My drive to work takes me underneath the NH-8 highway in Gurgaon. Traffic on this cantilevered behemoth flows by on cement pillars, toll-paying drivers unaware of the ground-level chaos that segregated from their smooth ride above: cars and rickshaws and cycles and traffic cops and homeless migrants jostling for space and passage and attention, everyone in a hurry and nobody moving at all.
In the cumulative hours I’ve sat at this eternal intersection, I’ve memorized the scene. I know the ripped circus posters; I know the cops with their Rajasthani mustaches curled up their cheeks; and I know the people who call the weedy median home: the old men, the tired women, the energetic children, the girl with the full-length skirt smeared with dirt but not enough dirt to hide the vibrant mustard yellow of the material.
We all share the same daily ritual: I sit in my car, the cops wave at us to wait or wave at us to go, the engines idle, the rickshaws weave through the cars; and the migrants sit and stare or walk through traffic and beg.
Last Wednesday, some new people joined the ritual: a woman, her naked son, and her battered suitcase.
She had the look of a person in transit. Her pale blue outfit shone through the dust that engulfed her suitcase completely. Squatted on the cement wall of the median, she was clearly waiting for someone. Her face spoke anticipation and excitement and even her son, young as he was, seemed to share. His posture was stunning: he sat straight up, a naked three-year-old with the manner of a guard at Buckingham Palace.
I wondered about her as I drove slowly past. What was she waiting for — A bus? A bike? Her taxi-driving son, making it big in the big city? – and how long would she be waiting? I imagined sitting on a pre-arranged corner at a pre-arranged date, waiting for someone, with no mobile to call my ride and no magazine to kill the time, far from home, with no way to know if the ride would be late and nowhere to go if the ride didn’t show. I have forgotten life before cell phones.
Seven hours later, there she was. Still.
I was returning from a celebratory lunch with my boss and my partner. Our bellies were full of what had been their first taste of sushi. Her face hit me. Her face jolted me.
It was the face of a person who’d been squatting in dust and exhaust for seven straight hours. She looked miserable. Her son drooped next to her, a flower that hadn’t been watered. I don’t think she’d moved. How could she had moved? I wouldn’t have moved. If she’d moved, she’d always wonder: had her ride came while she was gone?
The next morning, there she was. Still.