You see me as I see the stars. I lay awake, the warm summer breeze hit me. The makeshift mattress, a comforter with a bedsheet atop it, is not too comfortable. Especially given the bricks below it. Still, there is something soothing about lying on the floor of the terrace. It is romantic even, in a sense, if you can envision it. Not that I can at this particular moment.
My mind is quite preoccupied. The stars above look beautiful, and in a different land, under different circumstances someone might be thankful for this opportunity. It would be a novel experience. Here though, it is a necessity, a common practice.
Looking up is the only option here, as below us there is only chaos. Chaos and dysfunction. Dysfunction that caused the electricity to be cut. Without electricity, all the apartments in the complex are dark. No air conditioners, no fans or lights. Only the Delhi heat. We are on the terrace, not looking for some romantic experience under the stars, but for respite from stuffy Delhi summer.
Yes, I am not alone. I have my family, and the families of those who live beside us, and those who live below us. It is a communal living experience. Community though, is not what we desire. What we desire is privacy, from one another. Privacy is a luxury here with 1.2 billion and counting. A luxury even well educated office goers cannot afford.
My gaze shifts back to the stars, they appear somewhat faint, a husky mist covers the night sky. Yet, they twinkle so bright. The mist is akin to one in fairy tales, through which the protagonist sees the angels. I am no protagonist though, and there are no angels here. Only exhaust fumes of a growing agglomeration of motor vehicles, honking, crashing and suspended in stalemate in a typical Delhi traffic jam. They inch back and forth, filling the sky with infernal smoke that envelopes this planet like an oven set to broil its beings.
A little kid cries as mosquitoes bite. The mother applies a repellant, the husband man seems irked, and turns the other side. The mother alone, continues to fan the the husband and child with a contraption made of sticks and paper. The sacrifices people endure, for hope of a better future, for themselves or those to come. And those that will come, do they deserve the world we are leaving them? Should we bring them into a world where the ones that should hold them, just turn the other way? I wonder if that mother is thinking such thoughts as she rubs her belly this fine lovely summer night.
My gaze shifts to my best friend and next door neighbor. He starts to stretch. “Dude, want some, chai?” he asks, “Since you are clearly not sleeping. I need some caffeine my shift. Yaar, these idiots I tell you, can’t connect a damn cable to their computer. Some first world country.” I shrugged, “Sure why not, let's go. And aren’t you glad they can’t connect cables. If they could, then they wouldn’t need tech support. So who then, would employ your sorry ass?” We walked down five flights of stairs and onto the crowded street, where life was abuzz on this Friday evening. The paan walas, ice cream walas and chaiwalas all had their business boom on nights like these, where there was no electricity, and people couldn't sleep.
Some of these vendors on the street never had electricity on a good night. Some lived without running water in their homes. Others still, in fear of whether they could afford their next meal. Is it so terrible then, that once in a while, my friend and I have to sleep on the terrace and gaze at the stars? As the hot brown liquid was stirred in the large pot on a fire made of dried cow dung cakes, we sat on the makeshift bench at the chaiwala’s little corner shop. We start to talk about how we would eventually break free of this life. How our lives, our city and the world would change. My friend is serious, “This call center thing man, it is only temporary. Once I save up enough…” I drift away into thought, a silly smile on my face thinking of the lyrics of one of my favorite songs.
“One day, I am gonna grow wings.
A chemical reaction
Hysterical and useless…”
“Oye! What are you thinking man?” asks my friend. “Are you thinking of the bugs in your code?” he starts to laugh. “Don’t tell me the whole thing is going to come crashing down because you are so bad at your job. What if it crashes on our building this minute man! Don’t let that happen with my tax money Bro!” I burst out laughing too. The others sitting at the chaiwala also join in on the laughter. I am not sure how much they understood from our conversation. In a city packed with more people than many developed nations, it is not unusual for people to share in one others’ emotions, invited or otherwise.
We finish our chai, and my friend prepares to meet the call center shuttle at the pickup spot. I make my back up the five flights of stairs. The kid has slept off, and so has the indifferent husband. The woman lays on her blanket, staring at the sky. Our gazes meet, “Namaste, Auntiji” I whisper awkwardly and walk on to the premium corner of the shared terrace that my family had reserved this night.
Thanks to my friend, my mind is now actually back on my code. The thing that had me worried looking at the stars. You see, my code is responsible for sampling images of the earth. As Chandrayaan (“Moon Vehicle”) made its way to the moon, my systems looked back at the earth, measuring distance to ensure a smooth path to the moon. It had been well over a day since takeoff, and our first lunar mission was making its way. I had the first night off in months. There was no electricity in our neighborhood. So I was forced to lay on the terrace, and look at the stars.
Most people think it is odd, that I talk to the machines I built. Some think I need help. Others judged me to work too hard. “A job in the private sector, a large tech firm perhaps?” They would advise. A cushy corporate job, building websites that carried the endless river, selling the world, to the world.
But you see, the things we build, are the things that help us escape our circumstances. They are in fact, the things that help us break free from this toaster oven planet. They give us the courage to look above us, to the sky, the stars and the moon. They help us grow wings. And will help me fly away. So I suppose, this city, this life, is not all that bad then. For it gave me the strength to build. So I’m talking to you my dear rocket ship, my camera, my code, and my companion for the last three years. I cannot help but smile and wonder what you see. Do you see me, as I see the stars?