I heard him before I saw him. An impassioned, enthusiastic voice delivering a memorised spiel, embellished with the choicest anecdotes, the choicest jokes, in English, French and Hindi. His voice floated around, while the listeners, an assorted mix of foreign and Indian tourists, listened with rapt attention. His powerful baritone had me in its spell.
One paunchy fellow wearing a pair of baggies and gigantic sunglasses gaped at the guide who was flamboyantly dressed, with a rich crop of hair on his head. With his mouth open, the paunchy fellow gave the impression of one who preferred listening through his mouth!
I would have continued to be mesmerised by this man with a powerful baritone and the man who gaped at him, had something more powerful not met my eyes.
A short, stockily built man – a policeman to be precise – jumped down from the pillion of a ramshackle scooter and headed towards the group, swinging the baton in his right hand. There was a swagger in his walk, a glint in his eyes, and no hair on his head.
This folically challenged man stopped near the group, staring at the guide, a hirsute fellow, who had the habit of slapping his hair into place after every pause in his speech. He made an inventory of the hairy man, his eyes almost jumping from his sockets at the hairy wealth on the mans head. Just as the green eyed monster was about to attack him, his already popping eyes popped still further as he saw four boys jumping from a motorbike and heading towards the mall .
Hey you, the four of you, where are your helmets?Before anyone of them could answer, he stumbled towards them, eloquently swinging the baton. In three long strides he had reached the beleaguered four!
Do you not know that wearing of helmets is mandatory?
He had gaps in his front teeth, and he appeared to be whistling out the words.
No helmetzz?He whistled the same tune.
The boys stole furtive glances at each other, and as though by tacit consent, the shortest of the four headed towards him with purposeful strides. Maybe his deceptively innocent looks would melt his heart.
No uncle shuncle…I want…….
We will fulfil all your wants, the short boy mumbled, ignorant of the long arm of the law.
Tumhe kanoon pata bhi hai ya nahi – do you or do you not know the law? The cops baton was swinging more vigorously now; the glint in his eyes was brighter. The vendors fronting the mall were looking apprehensively in the cops direction. The boy selling momos, the man selling ice cream, the woman selling golguppas and pakodas, the florist selling flowers, the man selling kulche chole,stopped the call of duty and waited, with bated breath for the baton to perform its duty.
Before his fiery looks could scald the boys and the baton could perform its duty, a mishap occurred in the cart of one of the vendors.
So engrossed in this street play, the woman who was frying pakodas sitting atop the cart ,suddenly tumbled down from the stool she was sitting on, and would have fallen down had a man standing there not come to the rescue of this damsel in distress!
But alas, strange are the ways of uxorious husbands! He was standing a few feet away ogling some of the foreign ladies who were clicking photographs. When his eyes fell on this scene, he raced towards the cart, and losing not a second, hurled himself at the good samaritan – not in gratitude but in extreme anger!
How dare you?He screeched. His shrill screech having the potential to prick the heart shaped balloons of the vendor who had arrived at the scene, the hearts fluttering on his shoulder while tiny kids clamoured for the warmth of these hearts.
How dare I what?It appeared to be a bad day for the good samaritan.
Touch my wife!His screech had now assumed the confidence of a bellow, the hand on the collar of the good samaritan shaking vigorously.
Touch your wife?He said, grabbing at his own chance to get angry.I saved your wife, he hissed.
Suddenly the uxorious husbands face went completely blank, and his head started whipping from side to side. His hand fell off from the collar of the other man. His eyes had caught something. Nay, someone.
What ish all thish going on?The baton wielding behemoth was suddenly in their midst, swinging the baton with a new passion. A sudden quiet descended on the actors.
Suppose you just tell me what is going on?He boomed, his fox like face displaying theatrical disgust, then remembering something, his head whirled back in the direction of the helmetless hulks, who were just about to sneak away from the scene.
Hey you, stop where you are , he hollered from there and the boys stopped where they were!
You can be booked for disturbing peace, do you know this?He addressed the two in front of him.
Just then there was an explosion! Peace had been threatened!
The baton man almost jumped out of his socks, his eyes looking around wildly, and his face contorted grotesquely, his baton pathetically disoriented.
Then his eyes fell on the balloon man who was performing the last rites on the pathetic remains of two balloons which were so bloated and fun filled just a few minutes back. He heaved a colossal sigh of relief as the source of the explosion hit his follically challenged head.
Then picking a handful of pakodas from the cart, he glared at the husband who fumbled in his pockets for something, and surreptitiously handed the something to him. Now he headed towards the boys. His brow lined, his stomach lined, his pockets lined. A lined man.
The moment he reached the boys, they started pleading, beseeching, and the tallest of them fell prostrate at his feet.
I sneaked a look in their direction, and was amused at the scene that met my eyes.
Flanked by two boys on either side, the baton behemoth was being led towards the Pizza corner. The silence of his baton drummed my ears!
In half an hour, they were back; the grin on the baton mans lips now spoke volumes.
In the span of an hour, I had witnessed a street play, complete with pathos, melodrama, hamming and, comic overtones with tragic repercussions.
But hang on; the drama did not end here. There was a sudden gust of wind that blew off the crowning glory off the flamboyantly attired guides head! The wind had played a dirty trick! The rich growth of hair on his head was actually a wig which had grown sudden wings! It flew off his head and settled next to a dumpster!
From that moment onwards, the folically challenged man did not stop smiling! The green eyed monster slithered away leaving a foxy smile on his face!
The mystery of the guide continually patting his head was revealed to the folically challenged man in all its scintillating brightness!
It was his day through and through – and also mine!
The theatre enthusiast in me thoroughly satisfied, I headed towards the car, but not before I had sneaked another look in their direction. There was a new found bonhomie, a back slapping camaraderie visible in this new relationship which had been cultivated in the pizza corner. An Italian dish had brought four Indians together!
In this theatre of the absurd, there were heroes, villains, a heroine to be rescued, and yes, also a vampire!
Sorry, I stand corrected, what I thought was blood oozing from the baton mans lips was actually betel juice erupting, like compassion from a benevolent heart.
He had not sucked blood, but on his way out, he had merely lifted a betel leaf from a paan seller, with all the authority his baton could wield.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.