Chapter 5 *Elephants on the road*


It’s been three years since I’ve been writing this book. Part fiction, part experience. Sometimes I’ve loved writing it. Other times I felt like I needed to write it. Some stories need to be coughed out. Chapter 5- Dive in folks. Everything you need to know about the book is here.

Sixty three days ago, when I had packed my backpack and stolen some money from my father’s desk drawer, I had started running the moment my feet stepped out of the bamboo gate. Even though no one was home my feet raced to the end of the road, to the colony gate, as if even a glimpse of my mother, my father or even one of the maids would make me freeze in time. I had hoped the letter would explain something, and offer some respite, if not consolation. Wasn’t this something sixteen year olds, the rebels without a cause did? I had looked at my reflection through a car window and my stubble glowed like wildfire. No, it wasn’t an act of rebellion; it was more sacred than that, and definitely more urgent. Before I boarded the 329, I smoked a menthol cigarette, the last remainder of Zar, of Sarojini Nagar, of the university, of Tiger.

I climbed in with that blooming head rush, looking back to the road that lead home. Everything seemed surreal to me, as If I was watching a memory slowly sliding down a waterfall, disappearing into rising vapours- familiar faces, shops, trees, all floating backwards into the smog as if a gigantic landslide was forcing them away from my bus. I turned to the road ahead and immediately felt a little better. It was long and unfamiliar, strange and unknown, all the things that I needed at the moment. The bus jerked to a stop on the market road, right where it narrowed, interrupted by a huge procession of a brass band. Dressed in synthetic red uniforms, yellow feathers adorning their caps, they painted a picture of  grizzled grandiosity. Every white glove moved animatedly with a sparkling instrument, followed by four dancing ponies, two elephants, all decorated elaborately with bright colours and traditional punjabi attire.

 Aati Rahengi Bahaaren,   (Springs will come)

Jaati Rahengi Bahaaren   (Springs will leave)

 My departure was being thoroughly celebrated by the stinking rich bureaucrats of South Delhi.I got down as swarms of passengers descended into the road like insects on a honey jar. One of the horses was moving her legs rhythmically to the beat while the baraatis gyrated around her, pumping champagne. Before I knew it, I was thrust into the procession, behind the whisky saxophone and the dhols, right between the two elephants. I liked it there, hidden from the overdressed men and their shining wives, and voices of my past seemed distant in that narrow space.

“L-e-a-v-i-ng home, are we mister super-tramp?” a hoarse voice stammered in a British accent on one side.

“ And which tremendous force of existential crisis has pushed you to take such a step?” the other voice boomed, with a slight brush of the trunk. I straightened my backpack and did not reply.

“You know, both of us tried to run away once too, but Raja here was hit by a bloody bus on the highway near the banks of Yamuna.”  Raja bobbed his head silently. I noticed he was missing half an ear on the other side, but it was well concealed by elaborate patterns of bright colours, which stretched from his forehead to his legs. “And Changhez here was the s-m-a-r-t chap who took the bright dec-is-ion of taking the high—wa–y to escape. Of course, who would notice two scrawny el—ep-hants on the na—ti–onal highway?” Raja said tilting his head to my side. “Well, the old chap who was driving the bus didn’t notice you did he?” Changhez bellowed, adjusting the carriage kept on his back with his trunk. This attracted a sharp reprimand from the mahavat who shouted something in Malayalam and showed him a stick. Changhez let out a little shriek.

“Oh, Mister Supertramp finds this amusing. That stick, sir, hits sharper than the bridegroom’s mustache.” Changez said, widening his shadowed elephant eyes.  Raja guffawed, as if he’d heard something extremely witty.

“Let me ask you a question, Changez ?” I shouted. The brass band was deafening now as the bridegroom’s uncle was handing out packets of notes.

Both trunks nodded in sync.

“Why the hell do you have a British accent?”

Raja let out an exasperated sigh and Changez nodded his head in disappointment. My limited intellect had missed the obvious.

“What do you think we are, Mister supertramp, some unkempt beasts from the Western Ghats? Dear sir, absolutely not.” Changez put out his trunk to my face. It smelled peculiar, of a mixture of grass and ripe bananas. “We are successors of the Raj. Yes, you heard us. Our grandfather was the..the.. royal comma-nder in chief’s wagon in Lutyen’s Delhi.” Raja stuttered with some pride.

“From the Raj to Raju Brass Band in Sarojini Nagar? ”

Changez groaned and stamped his foot loudly. Raja looked me straight in the eye, curled his trunk around my neck and said, “ Look around you, mister supertramp.” I turned around.

The bus was still stranded, leading rows of honking cars and scooters, their drivers busy in a flurry of  sympathetic expletives; the bridegroom’s friends forcing a bottle of scotch down his throat; members of the “Raju Brass Band” busy collecting falling notes ; but constantly missing them on their instruments. I felt for that moment, that I was inside a TV trying to tune itself to sense. Chaos. Nothing but a mad mix of hair and beasts and saxophones and alcohol, all rolled up on the street that lead to the railway station.

“You pla-n on catching that t-r-ain?” , Raja stammered slowly, weighing every word. 

I thought about what he meant. A teardrop floated upwards from somewhere in my chest and stammered inside my throat, much like Raja. Immediately, I ran back to buy another menthol ciggarette; running, a different kind of running.