The warm brass of big band jazz, going upstream the tarmac ghost of a shifted river, pigeons wheeling over the empty palaces of a red fort – despite history, happiness. And blue skies, and the autorickshaw’s slipstream – I wonder if the stranger driving me across town is feeling as suddenly joyous. But as we pass the still smouldering saucer wreckage he changes channels, almost in homage.
- It was good, why did you change it?
He looks at the screaming line of police interceptors passing on our right and says, On a morning like this I feel like listening to sad songs.
The saucer happened; there is no other way of saying it. One minute it wasn’t there and the next there was a whistling in the air (which everyone ignored in the rush hour racket – no memories of the Blitz to make anyone look up, no bad World War movies as cultural reference) and then this dull glistening greymetal disc, reluctant to reflect, forty feet across by later estimates, had slammed into the central verge of the Ring Road at is broadest, half a kilometer short of the Bus Terminal, at nine o clock on a Monday morning. No one was killed immediately. There were some cracks zagging across the road, some dust raised from the pulverized lawn, nothing out of the ordinary for a city constantly re and de constructing; but people hit their brakes and the pile ups began. That was a month ago.
Pakistan died a quick death. Partly it was the New Peace, partly that the rumours couldn’t bear attributing something this, well, advanced to Pakistan. China died a slower death but was out by day 3. The US managed to hold out for a week, despite the fact that the newspapers and channels weren’t buying terrestrial realpolitik explanations at all, the
reporters were all so EXCITED about India’s VERY OWN UFO, and not just a measly sighting, but a real genuine FLYING SAUCER there to see, to smell… not to touch yet, it was burning hot. ROSWELL IN DELHI, said a Tueday headline, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD WORLD KIND.
The government must have been pissed off with whoever (or, whatever) had been piloting the craft for not conveniently landing it in the middle of the desert. They tried cordoning the area off, calling in the army, but the two hours of attempted securing led to traffic backing up many kilometers each way and a collective road rage barely controlled from mayhem; exaggerated by the helicams hovering over endless gridlock. They gave up. They tried to move the saucer away, but it was too hot. Hot enough to melt steel, to melt balls and chains and crane cantilevers, but it gave no surface warning, faintly warm to human touch.
The saucer was left angled into the earth, to be surrounded by its regular crowd of devotees. The adoring hungry eyes of the cameras, the devotees taking a detour from the nearby temple, the reporters and ‘experts’, the exasperated beat constables trying to keep the children away from giggling at their absence of reflections, the passing traffic slowing to take pictures and throw coins. No wishes came true. Nothing changed. No national security threats were detected.
The saucer was left alone. An unexplainable in a city full of unexplainables, happily ignored. The road dust paled the greymetal. And everything began to change. I noticed it when I began to remember words.
It started with udan-tashtri. Flying saucer, as simple as that. A phrase no one had been using for the past three weeks, hyperventilating instead over aparichit antariksh viman. But suddenly there it was in my head, as if it had always been, with memories of frisbees being bounced off the grass. And soon udan khatola joined in, and the half remembered song. Suddenly my head was filled with words and phrases and meanings and truths unused since childhood, what seemed like a whole language forgotten, a whole past time returned. I swam for what seemed days in the sweet pain of too much time.