Monday, September 07, 2009

Ode to absence

Once there was a bar up a floor and a half in a decrepit corner of a city known for its decrepit corners. The building was hardly noteworthy, one among many structures trailing behind the capitalist revolution, refusing to abandon valuable land to the shiny mirrored surfaces of the new age. Greying, scarred, ravaged, it gave away nothing but evidence of its struggle to stand. Drenched in the sour, steamy odours of unfiltered tobacco, the room was dark but for dim, uncased candles and the flickering lights of bidi edges. Men scurried around cleaning, serving and taking orders. Some very young, most very old and none in between. Dusty elbows rested on dustier formica table tops. The shiny plastic laminate used to be better known as sunmica. Voices clustered and waned, only beer could be ordered and peanuts came unasked for. Voices waxed and waned, some clear and angry, others mumbling and unfocused. Some sat quietly, sipping beer and staring into air. Their faces were tanned and their fingernails yellowed. Now and then, one could see the distended, extended nail of a manly little finger, painted bright pink. An earlobe or two shone bright with pink stones and American diamonds. Men, everywhere you look.

This used to be a world of men. Men who walked out of the days of textile mills and construction sites and stock markets and into the nights of unlit corners in unwashed buildings. Their women laid claim to the shanties and chawls and apartments in other decrepit buildings. Their children played on the streets and in the corridors. Outside the city lay bare, neon lit and scurrying past.

The worlds have faded. Textile mills have moved, unions have been gheraoed and disbanded and decrepit buildings are making way for bright, mirrored, air-conditioned malls. I wonder what the new spaces of the working class are. I wonder if there is a working class anymore.

On a related note, check out Clare Arni's exhibit on disappearing professions in the wake of capitalist hyper-modernity.

On a completely unrelated note, as I was writing this, I was listening to this song....



The light is aptly seedy, the content a suitable critique of nostalgia?

4 comments:

mentalie said...

their world is very much there, mato. people don't notice them anymore...unless they are looking for them. the decrepit quarter bars hidden in the dark shadows of spanking new flyovers and shiny corporate complexes, the crumbling chawls tucked away down the lane from the high rises, disappearing behind the neon lights of phoenix mills... some of the bars have been taken over by people like us and slowly, we have ousted the original clientèle. the menus have changed in these places. they serve vodka now. and they vary their peanuts with chakli and other such 'value added' services. we like their dinginess. it is a relief after the glam of the places we are expected to be seen at. it is an adventure to invade their darkness and silence with our cell phones and english and the righteousness of our money.
sometimes, if you venture further down the gully, or bypass the hoardings and new facades of the mills to see what lies behind, you might still find a quarter bar with men from another time...

Mathangi said...

So like everything else, a world that is now partly fading and partly reduced to spectacle? :)

mentalie said...

i don't think it's fading as much as bypassed...and thereby not really a spectacle either. i feel that we make the ones we go to spectacular by the incongrousness of our presence. but otherwise quarter bars are pretty invisible, urgent places...
as you can see i spend a lot of time in them :D

Mathangi said...

I can see! Good to know...makes me hopeful in a very unfocused, pointless way :).