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Pazhani of 17M

by Vani Viswanathan

[box]Raudram | Pazhani, the conductor of 17M, is very angry today, and as the bus courses through the long, crowded Mount Road of Chennai, has innumerable reasons to lash out at the passengers. The emotion of Raudram (Fury) is brought out in a story by Vani Viswanathan.[/box]

“Aren’t you buying your ticket, Radha?”

“I only have two rupees – the ticket costs four. I’ll buy it when the bus reaches Sapphire bus stop.”

A man loudly cleared his throat, making the two girls jump. The girl called Radha turned back gingerly. The bus conductor was standing right behind her, and if it were a cartoon, you’d see smoke coming out of his nose, he was fuming that bad. Gritting his teeth, Pazhani said “Find another two rupees and buy your ticket now.”

The girl nodded and frantically collected another two rupees from her friends, and passed the money down the crowd to where the conductor was sitting. Pazhani took the money, glaring at her throughout, as the girl cringed with shame. “Bloody cheats. Thieves. Stealing money off the government,” he said to no one in particular, although the lady with the well-oiled hair sitting in the row right before the conductor’s seat nodded sympathetically from time to time. “And what do I get for bringing them all this money? A measly couple of thousand. My ungrateful bitch of a wife cribs about it all day long – not that it stops her from stealing it from me the day I bring it home, mind you…”

The oiled-hair woman did a customary “Is it so?” and went back to looking out the window at the dusty summer heat of the retreating afternoon.

Pazhani then yelled at two people who shoved 100-rupee notes to buy tickets. Stuff the note up your behinds, he told them. When a tired woman sat on the conductor’s seat, wiping beads of sweat off her forehead with her saree, he went cuckoo, and cussed until one of the men stood up and offered her his seat. He abused the driver whenever the bus took a sharp turn or braked so hard that people fell on him. When he ran out of 50 paise coins, he yelled at people who insisted on asking for their change. “What will you do with 50 paise, buy Aasai chocolate?? I’m not hiding it, look! I have nothing and 50 paise will add nothing to my fortunes!”

Pazhani wasn’t usually this vicious. Today was especially bad because this morning his wife had pointed out with much taunting that he couldn’t afford to buy their daughter a new pair of shoes to wear to school (which her father was paying for anyway, because Pazhani’s miserable thousands were just enough to keep the roof over their heads.)  Pazhani muttered under his breath again, mostly focusing on the wife and the government, but also bringing in the Municipal Corporation for laying terrible roads that made shoes go bad months after they were bought. He stared at the crowd inside the bus. Nobody was on the footboard, he had barked at them long enough to annoy them to move inside. A group of giggling school girls, women with sarees sticking to their bodies, men with multiple dark sweat patches covering their shirts… and a man busy grinding against the girl called Radha, who, Pazhani noted with disgust, was standing stiff, terrified, not saying a word.

Pazhani pushed through the crowd, growling at the people to give him way. He grabbed the grinder by the collar, and yelled at the girl. “Won’t you tell him to move? Have you swallowed something that makes you mute?” People looked at the scene with a mixture of interest and fear, worried that Pazhani might turn to them next for not saying anything to the offending man.

Pazhani didn’t have any of that, though. He simply dragged the man down the steps of the moving bus, and gave him one shove. Right on the arterial Mount Road of Chennai. Where a thousand vehicles ply at any given minute. The man bounced off a car bonnet, and fell on the road. The crowd in the bus was straining to catch a glimpse, and many gasped. A car screeched to a halt right before the man, and the man managed to get up, shaky-legged, and collapsed near the yellow divider. The bus driver realised there was a commotion, but only stopped at the LIC building bus stop. Pazhani was fuming again. His chest was heaving with rage.

An old woman with crinkled skin and glasses whose lenses were so thick you couldn’t see her eyes, boarded the bus, and stood right in front of Pazhani. He looked up at her because she kept knocking against his knees as the bus creaked and groaned its way down Mount Road.

“Ei, kezhavi!” he called to the old woman. “Sit here,” he said, offering his seat, and went to stand at the footboard, looking at the traffic flowing down the road, his heartbeat slowly returning to normal in what seemed to be the first time the whole day. The shoes could be managed if he didn’t drink for a week, he realised.

Vani Viswanathan is often lost in her world of books and A R Rahman, churning out lines in her head or humming a song. Her world is one of frivolity, optimism, quietude and general chilled-ness, where there is always place for outbursts of laughter, bouts of silence, chocolate, ice cream and lots of books and endless iTunes playlists from all over the world. Vani was a Public Relations consultant in Singapore and decided to come back to homeland after seven years away to pursue a Masters in Development Studies. Vani blogs at http://chennaigalwrites.blogspot.com

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