Mid-nights and Broken Relationships (Conversations – II: The Night Watchman)

The Architect, points to the smooth, hardened stick reclined against the bluish wall.
“Sometimes, in the night, drunk auto drivers clamour outside the gates. And on some days, thieves pelt stones and bottles to scare people. That’s why, the stick.”

“I used to work as a contractor in construction. I worked for thirty-five years. The large statue at T.Nagar (a locality in the heart of Chennai) – that’s my work,” he says – with a tinge of nostalgia and pride, that come naturally with his experience.

“So why did you quit?”

At this point the tall, dark man rises from his plastic seat, and begins to pull up his crumpled, dirt streaked shirt that looks more brown than blue. He points towards two ancient bruises near his lungs, on either side.

“One day, while I was up on the scaffolding, I slipped and fell four floors. It was funny, because my children always hated it when I would be gone for hours. I wouldn’t listen. That was the last time I ever worked construction.”

The night watchman, is an ex-architect and contractor. The long shift hours and the blinding city lights have taken their toll on the sixty-seven year old veteran, as he sits hunched after another sweltering, dusty day in Chennai.

“I work from seven in the morning, to one at night. I go back home, and craft animals and birds out of cement.” He goes on to describe plastering, levelling of concrete and reinforcements. There’s a certain calmness that dominates the conversation – a confidence born out of decades of wisdom and experience, as he describes the lifetime when he was once king. His foggy eyes light up like a forgotten lighthouse on a forsaken island.

Unfortunately for me, an ex-civil engineer, all of this is distant memory – buried under years of smoking, drinking and my perverted attempts at wooing my ridiculously pretty girlfriend (which somehow worked.)

“So why don’t you design anymore?”

“I am old,” he smiles. “My hands shake, when I try to design. I can’t make those intricate fillet work anymore.”

“Tell me about your home, your family.”

For the first time, the watchman breaks character and smiles coquettishly. A dreamy look overcomes his calm confidence.

“I have a wife and four sons. All of them are married. Two of my sons drive ambulances for a hospital, and one of them is in IT. One of them has just found work with a contractor. He will grow up to be like me.” His voice trails off, as he begins to recollect the fond memories of his ancestral home. “I have a large farm, in my village. After my marriage, I moved to Chennai. I have a three floor building a few miles from here.” He beams in pride. “My sons tell me not to work. But I am a workaholic. I can’t sit at home,” he adds, the unmistakeable steadiness of a hardliner – evident in his voice.

“Alright, I will see you tomorrow then,” I stand up, getting ready to leave.

“You will, Sir.” He makes a small salute, and we shake hands after.

[Afterthoughts]

The thought of being in the same city for decades, in the same organisation, with the same faces around us is a scary one. We are an impatient generation that feeds on change – we revel in the presence of diverse options. For my part, I can’t imagine being tethered to the same faces every day. I can’t imagine going to the same shop, walking in the same aisles, picking up the same box of cereal and waving at the same store keeper on my way out. I mean, we have options for cat food flavours for Christ’s sake! And then there are these generations. The generation of workaholics and family men. The generations of these contract workers, and our fathers. He’s been in the same town for over thirty five years now – working in the same organisation, watching it fall, and rise from the brink of closure. He’s devoted close to a hundred thousand hours to the same chimneys, boilers and wagons – he’s breathed the same warm, coal dust and exhaust for decades – barking orders at generations of fractious workers and young engineers. Like clockwork, he puts on his red windcheater in the cold mornings, when a half asleep town is still stirring to consciousness. His shirts smell of the chemicals in the plant – streaked with coal dust and responsibilities. As a Deputy General Manager, he is responsible for running an entire section of the plant – occasionally meeting the presidents and sitting in press conferences. In the evenings, he visits the same store – the shopkeeper has lost most of his hair, and his son has moved to Bangalore. The fish seller has grown white with age, he still manages to drown out the soliciting cries of his competition. And then he returns home to the same woman he has been married to, for decades.

Relationships scare me the most. I can’t imagine being married to the same person, waking up to the same face, every morning of my life. And yet, there are couples like my parents – who have been sticking to each other for decades. A lifetime with Sampriti, is an intimidating prospect – because she is a beautiful woman, and I can’t imagine falling out of love with her. And yet there’s this looming presence of constancy that casts a shadow on the future of a relationship, whose fundamentals are based in loyalty, in a monolithic origin. I recall the hours spent in conversation, in convincing her, in putting her pieces back together after her abusive relationship. “What if?” I think to myself.

And that’s when she rests her head on my shoulder. There’s a silent understanding in her eyes, a silent reconfirmation of faith – that dates back to a hundred eternities. I find her faith in us, unshakeable – impregnable to the waves of doubt, to the storm of uncertainty that rages around our lives every day. Like a lighthouse in the middle of a tempest, she holds out her hand in a Dravidesque manner, weathering waves of hostility from the distance that separates us, from circumstances. Her infectious laugh cracks open the storm clouds of pessimism that have been looming over my skies. And then she pulls me closer.

Maybe, constancy is not that bad.

(The translator is a wiry young lad of twenty. With dreams. Of course.)

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Hey nice thoughts/ subject and I enjoyed reading it.. Now could you read the piece again and try jumbling up the paragraphs for me man? This might make few things clear for the reader… I have a few questions in mind and would like to clarify them… So if you’re okay with it, let me know. I promise this would be a learning experience for both!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Somak Ghosh says:

      Okay, sure!
      Why not?!
      How do I go about jumbling the paragraphs?

      Like

  2. – You have started with “The Architect” … Is it the night watchman??
    – Make both the speeches into one.. The second and third- where the watchman speaks. (Sometimes, in the night…. & I used to work…) It’s spoken by one and the same person right??
    -Name of the large statue?? This is what we call as ‘Show’ and don’t ‘tell’ in writing.
    -read the piece again and again so that you could have a better opening for the story Somak…. You can come out with a better scene altogether, like for instance how you strike a conversation with him in the first place, when did it happen, what drew you to him today and not the other days, where’s this taking place- if it’s at the apartment, then describe the evening/ night a little…. We call it the Journalistic Six – Who, what, why, when, where& how)
    -Make the ending more poignant/ meaningful… Like perhaps you learnt something and wanted to bring it to the notice of all etc… But right now it’s not conveying much… Either you sympathise or begin to show respect etc…

    These are just a few thoughts of mine so that you can improve it a bit😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Somak Ghosh says:

      Love the name Show and Tell. Unfortunately, he could not recall/explain the location of the statue, which left me helpless there. The Journalistic Six is an interesting concept. Will definitely use it this time!
      About the ending, there’s nothing learnt per se, because I am not sure if I like the workaholism. So I try and keep it dangling.
      Just a doubt here, don’t you think the J6 works more if the setting is that of a story, compared to a snapshot/conversation?

      Like

  3. What I meant was you could keep these things in mind (like using descriptions, J6, show & tell etc…) and then write… Would make the piece more interesting. Another thing is with the available info or let’s say an idea, you could incorporate some more details (your imagination comes in here😛) and write… Well these are ways by which you can develop the piece of writing-add humor, pathos, show surprise or shock etc.. I liked the part when you asked about his family. I was shocked to learn he fell four floors off a building! And his passion for his job – crafting animals and birds out of cement after going home… He’s a workaholic, no doubt!! So you get my point right???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Somak Ghosh says:

      Yes! What was interesting was, this guy had no clue why someone whom he sees everyday, comes down to him and begins to ask him questions about his life. 😀

      Like

  4. Probe him further then!!😜 There might be interesting snippets to share, who knows.. It’s non fiction, isn’t it? I hate it man cos you have to be too good at your job!! And I ain’t 😉 What’s your email I’d?? You could pass reviews on mine as well! Let it be a fair game.. btw, I am unable to share my blogs exclusively to you.. one of the subjects I wrote is a little controversial, at least to where I live now. So wondering what the problem could be with respect to sharing with just one person..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Somak Ghosh says:

      Hey!
      I have just begun going through your blogs. There’s a certain degree of controlled narration that I like. There’s that smoothness to it, like ice cream maybe, that I love.
      My emai id: riju.sg@gmail.com

      Like

  5. Thanks Man! They were rejected by the publishers anyways.. There are a few tear drops that lay concealed to the reader. But I do understand I could do a lot better than this.. Nonfiction sucks actually but would like to crack it some day. Need good themes to write about and must read such books. But stuck up with fiction right now. I lapse between nonfiction and fiction depending on my mood…
    I shall mail few pages/ short stories (it may appear incomplete though) to show you with regards to writing a dialogue. Hope you’ll like them!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey is your email ID correct? I would be sending some stories written by me… please confirm

    Like

  7. Yeah it is! Send across your stories. Would love to read them!

    Like

  8. Might appear incomplete and don’t have too much expectations Man… At the moment we are sailing in the same boat☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hey I have mailed the stories yesterday and read when free..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. Thanks a ton!
      Will do!

      Like

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