I’m waiting on an isolated road, next to a car that sputtered, spat, and broke down. My friend has gone somewhere to search for a spanner, a spare tyre, car oil, a mechanic, or whatever else is required to get the car moving.
There’s a plateau ahead that looks like it hasn’t seen human footprints since a couple of eons. It’s getting dark and chilly. Behind some shrubbery, I see something glinting. I hope whatever it is that pierces the darkness of the plains doesn’t belong to an animal.
I look around. I can’t make out which direction my friend headed. Shuffling around here and there does me no good. I settle down to listen to the breeze and watch sand shift silently around rocks.
A little later, I hear voices.
‘Arrey udhar…goggles nikaal re…raat ko kya pehenta hai!’ (There! And take off your goggles. Why are you wearing them at night?)
I’m a little annoyed. That’s how you point out bears in a zoo, not a girl on a road.
The guy with the goggles says, with a hint of admiration, ‘Itni raat ko ladki…akeli vo bhi..daring hai usme..’ (A girl..so late at night…she ‘has’ daring.)
In and around Mumbai, and I think only in and around Mumbai, ‘daring’ is what a person has, rather than what a person is. Grammatically incorrect but essentially true.
‘Kya daring…kaam to kuch rehtaa nahin…aa jaate hain…Ladka gaya hoga kidhar khaana peena laane. Kal ko office jaayega..yeh ladki ka kya. Ghar rahegi, T.V. dekhegi.’
(What ‘daring?’ Doesn’t have any work…The boy must have gone somewhere to get food and drinks. He will go to office tomorrow. This girl will just stay home and watch T.V.)
The voice seemed to have been hardened by experience.
I turn around to see a small makeshift place that probably pumps air in tyres, plays old Hindi songs, and serves endless cups of teas to woeful patrons. A cantankerous man dusts an old, faded sign. The sign says: ‘MCP Shop’.
It is indeed a rare man who knows himself.