Sunday, October 24, 2010

The man with the blue suitcase

I saw him sitting on the park bench every evening. Well dressed, looked educated. Someone who must have been well to do and good looking a couple of years ago. I was intrigued. He always had this blue weather beaten, solid VIPs suitcase close to him every day. The kind that everyone had before soft luggage was discovered. He also strangely seemed to belong to that era…
He never spoke to anyone or smiled. He stared into space and sometimes was writing feverishly into a notebook. Always keeping an eye on his suitcase. He was there every evening. If I went for a walk at 5 in the evening or 10 at night. I tried smiling at him once and was met with a stony silence. He had about 3 shirts I guessed, all a little frayed but always well ironed. Shoes polished. Like he could walk into some place important instantly if summoned. I always wondered who he was, where he lived, what he did, what did his bag contain?
Then the furious Bombay monsoons descended on us. I stopped going to the park and felt caged in my little one bedroom apartment. Sometimes I thought about the man and wondered where he went in this weather. Then one day, I was really down and felt like a brisk walk would help. It wasn’t raining and I was walking preoccupied in my thoughts. Soon it was pouring and I was grateful. I could cry unnoticed. Like the Charlie Chaplin poster…
That’s when I noticed him. Sitting in the rain and staring at me. He smiled when I crossed him again. This time I ignored him.
I was tired and the rain was relentless. I walked into the shelter at the kerb and there he was. Our eyes met and there was an empathy that was disconcerting. We got talking and I heard his fascinating tale. He was Gurinder Tangdi from Nakodar in Punjab. Had been in Bombay for the last 15 years and was still a struggling lyricist. He had a lovely wife, two children and aging parents back home. They believed he was a success in bollywood and went by a pen name. So every time the so called “pen name” had a hit, they celebrated. They understood when he said he was too busy and could only see them once a year. What his wife didn’t understand was why she could never come see him, even though she believed him when he said he was faithful to her.
Very tentatively I asked what he did all day? How did he survive? He just smiled and looked away. It was clearly the end of the conversation. I thought about how I could help him for the next twenty four hours. Being a banker didn’t make things easier and yet..
For the next couple of days I got busy and yet when I went the next time, there he was writing feverishly. Wasn’t sure if he would acknowledge me. He didn’t. Gestured that he was busy. Who was he writing for? Had he got an assignment?
I looked forward to my walks and chats with Guri. He was writing songs that he could pitch to the new superstar, since stars called the shots these days. And shekhar looked the kind who would recognise talent. He didn’t know him but at the cybercaf√© where he worked as an assistant there was a customer who knew his driver. So he was sure that his time was coming. I felt sorry for this delusional man.
Often we chatted, I asked him to join me for a coffee or a dosa but he always declined. Despite penury, the male ego was intact. He never asked about my life or for any help. Just said he liked that I seemed to understand his worth. Told me about three hit songs that were actually his. They were robbed from him. One he put up on his blog, the other he read out to a stranger in a seedy bar and the third he wrote with chalk on a wall outside a music director’s office, along with his phone number. I didn’t know if he was telling me the truth or his version of the truth.
He said writing in the park was what he loved. Now he was careful so he carried all his creations with him wherever he went. In the blue suitcase. His optimism was scary. He also wrote here because in his home, there were seven other people and a lot of noise.
I once asked why he didn’t go back to Punjab. He looked hurt and said he was an “artiste” and stay in the “industry”, how could he go back. He would rust there. He actually believed he was just biding time for his big break here. Some day someone would spot the genius in him. He had decided who he would thank in his filmfare award speech and I was in the list.
After a month he read out some of his creations. They were awful and clich√©d. I told him that and Guri stopped talking to me. I was irritated with myself for letting this weirdo affect me so much. Yet I felt sorry for this earnest idealist…
Through some friends I got to know that a new music director was looking for a writer who understood the Punjabi sensibility. I rushed to the park and ran up to Guri to tell him. He stared at me while I gushed excited and he nodded his head saying no. didn’t want to get slotted as a Punjabi writer. I could have slapped the guy. Why couldn’t he get it? He thanked me and said he needed no help.
I yelled at him and he sat there benign, in a Buddha like state. Said something
I gave up on Guri. I also stopped going to the park because my building got a gym. I didn’t want to see him. It pained me to see someone ruining themselves because of some silly ideas they had in their head.
I often wonder what it is about this drug that the damn film industry is. Normal sane people losing it and still hoping…

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