Ode to an unknown singer
It wasn't a ride. It was a crawl. From SP Mukherjee Road it just got worse. Stop and start, stop and start. An overcast sky with no promise of imminent rain was no help either. I just sweated in the cab.
After many pauses and arbitrary stops because citizens of Calcutta cross streets where they want, we achieved Hazra Crossing; waited what seemed like an eternity. Negotiated the crossing and were stalled in yet another instance of pedestrians taking to the road. We reached Elgin Road crossing, to wait some three minutes. Lower Circular Road Flyover? Sigh. Get chased off the lane by buses coming in from the Minto Park connector turning into Chowringhee and worse.
The driver was adept, unlike some I have come across. He had good anticipation and knew the streets well. It is fascinating to hear cars starting up in preparation for the signal change, from right at the junction to further back. The sound ripples back in a wave as all drivers turn ignition switches on. The driver was right on cue, whether switching off to wait the signal out or turning the ignition on.
Flyovers are nothing but traffic bottlenecks in waiting. We descended the fly-over to find ourselves in another wait. The road ahead seemed filled with all the buses in Calcutta. Cabs too, and people getting on and off buses in the middle of this chaos, trusting to providence. I can't really call it a traffic jam; it was only Calcutta traffic on a normal day.
I boasted once before that I don't get bored; not even in traffic, waiting for signals to change or endless streams of demonstrators to pass. There is always something to observe, there are billboards to look at and people to watch. So I wasn't exactly bored when I heard the call.
For a moment I wondered if Rafi reincarnated into a bass voice. I must be hallucinating, I decided.
I located the source. A stocky man of middle years, weaving among the waiting cars and buses, with a toy microphone of garishly coloured recycled plastic in one hand. On the other arm hung a bag, full of more of them, I supposed.
It was a marvellous voice. That mitwa was perfect Rafi, getting the fervour and plaintive tone accurately even if pitched lower than Rafi ever sang. This voice was ideal for street vending. And when he executed that mere yaar, the timbre was perfect, the descants exact.
The taxi moved forward, and the traffic surged ahead.
Tujhko baar baar
His voice floated from behind. I smiled. It was still a long way to go, we had barely entered Central Avenue, but suddenly I was buoyed. Awaaz main na doonga, I sang in my head, following the tune. All the way to Sovabazar and back home, Rafi and the song kept me in good humour.
On the way back, I kept a look out for him. I wanted to buy one of those toy mikes; not to playact singing into, my voice has a range of about half an octave after all, I just wanted to show my appreciation for his vending method. The traffic was smoother, and we whizzed past where I heard him.
I wanted to thank him for that gift of gladness, so sudden and unexpected.