I was walking back from Carter Road, a lively promenade that embraces the Arabian Sea, when he brushed past me, this lanky dude of maybe 20 years, earphones tightly plugged into his dark ears. I was startled, and slowed down a bit. Not him. He kept striding. That’s what caught my attention.
To look at him, he didn’t have anything much to get noticed for. Scrawny body, probably because he couldn’t afford to eat enough. It was a Sunday, the weekly off, so he was decked in his “outing” gear. Red, full-sleeved cotton shirt, the sleeves lazily rolled up Bollywood-style. Skinny jeans, in line with the running trend. And hair tousled with oil to mimic a gelled look.
No, it wasn’t this, though he had clearly put in a lot of effort for that effortless image. It was the earphones. Or rather, the music pumping through those buds and what it was doing to him.
I don’t know what he was listening to, but he was moved by it. His feet moved with a purpose to their step. His shoulders were thrown back and he swung his lean arms away from his body to give off the impression of being bigger than he was. As his face looked to a side, I saw him crooning the lyrics of the song as if the tune was made for him. He reached up his arms, playfully batting the leaves reaching down to him from an overladen tree. This young man was, for the moment, master of the world.
Unabashed, unquestioning about his rightful place in it. None of the cloying deference from the weekday, when he fell into a casteist and classist hierarchy that pegged him at the low end of the totem pole, where he became tentative and insecure because others had the big cars, the shiny watches, the snazzy mobiles, and the fat wallets that have become the measure of how much space you can claim in the world.
The music pulsating through to his ears repainted the landscape. It released the locks, threw open the doors, blew in colour. He could touch anything, anyone. He could stand straight, proudly even, without fear. He could make noise, add his sound to the melody, instead of silently standing by. He was no lesser, he was an equal claimant to the world as it lay.
I smiled to myself. Thank god for music. It doesn’t discriminate to whom it will give pleasure. It’s still there for all, to remind us of the immense everything that we are even when the crazy world we live in insists on squeezing us into tiny peg holes.