The blur of the lights was filled with the chill of the August air. The 7.30 PM was wet and damp. I had to make a credit card payment at the Standard Chartered bank’s cheque drop box, at Bangalore’s MG Road. I struggled a while to park. And started walking.
The road was a little wet. I watched for potholes and puddles and kept jumping to seek small islets of pavement or road. As I jumped one more time, I landed just outside a puddle. Pleased with myself, I smiled and looked up. Only to find a a well dressed woman in all evening finery. I thought I saw her wink and smile at me. A little doubtful of what I saw, I looked at her again. This time, I saw her face in a flurry of head beams from cars passing by. She smiled again, moved suggestively at me, And said, ‘banni’. (Come).
It struck me a while later, that I had just been solicited. Not knowing what to do, I kept walking. Fast. Faster. The lady wasn’t following me or anything of that sort. For some odd reason, i kept walking fast. There seemed to be a crowd ahead. As I moved towards the crowd, I saw one more ‘fashionable lady’. I jumped over a few more puddles. Some more ‘fashionable ladies’. I was surprised. To say the least.
I dropped the cheque. Took to the other side of the road, & walked back to the car. Just outside the car, there was a transaction that was on. A middle aged man was bargaining hard with a more ‘fashionable lady’.
“No nothing less than 3000”.
For some reason, my heart was beating fast. Real fast. I don’t know why.
I got into the car. Slipped behind the wheel quickly and cranked the engine. The bargaining was still on. Two more women had joined and I could see they were ‘competing’ oblivious to me. I honked and they moved a little, to give way. I switched the headlamps on and at that precise moment, caught the eye of one of the fashionable ladies. I thought I saw a glint of hope and sadness at the same time. She peered into the windscreen and smiled at me.
I kept a straight face, and pushed the pedal. Amidst all this cacophony, I could hear my heart beat. Loud and clear. As the red lights in the next signal stopped me, I was asking myself, why my heart was beating this hard.
Was it because I hadn’t expected to be solicited in the middle of MG Road at 7.30 in the evening. Was it because I came face to face with a way of life which I knew was a prevalent form of livelihood. Or at the men & women haggling over their bodies. I don’t know. My heart throbbing was obviously inconsequential to the activity which would any which way carry on. And by the way, i am no thumb sucking kid nor do i make any claims of being a straight descendent of Mother Mary!
As the lights turned to amber, I felt bad. Bad for the women, for the livelihood they had to practice. Sad for the men, who had to purchase such temporary releases. It is supposed to be the oldest profession that is there. It still took me by surprise. I wasn’t happy with myself either. In many years, this was the first time that I hadn’t smiled at somebody who smiled at me. I wasn’t sure if I did right or wrong.
The honks behind me got a little louder as I brought my mind back to the road, and noticed that the lights had turned green. I moved on leaving MG Road and the fashionable women and their men behind. I turned on the volume of the radio. The radio jockey was saying something inconsequential. I stared at the road ahead and kept driving.
There was an eerie feeling for company. Not forgetting that look. The look with sadness and hope at the same time.