Out on the road

Today, I was travelling by phatphat (pronounced as: ‘fət-fət) – a modified auto to fit 8-10 people in it working round trips on busy routes in various parts of Delhi for Rs 5 only. It helps me cover the small distance between the Ring Road (a literal ring, just not round) and my college everyday. It so happened that today I was sitting beside the driver and enjoying the thrill of the wind hitting my face as I was half-sitting, half-hanging. Someone behind me was poking my head and making me uncomfortable. I craned me neck to see who it was but I would merely see an arm behind me coming from nobody particular in the jumbled mass of 8 people.

Now, I have to introduce you to the humble origins of the word phatphat. One uses phataphat (fɘ’tɑːfɘt) to mean quickly and it is only a matter of time that people twist and squeeze existing words into new domains. Maybe they know (or hope) phatphat is real quick. But. I have a second theory (not to mention that first theory is my theory too :D). Have you ever heard a diesel engine? It makes these deep forceful sounds like some kind of machine farting. “Phat, phat, phat” it goes loudly, and such is the sound a typical phatphat makes. Maybe the masochist inventor wanted to pay homage to this ear-splitting sound.

The engine was, as described, making loud noises and since I was sitting in the front, any attempt to hear a human sound failed miraculously. Just when I was adjusting myself from the attacking elbow, the driver asked me out-of-the-blue, “Aap theek ho?” (Are you okay?) And as fate would have it, I heard it as, “Aap B. Com. ho?” (Are you B. Com?)

I said, “No! I am Computer Science.” Hah! Retrospective ponderings help me realize what a fool I made of myself. Though he must have been cracking a rib or two trying to choke his laughter, I only saw him repeating his question, “Aap theek ho?” Ooh, I realized my mistake and smiled at him, “Yes, I am perfectly fine.” Even more unexpected was his response. He told me those specs I wear look like they don’t have any lenses in them and asked if I knew it. Surprised, I looked at him (he was looking at the road; he was a driver after all). Fumbling for words, I might have thrown a few incomprehensible sounds, though by now I realized this was a one-way conversation. Unconcerned, he told me other drivers at the stand were once discussing about my specs. They thought the lenses were absent, but he knew they had them.

I told him I know it, many people have pointed the fact out. And thankfully he managed not to extend the conversation till we reached our destination, having already spilled out his experience he couldn’t strangely digest.

But the moral of the story is not about me, neither my ears nor my specs. It is the fact that people notice me. Mittal, my dear friend in college, had once told me that people really look at me as I talk and go about doing anything. She told me in reference to how I talk animatedly and exaggerate my hand movements. And retrospective ponderings helped me realize that she was correct. I have a vocabulary that looks like Hindi but I have defined my own meanings for them. They are my words. And I do get excited and loud in conversations. My face helplessly reflect the state of mind. It is a dangerous habit! I have heard a strain in my voice that shouldn’t be there talking to teachers, when they don’t get my point I am trying to get across.

But the auto driver incident really shook me up because I could shrug Mittal with a joke but not any Tom, Dick or Harry. I am not a sociable person who can engage with anyone. I can behave cold as turkey with people who don’t know me. But friends are a different beast. They can criticize you, humor you and generally make life worth it with them. When we are talking in a Bus or metro, mostly with Mittal or Bansal (another lovely person and my friend), we sometimes notice people hearing us. Not passively but really closely; heads drawn out, attentive ears, smiles on their faces. It is creepy and we laugh, but what should we do when people actually start talking with us? Bansal and I have a common route, and we talk about alternate routes and new buses quite often. We guesstimate the answer when suddenly some uncle would correct us. That marks the end of our conversation. :D

Once I lost my mobile phone in bus. Someone stole it from my pocket and I realized it when it was gone. Since it might have fallen on the floor, we tried calling it but it was switched off. We were laughing and worrying about it when suddenly a girl started giggling. First we didn’t notice her because we were trying to find the phone. But then others chided me for my carelessness. But as we were discussing and joking through it all, the girl really started giggling. To her credit, she tried to control herself but couldn’t. And we ignored her but she really started laughing with us – as loudly as us, as happily as us, as sadly as us.

Mittal once told us how she noticed some random red-shirt guy who started taking interest in our talks. We were again sharing our past incidents and having a good time as we were going back home in Metro. The guy was standing beside us and laughing along with us. When Kartik started to find something in his bag, he tried to peek! And when Kartik didn’t find anything, the guy was disappointed!

But then I have never myself noticed any stranger in a bus sans the good looking ones (I only see them not listen to them talk). I have heard people talk but I have never been drawn in, except once. I was alone in the bus going back home and two guys sitting in front of me started a really animated and logical conversation about politics of the day and some history stuff. Having nothing better to do, I closed my eyes and started listening to them. I even delayed my stop by one to hear them complete whatever they were saying. Hehe.

All this makes me think what do I do to grab people’s attention? Is it wrong, or funny, or plain stupid? But then it was Mittal only who cryptically told me how I was different and how I should never change myself. Didn’t I feel proud! I would like to mellow down myself a bit, but she was right; I am unique in my own way and I like it. B-)

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