|Kanpur Central Station|
"I have never been to the U.S, but I have been to U.P”. This famous sentence was once not said by William Wordsworth. Had he then Wordsworth would had his name rechristened by the local populace of Uttar Pradesh as William Gorakhpuri or Wordsworth Lakhnavi. The overwhelming hangover of colonial regime interspersed with Indian fervour finds its utterances in names like Faithful Ganj and Burlington chauraha. So it would also not be surprising if the landmark Taat Mill Chauraha were renamed after Wordsworth as Taat Will Chauraha or rather Willyum ganj.
A few days back a long lost friend of mine called me up to break a news that broke my heart so much that I wanted to break his nose. He was going to pursue MBA from a university in the United States. The joi-de-vivre seemed to spill out everywhere as he rasped in a makeshift US accent about his scholarship etc. Anyways, I kept interjecting with wow’s and aha’s lest he sensed the fuming resentment inside me.
Everything was normal till he enquired "Howz your life bhai?". It took me an entire 60 seconds to make meaning out of it. Life! Someone was actually asking about it, certainly not me. Not that I didn’t have the answer but I was unsure between replying ‘beautifully screwed up’ or ‘Fatalisticaly wonderful’. I pondered a while about my situation, a process I abstained for past many years. My life’s vehicle was steered by forces unknown to me as I sat listlessly on the backseat. Fumbling for an appropriate answer I opted for a self financed aerial survey of my life in entirety.
Amid sweltering hot and humid winds, bathed in perspiration, cruising at 110 kmph inside the cockpit of a horn blaring electric loco I saw myself. 8000 miles away from Kansas, where my friend was relocating, in a land once famous for power looms and now power cuts. Kanpur, the land of gutkhas and paan masalas.
My mind drew up an impromptu answer based upon my experiences. How every person here held his head high partly because of self respect and partly to avoid drooling of masticated masala from his mouth’s corner. How several times I survived an onslaught of freely whirling misguided spits. A few times when it grazed past me then my stare was bogged down with an even fiercer one and an arrogant reply “dekh ke chalo na be!”. How not only vehicles but also glaring eyes criss-cross each other at traffic signals. How every vehicle here bears a name plate to designate and distinguish the owner- ‘Block Pramukh’(Block Head) to ‘Poorva Vidhan sabha Pratyakshi’(an ex-candidate lost in the state assembly elections). Even losing an election is a matter of pride here and is flaunted for generations to come. A bi-cycle painted in blue and white strips is undoubtedly from Air Force while that in blue and red is of civil police. None of these enthralled me enough to be included in a satisfactory reply.
Beads of sweat trickled down at an unhurried pace behind the ears down to the neck as I sat inside my baking hot office. A transfer order seated comfortably on the table was mocking me on my face. It said I am transferred to Aligarh. I must boast about Aligarh, I decided. So, my fingers frantically googled about the tourist places there. I wanted to gather breathtaking nuances about the historic city, forge them together and serve Aligarh masquerading as an indianized Alabama. Glee! In 0.72 seconds google offered 35,000 results. Passing a silent accolade to the search engine, I scrolled down to the one that said ‘28 tourist places in Aligarh’. Even after blending it in aromatic spices a jackfruit evolves as a jackfruit and not boneless chicken. 17 places out of 28 searched were ordinary religious sites, 9 were single screen movie theatres, 1 Aligarh fort, and remaining one was a pond which doubled up as a garden. Aligarh was indeed a place to visit.
Eventually, I thought of boasting about my Group-A tagged job. Only 3 years into it and it already felt like 30. Every day passed unplanned. Each day was different and repetitive in equal measure. You had the best of railway quarters, best of staff, best of facilities that would froth envy among many. Yet everything was so hollow and monotonous. It was like owning a Sennheiser headphone when all you got to listen in a loop is K.L Saigal. I rummaged around for my accomplishments. There were none. Beautiful Memories? Yes there were some.
“Howz ur life bhai?”, his sharp voice derailed my train of thoughts and I was caught unprepared. In times like these when your reputation is at stake, lay truth to rest. Empty a sachet of local gutkha into your mouth. As it mingles and melts with your saliva Kanpur will be your Kansas and Aligarh your Alabama. After all everything is about imagination.
“My life is wonderful bhai" I replied, "I am being transferred from Kansas city to Alabama. I have never been to the US, but I have been to U.P”. beep beep beep...
P.S : No gutkha was used while writing this post.
Thankyou for reading