It is 11pm on the Wednesday that I leave office for the last time this year. I’ll be going to my parent’s house tonight, as I want to greet the New Year with them around me. They live only 15 minutes away, so I decide to take a walk. The office, which normally is full of night owls like me, is almost silent. I pack my bag, switch off my room’s light, sign the ‘out’ register, greet the guard on duty and open the big glass door leading out of the place. It was a year and a month ago that I walked in through this door for the first time. And after two rounds of interview, had joined in as a copywriter for this biggest healthcare advertising firm in India.
It is cold outside. I tighten the jacket around me while descending the stairs. The fog is much less tonight. For a moment I think about all the people out there celebrating the New Year’s Eve, some of them my friends and colleagues. Then I return to my own, thought world. I cross the outer parameter of the office complex, and step out into the outer world.
Just outside the complex is a jhuggi-jhopdi cluster, a group of 50-80 ramshackle dwellings, home to many people from the poorest sections of society. Mud or bricked walls, loosely jointed, roofs made with tarpaulin and then stacked over with the refuse of many, better off homes. I see children walking barefoot, their mothers washing utensils beside shared hand pumps, the male members huddled together around makeshift bon fires of twigs, trash and old newspapers.
I move further. Every Wednesday evening, a street market is held on the main road and pavements near this place. This is a common practice in this city. And am sure it happens throughout the unending weeks and roads of this country. In this part of the city, it is called a budh-bazaar, that is Wednesday market. These bazaars are held all over the city on different days, so there are Sunday markets, Monday markets and every day markets. Because the city is so big, am sure there would be similar bazaars happening simultaneously all over the city, on any given day.
The bazaar has ended by now. Vendors are packing up their merchandise. Shoes, snacks, toys, clothing, bed linen, lingerie, spices, dry fruits, pirated CDs, Chinese watches, plastic flowers, anything that a lower middle class family would need. It is cold and getting late, in half an hour these temporary shopkeepers would disappear into their respective corners of the city, happy or sad with the day’s sale and getting ready for another market in another part of the city the next day.
As I move on, towards my part of the city, I wonder about the futility of a New Year celebration. For the majority of people, it’ll be just another day that will end struggling for the most basic provisions of life. For the slightly better off, it’ll herald another year of drudgery, of paying the bills and saving the expenses that’ll mould their lives. Even for the most well off sections of the society, how much a difference it will make. They are partying tonight; tomorrow they will be up against the enemies of their good fortune. And they’ll be ready to lie, steal, and kill to protect it from the world.
With my head bent down against the cold I reach home. Ma is asleep, Pa waiting for me. I greet him, change into warm, comfortable clothes, snuggle up into a quilt and while having dinner, switch on the TV. Many countries have already greeted the New Year. I marvel at the thousands of dollars being spent on the fireworks, at least it doesn’t happen here. Australia, Korea, New Zealand, Japan… these too will have their share of poor people on the streets and in decrepit homes. I realize how similar the poor, and how alike the rich are, all over this world. I switch off the TV.