Thursday, March 04, 2010

I Spy with my tiny eyes...

On a recent trip to Leicester and back, I entertained myself by doing what I love the most - watching people and trying to figure why they are doing what they are at the moment I saw them...The narrative is extremely personal, and my poor protagonists have no clue they are being featured on some obscure page in the reams and reams of content on the internet..

I wanted pictures of each of the faces described below, just to let you in on my experience, unfortunately, I couldn't gather the courage to embark on such voyeurism. So mine shall be merely literary...But each character is someone I saw, their predicament or feelings attributed. 

Feb 27 Falmer Station, 12.15 PM  

A very well-dressed man in his mid-twenties. Tall and in a long charcoal black overcoat, came to the tiny shelter on Platform 1, sitting close to where I was, oblivious to everything around him...His focus: on the conversation with the unknown other over a slim mobile phone that was buried somewhere in the cavernous interior of his huge palm. An interview just got over, I presume, for he was very satisfied with his answers. And not too modestly he smiles as he adjusts his black tie with tiny red diamonds on it and declares, I think I gave some pretty smart answers, and they have said they will call back soon. Wonder if he was as smart as he thought he was. He was Well-dressed all right...Dandily so...
Falmer Station, 12.25PM  

Four grunge dressed undergrads ( I could wager most of my meagre bank savings on it) One girl stood out in the group in her short black worn but smart overcoat, lycra tights, smart boots and enough mascara to weigh her eyes down into a half-lidded stupor. The rest of the gang had on T-shirts and my obsessive eye indulged in a game of 'catch a stain while overhearing the conversation'.. managed to catch atleast one stain each on them.The only boy in the group had an irritating nasal drawl and he kept repeating how he can't believe they were making the train, for 15 minutes ago he was still warming his bed. That explains the dishevelled look, but then with reverent fingers he pulled out four tickets from an envelope that had his girlfriends doing a little war dance. An impromptu tribute to Lady Gaga followed- they were off to London to watch her perform. But the Stained T-boy's comment that I'm only worried about a nose bleed was greeted by blank stares. Clarification ensued that our seats are so high up!! The torture of having to explain your joke - I empathised!  

The train arrived and we all made our ways into separate compartments. I could hear the nasal drawl somewhere at the back...  

On the train to Brighton, 12.30PM  

Two young kids sitting opposite me at the table car. Can't have been out of school yet, pretty to the point of painfully fragile. Looked like a pair of china dolls that aren't sold individually. Holding hands and talking in whispers about the party they attended last night and the friend who had Punch dunked on him. The guy giggled and the Faded picture of 'Happy Feet' jiggled with him, I'm sure the Minnie mouse on the Girl's batted her eyelids in response. 

Brighton Station, 12.40 PM 

If I could have taken a surreptitious picture of her with my camera, I would have. But my sense of not invading her privacy kept my itching fingers under control. She was a picture in contrasts.Girl of Sixteen hardly. Had the most powdery blue hair that I have seen to date, standing perfectly teased in all directions, without the evidence of any sticky gel producing the effect. Her Yellow Pokemon backpack looked like there was a little Japanese monster plastered on her back, her bright lavendar coat clashing against her blue hair. Ripped denim jeans showed off the shocking pink tights she had on underneath, with bright orange canvas shoes completing the ensemble. Talk about stereotyping teens! I didn't manage to catch her face, wonder if she had piercings too and if so how many places. Didn't get to see her ears as well..  

On the train to London Victoria, 12.50PM 

The ticket checker on the train, dour portly man with an eyebrow that seemed permanently raised. He had a comment for everyone but wonder if anyone followed what he said, as he clipped tickets with the raised eyebrow firmly in place. My turn came, I handed him my tickets and the Railcard that allows me concessional travel with my one eyebrow raised in unique acknowledgement. Don't think he got the message, or maybe it was lost in translation!!  

On the Metro from Victoria to St.Pancras, 1.40 PM  

The train as usual packed tight. I squeeze past and wedge myself in the little space between the doors and the seat. Opposite me, resting against the rod was a lesbian couple. (Now comes the feministically inappropriate description). It took me a while to figure out that they were lesbians. The man in the relationship looked like a slim effete young man with a rolled cigarette stuck behind a multi-studded ear. Nearly flat chested, with short cropped blonde hair and a waistcoat over the plaid shirt. It was the hand that was fondling the girlfriend's face that made me check her face closer. Surely a woman, I concluded, sweetly trying to console a very sad girlfriend. She had the biggest eyes and coarsely cropped black hair hidden by a leopard print hat. A black coat nearly swallowing her till her feet. They could have been the muse for a struggling French artist living in a garrett surrounded only by his canvasses. They had a Frech Cinema feel to them.  

On board Train from St.Pancras to Nottingham, 1.55PM  

Two girls deep in conversation at the table diagonally opposite mine. Students evidently - one from my part of the world, going by her accent and the embroidered denim kurta top she had on. Next to her was a Cambridge Companion to the Quran. Busy coordinating with her more stylishly dressed friend who had a faint American accent, I thought, about presenting the story of how Nasser found God in her class. Strange hearing intensely religious talk in an academic and clinical tone from girls that young. The conversation moved on to hunger and comfort food, and there were clues of their lineage. The embroidered kurta was from a small town on the outskirts of Karachi in Pakistan, her companion a Canadian Asian, with East African roots of Pakistani origin...As mixed an identity as you can get - but their bond in common - Islamic studies and a shared laugh over parents who never thought they would ever secure a degree in anything!!  

I got off at Leicester. And left behind me many unknown characters, I didn't have time to peek into. I resumed it on my journey back...But the fun in the game was gone, all I remember vividly is a young couple with a baby girl 
1 March East Croydon Station, 2.30PM  

This is the only station that my train was to stop at on route to Brighton. And as I peered out of my window seat, there they were. Standing just by one of the 'East Croydon' name boards. The mother was a slim blonde girl with close cropped hair, in a pale blue shirt. She had her hands tightly around the father, an African man with pale skin and tightly braided hair that fell past his shoulders. He had his chin rested on her head, as they watched their young girl, hardly a year old running in circles around one of the poles of the name board. She had her father's tight curls but was as blonde and blue eyed. First the mom and then the dad joined the little one in her game, I could hear her little mouth opening to squeal, but the sound never reached my ears through the thick glass. Wonder if they were parting in different directions. The girl had all the luggage, on her side, he carried just a backpack slung across his back. And the hugs were urgent and too tight to be that of a couple travelling somewhere together. I tried looking away, conscious of invading a private moment.  

The train moved on, I looked at my mobile phone lying on the table before me. The scene itched to be captured. But I am a voyeur. I can watch but taking pictures would not be right, my mind says...But then, I have words...and Word Sketches do keep the picture alive, don't they?


  1. Funnily enough, I used to do the same thing when I was commuting to London and back to Essex in the 1980s. I still have my notebooks filled not only with descriptions of my fellow travellers, but also transcripts of conversations they were having; and believe me, some of those conversations ar stupifyingly dull (which is why I was writing them down).

    I see that the British comedienne Catherine Tate has a character who falls into precisely the same brainless category as some of my erstwhile travelling companions, and I've often wondered whether she too had a notebook in her hand as she commuted through Essex.

  2. A lovely past time for a creative mind...I love the way you sketched them coz they were there in front of me...Thanks for the fun time

  3. Enjoyed the read!:)
    And...I must add, very well written. I could see all of these characters in my mind's eye.
    I used to do pretty much the same thing, when I travelled on the tube!:)
    How I miss those days:)

  4. Most people watch. Not everyone can describe. You had me captivated. Never, ever, stop writing.

  5. Shailendra Mohan6 March 2010 at 19:53

    i havent read this but i like doing this too...especially with friends around..its whole lot of fun :D

  6. You cant be blamed dips... you did that for a living for nearly a decade and earned fame,money and onair kudos for it:-)

  7. nice...i cant get over the way u write... ur eye for detail makes even 'everyday places and people' seem so full of intrigue... interesting enough to be movie characters :) get down to writing that book... :D...

  8. Primitive Lyric: There are sometimes when I think of passages read...Remember the time you had written about hearing snatches of malayalam around you in the tube. It happened to me in Leicester. There was this family standing near me, nice little Mallu family, talking rapidly. And I had already decided what I had to pick from that shelf, but I stood there just listening to the familiar high and low notes of our sing-song language...Didnt realise how much I missed it, till I became a shameless listener...And the best part is for some reason they didnt figure me to be a Mallu, I guess, they just kept on talking without the feeling of conscious behaviour that accompanies when you think someone is over hearing you...:)

  9. You describe really really well. Your blog was named word sketches for a reason and you don't have to actually embark on any kind of "voyeurism" to put a face to your description, your word sketches will do do the job.

  10. My dear Deepthy,

    Do have a look at the books by Desmond Morris and all your self-consciousness about being a voyeur will vanish.

    Keep at the voluptuous descriptions of ordinary people.

    Peace and love,
    - Joe.

  11. A lovely silhouette
    And that illustration reminds me of Enid Blyton books.

  12. Haddock: Thats the Brighton station, though most stations here look the same I guess. :) thanks for dropping by Haddock..