I locked the main gate of my ground floor apartment and made my way out through the narrow brick laden path of my little front garden, to the neighbourhood street. It is another cloudy Saturday evening in Salt Lake City, Kolkata. Every Saturday for the past 6 months, I have been visiting the nearby departmental store, Big Bazaar to buy some food, and utilities for the week to come.
At the end of the block, there is a small family run clinic located on the ground floor of an old two storey house. Today, five people were sitting on the steel airport style chairs in the open air waiting hall. A little kid wearing a Ben-10 T Shirt, sitting with his mother, who was busy talking on her cell phone, an old man with a cane in his hand reading a copy of India Today magazine, and a couple who, judging from their facial expressions, are having a very serious discussion. Walking past the clinic and taking a right, I played a little game in my head called “Guess the Disease”.
Few yards to the right of the clinic, is the neighbourhood park. Surrounded by a brick wall, five feet high, the park is also home to the community hall, which today seemed to be empty. In the park, I could see an old man dressed in white checked shirt and black trousers, sitting on one of the wooden benches and talking to a teenager, who had a guilty look on his face. On the other end of the park, few kids were playing cricket. They were extra chirpy today, maybe because it was Saturday and they did not have to worry about school for the next couple of days.
Right outside the park entrance, I saw a couple of cycle rickshaw drivers, chatting about politics, and smoking beedis. They seemed happy. Their well defined calve muscles reminded me that I really needed to renew my gym membership. I whipped out my cell phone and went straight to the “Tasks” screen and typed in “Gym Membership”. Scrolled down. Next field was “Priority”. I thought for a second about the crazy Gym instructor, his irritating and bossy ways, then glanced again at the rickshaw driver’s calves. Finally, I selected “Low” and saved.
Few feet away, my lanky landlady, dressed in a green saree, was coming home with her eight year old kid. We gave each other a cursory nod and continued in our respective ways. We still cannot look eye to eye after the whole “dead fish” episode. (She asked me to take care of her two fishes when she went on a vacation, few weeks ago. I forgot to feed them for a few days and they starved to death.)
To my left, is a brown two storey house with a couple of Maruti cars parked in the drive way. It is weird that even after six months of staying in this neighbourhood, I have not seen a living soul in this house, but somehow their cars always looked clean and their flower pots always seemed adequately watered.
Few feet down the road is Agnes, the local Chinese fast food place, owned and run by real Chinese expats. The shop kept a few tables on the side walk for its customers. Many a times, when my friends come to visit, I bring them here for lunch or dinner.
Today, the vicinity of the shop smelled like fried chicken. I gave a quick nod to the owner, who is in his late 70s, dressed today in a sleeveless red Manchester United jersey, sporting a tattoo of a humming bird on his right upper arm, which I think he liked showing off. Even though, the owner and I do not know each other’s names, but since I am a regular customer here, we do know each other by face, (Still not regular enough to get some special discounts however). Today, there is a group of three men in their formals, most probably in their early 30s, sitting in one of the tables. Two of them were talking something about interest rates, and the third guy was fiddling on his blackberry. I cursed them a bit, in my head because they made me think about Monday.
Few minutes later I reached the main crossing, from where I took a left to the main road. Dodging the noisy auto rickshaws and hundred different varieties of cars, I crossed the busy main road. If you are a classic video game lover, crossing this road is a bit like playing “Crossing the Fire Line”. Except the stakes are much higher.
As I walked towards the Big Bazaar, I took a quick glance at the show timings of the local movie hall, Kulraj Broadway. Three queues were formed in front of the ticket counters, each with around seven people. I judged them all for deciding to watch the silly, boring movies on show.
The whole area was filled with food stalls, selling chicken rolls, kebabs and all the popular deep fried delicacies. There were ice cream trolleys, cotton candies machines and drinks all around. Kids were running around, the road side seating spaces of the eating joints were filled with people of all ages. At one of the tables, three young guys were having drinks and sharing a large pizza. Every now and then they would break into a loud laughing spree. They were clearly having an awesome time.
On any other day, I would have taken a seat, ordered my favourite drink and watched the game. Tonight it was a bit too noisy for my liking. Weekends usually were. Also, my favourite team wasn’t doing well, and I had better things to do than watching them suck.
Right next to the box office is a small bakery named French Loaf. Entering through the fancy glass doors, I was hit by the heavy air conditioning of the place. With wooden tables, shelves full of baked goodies, baskets of bread, and some foreign music, most probably French, the whole place had a rusty European village feel to it. I picked up a loaf of sweet bread and a couple of chocolate cup cakes.
Right in front of me, at the payment counter, stood a heavy man with a white beard which was long enough to dangle down his throat. He looked old, and cheerful. He had pink cheeks, big kind eyes, and lines of wrinkles on his forehead. With his fading orange baggy pants and shabby red shirt, he looked like a man with an artistic inclination, like a poet, struggling to make his living in a world obsessed with rockstars.
Or maybe he was just a Sadhu (Saint) who had a sudden craving for chocolate chip cookies.
Or maybe. Just maybe. Santa Claus was in town tonight, sporting a new look!