Day 72: Wallflowers and Ordinary Superheroes

I have much to tell you today. I have two main things to tell you about, so I’ll do it the fun way and tell you both at the same time. You can kill a lot of time on trains by observing people and trying to guess their stories or invent stories for them. This is the best you can do in a train if you don’t have something to read. You can’t do this when traveling in buses because you can’t observe people that much. You can look around as much as you want in a train and if you directly look at people only once in a while they’ll never even make eye contact with you. Some stories seem the same. Here in New York there’s usually the couple traveling back home after a long day if it’s between 7-9pm. Sometimes they’re bringing home groceries, sometimes they have a kid, sometimes she’s pregnant and they’re bringing back a giant bag of diapers. In the morning most faces are blank, most are falling asleep. I think I can tell pretty well who’s already had their coffee, who hasn’t and who doesn’t need coffee. There’s sometimes the one casually dressed person or the one who gets off at Christopher street (Christopher street is an evening place, it doesn’t really have any offices) and I imagine that they’re doing something interesting for a living. Maybe he works at a record store, or runs a restaurant. Once in a while I’ll find somebody really interesting, like the guy carrying a keyboard it’s bag and composing music on his Mac I saw one night. I saw someone like that today.

I’ve never really come across things like this in Bombay. We Indians are an introverted bunch. We’re comfortable being wallflowers. Not all of us of course. But it’s an easy observation to make about us in general. I’m not saying this is the only reason I don’t see things like this in Bombay but it certainly is one of them. People won’t make music or paint or draw or write in public places. I’ve seen a few people draw or write in coffee shops a few times, but not as often as here. We don’t even join in conversations on the train if we don’t know the people having them. I probably don’t speak for all of us but I can speak for myself. I can hardly write in public, I’m too conscious of anyone looking over my shoulder. It bothers me even when I’m reading if anyone else is close enough to read what I’m reading. When I was younger it would bother me if people could see the title of the book I was reading. It bothers me if someone can read my twitter feed while I read it on the train and I lock my iPod as soon as I’m done selecting a song so that no one can see what song I’m listening to. None of these anxieties have any good justification. At the most it might make a good two minute conversation if a stranger liked the song I was listening to or the book I was reading or was curious about what I was writing. A two minute conversation with a stranger is always fun and these things are very unlikely to happen in Bombay anyway because as I said, we won’t talk to strangers.

When coming back on the subway today, while listening to Death Cab For Cutie I was looking around the train compartment as you’d expect. What caught my eye was a girl (woman?) drawing a comic book. This was a thick hard covered book about the size of your average comic book. She drew just with a black pen. What’s really something worth mentioning is, she did this when standing. Imagine trying to draw on a local train in Bombay. It’s harder to draw on a subway train in New York because the tracks aren’t as straight and the trains turn a lot more often. I can hardly even write in legible handwriting in moving vehicles. Getting both hands free long enough to plug my earphones into my iPod and put them in my ears is sometimes a challenge on this subway, but she drew, while standing and not falling. Watching her, I wished that I had a talent like that. Not just being able to draw a comic book while standing in a moving train, but also caring enough about the comic book to do it in whatever free time she got, struggling against the movement of the train and not being bothered by anyone looking at what she’s drawing.

For me, it’s not just about being invisible, it’s about being able to control what you see. I can tell you all of this here not only because hardly anyone ever reads this, but mostly because I can take my time and tell you exactly as much as I want to tell you. If there was even a little thing I didn’t want to tell you, it would never make it here, no matter how brilliant a blog post it might have made. If I had to tell you one thing that I learnt here, I’d say it’s that you have to stop being a wallflower at some point. It’s easier and probably more fun to not be invisible all the time, but what’s much more important is that it can just get in the way a lot of the time. If it’s being in a moving train surrounded by people that’s stopping you from working on your comic book then that’s a problem. You should get over it someday.

While we’re talking about comic books, lets look what superheroes have most in common, it’s that they can all do something that no one else can, they seem to have a firm distinction of right and wrong, and there’s usually multiple people who want things to be as the superhero would perceive to be wrong. But you see, the super-villains fulfill these three requirements as well. it’s you who decides who’s who and most of the time it’s really hard to tell. The superhero inspires people, the villain gives them fear.

From when I was really little, I always believed that the world would end someday in my lifetime. That an apocalypse of sorts would come. And I’d be ready when this happened because I was the only one who really believed this was going to happen. I’d be the superhero then, because I’d been preparing for it since my childhood. I’m not sure what made it happen but as I grew up I gradually began to believe that I’m not that special, and that the world won’t really end. Take the world apart and if we all had to start from scratch, it still sounds like a good idea to some part of me. I just don’t think it’s happening anymore.

The world isn’t ending and there aren’t any of us who can fly or catch bullets or open wormholes in space or travel in time, but this doesn’t mean that we’re all the same. There are still some of us who do what they think they really should, and find time to do them in a world that tries to steer them away. There are still some of us who struggle against the fruitlessness of their efforts and people who degrade their efforts. There are still some of us who can do things like drawing comic books while standing in a moving train and inspire people by just doing it.

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