Flight Mode

| Posted in , , | Posted on 3:54 AM

'Ma, I think I'll go take a walk then?' Pinu asks tentatively to his mother, who is seated beside her husband on the couch, sitting directly opposite to a fat, stout gentleman with a receding hairline and gaping front teeth.

'Yes, son,' she says. ‘Go and take a walk around the park but don't leave the block, okay? We'll be done in about half an hour.'

He nods courteously and wishes goodbye to his mother and father, and to the new man he doesn’t know, who is wearing a red-and-black striped flannel shirt and grey pajamas. The man waves back energetically, slightly smug; as if he were seeing off somebody he knew very well.

As Pinu climbs down the stairs from the second floor, he can hear his parents and the man conversing.

‘So, let’s fix the date on the 3rd of January then, Mr. Ghosh?’ the man inquires, addressing to his father.

‘Yes, we would love to do that, but you see, Shubhankar…’ his father speaks strictly, stern; trying to maintain a professional yet friendly demanour. He had already known that the first floor of their house in Salt Lake - which his grandfather had built, and of the three floors in all, two were on rent – was about to be vacated and a new tenant was needed. His mother had spent the last month completely in Kolkata, readying the house for public viewing, fixing the paint blotches on the walls, the loose wiring in the electrical sockets, reading and rereading and editing the lease agreement. This meeting was done largely so that his father could meet the new tenant, even though there was absolutely no legal requirement for it; for the legal obligations had been taken care of, including the lease signing. And as they sit in the drawing room discussing when they’d meet the rest of Shubhankar’s family, and whether the colour on the walls of the master bedroom should be changed, he unlatches the gate at the end of the stairs, and begins the first ever walk he’ll take in his old neighbourhood as a teenager.

He begins walking to his right; his house is second from the left end of the street, which is now painfully silent save for the two dogs barking in the middle of the street. He walks and he remembers, that the house opposite to his, in the next lane, which is still guarded by watchmen as it was when he was 4 and lived there, belongs to a politician his grandfather used to be a good friend of. He was told many times by his mother that she was thankful to God for the security at that house because it prevented break-ins at their place as well. Then he looks at the house next to his, remembers that he visited this place too, that an old lady lived here whom he used to refer to as deeda, that her grandson had once come and they’d played a racing game on the computer. He walks on ahead, looks at a building with a leaf-patterned front gate, marked as house number 147. He recalls that he had a friend here, that in the little space in front of the parked car they’d played with building blocks. He doesn’t remember that friend anymore, only that she was female and that his relatives used to tease him saying they’d get married someday. It seemed funny to even think of now, ironic even more so because he didn’t remember her name; what was it, though, he asks himself. Shreetoma? Shiuli?

Further ahead, he sees another house that he remembers visiting in the few weeks of summer that he’d spend in Kolkata every year – it is a big, three storey house which is painted different shades of blue. He stands at it and gazes for a second; remembers that the first floor was used as an office, that once he was invited there by Paarthodaas he remembers his father addressing the man who lived there, who by Bengali convention became his kaaku – and had played the last level of Max Payne on a computer. He remembers Diya kaakima and her in-laws pampering him with various sweetmeats, that they had a TV which had an in-built cricket game. They also had a dog, he recalled, which had to be leashed every time he was around. Maybe they’re still in there, he thinks. He wants to visit them again, but he knows he can’t, not at the given time at least.

There is a park next to that blue house, and at its center is a cemented columnar construction. Its periphery is lined with narrow passageways that segue into other streets at the ends of the park, and as he enters the park through the green zigzag gate, he remembers walking on these corridors with his grandmother at night as they’d walk to the market to buy vegetables. He walks around the park, looking at the swings and the slides which he had ridden when he was 3 feet tall. His cell phone vibrates in his pocket, but he recognizes the number as being from his network provider and so rejects it. He sits on the cemented column and sets his phone to flight mode; his phone flashes a message: Flight mode activated. All active connections ended.

He is happy at this decision that he has so spontaneously taken; on most days he wouldn’t so much as bother with his phone, but today, his instincts urge him otherwise. He touches the wire of the earphones, which even though connected to his cell phone are not in his ears; he presumed he’d be listening to music as he took this walk, but now he wants to be by himself; alone, yet not quite so, in a park he knew only too well but was somehow not even acquainted with.

He welcomes the sudden outburst of nostalgia, a curious combination of sadness and happiness, laughter and tears, sorrow and joy, as he looks at the red, rusted monkey bars and recollects how he had fallen from them once and had scraped his knee; he looks at the merry-go-round and fondly reminisces of the first time his mother had put him on it and spun, and how he’d laughed all the time he was on just so he could show his mother how happy he was even though he could only see her for less than a fraction of a second, her figure whizzing in and out of his sight.

He stays in the park for a moment longer than he wants to, sits at a park bench and visualizes his mother sitting next to him, younger, with lesser wrinkles, a thin line of vermilion along the parting of her hair and a bright red bindi on her forehead, watching over a younger version of himself. And at that moment, as he sees his memories come back to life, he marvels at how all that has happened there has suddenly given so much more meaning to a place which otherwise wouldn’t have meant anything.

As he leaves the park, he wonders whether he’d be able to visit it again, and decides he would want to, even if it’s for just a minute.

He continues walking as he now steps on roads that he’s not familiar with, even though they look alike. He mindlessly ponders as he takes a right, then a left, admiring the elegant yet passive buildings, the graceful manner in which they attract attention but don’t demand it, notices with amazement how each street he walks on feels like an avenue because they’re all lined up with trees belonging to the house owners. Amidst all the streets and lanes and turns, he ends up in front of a pastry shop he’s never seen before. Is it new, he wonders? Could be, he answers himself, but even as he does so, he decides to not proceed further in fear of getting lost. He thinks of calling his parents and asking them for directions, and takes his cell phone out. As he types out his father’s number he sees the little white airplane icon and realizes that his phone had been on flight mode, and that no possible connections could be made to or from his phone.

He almost gasps when he realizes the gravity of the situation. What if his parents had called him up, telling him to return home sooner? What if something more serious had taken place and an emergency had ensued? What if, God forbid, something terrible had happened? His girlfriend has probably sent her 2 more texts whining about how less he cares about her since he hasn’t replied back to any of her 5 previous texts messages that have arrived ever since he has in Kolkata. She might also have sent him a text message saying how much she hates him for treating her like filth.

Now, on most days, in this situation, he’d have put his phone off flight mode, called his parents and asked for directions, and he’d have replied apologetically to his girlfriend on his way home. But something has taken over him today; has encompassed, consumed him. And so he decides, with the same spontaneity, that he’d find his way back home no matter what – it his hometown, his neighbourhood after all.

He turns away from the pasty shop, checks his cell phone for the time; for his half an hour to be up, there are only 3 minutes left. Maybe if he’d walk fast enough, or run, he’d still make it in time. And as long as he gets home in one piece, he figures, his parents will not mind an unreachable phone.

Flight mode, it was. 


This new year, let something take you over.
Cheers to flight mode! Because it's not just a phone profile, it's a way of life. :)
Here's to a happy new year! To a happy 2012! It's going to be awesome!


PS. It's 3.54 am. What better to do than to spend the first four hours of the new year writing?! :D

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