The high comfort

The high comfort

"I must confess that more than her it was her barsaati I turned to as a friend in my lonely existence"

It was my first job in Delhi and I knew no one in the city. Since colleges reopened in July, there was no choice for me but to land in the city in the most inhospitable weather. Humidity, wind and rain made life in a barsaati (roof-top homes) hellish. It took some time for me to begin acclimatising myself to the new surroundings.

Hailing from Bengaluru, language, food, besides the climate, proved totally alien to my southern affinities. On top of it all, I contracted a horrendous cold and cough, which made my existence miserable. No one in college seemed to be aware of the name of any doctor nearby.

The very first week, I went in search of the closest bazaar from the university campus. If I was hoping to find a qualified doctor in those congested lanes and bylanes of Kamalanagar, I was in for a big disappointment. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. The place was full of chaat shops, samosa and rasgulla stands and sari shops, but there was no signboard of any doctor.

I was confounded by a maze of radial roads. Wherever I turned I seemed to end up in a new roundabout that opened into a new maze of streets. Finally, I had to resort to a cycle-rickshaw in order to retrace my steps home, my mission unaccomplished. There seemed to be a hakim on the next street to whom my newly acquired friend, Renu, directed me. From then on, I clung to Renu for every small help. She lived four buildings away in a similar barsaati, which was most reassuring. I could actually see her room from my terrace. Every day, the first thing I did when I returned to my barsaati was cast a glance in that direction, like a sunflower turning to the sun.

Renu was from Meerut, trying her luck out in Delhi. She was a research scholar attached to Gandhi Bhavan. Her studies kept her glued to the library desk throughout the day. So there was no question of my running into her most of the week. I came and went about pursuing my big job of acclimatisation, with the assurance that Renu was there for me in an emergency.

She sent her milkman and dhobi-wala over to my place as well as some fluffily-turned-out aloo parathas aromatic of desi ghee on two consecutive Sundays with the dhoban (the dhobi’s wife). You can surmise though she remained as elusive as morning dew, I did feel her presence around me. (By the way, the hakim had almost cured my cold, thanks to Renu).

I must confess that more than her it was her barsaati I turned to as a friend in my lonely existence. From my room I had to turn my head a mere whisker and like a boat glimpsing a lighthouse in the darkness, I would glimpse her third-floor roof. I’d wait for that sign of life all evening and at exactly nine o’clock, the light would come on in her barsaati.

I can swear it brought me instant warmth and assurance. She had returned from the library and I felt less lonely. That small glowing electric light connected me with another human being in the wilderness of night. That was our communication. Neither of us had a telephone way back in the 60s. I like to think she looked for my light, too.