My name, you ask? What do you want my name for? That hardly holds any significance. If anything, let me tell you what I am and how I look. I’m middle-aged, around forty years of age (no one in my family remembers the exact date of my birth), with a slight paunch, drooping shoulders, and a head that’s getting bald with every passing day. I am dark, around five feet nine inches tall, and keep a beard which has gone completely white with time, at odds with the hair on my head, which is still more black than white. People, intrigued by this peculiar contrast, ask me whether I dye my hair, to which I can think of no reply.
My family has been a family of farmers; since generations, we have known no other means of livelihood. But now the times have changed. With big landlords eager to get hold of as much land as possible, ready to pay amounts which are too hard to refuse for people like us who never know what tomorrow would bring, its very rare for a man with meagre land holdings to get enough to pass his days. He has to look for a new job, that too in a place where they are hard to come by.
I got a job in one of the many multiplexes that have come up in this little town over the last few years. My task, as they told me, was to maintain cleanliness in and around the place. I am not the only one assigned this responsibility, there are a few others who work with me, and together we clean the floors of the porch, the lobby, and also the toilets, once in the morning at nine, and then in the evening at four. The building is huge, with two floors, there’s a lot of ground to be covered, and it turns out to be a tiring task, especially because we rid the floors of dust with a broom first, and then polish it by wiping it with phenyl and water. To make it shine. As the manager, our boss, likes it. We also, along with the above, hold the responsibility of cleaning the halls between shows, empty coke glasses, food packages and popcorn strewed here and there. But that doesn’t take much time.
As the oldest among the workers, and the one who looks most reliable, I have also been given an additional piece of work. On weekends, in the evening, just outside the entrance to the halls, they have a music show. A bunch of youngsters, all of whom look like they have just got out of their beds, come together and sing noisy, mostly English songs. My job is to assemble the equipment before the shows starts and dissemble it after it ends – the stand on which they keep the keyboard, the drum set, the huge black speakers, the microphones.
It isn’t something that takes too much effort, just fifteen minutes before and after. But what’s exhausting about the task is the wait, to stand there and wait for the show to get over, to hope that the song they are playing will be their last for the evening. When the rains are around, I can’t even leave the place for a moment, lest it starts pouring suddenly and the equipment needs to be replaced to safety. The manager thinks me responsible, and I’m too eager not to lose his confidence. So, I sit in a corner and wait.
I sit there and look around, the players - working away at their instruments, looking absorbed and lost in the music, smoking cigarettes without break, one after the other, the crowd – people eating at the cafeteria just behind, more youngsters, some standing and some sitting on the floor, listening to the music, many of them constantly smoking as well, and then there are, of course, the people who are here to watch a film, who just pass by, some pausing to listen to the music for a while.
The variety of people that can be seen near the place is quite remarkable, there are all kinds – boys and girls dressed for their evening out, company executives just back from office, uncles and aunties who wonder what the fuss is all about, and very old men and women, who don’t give the band as much as a glance. Yet, they are all together there, who have come to this multiplex for some form of enjoyment or the other.
Somewhere between ten and ten thirty, the band stops playing. I, in anticipation, go into the crowd and stand there much before that, hoping that they would wind up soon. This is the most difficult part of the waiting, it’s late and I am desperate to get back home. I can see a few eyes turning towards me, giving me a cursory glance, wondering whether I too was there for the music, and I’m conscious of the fact that here, where almost everyone is dressed to kill, having a good time, I look odd, a man who doesn’t belong, maybe even a blot on the landscape. But it hardly bothers me.
When it’s all over, and the whole place seems immersed in sudden, complete silence once more, I pick up everything from the stage and put it inside the store room.
My work for the day is over, and I leave on my bicycle, for my home in a village just a few kilometres away.
This is what I do. Clean. Assemble. Dissemble.