Library cycle

Back in Mangalore the library came to us. Struggling against the heat and the uphill climb an old man cycled closer.

Every month or fortnight he’d arrive. His bycycle had a large open box attached at the back. He could have fit in it easily. The box was made of tin or some metal that was showing its age, but it was not rusted. 

Inside the box were comic books and magazines. Good literature too, maybe some religious works but I never bothered about them. The family would gather near the bycycle and pick up new material. The old man always stood bent over the box, watching what we’d pick up.

The material wasn’t actually new. They were just the latest things he got his hands on. Books from America libraries, books that said “remember me Jess”, book with random writing, folds and tears. The books were usually from the 70’s and 80’s with Americans having written in them. I have no idea how they got here.

I’d take copies of Archie’s comics and try to figure out the magazines. I must have been very young; I was very proud about having learnt how to spell “Zoo” from one of them. 

The cycle library seemed to disappear from my life after a while, just all those warm Mangalore afternoons when there was nothing to do. 


Overheard at the ATM

Standing in long orderly queue always seems like an alien experience after a lifetime of learning how to push through mobs of people. The new demonetization policy means that I spend a lot of time than I would like in queues. Luckily people always say things worth eves-dropping on.

Of the five ATM’s in the neighborhood only one has worked since the new policy was introduced. It’s right opposite a bank so you’ll see families and friends shouting at each other from the separate queues.

The ATM is located in a bit of a funny location. There are four different lanes that split off from the main road. So the location looks a little like this:


ATM     Building     Bank

The building has two floors. People live on the top floor and on the ground floor there is a juice shop, a bakery and two tea shops. The queue when I arrived had besieged all the shops. No one could get through the line that wrapped all around the front half of the building. All the shopkeepers took to reading dailies while the juice shop guy tried to get people to buy stuff or give him change. The lane the ATM is on leads to a bunch of houses and a park.

Dogs and children were always running about. A kid in front of me was busy stomping on a glass of coffee while his father was on the phone. His dad finally took notice after his kid broke the glass and fell over exhausted from all his efforts. He told the tea shop owner that the glass was already broken and gave the queue an awkward attempt at a poker face while the queue maintained a discreet silence.

A person behind me cured and raved after he saw an entire family exit the ATM. Two women who I had seen at another ATM queue (which ran out of cash when we reached it) discussed the GPS trackers that were allegedly in the new notes and kept debating if both of them should go in together or if one of them should go in alone and risk getting shouted at for taking too long.

A police van was parked near the bank. I’m not sure why but they kept their police lights on the entire time. There’s a gym above the bank and a man was texting while looking over us through a small window. A few bored people started flashing rude signs at him to see if he’d notice. Nearby two dogs were napping and a chat cart owner stared at them enviously. The man in front of me was growing more frustrated smacking his phone with an angry finger and losing the Kannada word game he was playing.

Eventually the ATM stooped dispensing cash at every now and then. The man in front of me called up his wife and told her to send one of their sons to collect his card and go to another ATM and another son of their who was having more in a different queue.

The queue continued to get more agitated as people only got two thousand rupee notes. Superstitions were already forming. Someone said you had to wait five minutes between every withdrawal. Another person said you should always try to withdraw above the limit first. Some started to sympathize with the ATM.

“The poor thing. It must also be tired by now.”

“Give it rest. And chai”

“What it really wants is a cigarette.”

“I’ll give it at least five minutes before I withdraw.”

I looked back and saw that the line had not shortened one bit. After an hour of waiting and with just six people in front of me the ATM ran out of money.

People on benches

Street light orange on trees,

Dry leaved pavements.

In and out of light, two urchins

In a night without burdens.

Two women leap across the fence,

Narrating a days events,

A man streches on a bench,

Another asleep near an open trench.

The Wait

The dog at the station, how long had he been there?

I would have offered him something, but his stare was empty. I stepped back trying to figure out if he had died. Before us people milled about. The train didn’t want to leave, but really what was there to look at?

The din was like the ticking of a meaningless clock. Feet shuffled but the crowd never died. There were so many, only a blur without meaning. So I stood there and with the dog I listened. People moved but the station never changed.


Abdul cannot remember anything.

The questions are rare now because they know a “No” will invariably follow. Occasionally there are flashes in those glassy eyes but who would notice? Now and then images will consume him.

Bright robes dirtied by runs through the markets. Seated figures and gossip under the old mango tree. Their wares spread out on rough cloth, they watch him fly his silk kites and ignore the cuts the thread gives him.

“No” he repeats to no one as he looks out his window. Surely the city and roads of tar were always there. “Surely I dreamt.”