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Torchbearers lurk in Shadows

June 17, 2010

We were in an alien city the other day. We did what people do in alien cities. We got lost. Actually the person driving the car got lost. I don’t drive. Yes, I do feel that that somehow would exonerate me from having to know the way and hence the subsequent blame that comes with not finding it. I also know that that’s crap but what is not is that, not driving makes me more susceptible to asking for directions. Don’t you go making this a man-woman thing now.

I think the pleasure of navigating lies with the person behind the wheel. Losing your way often results in finding adventure when you have all the control. With control comes the thrill of determining the next move – the provocation of impending discovery, the extended comfort of making decisions that are bang on, the anguish after ones that are not, the joy of correcting yourself and the general euphoria that comes only in moments when you know you’re breathing freedom, moments when you believe in free will. Who can tire of knowing that the road ahead depends on him?

The *passenger-seat-company* meanwhile, gets the pleasure of spacing out – the way you can only do when you relinquish all control or stand unaware of its existence. The bliss of watching your thoughts run into each other is liberation of another kind, intoxicating too. At its worst it is but laid back idleness. At its best though, it brings your senses alive. This particular freedom is quite diligent about knocking at the walls inside our minds. You’d think it’d be distracted once a few bricks are down and there are new windows to peep out of but it rests only when they’ve all been razed. I guess it’s the only way when you’re in transit and powerless. You belong nowhere, you know nothing. All that lies in your control is creating the new and unseen. Maybe the first travelogue was born out of this need. While, the idea of navigating is pure romance, I remain partial to this other freedom for the way it allows my mind to nurture what it loves best… thoughts. I think it’s why I’m not exactly possessed with excitement at the thought of driving around but can’t resist drives.

But then there is that wretched entity called time. It is a constraint that is known to strangle all freedom irrespective of what kind it is and the capacity in which it is being enjoyed. It pulls the most leisurely brooders down to earth and whips them into becoming practical. I thus, ask for directions. And I did. It was a heritage building that we looked for so I assumed any person could be relied upon. We slowed down at a tea stall that was entertaining a dozen late-afternoon slackers. One in particular, was not exactly attentive but he was the closest to us. You could tell that he had just been handed his cup, full and steaming and all. Possession of freshly made tea however, didn’t seem to break his daze much. He was perched on his bike, staring blankly at his feet. Of course I could relate to his daze so almost hated myself for snapping him out of it just to ask for directions. At the mention of the building though, he stepped down and drew himself tall, cup still in hand. I braced myself to internalize complicated directions but much to our surprise, he said, “I’ll take you people”. “Is it very close?” I asked. “No, but you’ll waste time finding your way, soon the place will shut down for the day” was his explanation. He put his cup aside on a plank, full and steaming and all. We were soon following his lead through the chaotic marketplace of our slightly-less-alien-and-more-friendly city.

Was our impromptu guide that kind a person that he’d chuck his tea and fantasies and step out in the raging sun to maneuver through choked traffic just so a couple of knuckleheads could click some fancy pictures of a dilapidated building and put them up on Facebook? Ok so he didn’t know about Facebook intentions or he might have (should have) refused, but still.

Or was he that proud of his town’s heritage that he couldn’t bear the thought of any visitor not appreciating it?

Or did the sense of duty and purpose towards helping strangers meet their goals give him joy that was more gratifying than all other freedoms?

It’s not an altogether absurd idea. Some of you *would* do that wouldn’t you? I know I would if I could. What good would his intention and knowledge be if he didn’t have his vehicle? I need to become a better driver.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2010 10:18 AM

    it is rare to come across such idiosyncratic people but the encounters are always refreshing and give us a story to tell. excellent writing by the way.

    • June 17, 2010 12:01 PM

      Thank you for reading. Yes, it IS rare. They give you directions but to accompany you over a large distance is a bit much. No one would do that without a sense of duty.

  2. June 17, 2010 11:27 AM

    The pleasure of navigating lies with Google Maps!

    Jokes apart, such people do me proud. Its true, they admire and respect their heritage, and a mere walk in the raging sun and a discardation (did I just make up this word?) of the tea cup, full and steaming and all, wont change that. Your heritage lives. Your heritage flourishes.

    Two thumbs up.

    • June 17, 2010 12:16 PM

      Well yes your comment brings back another thought. The role heritage plays in building responsible citizens is underrated because we are most responsible with what we identify with. Little do we care about anything else. The clamour to protect it rides on historical significance and legacy alone. Which is why, in most of our cities, only the structures of prime importance are protected. They don’t see them as a *social* resource. These include the open public spaces as well. Developing countries have been the quickest to step on their heritage.

      • June 17, 2010 12:58 PM

        True that.

        “Developing countries have been the quickest to step on their heritage.”

        Call me a pessimist, but this is one of the few depressing facts you gotta live/die with.

      • June 17, 2010 1:04 PM

        Yes. Now when urban planners wake up they’re able to do too little, too late. This might interest you

      • June 17, 2010 1:42 PM

        Was a good read. I doubt Melbourne will turn out the way the 2030 blueprint wants it to. IMHO, Australia currently is underrating its cultural mix (the Australian demograph varies vastly from Anglo, Italian, Lebanese, Indian, Spanish, Brazilian and even Russian) and this is going to cause conflicts in later stages. Minute social divides already exist. But, that’s just me.

        Lets join an urban planning committee or something or such sorts to satisfy our conscience 🙂

      • June 17, 2010 1:48 PM

        I’m all for it! I don’t know anything about urban planning really. It is extremely intriguing though, not to mention very relevant.

  3. Radius86 permalink
    July 15, 2010 5:59 PM

    Good read!

  4. Sujai permalink
    July 28, 2010 12:50 AM

    Very nice writing style. Loved the way you have weaved through two dimensions. Then comes the eventual simplicity of it all. Articulate and engaging.

  5. October 11, 2011 5:06 AM

    nice. but you are wasting it in this corner, you know that i’m sure… oh, but, nice. naice. 🙂

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