Siddharth Chowdhury is 31-years-old and has published a novel that no one has actually read. Not to mention an earlier collection of short stories which sank like the proverbial stone. It had his photo on the cover and is now a collector’s item. No wonder. He is bearded and bald and built like an over the hill middle-weight. Even though he lives somewhere in South Delhi, his friends do not yet call him "Sid".
But since he fancies himself as a novelist, he does on some frosty winter evenings, after a couple of pegs of super strong Hercules XXX Rum, bought from a shady theka near Ashram Chowk, wish for the kind of success that would necessarily go straight to his head. A success after which hopefully everyone would start whispering "Sid rocks". And how. Chowdhury sometimes suffers from delusions of grandeur. Every morning, sharp at six, Siddharth wakes up and plays Kishori Amonkar on his computer. Usually Raga Basant Bahar. She is more effective than Bloody Mary he feels. At 6.30am, he is ready for the day. He usually wears a battered old herringbone jacket that will soon need to be patched with leather from his Zakir Husain College days, over a bottlegreen Nike sweatshirt and faded Wrangler jeans. His feet are shod in slightly scuffed brown brogues. It is a quality shoe. Chowdhury thinks of himself as a sharp dresser.
After tying a tartan muffler, he sits at the dining table trying to work on a ten-line poem he has been writing for the past two weeks. Till now he has got two lines done. A line a week. He thinks it to be a good progress. He writes with yellow Staedtler pencils (134 HB) on natural shade prescription pads. A month or two more and he would have the poem licked.
7.20am, he puts the pencil in his jacket pocket and goes into the kitchen. At 7.30, he has a single hard-boiled egg with two slices of toasted white bread. Thick Amul butter spread evenly on both slices. He brews a small pot of very sweet, heavy on milk, tea to wash it down. On a brass Leningrad samovar that once belonged to his mother. On its sides, below the spout, it depicts a pastoral engraving of Russian women in scarves stacking sheaves of barley.
7.45am, he walks briskly out of his housing colony. He finds the early morning chill and wraparound Delhi fog invigorating.
Two of his neighbours, Chaddha and Chawla, are up and doing their bit for the South Delhi parking wars. Sullen school children with sleepy-eyed mothers wait for their buses near the back gate. Siddharth takes a shortcut through the nearby gurudwara to reach the Ring Road bus stop, from where he will catch the Teevra Mudrika to Rajghat. The gurudwara is quite special to him, its air of eternal calm and early morning piety always lifts his spirits up.
He works in a publishing house. His office is on Ansari Road, where all the publishers are. Oxford, Macmillan, Rupa, Manohar, Picador, Cambridge, Tangent, Proscenium, among many, many others. From Rajghat it is a five-minute walk. His is the room at the top.
7.55am, Chowdhury buys a pack of Gold Flake Kings from Tripurari Pandey, who hands him a clutch of Hajmola candies in lieu of the requisite change. Tripurari is from Sonepur, across the Ganga from Patna, Siddharth’s hometown, and plies his trade by the side of the bus stop.
After waving off three partly filled up Mudrikas, Siddharth gets on one which is almost empty and has all its windows intact.
8.05am, Sarai Kale Khan Bus Terminal. A beggar girl gets on the bus and starts crawling on all fours towards him. She has cataract in one of her out-of-focus pale green eyes. She is probably on smack. Before she can press his feet in a knowing way, Siddharth drops the Hajmola candies into her extended hand. Astonished she catches all of it thinking it to be loose change. One of these days Siddharth will ask her her name. Chowdhury is a collector of names.
As the bus leaves Sarai Kale Khan, a spare man in a shiny wine-coloured three-piece suit, which he probably got stitched for his wedding, jumps on, and in a voice perfect for selling biscuits, says "Attention!" as if he were at a parade ground.
Farid Khan is not a vendor of biscuits. He is a vendor of books. Like Siddharth. They are from the same trade. Farid is from Agra. One of his ancestors engraved a panel of aayat on the Taj Mahal. It took him three and a half years. Siddharth thinks it to be a good progress. Today Farid is selling a Delhi Tourist Guide. For five rupees. After Siddharth buys one, four more get sold.
8.25am, Rajghat. Gandhi Baba’s resting place. Chowdhury takes HT City out of his green canvas bag and spreads it on his favourite iron bench to soak up the dew. If he can’t be on page 3, at least he can sit on it. You are no one in Delhi if you are not on page 3. Surely. All round him joggers move about in quiet desperation. He admires a magnificent bullmastiff with an ungainly owner. He worries for a bit about the dog’s soul.
It always cheers up Siddharth immensely whenever he watches the human race battle against the ravages of time. He himself has lost the battle a long time back. The mastiff comes and curls up at his feet. Tongue hanging out. The sun too has come out. Siddharth lifts his face to the sunshine. For several seconds his eyes close. He rummages inside his magical bag for the book of the day. It is the Cyril Connolly classic Enemies of Promise. The 1979 Penguin Modern Classic edition with a detail of Eton College Chapel on the cover.
A good choice and Chowdhury would do well to read it carefully.
9am. He is in his room at the top and all is well with the world.
|The Patna Manual of Style; Aleph Book Company; Rs 295.|
Reprinted with the publisher’s permission.