Posted by: thetavernthoughts | April 23, 2012

Speed Breaker

The green curtains fluttered in the wind, the sill itself shook subtly. The cold moist wind felt good on his face, he could almost smell the rain in it.  Through the gap in the fluttering curtain, he could see whitish hue of the Moon, as it peeked through the clouds. Shreyas had moved the desk to this part of the room long ago. This way he faced the window while he worked, and every time he looked up, he got a great  view of the yeor hills from his windows. At night, during the monsoon season, the strong south eastern winds almost crashed onto his bedroom window. Even in the blurry moonlight, Shreyas could see the winds collecting clouds over the yeor hills.  On such nights, he would keep his content development work aside and stand by the window, and observe, the Mother Nature in all her glory. He would often take solitary walks on such rainy nights, thinking about various poems in the Indian Literature that eulogized the life giving monsoon showers. “God is in the Rain” he would think. On such walks, the young content developer felt he had something poetic and philosophical hidden in him. He felt the rains cleanse the muck of everyday life from his psyche, to reveal in its artistic interiors.

On this particular night, Shreyas sat his desk, feeling the wind on his face. He had made himself a cup of tea. As the overture of Mozart’s Fortuna started playing on his laptop, Shreyas took a whiff of the freshly brewed tea. As the music picked up pace, Shreyas, started taking sips of the warm brew. The warmth spread across his body, a wonderful contrast to the cold monsoon wind. As the symphony reached the crescendo, Shreyas closed his eyes and let the music course through every vein in his body. His concentration was broken by a loud screech of the automobile breaking.

Shreyas opened his eyes, and suddenly jumped out of his chair. He stooped over the table to stare through the window. He could see the street clearly. The municipal cooperation had done maintenance work on the street recently. The street was smooth and Shreyas himself was often tempted to speed up his bike. To avoid over speeding, the municipal cooperation had made a speed breaker on it, and it was right in front of Shreyas’s building. Every night, drivers seeing an empty smooth road would drive in at the top of the speed. They would not notice the speed breaker until it was a little too late and more often than not had to apply emergency breaks. The loud screeching sound always troubled Shreyas and he would always end up staring out of the window.

This time it was a SUV, it survived the breaking. As it continued towards its destination, Shreyas could feel the familiar irritation replace concern in his head. The government, as always had, done something incomplete and stupid. They built the speed breaker, at the right spot. Shreyas had no issue with that. A preschool was right across the street and, more often than not, little children would run unconcerned on the street. The speed breaker ensured there were no accidents. At night however, the speed breaker was disaster waiting to happen. The breaker seemed to come out of nowhere, especially to people who did not drive on the street every day. Even to the locals, it took effort to spot the breaker at night. The speed breaker was not painted and although it was next to a street light, a tree adjoining the street light cast a shadow on it, making invisible at night. The driver could not spot it until he was only a few yards away from it that too, only if he was clear headed. Almost every one speeded up on a road like this, such roads were rare in country. Every night, for the last three months, since the speed breaker had been made, Shreyas would hear cars screeching to slow down. Few days ago an old Suzuki broke her chasse as the driver simply failed to notice the breaker. Shreyas had run down to help. It was a young couple that had recently moved in to the locality. The girl was clearly shaken by the incident. Shreyas had helped them move the car to the side of the road and then dropped them home. He had already written to the Municipal Corporation about the problem a month ago, he had even visited their offices. Only thing they did was to make some false promises. After the Suzuki incident, Shreyas decided to take things in his own hands.

So he went to a hardware work shop nearby and enquired how much it would take to make a sign. He had first considered asking a painter to paint white stripes on it, but it was too late for that, the monsoon had started and paint would most probably wash off before it dried. So he had a special sign board made, a sign board that would illuminate under a car head lights. He decided to place it at about fifty yards from the speed breaker. He was going to work on it the next day. He had even enrolled a couple of local workers for it. They had already dug a hole on their chosen spot. All they had to do the next day was fix the sign in it and pour the cement. He had all the necessary material in his house. He also knew how to make the white cement. Shreyas looked outside at the sky. He noticed that clouds were high up, such clouds generally passed over the city without showering. The once that brought heavy rains, were the ones that would get caught in yeor hills. So he decided to put up the sign immediately, without waiting for the day. He could take Bahadur’s help. Bahadur was the complex watchman, who guarded the main gate.

As he started mixing the shite cement, in the labourer’s mixing bowl, he felt gloomy. He knew what he was doing was weird, not the setting the sign part, but the fact that he could not wait for the next day. He knew the compulsion that was nudging him. He had lost parents year ago, to car accident, on very similar monsoon night. Although, he could not hate the extreme showers of the monsoon, he did develop an obsessive fear of car accidents. He felt very lonely since that fateful day, and as he sat working on nights, the screeching cars were annoying reminder the ones he missed. He wondered, often if his father’s car had made a similar sound, as he desperately tried to avoid colliding with the truck. The truck had crushed the car and his parents in it.

The cement was almost ready, he had to pour it before it dried out. So he left the house and hastily called for the lift. He held the light aluminium sign board in one hand and the cement in the other. He walked towards the main gate, looking for Bahadur.

There he was standing by the gate as if waiting for him.

“How are you feeling tonight Bahadur, are you up for labour?”

“I am doing well sahib”

Shreyas felt genuine concern for the man. He seemed to have grown old almost overnight. He could see the wrinkles forming on his neck, and his eyes seemed to have lost a bit of their lustre. He looked worn out. Not the lively young man Shreyas was used to.

“You seem tired Bahadur”

“There trouble back at the village Sahib, property issues.”

“Don’t get so tensed, I am sure something can work out.”

“You don’t know the village people sahib, they can Murder over property. I haven’t slept properly for days, I am worried for my wife and kids, I need to go back immediatly, but I can’t just quit this job either.”

“I can see it on your face. It seems as if you have aged within these few nights.”

“Sahib, what to do, the worry is killing me.”

“Then perhaps you should not help me, let that other new boy beside you help me.”

“No Sahib, I think, I just sit here all night, with nothing to occupy my mind. So I end up worrying. Please, let me help instead.”

“Ok”

Shreyas handed him the sign board. He noticed the other new watchman stare at Bahadur in awe, and shaking head to toe. He seemed to be clinging to the holy beads that he wore around his neck. Shreyas wanted to laugh, looking at the young man shaking. He was extremely thin this new companion to Bahadur. He was probably fresh from a village in the north, new to Mumbai. They are generally shocked by the strength of the monsoon in Mumbai. The wind was extremely cold, Shreyas noticed, the thin watchman could not handle it.

The atmosphere was little strange he noticed. The full moon shone brightly from behind the clouds and the winds were very strong. He could see Bahadur struggle to hold the sign board that was drifting in the wind.

They reached the designated spot, and Bahadur put the sign board in its place. He held it against the wind, while Shreyas quickly poured cement into the cavity to hold the sign board. Suddenly, the street lights went off, and moonlight permeated through the night. Shreyas saw a flash of car lights and looked up. The car sped past him, slowing down, few moments before reaching the speed breaker.

“The sign works” Shreyas said looking at Bahadur. At that instant the night sky lit up with bluish haze of the lightning and Shreyas could see Bahadur smiling at him in the night.

“Yes Sahib it does.”

The loud clamp of thunder followed, and Shreyas got back to pouring the cement in the moonlight. The hole slowly filled up, and Shreyas levelled the cement using his own hands.

“It’s done Bahadur, let go of the sign let’s see if it stands.”

Bahadur did as he was told. The sign stood proudly by the street, to warn every driver who would drive by. Shreyas took a moment to admire his work. While Bahadur pulled out cigarette and lit it.

“You know that it can kill you.”

“I will quit tomorrow Sahib”

Shreyas laughed.

“Aren’t you going back home Sahib”

“No I would rather take a walk.”

“Aaaah! You should become a poet Sahib, taking such depressing lonely walks in the rain, or you could get a bride, you can enjoy the rain better with her trust me.”

“You speak from experience” Shreyas laughed

Bahadur took a long drag and smiled as he flicked the cigarette to ash it. Shreyas turned towards the dark moonlight street to begin his walk. He turned around and looked at the new watchmen. He could see the watchman’s face in the emergency light. There was naked fear in his face, as he stared at Shreyas and then at Bahadur. Shreyas felt eerie as he looked at Bahadur smoking the cigarette nonchalantly blissfully ignorant of watchman and the strange weather.

Bahadur suddenly looked at him and smile.

“See you later tonight Bahadur” he said as he started his walk.

Bahadur watched as Shreyas walked away. He wondered the same thing he had wondered for the last ten years, what will happen when or if I quit. Bahadur watched on as Shreyas’s silhouette disappeared into the night, on the very spot he had died of an accident, ten years ago.

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