Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Madman

To outsiders, the small park near the City Bus Terminus might not seem like a park. There are half a dozen concrete seats in a circle, an open-air stage in the middle, a small sandy space to stretch and walk, and some plants and trees around the border. In that congested part of town – with the chaotic bus terminus, two popular temples, an ancient ghetto, the city’s main market and three movie-halls, along with nightmarish traffic snarls, roads under constant repair and a sewage canal ready to overflow with a careless pee – that is a park for the natives and a grand one. There is even a police-booth in that retreat. It is usually Constable Sivarajan in that cubbyhole, a friendly man with a large pot belly, the smiling Buddha for that park. He ventures out during peak hours, and tries to look strict about litter and irritants.
The peak hours are the moderately cool hours, early morning and late evening. Various clubs jostle for space in the morning. The Laughter Club somehow manages to grab the stage every day. From five in the evening, the professionals who need an audience – poets, politicians and social workers –gather there. The workers of the night are allowed only after midnight and they have to scoot before five when the cleaners make their rounds.
There is a lull, in relative terms, around mid-afternoon. Then, tourists saunter within to rest after doing the rounds in the famous temple, the one with the huge treasure. Street-hawkers stretch out in the shade to catch forty winks. Ladies pause and breathe, after a morning in the market or after collecting their little ones from nursery. College kids who missed the matinee show while away time in a quiet corner. The madman takes to the stage then.
His first act is always the same. In a corner of the stage, he removes his slippers, pants and shirt. He places these in a neat pile. Only once did he go nude, Constable Sivarajan appeared on the spot with a jute sack. The madman does his show in a thin, faded but clean cotton shorts. He moves to the front, places a small cardboard box near the edge of the stage. People put coins and notes into that box. Some use it for target practice, with pebbles and even sweet-wrappers. He does not mind. He lives in a poor home and he gives them the box at the end of the day. They take the money, if any, and give him two meals and a place to sleep.
That stage can get hot in the peak of summer. He was, literally, like a cat on a hot tin roof one summer afternoon. He got eleven rupees and eighty five paisa that day. Someone threw a few five, ten and twenty five paisa coins, those that are not in circulation.
Another day, he stood on his hands, legs straight up, and loudly shouted the names of politicians. The selection seemed random, in government and in the opposition, alive and dead, some long forgotten. That attracted the attention of some students. They gathered near the stage, in groups of various political hues. They shouted along with the madman, hooting and booing too. Constable Sivarajan frowned at this activity but did not poke his head in. That show ended without any untoward incident. The madman did not get any money that day.
The constable had to intervene another day when the madman took out old toys from his box – a car without wheels, soldiers without limbs, a doll without dress, pieces of Lego, a broken plastic ball. He played with the toys, in some elaborate game, and it was a jolly show till the mothers and their offspring joined in. He lost three toys. He got five rupees that afternoon, from a sad lady without kids.
He rarely speaks at length. But, when he does, it is always about love. Not the love of humanity or society or anything abstract like that. In a low voice, without drama or emotion, he talks about two lovers there in that same grand park. Was it a fragment of memory, some better time? But it is not the same lovers each time. Did he witness it? The tales sound familiar. That show attracts a fair crowd to the stage, the hawkers, the ladies and the loafers, the students, the tourists too even though they can understand him only when he shifts to English. His lovers can be married or single. They can be rich or poor, most are like the people before the stage. They have troubles, of course; who likes lovers without troubles. His lovers do not escape to a happier place, or live happily ever after. They pine for the other’s company, to rest, to sleep, with the other, without fear or worry, that’s all. They do not kiss; as if there is a public place in this town where lovers can kiss. They move close, not too close. They slip a finger into the other’s hand, just for a brief moment. The crowd likes that, that’s all they want. They listen and then move away, deep in thought. The madman does not make much on those days.   

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