The Sights of Night

Sprung darkness marks light,

when so swift dawns night,

feet echo past light and sight.

The bright might of feline eyes,

out of sight under human skies,

scrutinize under shadowed guise.

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Sights Around Mangalore

My neck is usually strained and screaming with pain by the time I reach Mangalore. I can only tolerate bumpy, stuffy bus rides for so long; I always keep my bus window wide open to get as much fresh air as I can.

After the semi-conscious excuse for sleep that only a sleeper bus can offer,along with the unending chatter of passenger who act like they’ve found their soulmates sitting next to them, I’ve half a mind to hop out of the window. You can always see men with legs and mouths tightly shut preparing to sprint at the next stop. Everyone gropes around still dazed while they try to find their things, stretch in cramped quarters and ask the conductor how far away their stops are at least 6 times. They always manage to forget and receive a earful from the conductor.

It is tradition to complain about the driving, roads, sleep and ghat section once we’re off. Soon everyone sporting righteous outrage at the crass, loud nature of some co-passenger. Awkward silence and righteous indignity set in as the relatives who are supposed to pick us up, like always, are late but insist they’ve been waiting for us at another stop for hours.

The streets are quite, deserted, cool. The air is thick, pleasant and smells lazy. Stray dogs eye us as they enjoy their rule over the quit tarmac, the buzzing orange streetlights  their collaborates. We pile into a car, while everyone asks each other how they’ve been. they point out how so and so has gotten taller, thinner. They whisper how so and so has gotten fatter. they all decide they must eat. We leave the car before it has moved an inch and head over to the nearest restaurant. The one’s where regular customers eat are always located in a hotel. There we eat Mangalore buns that are surprisingly filling. When your eating buns and waiting for hot tea/ hoicks in town that’s still asleep and grey, you know your in Mangalore and no where else.

People discuss how the roads where back when they were kids, how certain granduncles were caught by leopards while they stopped off to pee etc. I stick my head out of the window and look at all the trees that seem to rush past me. The cool, green, residential areas that are far away from the main road are always deserted when morning buses drop off passengers. People point to the new apartments and reminisce about the old, luxurious, spacey tiled houses that always seem to invite rain are all but gone. they point to the few survivors and tell each other stories of how they used to play by the compound walls.

The few quite minutes you have after you get home and the age determined ques to the bathroom is set up is a voyeurs wet dream. You can drag a chair out to the large open baloneys that Mangalore houses always have and watch sleepy life sneak out of the apartments and houses. Inevitably I’m told to get potato chips, milk, tukudies,flavored banana chips etc. The shopkeepers, the customers and pedestrians wear dreamy looks. You’d think they lived in a world where clocks didn’t exist.

Someone always insists on going to some temple, visiting some obscure uncle/aunt before they die, so we’re always out of the house. This will always be one of the greater mysteries of life to me. Manglore is the one place where wasting time at home is pleasant. If you disagree the sun and humidity will send you rushing back for cover indoors.My family however insists on packing themselves into a sweaty car and braving the heat. The humidity and sun torture you. I’m always drenched in sweat in Manglore.

The veg restaurants we visit, once someone man’s up and tell’s everyone else that we should probably take a break, always serve amazing sandwiches. I don’t know why but sandwiches always taste better in Mangalore. The petty shops around ever corner are the best places to eat however. They always have some specialty whose name I am too tired to remember. I can remember taste but not where they come from.

My most recent discovery is this guy who has an dd love affair with the coconut. He has multiple shops carved into old house near the port of Mangalore, where the air always smells of fish. He serves you coconut based ice cream, mixed with other melted flavors of ice cream. The ice cream is served in a coconut and is meant to be scooped out with a piece of coconut husk he gives you. You can recognize his shops by the red, 90’s refrigerators they always have.

We leave Mangalore the same way we came. In a sweaty, sleeper but filled with loud gossip, loud passenger, loud conductors, loud streets. One day I want to stay awake through the trip and locate where it is you top smelling the salty air of Mangalore.

Sounds

After  walking the long winding maze of streets that were filled with loud cars and people, the chirping crickets sounded like aliens.

You could still hear the bikes rushing past, the shopkeepers and customers talking, and the food shops frying the nights special, as you enter the street. The street seemed like a lifeless world without the buzz of electric lights or voices that carried out from within the homes around its flanks. If electricity was still supplied, this street along with three others would surround and guard the park and fill it with voices, as though the patch of greenery was a great marvel meant to be protected, preserved.

You could hear footsteps and people brushing aside the low hanging branches as they made their way away from the park. There was only one person walking in the opposite direction at any given time, so even if the night left you blind you’d hear footsteps and know where not to go. A man left the park and walked into the street, his dog’s chain clinking as they darted to and fro, lead forward by excited sniffing.I heard his feet scrapping along the road and crushing leaves long after he disappeared from underneath the dim moonlight.

I heard a group of kids in the park huddled around a single bench. They argue with each other for more space in hushed voices. Another dogs, which has no chain, is busy turning over rocks, kicking up leaves and wining excitedly. One kid, who sounds young, keeps repeating in Kannada that his uncle has a phone and he wants a rematch. An old couple sit on the elevated foot path murmuring to themselves.

On the left I see a woman open her squeaky window, she lights a match and goes back in.A group of Rajasthani women clothes as loud as their voices have what I mistake to be a yelling match with other Rajasthani women in cramped apartments. As their laughter carried across the streets and echoed off the houses, I realized they were just having a conversation. An old couple who looked a lot like the two who were sitting murmured as they pointed at the women.

I reached the end of the street and heard someone bounding up their stairs. the power came back on as I walked back. TV’s came back on, the now nosy street and park gained a renewed vigor. Lights and people buzzed about me. It was still quite in comparison to the main street, but not as silent as it was before.

I could now see people in their homes. They like the noise, seemed to heave come from no-where. An Enfield purred and another in response. I walked off the street and all the street’s nosises were drowned out.

Pipes and sugarcane

On the way home there’s a man who makes sugarcane juice which, I am always surprised to find, is the best I’ve ever tasted.

I walk everywhere. I can’t ride a scooter, I don’t like buses or autos and my bike was stolen 5 years ago. So I’ve no option but to walk. I’ve come to like it. I walk 10 km every day, the distance doesn’t matter anymore I only look at the amount of time it will take me to get where I want to go.

The earlier college ends the more inconvenient it gets. The heat and lack of trees along the footpath makes the road home a death sentence. Usually I try reading a book on my phone. If the chapter is good and the battery can sustain the brightness needed to read from a screen while the sun boils above you, I fail to notice the heat. Every day I realize I have forgotten to refill my water bottle. The water from the college purifiers might always taste funny, like they have someone’s medications dropped in them, but thirst makes me do crazy things.

Back when I was a kid my father would always stop at every little road side stall and buy something. He’d ask me if I wanted some juice. I’d always say “no need”. He’d buy two glasses anyway. I hated it. The fact that my father would insist on not having any sugar or anything other than pure juice in the glasses didn’t make it any more tolerable. Memories of me gagging, every time someone asked me if I wanted sugarcane juice, come back to me every time I drink sugar cane these days.

The man who sells sugarcane has his little setup next to the empty bus stop on Berlie Street which is always crowded on the way to college. He seems to follow some seasonal pattern, like those trees with purple flowers on the way home. I don’t know what the trees are called but they have this ability to stay unnoticed until they decide to, for a short period of time, shed their purple flowers and colour the road purple. I still haven’t figured out his annual pattern of disappearance though. I wonder where he goes for all those months. How does he manage to pay his bills if he keeps disappearing every other season?

I always hesitate when I see him. I don’t like giving away the ten rupee notes I have. I feel terrible about giving him a hundred, the guy always need change. We give each other a knowing nod. Sometimes I feel obliged to buy juice if he notices me. Sometimes he seems to resent the fact that he has to put away his paper and start crushing the cane. I’ve never heard him say a word, but he wears sly smiles on occasions.

He isn’t always by his stall. Occasionally he sits in the bus stop. You’d think he was a regular who had no business staying there for more than a few minutes. The loud tin box where he stores his crumpled, moist notes always remains neglected on his little stall. On other days he sits and skins the huge bundles of cane that he keeps against the trees that shades his stall. There can be no doubt about his popularity if he really manages to sell all that cane. On some cloudy days I see him sitting with the man who sells chaats on the other side of the bus stop. He never says a word to him either. He has never shown any interest in going back to his stall and selling cane on those days. He just stares, maybe telling me I don’t have to buy anything today.

Every time I drink the Sugarcane I’m surprised how cold it is, how relaxing it is, how it makes me realize that I’ve been walking all day only to make me forget a second later. No matter how many times I remind myself about how great it tastes, I’m always surprised by how it manages to blow me away. These baffling moments are when the Sugarcane guy puts on one of those sly smiles.

His little stall has green plastic pipes in it. The one you’d normally use to water plants. They look like they play some important role in his strange homemade contraption. You can’t really see them, until you realize he doesn’t have room for his legs behind his stall. Every time I try to see what they do, he makes a little hop to the side and hides the pipes. It’s a little suspicious, and road side stalls are shady enough. But the always surprisingly amazing taste makes up for any suspicious pipes and sly smiles.

His stall is green just like those pipes and looks like any other. Those pipes are the only things that stand out. Most people don’t even seem to notice the pipes. The juice serves as an excellent distraction and you find it hard to care about those little green pipes. I can’t help but wonder if there was some great genetic modification that made sugarcane taste better. Was it even sugarcane I used to drink back when I was young? I don’t know and realize that, like always, I have chugged everything down too fast for me to savour the taste. I don’t regret it though. I’ll just buy some more some other day.

His unending silence, the good taste that just doesn’t make sense till you drink it, the mysterious pipes and smiles, and his seasonal disappearance makes me wonder if he’s a genie.