December 16, 2011

In the Blink of an Eye

It was never there and then one day it was as if it wasn't anywhere else. 

Ever caught yourself thinking how the hell did ‘that’ happen? That’s what I think whenever I see the cluster of houses behind my home. They resembled a Michelangelo Antonioni set for the longest time-spick and span yet desolated. These have been ready for over a year now and yet they there ain’t a single soul that calls them home.

I looked at them for months and weaved endless plots around such a backdrop. Lines of spotlessly white flats, three floors, walkways, cemented pathways lined with Gulmohar, small patches of green lawns bordered by steel railings and no one living here. This is the closest I could think of anything resembling a live set in Cinecitta would be like. Cinecitta, which means Cinema City, a magnificent film studio was created by Mussolini to infuse life into his propaganda films drive by the slogan ‘Il cinema è l'arma più forte’ or Cinema is the most powerful weapon.

For the longest time I speculated the fate of this place.

This city has always given me incidents that have propelled me to think like my idols. Once I saw a horse run amok on a crowded street a la Fellini and now this India version of the island of Lisca Bianca from Antonioni’s L’Avventura where Anna disappears.  Much like a modern version of Akbar’s Fathepur Sikri misadventure would it stay frozen in the state it was and continue to inspire me to think like one of my idols? What would happen when it meets its purpose and when would that happen but also what would happen when it finally happened?

And then in a complete antithesis of the fate of the 84 abandoned villages of Kuldhara in Rajasthan, one fine morning it all changed. It finally happened. Truckloads came in and started sprucing up the place. It was time to move in and time to kill my imagination, which was so mesmerized by the imagery that it never registered the change. The locks on the houses were no longer needed. As an Army brat and a veteran of shifting, I couldn’t see anything chaotic in the disorderly. Like a controlled frenzy the whole place was now ready. What followed was comical. Scores of mattress and other homely items were unloaded and systematically assigned to their respective dwelling units.

That night the colony was lit up like a bad film set bought to action by regimented bulbs that dare not break the mood. There were people who gathered in the cemented meeting spots and talked into the cold night. The next morning there were water-tankers; so this wasn’t going to be like Akbar’s failed dream after all. More people followed. Only this time they instantly felt at home. Each house now felt warm, clotheslines strategically emerged in front of random flats, older folks came out to bask in the sun and there were a few kids who ran amok.

Ek raat ka chamatkaar… suddenly it felt like what it was supposed to always feel like. In the blink of an eye, a world came up and the one that I was busy imagining was lost forever. 

© Gautam Chintamani, 2011

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