The crowd gathered in the stands had waned. Rain had dampened the field and pushed the semi-final over to the next day, but it couldn’t dampen people’s enthusiasm. Everyone was confident that India was half-way into the World Cup final. But Ranjit had mixed emotions, and not because he had eaten a mixed salad with his favourite chicken salami, coleslaw, and olives, but which also contained artichoke and beetroot. It was because the final was the same day as his date with Bhavna. She had shared her plan the night before. The uncharacteristic vivacity in her eyes lingered in his mind.
When you’re in a good mood, you try and make others share that mood with you. Ask someone who knows a bipolar individual and they’d nod like a turbocharged bobble-head doll. Ranjit was never diagnosed with that disorder, but he was in high spirits when he walked into his flat. The first seeds of spring were blossoming in his head. But in his hall, a colossal tornado raged silently. On another day, it would have rendered his baby-face expressionless, but today Ranjit decided to tame the storm.
It was lovely weather. The torrential downpour late in the night paved way for a tranquil morning with a gentle breeze, overcast sky, and a wayward raindrop falling every now and then. The atmosphere was a sea of tranquillity. The patient sat on the floor at the foot of his bed. Legs folded, eyes closed, he embodied the tranquillity all around him. Had I met him somewhere else, I would have taken him as the source of the serene atmosphere. But this was a mental institute.
It was my first day of interviewing patients at the mental institute. The sign outside the door said ‘Bullet for My Valentine’.
“A heavy metal band,” said the ward boy accompanying me.
“But why is that written under ‘Artist of the Day’?”
“The patient behind that door can only speak through song lyrics,” came the response in an incredulous voice. The ward boy couldn’t believe the absurdity behind my question. I was amazed that despite having worked in the facility for years he could still be struck by absurdity at all.
Winters had overstayed their welcome, and summer, aware that it was late to the party, had rushed on with twice its usual vigour. The sultry air had stripped trees of their leaves. A new covering was due, and Ranjit, in a bid to follow suit, visited his barber for a regular haircut. But routine chores and events hardly ever enfold in a regular fashion for him.
Bhavna watched incredulously as her neighbour produced a snakes and ladders board and placed the two pieces at the starting point. The fact that he was serious about playing board games as opposed to going out on a date made her question how on Earth had she developed romantic feelings for him. But then she saw his eyes lift sheepishly to meet her penetrating gaze, and his cheeks flush and puff. She could never stay mad at that face. Stupid cute baby face, she thought as she smiled.
Changez was sitting up in his bed when Ranjit entered. The ward boy handed him his medicine and passed by Ranjit, who took his seat beside the bruised and battered patient.
“Ranjit, what brings you here?” asked Changez. Ranjit rolled his eyes and looked at Aamna. She did the same as she sighed at her brother’s chronic sarcasm.
All streets echoed with music. As Ranjit got down the staircase he reminisced how the streets used to be packed with kids and youngsters, both in body and at heart. People now take to their rooftops rather than the streets to give each other eccentric makeovers on Holi.
As he stood while the metro approached his stop, Ranjit thought how good it would be if he could use public transport for his daily commute. He didn’t mind getting squished among bodies when it got crowded, or standing for long durations. His motorbike travels involved sitting while he drove and standing while he waited in torturous traffic. In that regard, the two weren’t that different, save for a vibrating entity between his legs. But it was the comfortable decibel level inside the metro that he liked best.
It was not late in the evening, but the curiously prolonged winters had drawn the curtains for the day. Ranjit was headed to Lodhi Gardens to meet a friend and had to change lines from Mandi House, but the route was shut for maintenance. It was a short journey and he thought of hiring an auto-rickshaw.