Paris, France, Dec 2001
A scene from the metro: line M6, time tuesday afternoon. I was watching as the young lady was reading a book. A pretty common scenario in the metros in Paris – any time of year, any time of the day. But the reason I was looking at her was the book that she held in her hands. I was not quite able to figure out what the book exactly was, yet – but I got a sneak peek at the front cover and did see a big-lettered ‘2001’. And it’s then as obvious as… what? anyway, forget it… that Indrajit Chatterjee would be looking at the book till he could make out the name properly if he saw a ‘2001’ in front it. And at last what I expected turned out to be the actual case. The book was, indeed, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ by Arthur C Clarke. And when I looked up again at the lady, she was no lady after all… she was just a kid. There was an expression of avid attention on her face as she was leafing through the book. It was almost near the end. Maybe she was reading the section where Dave Bowman was going through the Grand Central of the Galaxy, through the negetive universe and towards where ‘they’ came from – a section that could make even the most unimaginative among us spellbound with charged up charm of eternal fantasy. But what interested me was the genuineness of her concentration. Maybe she would not even know… or remember… or acknowledge… but from that moment onwards, she would always be in debt to Mr Clarke. It’s unavoidable. A fantasy conceived back in the 60’s is still so romantic that even at the end of the time-window while the possibility of its becoming true is all but remains, it can enchant people… and can almost make them miss their stop. The girl got down though… at the last moment. But the moment she stepped on the platform, she opened the book again and started reading… and she kept walking like that. And inside the train, I was only wondering, what has gone wrong with the fantasy. And why the world is so dry a place.
A scene from the metro platform: line M8, time any day of the week after it’s 9p. We would see the poor vagabond sleeping on the tiled bench near of the end of the Nation-side platform. Again, a common scene at the metro platforms in Paris. So many men of this strain make the metro platforms their home at the night – maybe mainly because of the cold weather on the surface. Some of these people are so poor that they don’t even have a pair of shoes – believe me you – I have seen that in reality. Well, coming back to the guy of my telltale, he made me take a particular notice of him because of a possession of his. I was standing in the platform waiting for the train to come and looking discreetly at him, at the other guys, and at everywhere. The man was taking a nap. After a few minutes, he woke up and started organising his things. It was in the morning – office time for us and getting-up time for him. The train was running late that morning because of some reason that I didn’t know clearly (the public announcement about the problem was in French). The man neatly folded his tattered bedsheet, put that into one of his two small bags and brought out a plastic bag form the other one. The bag had some food and an ‘Avion’ bottle of water – though the water itself, of course, was not a company-product. Till that time, the scene was of no particular interest to me – but I was following his every step and motion, anyway. Suddenly he brought out something form the bag that caught my eyes. It was a small Halloween pumpkinhead doll – the one kinds that comes made with pieces of cloths and you get a design of green leafs jutting out of the top of the pumpkin (botanically, it was the bottom, though). And that was not all about it – for when he pressed the head of the pumpkin, there was an electronic laughter coming out of the small doll… the hedious laughter of the mythical mischievous ghost known as The Pumpkin-head. And then the train came which I got into.
But my observation was not complete until a few days later when I saw that man again… pretty late at the night. It was well after 9p and so he was fast asleep in his portion of the bench, cuddled inside his old blanket. Everything about him was just inside the boundary of ‘normalcy’ or ‘ordinary-ness’ as we get to know it, save for just one small thing: he had his beloved pumpkinhead dolly guarding him, sitting just in front of the bench – looking towards us, the others. The sneer on the lips of the pumpkinhead was authentic and beautifully dangerous. It was, indeed, guarding its master. I could almost feel the aura… ya, it’s always ‘almost felt’ – but there lies the charm… the ‘air of mystique’ – and that was all that I needed to see. You see, the nature of dependancy that we human beings sometimes have towards a supernatural entity (for some of you, which is ‘god’) is universal in its sense… but never the same in its manifestations. Different gods in different religions were okay. But having such a personalised religion as this one, where a person can put his total reliance onto a ghost replica, was really something worth seeing. His sleep was content. And then came the train again which I got into.
Still so much more to see… and even much more to tell…
So keep listening…