The Inconsequential Hope

It's been raining for two days now. Between dropped attendance in offices and rainy-day announcements in schools, the city has become clearer. Colors have come out from the pollutant-darkened tree leaves, and buildings have finally gotten their due wash. Water-clogging is now something that bugs all the metros of India so let's not even highlight that.

In between the maddening rain when the heavens stop for minutes, people make a mad scramble to reach wherever they want to. Hurried steps, lost calls, weather-cursing were something that had become synonymous to the rains. It was quite odd to see myself absolutely different from the rest when it came to the rains. I have loved the rains. The way they greet us with petrichor to the crystal clear surroundings they leave us with is something that none of the other seasons can match up to.

I come back home really early these days. I have decided to give myself and things that I love the time they deserve. One task that I absolutely love doing is going for evening walks after work. Just watching people and the way they interact with each other animatedly intrigues me. Kolkatans are pretty loud. You don't need to actually try and listen in on a conversation. Just sit wherever you are and do your job, you will be pulled into their conversation.

"Dada! Cha ta nin!" (Sir! Your tea!)

Jolted from my thoughts of the past, I was staring at the tea vendor about to hand me over the warm cup. The shop looked like the hawker had no time in setting it up. A box on wheels with a sheet on top and a Made-in-China emergency LED lamp to help customers distinguish between Re.1 from Rs. 2 as they all look almost similar.

rain city
The plastic sheet went beyond the stall to cover those who'd sit on the wooden bench attached to the stall. I had exactly the change that he needed. The smell of kerosene kept intruding my nose. But not that I was complaining. At least I was being able to sit and watch the traffic.

Seeing the rains being lit up by the speeding cars allowed me to gauge its intensity. It was now raining really hard and I was still some distance away from my place. Just then an old man walked up to the stall. Visibly upset with the weather and his broken umbrella, it seemed he cursed under his breath. The single-screen cinema hall behind had just called the interval and few harried souls came out to get their ever important smoke. The wind-less rain kept pounding the windshields of cars rushing past to be home.

The old man took out his cellphone, his forehead questioning his decision to do so and his trembling hands egging him anyway. He decided to see the time and kept the phone back inside his right pocket. His heavy bag, dripping with the cold rain was kept on his left as he sat, staring blankly at the traffic and occasionally at the streetlights. He too was trying to gauge the rains and was hoping it to go away.

He ordered his tea and got a few cookies, settled on the bench, unbuttoned the top 2 buttons of his shirt and dried himself with the wet handkerchief. Constantly swearing under his breath, he cursed the weather for becoming the common man's undoing. Finding the tea abnormally hot was something that his distracted mind hated enough to muster into words. Sipping the tea and munching his cookies didn't quite seem to rid him off the tension that was brewing inside him. His eyes constantly moved and were quite aptly displaying the rage that was building up inside.

And then his phone buzzed. 

Setting aside his tea and cookies on the old flattened newspaper roll, he got up to pull out the phone. Water still fell in tiny inconsequential drops from his messy hair and he was staring at an sms. The sms had such an impact that he dropped his hand and stared at the road again, forgetting to sit back down. I could see the veins in his right hand were surging, he was angry.

"Terrible weather, eh?"

The man was looking at me, acknowledging my stare. "Yes", I replied, still unsure about the way this conversation might turn out to be. The tea stall owner, meanwhile, dimmed his Made-in-China lamp as he was preparing to shut down his business for the day. The rain seemed to have subsided for some time but was pounding nevertheless. I could sense my tea slowly going cold. 

He sat down, slowly, to not spill the tea. We talked about the weather, the abnormally pathetic nature and how the coming pujas are as good as done. His hair jerked every time he started a sentence. Was he venting his anger at the rain or was he a hot-headed person in general? I didn't know. I was intrigued. The conversation was rummaging through the evening amidst rushing cars and gushing rain when his phone rang again. He shaky fingers were filled with crumbs of the cookies and he had some time to wipe them on his wet trousers. He put the phone to his ears and the voice cracked on the phone. His cracked chappals kept getting wet by the drops falling from the plastic sheet above.

Immediately, his jaws dropped. Instinctively, his left hand began rubbing against his forehead, which must have been throbbing. Clenching the phone tight and putting his thumb right above the disconnect button gave the impression that he wasn't quite looking forward to the revelation.

He sat down. Dropped shoulders were still looming large and he hunched and clutched his face while he rested his elbows on the knees. His soaked trousers had stopped dripping sometime back. 

"Are you alright?", I asked him, his whole appearance distinctly lost, like those gazillion raindrops faced after they met the Earth. "Be alright if I died". The clean, direct, bland response from him was something that wasn't quite expected. 

A retired guy 2 years back, he was having trouble getting the money released from his private employer. His daughter's marriage had been fixed and he needed the money, a couple of lakhs, to pull it off in the most basic way. He had managed to get a few friends to give out loans (not favors, loans he stressed) and he was still short of a good amount. Tonight was the night he would have gotten the amount had the phone call been positive. The guy on the other end, apparently a lender, was too busy for a small client with nil background. 

Between cups, he went ahead and discussed about the seeming issues that had cropped up in his life for money, how friends became otherwise, relatives turned strangers. One tiny little piece of paper with so much power to alter a life-long relationship, can you beat that?

His wife called to know about his whereabouts. He bluffed his way, saying how the meeting was delayed and not called-off. Wind picked up soon but the rains had started to subside. I guess the clouds grew tired of mocking the city for the night. 

This guy was a stranger, and yet he had opened up to me without even knowing my name. I guess the rains helped, for I still don't recollect his face entirely. Looking up at the rain, he finished his tea and got up. Without as much as acknowledging any conversation, he got up, and just walked away. 

An old guy resigned to fate, had started walking from the tea stall. Trousers rolled up to avoid getting wet, dropped shoulders to avoid the thoughts, he was a man with chaos inside. His umbrella still made a private rainfall along the side of the road he walked while a city came back to life. Period.

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