Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A weekend eavesdrop expedition

“It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long” - Walker Evans.

Recently I was out travelling to a well-known spot in the city outskirts mostly frequented by families of shoppers. I had been there many a times before but every time I make a trip to the place I yearn to go back only for the colossal presence that opens up before me bit by bit. The master planning and the conceptual planning of the site is indeed astounding. 
My real intent of sojourn, in the course of my recent trip, was as aimless as ever. It was a late afternoon. The sun was warmer on the back and a light breeze fanned the lush leaves of the huge tropical trees and the motley paper lanterns lining the street of the site. I wheeled around the neat manicured vast landscape, dropping in for a brief moment at a local ice cream parlor for a vanilla scoop, with my senses disjointed and the walk moderated by the sight of the colourful weekend crowd, young and old, eating out, shopping either at a pell-mell or leisurely pace. People, in general, were in cheer except for few kids who howled for reasons best known to them. The mood was an upbeat one, the sauntering effect of a long weekend brought upon by a local festival, and the air was drunk in smoke, beers, laughter and popular folk music drumming out of bistros and cafes.

Sinking onto a roadside steel bench, after an hour or so, slowly reeling in the sightings around, I found company. The company, a young couple who I later found out to be professional mates, was physical but mine was virtual. I eavesdropped their conversation in halted English. The man, sporting Mediterranean features and accent, was tall, fair and in mid 30s dressed in a tee and cobalt blue jeans and tennis shoes. The lady in bare minimal make-up, an Asian elder to her mate, had jet black straight hair dressed in a laced see-through white shirt paired with black leggings and cheap flowery sandals.

The couple, waiting for a hop-and-skip bus or so was my wild guess, kickstarted a conventional conversation on professional jugglery. Only then did it dawn on me and the way they addressed each other that the young couple were professional acquaintances. The droll moments were just beginning to unravel.

"I wish I could make 10 million (in the local currency) every year and retire happily in a posh neighbourhood buying myself a small property," reflected the lady in her singsong voice. "An engineering degree does not fetch us far."

The man piped in "Oh, I see you have a dream buying yourself a property. Good and I do understand because you travel a lot you said." He sighed and started again, "My life takes a routinely affair - I have to be ready by 9:00am for office, come back to the house by 5:00pm and then switch on the television for half-an-hour before I go in for a shower, sit down to study for a couple of hours before the house-mates drop in and by 9:00 we all have dinner together, watch soccer on television and I'm off to bed by 10:00pm. I am hardly a night person, you know."

"So when do you finish your thesis?" asked the lady. The man was pursuing his Ph.D on some subject, which remained undisclosed during the conversation, that was supposed to be completed in six months' time.

Also, he turned out to be a bachelor shuffling his life between office and research papers and happened to share a flat with others to pay off a big rent which is a perennial problem in international cities. I inferred there was some, hidden in the colloquy, domestic help that prepared the meals, did the dirty dishes and laundry and cleaned the house.

The man seemed at ease with his life, loved his routines and did not wish them to be disrupted. However his one-time sigh put me in a tight corner - was he happy with the way his life stretched out or feigning, but only for a moment, to be in his mate's shoes whose life was far more enterprising?

He certainly did not earn much as on date. The lady did and her accounts gave me a vivid picture. "Right now I have rented out a small apartment all by myself. My entire day and evening is spent inside the office or on business tours, and the nights either at home or hotels. On weekends I do my laundry, iron my office clothes and cook."

"Do you have a washing machine to help you wash your clothes?" asked her mate. "Oh yes, otherwise I'll be lazy to do them by hand, you know," chimed the lady. To me, she aired a sense of self-dependence that was distinctly absent in her male counterpart. Did the frequent business travels from one city to another helped shape her self-sufficing nature, I pondered, or any other inherent reason that were clearly not a part of the conversation?

I am not sure whether both worked in the same company but their language of professional discussions hinted coming from a similar educational discipline - engineering. "One of my friends, you know, lives in Bangkok, but spends quite a considerable amount of her professional time in Dubai or Abu Dhabi and her working hours are not that stretched," quoted the man. "She works for an oil and gas company, earning big time with lots to spend at and takes breaks in between going to big places for holidays."

"Yes, oil and gas industry pays well," said the lady. "Oh it would have been nice to work for one 'coz of its big benefits." "Ah, I see, you aim for that property you spoke about," laughed the man. Sitting side by side I was not able to see their faces but gauged the lady's embarrasment for the way her dream was spoken of. She echoed, "No, no I was just kidding you see."

No bus did arrive, the couple continued in gaiety, and with the evening settling in I wished to hop into a taxi on my own. The idea just struck in me but put into implementation by the man beside me. A taxi drove along and the man jumped into the street, waving his hand to stop by, started giving directions to the driver on the route to his destination. The driver conceded and the couple, after a cordial hug, separated going their own ways - the man got inside the taxi and the woman walked off. I understood she lived closed by in the neighbourhood.

I waited, all alone on the bench in the pink hours of the twilight, for another taxi to come by.

“If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability” - Henry Ford. The woman, though independent and earning, based her educational degrees in search for further material comforts not satisfied with the present means of sustenance. The man, dependent on others for his domestic trappings, exuded a sense of calm and comfort in his not so happening life. His talks, though, never charted into the future life imagery. He accepted his daily life as it came along.

I wonder how a short trip to a nearby known turf would open a Pandora's box for me revealing human traits that define a city in which we live - the standards of its living, the issues that ails its common man and the affordable solutions that follow. The eavesdropping, not fair at all times, also aided my thinking capacity - the same city which we share at the same time responds to people differently outlining their attributes to life on a palatte that comes in varied sizes and an array of colours. Few take it safe and content while the rest wallows in the fear and insecurity precipice.


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  2. It's amazing how much you have recollected and recreated in your own narrative, from the simple inspiration of a walk one evening. Loved the piece even more because of the fact that we seem to relate on our inclination to make observations on humans and philosophizing on the same!