Two bats hung upside down from the soot blackened vaulted ceiling of a dark underground chamber, waiting for their weekly fix of incense and sweat and sorrow to waft up. There were over a hundred bats around them hanging from the stone and crumbling mortar, but due to the limitations of the too human narrator of this tale, we shall hear of only these two, among the hundreds of bats in one chamber, among the thousands of bats in one ruin, among the millions of bats in one city.
Oh, to be a bat. To fly in an ocean of sound when the world is blind. To hang in an echoing old dome, with a hundred, a thousand of your kin and participate in a mass conversation which everyone can hear, from the highest-pitched squeak to the lowest rumble. No one is ever alone in a crowd of bats. Everyone is adrift in a sea of stories. Except the poor humans who sometimes stumble in, and look aghast at the ominous high-pitched murmuring and massed wings unfolding over their heads. But then humans are so limited – they can seldom hear even those who speak to them face to face, asking them to listen, really listen for a change, even when the entire conversation happens within the limited range of human audio frequencies.
To bats, human beings are the ones who’re upside down.
What shall we call our two bats? Let’s say they are Changu Chamgadar and Mangu Chamgadar. Or as they have hiply started referring to themselves, Chang and Mang, or when they’re not into the whole brevity thing, dude, Sardar Changu Singh Balla and Sardar Mangu Singh Balla. Their latest thing is gate crashing international film festivals at the cavernous, ill-air conditioned auditoriums of Siri Fort, and flying figures of the eight through the projector beam, casting great flying fox shadows on the sad but stoic faces of the art house actors, etched in moody chiaroscuro.
Much to their disappointment, none of the humans has ever responded to this signal by rising in the darkness, rushing to the loo, and hurrying back in a cape and hood to save the audience.
- Wrong City, says Changu , As I keep telling you.
- Gotham isn’t a geographical entity, says Mangu, It’s an idea.
The idea that when a human city becomes Gotham, when it becomes too large to truly comprehend on a human scale, when it seems fey and menacing and yet seductive to those who live there – they go a little bats and turn to bats for succour.
This is the first part of an extremely whimsical story about bats in a ruin doing an anthropology of human beings, written a couple of weeks before leaving Delhi. If you want the full text, write to me. The picture is taken by my friend Abeer, and is from an afternoon spent ruin hopping in late August Dilli.