Tuesday, January 10, 2006

In Which I Prove That I'm Loony

It's wierd how things that happened a long while back and which you hadn't even thought of for ages can have an effect on you.

Today, on my way home after a truly horrible exam, I boarded bus no. 604, going to Vasant Kunj. It was a DTC bus and there were plenty of seats.

So I was sitting in the bus, minding my business as usual. An old man was snoozing on my left, clutching a black bag tightly to his chest. His head drooped down periodically. A window with a broken pane in the front part of the bus allowed in the chilly wind. The bus was unusually quiet, possibly because everyone was busy shivering.

A red and black Adidas bag lay next to my feet. I was thankful for its presence, because it ensured that anyone walking to the front of the bus wouldn't pass too closely to me, if you know what I mean. I assumed that it must belong to my snoozing copassenger.

A young guy sitting on the seat on the opposite side of the aisle took it into his head to stare at me. I looked away to avoid his eyes and the Adidas bag caught my eye again.

It was a nice bag, good-sized and well-filled. I wondered what Sleepyhead had in it.

Soon, Sleepyhead got off. He didn't take the bag with him, though.

That was when I started to get worried. The bus was half empty and Young Guy and I were the only people for about three rows. There was nobody else that the bag could possibly belong to. Young Guy seemed quite unconcerned about the bag; he was whistling cheerfully to himself and anyway, if it had been his bag, wouldn't it have been on his side of the aisle?

At the next stop, a couple of Army men boarded the bus and sat in the seat in front of me. They didn't even look at the ownerless bag. I suddenly realized that, to other people, the bag must look like mine, since I was sitting right next to it.

I stared at the letters painted onto the seat in front of me:Aapke seat ke neeche dekhiye. Lawaris vastu bam ho sakti hai. Turant shor machayiye. Inaam payiye. I remembered how I'd made fun of these words a couple of times and how I'd promised myself that I'd never do so again.

Should I raise the alarm, I wondered. But how foolish I would look if it turned out that the bag belonged to some guy sitting at the back of the bus. I didn't have the guts to do that, I decided. And anyway, the bag was probably absolutely harmless.

I wished the bus would go faster, so that I could get off the bus and stop obsessing over the bag.

But suppose I was right? Suppose the bag contained a bomb and it was even now ticking down to an explosion? I tried to imagine the explosion and all I could summon up in my mind was some yellow-orange colour. It suddenly came to me that, if I was right, I would never get to know. Because I would have ceased to exist.

It's an unsettling thing, you know - imagining one's sudden erasure from the world. We all survey the world from our own viewpoint and that viewpoint has certain parameters, things that you take for granted. The existence of self is one such. And to imagine the non-existence of self - why, that's contradictory, because how can you imagine, if you don't exist?

Like I said, it's unsettling. Which is not to say that it doesn't have its good points. Everything seems clearer suddenly, better defined. You suddenly notice the man sitting in the front seat with trousers so short that the tops his socks are showing. His raucous laughter isn't background music anymore, it's right there inside your head, mocking you.

I imagined him ceasing to exist and it was rather pleasing. At least his laughter wouldn't hammer its way into my head. But I suddenly realized that he probably wouldn't cease to exist if the bomb went off, because he was sitting at the front of the bus and would probably escape with extensive burns. And with that realization, it hit me that I would much prefer to live - even with burns - than to die and that it would be better for me to shift to the front of the bus so that I would be away from the blast. This also had the added advantage that the conductor would realize that it wasn't my bag and then it would be labelled lawaris vastu.

So, feeling very pleased with myself, I shifted to a seat right in the front of the bus, almost next to the door. So what if it brought me closer to the man and his laughter? I would be away from the bomb. After a while, I chanced to look down and - Aargh! - the bag was right there, next to my feet!

"It's determined to kill me," I thought fatalistically, staring at the bag in horrified fascination (the cliche is very apt here). I wondered why no one else had noticed that the bag had followed me all the way to the front of the bus. I wondered if I was going crazy.

Suddenly, the bag shifted. A hand had come out of nowhere to grasp it. After the initial mental recoil, my eyes followed the hand up to the shoulder and from there to the eyes of Young Guy, who gave me a winning smile. I didn't smile back.

Young Guy got off the bus at the next stop with his bag.
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