It was beautiful
I like bus stops, especially those with a place to sit and watch. And wait. The vehicles go by, and I am a still witness to the perennial movement on the road, to what it must feel like if one could step out of time itself and watch the world go by as it tries to keep pace with the ticks of some silly clock. I’m dreaming. I should be more alert to the moment. That red and white bus could show up any time and I’d miss it if I didn’t pay attention to the moment.
The bus arrives, I board it, and it’s already packed with people, jostling with each other for some place to stand. I can’t place her anywhere in the bus. I’m surrounded by too many people to have a clear view of who the occupants of the window seats are. My guess was she must be sitting by the window. For one, I suspect she’s not very talkative, probably very no-nonsense. And she might even hate small talk. So she must have found a peaceful corner next to a window, if only to avoid the cramped insides of the bus from occupying her mind. Or she might be poring over a book. I would do that. Would she?
There’s hardly any space to move around in the bus, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t think she is in this bus. Maybe I boarded the wrong one. I should have brought my phone along. In my hurry to catch the bus on time, I left it back in the room. I have no way of letting her know I am in this bus or checking if she is in here too. Who am I kidding! I don’t have her phone number. I don’t even know if she is real. The driver seems to be in no mood to stop the bus any time soon. Even if he did, there’s no way I can push my way through the crowd to the door. I am disappointed, yes, but I’m also amused.
I don’t know her very well. But I am sure she’s not here, in this bus. I’m amused at my persistence. This is my 41st ride on this bus, hoping to find her. And this one too, like the last 40 rides, will be a lonesome one. I’ve stopped jostling with the crowd around me after finding a little corner where I can stand comfortably. Am I slipping into a reverie?
“Who are you?”
“I… I am an admirer.”
“Oh I have plenty of those! Is that all you are?”
“I’m also a struggling writer, and an occasional poet. You’re my muse.”
“I’m many a poet’s muse. How does that make you any more special than the others?”
“I’ve been waiting for you a long time. By a bus stop. This red and white bus, you know, I had a feeling you’d be in it. I take it everyday, hoping I’d meet you one of these days.”
“Why did you want to see me?”
“Well, you’re my muse.”
“Why am I your muse?”
“You’re this picture of feminine grace, of beauty, and of truth that inspires my creative urges. You’re the ideal woman. I’ve been searching for this ethereal beauty, hoping to see it realized and carved on a corporeal canvas.”
“There’s nothing like an ideal woman, except in your head. And I am largely a product of your imagination. Since you seem to be so much in pursuit of beauty, tell me: what is beauty?”
“It is a relationship.”
“Yes, beauty is a relationship you share with what you find beautiful. It is a connection between the seer and the seen, the seeker and the sought, the poet and his muse, the gardener and the flower that blooms from his toil. It is what makes us step out of ourselves and reach out to what we find beautiful — not in an attempt to possess that ‘beauty’, but to partake in it. A relationship can only be shared, never possessed. There’s no meaning to beauty if not as a relationship between the seer and the seen.”
“You’re a dreamer, I see. Tell me about truth.”
“Truth is what the seer experiences in his relationship with the seen. This is a very personal kind of truth, distinct from factual truth. Factual truth hinges on facts of the world. The kind of truth I refer to hinges on, and applies only to, the experience of the seer in his relationship with the seen. And this experience is not a fact of the world because no one but the seer knows it.”
“You’re a philosopher.”
“If you say so. Those are just labels. I-”
The bus halts to a stop. I wake up from my reverie, after yet another bus ride, only to get off the bus and walk back home. She said I’m a philosopher. That much I remember. I was going to tell her I’m not very interested in labels like those; that the truth I seek is not in those labels; and that the beauty I found in her was not merely a word. I wanted to say a lot more. That much I knew. What more I would have said, I’m unsure. But bus rides don’t last forever. If they did, I’d never get to wait for a bus again. Wait. And watch. I like bus stops more than buses. At least one can find a place to sit at a bus stop.
Perhaps my 42nd ride on the bus will be a success, I tell myself. Perhaps I will know what to say then. Perhaps it will give me my answer.
I see a kulfi shop, and I get one for myself. The damn thing is frozen and tough as a nut! I can’t seem to scoop enough of a mouthful with the useless little spoon the guy selling the kulfi gave me. I try nonetheless, and manage to scrape some of it with the spoon. A nearly eight year old street urchin is asking me for money. I don’t like giving away money to kids like that. For one, I never know who the money goes to. So I decide to share my kulfi with her. I could have purchased her one, but I wanted to share mine, if only to see to it that my money doesn’t pay for my (lack of) empathy. After sharing some of the kulfi with her, I gave her all of it. I asked her her name. Parameswari, she said. She gave me a big smile, and ran to her little brother across the road to share the kulfi. I smiled back.
I walked back to take my place at the bus stop. To wait for the red and white bus for the 42nd time. Parameswari waved at me from a distance. I waved back. It was beautiful.