by Raju Peddada
(Swans - October 22, 2012) This altercation took place on October 26th, 2008, in the Kakinada railway station, while I stood with my cousin three spaces from the ticket counter, which was to open at 10:00 am. There was already a long line of sweaty folks out in that sultry hall waiting for either people or their trains. The morning sun crashed through the concrete trellis in perforated rays, like lasers, highlighting every airborne spec of dust, mixed in with tobacco and incense smoke. People clad in white clothes, mostly rural, were having breakfast in the hall, eating steaming idlis and puris (rice-dal dumplings and fried bread). They sat and lounged on the dusty floor, where three stray dogs hovered around for scraps that could fall from the kids' or adults' hands. This was a black and white scene that Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, or Andre Kertesz would have loved. I learned to see it the same way, extricating myself emotionally and intellectually from their existential conundrums, relegating myself to enjoy only the visual juxtapositions and compositions. More than anything, we needed good video-cam to capture what ensued next.
A rural woman, in loud anger, to a man standing behind her in line in front of a ticket counter: "Where is your hand going?!" The man ignores her.
"Do you do this with your daughter, sister, or mother? What a creep!"
Man responds: "What's the matter with you... did you drink too much kallu this morning?" (Kallu, a palm sap often used as fermented beer by the rural folks as an explosive hallucinogen.)
This question explodes into her histrionics: "Look good people... this creep is trying to slide his hand to my boobs... right here in front of you all!"
The man, dressed as a white-collar bureaucrat, turns purple, and is clearly embarrassed. He collects himself and tries to be calm: "Look woman, show me how I did what you claim I did. Perhaps it was my folder that poked your armpit inadvertently as I stood here..." He gets cut off by her.
"Now look here... I know how men like you operate, dressed all nice... but when it comes to woman... you're animals." People now gathered around to gawk at this altercation.
The man loses all his civility: "Look you ignorant bitch... you have been insulting me for no reason... have you seen yourself in the mirror? Even a monkey would have a hard time with an erection...looking at you, let alone touching you."
At this point the woman takes a swing at him, trying to slap him, screaming rural obscenities: "You son of a whore, pig... you are the bastard who wouldn't hesitate to put your snout up any woman's hole... you mother-sister-daughter-fucker... you..." At this point, a rural man interjects on behalf of the man: "Aay ma...ma, why are you harassing this babu (gentleman), he looks to be like good man, like your son... look at him, he appears very decent... from a good family..."
The woman, still simmering: "Good my ass... there's no telling what city men can do... he was doing what all city men do..." Suddenly, what appears like the man's young relative shows up, and with his hands on his hips, he asks: "Hey stupid... where do you live... what does your husband do?"
The woman: "What's it to you... are you like him too... all oily fuckers?!"
The relative: "Give me your address... I want to see where you are stealing your water and electricity from... stupid woman... You're after my uncle, who is a well respected man, who works for the Municipal office... let me fuckin' have your address, bitch."
This young man knew the right button to press. The woman, cowering: "Look here babu... I don't know this man... but he was..." She gets cut off by his relative: "He didn't do nothing, stupid, if you are trying to shake him down, you've got another thing coming... the world is full of victims like you... let me have your fuckin' address!"
The rural man: "Please, please... sir, please let her go... she's got nothing on you... she's an ignorant wench, probably taking it out on you for her drunk man... isn't that what this... where is she, aay where are you woman?" As the crowd squeezed closer to the men, the woman was nowhere to be found -- she had simply vanished in that busy melee. A constable appeared from nowhere, like an afterthought, and told to crowd to disperse. The counter was open for business at 10:30, half an hour behind the posted time, with this stiff man behind the window, dressed exactly like the man in the altercation, appearing as if he was doing us all a favor. I had this strong urge to reach in, and pull his face up to the demarcating grill just to see his reaction.
Municipal officers are "powerful" people, and the crowd showed deference and gave the man his space, addressing him as "Babugaru," gentleman-sir. Some supplicants offered this in unison: "She was a mad woman... probably had a rough night... please forget it sir... it shouldn't spoil your day." The man mopping his brow with a handkerchief, displayed a stiff-silent posture, in indignance, not even acknowledging the people around. The young "relative" had also disappeared. Later, someone mentioned that he was not a relative, but was his driver.
Survival forces the poor to become corrupt, while corruption manifests as the abuse of power and status within the elite. India is place of friction between a plethora of circumstances, erasing everything to an inexplicable grayness, with only corruption as the filtering agent.
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About the Author
Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines. (back)