The Curious Case of the Pothole!

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With a backpack clutched in my hands, and a stole covering my face against the heat and dust, I sat on the backseat of an old or I daresay, classic Bajaj Priya scooter. Blame my short legs or the scooter’s design, I sat a little uncomfortably. A scene from 90’s flashed in front of my eyes. A lady clad in a sari, with vermillion on her forehead, sitting modestly with both legs on the same side of the scooter, hands placed on her husband’s shoulder, riding with a sheepish smile, cherishing these newly found moments of freedom. It seemed these scooters were custom-made for them.

Perched on the backseat with the speed of the old scooter working in my favor, I had the advantage of observing the city. The day had just begun. The rolling of shutters, the tinkling of bells during prayers, the on-going dusting, the furniture, the splash of water to clean the floor; each left a unique sound. We moved past a few fancy bungalows. A man was resting on his armchair reading today’s newspaper, the driver washing his car, the gardener watering the plants. They followed a perfect routine every day that was unlikely to be hampered by the happenings in the city.

My Dad chose to take a turn and head for the so-called VIP route to avoid traffic. Both sides of the road were lined with beautiful bungalows and lush green trees away from the city noise and pollution. The election campaign had begun and as a result, there was a lot of hustle bustle in some of the houses belonging to the ministers. Hoardings of parties claiming a better future, and promise of a new life had occupied most of the view your eyes could reach for.

Owing to the smooth roads, the speed of our scooter improved. As we rode along, cars with tinted screens blinded to the outside world zoomed past us till only a waft of black smoke was left behind. All of a sudden, there was a jerk and I banged my head on dad’s back. My vision blurred for a moment. As I leaned backwards opening my eyes, I noticed a small pothole on the smooth road. Nothing could be perfect after all.

We started again after a temporary interlude, but now I was in a different part of the same world. The footpath along the road was crowded with people who barely registered their existence in the city. With blue tents as their shelters and few belongings of their own, they were living a life plunged in the vicious cycle of poverty. A moment of sympathy was all that each of us would offer, the very next moment our selfishness would take over, leaving us preoccupied with our own problems in life.

Every day we crossed this road and every day I would see the same picture. The dust on their faces had become a part of their complexion, their tattered pale clothes a part of their flesh, the sheen of their eyes lost to a darker future. Yet, they lived performing everyday duties of their life. Men squatting on the floor rubbing their teeth with neem twigs early in the morning, women lighting kerosene stoves to cook the first meal, girls hopping around enjoying a game, and boys engaged in a friendly fight.

Nothing changed for days to come, except the size of the pothole. Months passed, the elections gained even more prominence, more hoardings came up, and the roads became busier while the life of those living on the footpath remained at a standstill. The size of the pothole grew ever larger. Some of us viewed it as a shortcoming of the authorities, some viewed it as a mark of negligence, and others cried foul play, but it lay there, sticking out like a sore thumb in the otherwise perfect road.

The election day finally came, and each party sat with bated breath, anticipating the results. Prayers, rituals, donations, and every other practice was adopted to turn the luck in one’s favor. It was important to appease luck to win, to fulfill one’s never-ending wishes. Few days were left before the announcement of the election results, and every night was spent dreaming of a better tomorrow.

That night before the election results were out, it rained heavily. The next morning while we were on our way, a few drops fell on me occasionally from the light shower. As we reached the spot, I cast a familiar glance imagining the difficult night they must have had fighting against the rain. We slowed down near the pothole. It was then that I noticed two girls holding a pitcher, running hurriedly barefoot towards the pothole. They reached the pothole and filled their pitcher with the water stored in the pothole from the rain last night. A lady in a sari at the distance waited for them with a pile of clothes to wash. I could see their faces had a slight glow like the golden hue when the first sunlight falls upon freshly washed leaves after a rainfall.

After a tough night, it was their day to rejoice. While the others at party offices were tensed about what the future held for them, whether luck would be on their side, these people celebrated the rain. Blessings had come to them in the form of a pothole.

I passed by with mixed feelings of amusement and wonder. At least for today, luck was in their favor.

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