Life In The Day
is 31 years old and has just published a novel
that no one has actually read. He is bearded
and bald and built like an over-the-hill middleweight.
Even though he lives somewhere in South Delhi,
his friends do not yet call him ‘Sid’.
But since he fancies himself as a novelist,
he does on some frosty January evenings, after
a couple of pegs of superstrong Hercules XXX
rum—bought from a theka near Ashram Chowk—wish
for the kind of success that would necessarily
go straight to his head. A success after which
hopefully everyone would start whispering ‘Sid
rocks’. And how. Chowdhury sometimes suffers
from delusions of grandeur.
Every morning, sharp at six, Siddharth wakes
up and plays Kishori Amonkar on his computer.
Usually Raga Basant Bahar. She is more effective
than Bloody Mary, he feels. At 6.30 he is ready
for the day. He usually wears a battered old
Herringbone jacket that will soon need to be
patched with leather, from his Zakir Hussain
College days, over a bottle-green Nike sweatshirt
and faded Wrangler jeans. His feet are shod
in slightly scuffed brown Brogues. Chowdhury
thinks of himself as a sharp dresser.
After tying on a tartan muffler, he sits at
the dining table trying to work on a 10- line
poem he has been writing for the past two weeks.
Till now he has got two lines done. A line a
week. He thinks it to be good progress. He writes
with yellow Staedtler pencils (134 HB) on natural
shade prescription pads. A month or two more
and he will have the poem licked.
7.20, he puts the pencil in his jacket pocket
and goes into the kitchen. At 7.30, he has a
single hard-boiled egg with two slices of toasted
white bread. He brews a small pot of very sweet,
heavy on milk, tea to wash it down.
7.45, he walks briskly out of his housing colony.
He finds the early morning chill and fog invigorating.
Two of his neighbours are up and doing their
bit for the South Delhi parking wars. Sullen
school children with sleepy-eyed mothers wait
for their buses near the back gate. Siddharth
takes a short-cut through the nearby Gurudwara
to reach the Ring Road bus stop, from where
he will catch the ‘Teevra’ Mudrika
to Rajghat. He works in a publishing house.
His office is on Ansari Road, where all the
publishers are. From Rajghat it is a five-minute
walk. His is the room at the top.
7.55, Chowdhury buys a pack of Gold Flake Kingsize
cigarettes from Tripurari Pandey, who hands
him a clutch of Hajmola candies in lieu of the
change. Tripurari is from Sonepur, across the
Ganges from Patna, Siddharth’s hometown,
and plies his trade by the bus stop.
After waving off three partly filled-up Mudrikas,
Siddharth gets on to one which is almost empty
and has all its windows intact.
8.05, Sarai Kale Khan Bus Terminal. A beggar
girl gets on the bus and starts crawling on
all fours towards him. She has cataract in one
of her out-of-focus pale green eyes. She is
probably on smack. Before she can press his
feet in a knowing way, Siddharth drops the Hajmola
candies into her extended hand. Astonished,
she catches all of them thinking it to be change.
One of these days Siddharth will ask her her
name. Chowdhury is a collector of names.
As the bus leaves Sarai Kale Khan, a spare man
in a shiny wine-coloured three-piece suit, which
he probably got stitched for his wedding, called
Farid Khan, jumps onto it, and in a voice perfect
for selling biscuits, says ‘Attention’
as if he were at a parade ground.
Farid Khan is not a vendor of biscuits. He is
a vendor of books. Like Siddharth. They are
from the same trade. Farid is from Agra. One
of his ancestors had engraved a panel of aayat
on the Taj Mahal.It took him three-and-a-half
years. Siddharth thinks it to be good progress.
Today Farid is selling Delhi Tourist Guide.
For five rupees. After Siddharth buys one, four
more get sold.
8.25, Rajghat. Gandhi Baba’s resting place.
Chowdhury takes Delhi Times out of his green
canvas bag and spreads it on his favourite iron
bench to soak up the dew. If he can’t
be on Page-3, at least he can sit on it. All
around him joggers move about in quiet desperation.
He admires a magnificent bull mastiff with an
ungainly owner. He worries for a bit about the
It always cheers Siddharth up immensely whenever
he watches the human race battle against the
ravages of time. He himself has lost the battle
a long time back. The sun has come out. Siddharth
lifts his face to the sunshine. For several
seconds his eyes close. He rummages inside his
magical bag for the book of the day. It is the
Cyril Connolly classic Enemies of Promise. The
1979 Penguin Modern Classic edition with a detail
of Eton College Chapel on the cover.
A good choice and Chowdhury would do well to
read it carefully.
9.00. He is in his room at the top and all is
well with the world.