Wednesday, 6 August 2008


It can be a backlash of the twin blasts in Bangalore and Ahmadabad, security has tightened in all the metros and seeing lot of checks-and-stops in Chennai is strange. I think more than the physical caution that has been taken, it is the mental precaution that has set all minds alert. The repeated images in the print and electronic media or security measures, have for sure, pushed the level of alertness a notch above than the usual. This can be seen in the number of false alarms that ring at the control rooms everyday.
After the alert was sounded I’ve been on the lookout for a probable unclaimed bag, abandoned car in a crowded place and so on, more so because I frequent the public transport. It was July 29 and two days after the blasts rocked the psyche of the nation. As usual, the bus which I got in, to my office, was crowded. Finding a seat was impossible and it was always book-the-seats-by-standing-in-front-of-it game which all standees engaged in. To my surprise there was this one seat on the right side facing the aisle which was empty. Without thinking twice I jumped for it. Adjusting my big frame I tried being courteous to the passenger sharing the seat by smiling at him. He was a gentle soul who obliged and turned away as though he was in the middle of looking at something.
The passengers in front turned and stared at me. A few among the standees also did the same. The conductor was rash and quick to issue a ticket. He too gave a what-the-hell gawk. It is not uncommon to have these reactions on an MTC but I was intrigued. It might have been the ‘level of alertness’ that was the cause for such a reaction. I looked at my neighbour and found the answer. The gentle soul was in casuals, wearing a white cap, a beard which long due needed a trim. He had a bag with him, a black one. In the sweltering humidity he was wearing a full-sleeved shirt and had an uneasy calm on his face.
The countless images that were dished out in the past few days played in my head. I smiled at him and looked at the others. I felt sorry for them. How could they stigmatise a person based on stereotypes? Their prejudices were amounting to discrimination which was uncalled for. I found answers for my doubts. I knew why the seat was not occupied, why the passengers and conductor gave me the stares.
The ease at which he was taking it surprised me. He was enjoying the ride, occasionally attending a call, unaware of the bias he was subjected to. I knew he was a good person, probably religious and had a family waiting for him to get back. When his stop to alight came, he excused himself and went away. I felt so much at peace with myself for standing apart from the rest of the passengers. I saw myself as a person who did not further the marginalisation that was prevalent.
As the bus left no one cared to occupy the seat that was vacant.
It might have been the ‘level of alertness’ that was a notch up lately, I checked under the seats if there was any unclaimed bag even though I remember seeing him take his bag with him. I tried memorising his visage and other features – he had a mole on his left wrist, was carrying a blue mobile and spoke fluent Tamil and Hindi. Probably English as well, was middle-aged, dark complexion, nose had a long bridge and eyes which drooped. And yes, he was carrying a black bag which was a compliment from a company next to Britannia in Padi.
Was I more other than the others?

(edited version of this article has appeared in The New Indian Express )