Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mumbai freeze-frame: Cummerbund Nighthawk

1. Cummerbund Nighthawk

‘Crash Money’ was an old-fashioned term, used by decrepit speculators hinting at the possibility of a hand-out from the God of all things commercial, and college students juggling wait-as-you-learn courses with a tempting social life. But as the days turned into years for the now middle-aged Mr. Shyam Dutt, the sense gleamed from the sum of both words put together brought to him the smells of a recently used ashtray and the after taste of the vodka and Mixed Fruit Concentrate that he used as a substitute for breakfast, before leaving home for work each morning.

As he waited at the bus shelter at the corner of his street today, he tried to verbally translate what he was seeing on the day’s image crossword slide show on his PDA - the best he could do was, ‘An egregious mixing of codes in a tempestuous spawning of millions of bacteria spiraling towards an artificial sky’.

His bus was on time. He climbed on, held his breath for the thirty-minute ride, and finally got off pushing and shoving his way through the confines of the obsequious people-carrier to the relative expanse outside. Head bowed, he walked distractedly till he reached the entrance to the foyer of the hundred-storied dull grey unmarked building and glanced at the sky just before reaching the threshold of the automatic doors. His ruminations ended the second the armed security guard standing beside the metal detector looked warily at him. Mr. Shyam Dutt registered the slow sign of a reluctant recognition on the guard’s dour face as he looked past him towards the receptionist who was wearing the low-cut yellow blouse today, sitting at her omniscient desk at the centre of the large lobby. He passed her an unrequited smile, walked towards the elevator corridor, and pressed the button marked with the upward pointing arrow beside the closed doors.

He blew repeatedly into the cuff of his sleeve during the thirty-second lonely ride and just as it ended, he shrugged in futility looking at his reflection in the mirrored walls. When the doors eventually opened to let him out, he was welcomed into April Fools Day, 2046 by a loud neon-lit banner hanging over the numerous empty desks; the streamers and burst balloons strewn all over the floor alerting him to the raucous party he hadn’t been invited to, the previous night.

At home later, he sat at his desk checking his pass book repeatedly for any signs of indiscipline over the past month. He then stuffed five of his neatly pressed shirts from the cupboard into the washer/dryer, struggled for five minutes with his ancient espresso machine, and ultimately settled down in his chair in front of the only window in the single-cell apartment. Brooding over the sun settling in a slow downward arc over the sea at the corner of his available line of sight, he saw it as a large orange ball barely visible through the thick gloom that extended till the ends of the earth.

When the rumblings from the washing machine had completely died down, he carefully spilt the last remnants of his weekly vodka quota on the carpet, leading a trail from the doorway till his bed in the little alcove on the north-east side of the room and lit a dozen incense sticks after turning off the fire alarm. As the light from the window died down, he turned on the table lamp placed on the armoire by the side of the bed and opened the drawer underneath .

He held his breath with his lips at the cusp of the mouth of the plastic pill box he had taken from the drawer and glanced at the large clock staring down from the wall facing him. He looked again at the open pill box that seemed now to mock him whilst in suspended animation in front of his face, and back again at the clock.

‘Damn’, he said then - the only word he had used aloud all day.

The inquest took five days. No one had come to claim the body from the morgue in spite of the notices put up in all the local papers, and the attendant had relegated it to the end of the list.

And two weeks after his apartment was broken into by members of the maintenance department acting on the incessantly ringing smoke alarm from the fire escape on the thirty-fifth floor, Mr. Shyam Dutt’s remains were hygienically cremated and his ashes placed in a composite graphite urn labeled and marked with his name and serial number, and placed in a basement repository amidst a thousand other urns that all looked exactly the same.


  1. Dear Nithin,

    Why do people not comment on your blog? Thanks to you I now have a new time-sucker when I'm bored at work.


    your cousin aka Puppy Manohar