Anika walked by gracefully. She was draped in a sari bought at a local flea market and a bindi larger than the rising sun sat on her glistened forehead ; owing to the 45 degrees celsius on an October afternoon.
She paused for a moment to makes sure her purse was still there. Her hair was awry. As if she had taken all the time in the world to make sure her sari pleats sat perfectly horizontal to one another but the hair was ignored into a messy blob. The scent of Casablanca lily wafted through the street as she made her way.
Ram Gali had been glorious in it’s time. It boasted of chattering men and laughter of women as they came every Sunday morning to buy the week’s grocery. The temple in the corner made the most money on that day and the hawker’s faces carried a smile and a bag full of rupees when they went home for the evening.
But a building was erected on a parallel street and the cacophony of Ram Gali started dying out. Rumour had it that the place sold everything in one place. It was air conditioned and ran over 12 hours a day. They called it a ‘MALL’. The only ‘maal’ the city knew was in the CDs hidden under the pillows and at the backs of their cupboard. And just like that, it became the spot for Sunday chores.
This was 10 years ago.
Today, Ram Gali was an abandoned road. Even the saccadic masking didn’t hide the ghosts of conversations and tobacco imprints had started fading from the side walks. The street was surprisingly clean with zero signs of cow dung. The walls had inscriptions of a ruling party that did not win a single seat this time. The shutter of half the shops remained closed for quite a while now and the ones open were counting their breathes. The lazy shopkeepers swat flies, watching the cricket match under the hot air emanating from the table fan which dozed lazily from right – to – left and back right. The oscillating wall clock waltzed to it’s usual rhythm chiming every time the minute hand touched number twelve.
The lone temple managed to get a small crowd on Saturdays but on Sundays, the pujari opened the doors just during the evening Aarti for the lone girl who was a daily visitor for over 25 years now. The mundane street lit up every Sunday when she walked in, carrying her beige umbrella, maroon hand purse and a familiar smile. She would go to the temple, offer her prayers and a measly 25 rupees to the coin box. She then walked around the temple clockwise, four times and walk out to Karim Bhai’s shop for a glass of lemonade.
Karim bhai had seen Anika coming to have his infamous lemon juice with a zest of mint since she had learnt how to walk. Anika and her Baba were his favourite customers because they were the only folk in the town who appreciated his innuendos. Sunday routine for him was like a well oiled machine till one day he saw her coming alone. Her eyes spoke myriads but her poise remained stout. Such was the enigma she carried with her. Silent tears trickled down her eyes as she savoured every sip of her routine lemonade. She left the ten rupee note beneath the glass and all Sundays thus, she came alone.
Today was one such afternoon. Her walk was slower than usual. The sari was meticulously draped and her eyes wandered around as she walked towards the temple.
The pendulum seemed to have gained it’s momentum. The sound of television sets were playing in a 2X speed and the sun seemed to be running towards the horizon. In no time she arrived to savour her last sip of her last glass at Karim Bhai’s. She inhaled it all in. The smell of dirt and sweat, interspersed with fading blue paint and forgotten footpaths, the sound of the table fan competing with the blare of the third umpire’s discussion ; while clutching on to the empty glass that was still cold. She stood up, walked up to Karim Bhai and left a paper note on his table and stepped out of the shop, never to look back.
Karim Bhai stretched his hand to grab the familiar 10 rupee note but found a six figure cheque lying on the timber. He ran out of his shop to find Anika but she was long gone.
That day, Ram Gali lost it’s ikigai.
The town, under the siege of black suits and crisp shirts was undergoing massive transformation. They trampled over the old, bit by bit ; replacing the stalactites and stalagmites that had grown in the streets with towering buildings. Taking one plank at a time they rebuilt the ship to an apparent new glory. They claimed that nothing’s changed. It’s just the foundation that needed revamping. They called it their very own ‘Town of Theseus’.But somehow, between two towering giants of glass and cement, Ram Gali had survived. Against all odds it had continued living and preserving the primordial.
But today, it closed it’s eyes forever.
Once you strip her off, of everything old, does any amount of new feel the same?