding their way through the city as they lurched from one bus-stop to the other. When such a bus slowed to a stop, the people hanging on to the footboard — who were mostly men — spilled onto to the street and jogged a few paces before they came to a complete stop. That sight held such fascination for me.
At that time I was taking the local metro train to work, which sometimes came in the same fashion. That morning however, the train was not crowded, but I was running late. As the train approached the station, I got up from the seat and moved to the door-less entrance of the compartment and waited impatiently for the train to come to a stop. The wait seemed interminable as the train slowed down next to the platform. In my haste, without thinking clearly, possibly propelled by the image of the men spilling out of the buses, I jumped out of the still moving train. Instead slowing down with a slight jog like the spilling-men, I came to an abrupt stop.
The next thing I knew, there were flower-heads above me. They had gathered around me, with their heads in a circle, towering over me, sunlight streaming through. There were all kinds of flowers, some of them wore their long hair in a single braid and were wearing sarees, others had short hairs, some of them had beards and mustaches and were wearing shirts and pants. They were looking down anxiously. All the flower-heads had mouths and those mouths were moving. They were trying to say something. What were they saying? The voices were coming in clearly now and I was able to hear them. They were asking if I was alright and if I needed any help. Help? Why would I need help? What happened to me? Where was I? Why was I horizontal instead of vertical?
Realization dawned on me. In jumping out of the moving train and coming to an abrupt stop I had broken one of the sacred laws of physics, and right then and there, as punishment, gravity felled me landing me flat on my back on the hard, concrete platform. I must have had a mild concussion or something, because I seemed to have blacked out, which was probably when the crowd gathered around me.
When I came to, there I lay, horizontally on the hard concrete floor of the train station, looking up at flower-head people who were looking down at me with anxious faces, asking me if I needed any help. ‘Help?!’, My wounded pride reacted in my mind, ‘Help me? Me? Who was full of life, filled with youthful vigor of a twenty-year old. I don’t need any help, especially from some who were old enough to be my parents.’
As embarrassment unhinged it jaws and began to swallow me, I shot up straight, like an arrow from the floor scattering the flower-heads. I responded to their concerns brusquely, by saying I was fine. I dusted off my clothes carelessly, trying to pretend that the powers of gravity had no effect on me, without even bothering to glance at my elbows and knees that were scraped raw. Still, I couldn’t shake off the staring eyes.
So, I started with slow, measured strides, head held high, face stoic, stubbornly refusing to wince from the angry red bump that was growing on my forehead. A few paces later I darted out of the station as fast as my full-of-youthful-vigor-legs would carry me, trying to soothe my wounded pride which hurt more than my body.
© Lekha Murali 2019