Saturday, February 11, 2012

Laxman's Everywoman

I have Laxman's Common Man on my mind. Ever since my house burned and I have been smashing my head against a variety of Systems, I have a recognized his face in my mirrors, with my pointless umbrella that cannot shelter and my incurable myopia that the desperate glasses perched on my nose fail to fix.

It has been more than 15 weeks since my house burned, and I have been given the roundabout twice as many times, and no end in sight. I am a common person, and as a common person, am never allowed to forget how little I account for.

The mortgage company, no matter how many times I try to reason with it, reiterates that since there is no house, it cannot address or acknowledge the desperation of my situation: the computer won't recognize it and the System has no gears for such an uncommon state of the common mortgagee. The City tells me that ultimately, the burnt, uninhabitable hole in this verdant, organized town continues to be my house and expresses amazement at my willingness to drag my feet in fixing it: most uncommon response in its estimation of the responsible, common citizen.

The Association, wherein lie most of my hopes of my house's healing, made up, as it is, of common men, has transformed into yet another System devised to deflate the incurably hopeful. It has shown me documented hours spent on discussion of my Situation, of revisions of Plans, of Decisions taken, but all to no avail. Days have turned to weeks, and my queries about an estimation of when the work is to begin (which, I have been repeatedly assured, is Imminent) has joined the junk pile of never-to-be-answered emails.

My neighbors, the truly patient people, bring me little nuggets of hope: they saw a truck and could be almost sure that it was supposed to come to my place; men who looked like they knew were seen measuring and making notes; two uncommon people had a tape measure when they opened my door and disappeared from view. They too, of late, have begun avoiding my ever-questioning gaze, and shake their heads, claiming their Common Man status and its attendant cluelessnesses and helplessnesses. We find boxes of donuts, little encouragement notes, and cat treats from them, and I am conscious of the silent solidarity of my ilk.

All through my growing years, I remember R. K. Laxman's Common Man cartoons in the Times of India we used to get delivered, back when people still read newspapers as a matter of course. I now wonder what the Common Woman would look like, if Laxman were to sketch her. Would she wear that vertical wrinkle in the middle of her forehead (dislocating her bindi)? Would the upturned U of her mouth resign itself to squatting on her her chin? Would her eye sight dim with searching and scrolling through the vast Web for a dusty gear forgotten by the System? Would her hair be thinned and frazzled with desperate, impotent worry? I have placed a rolling pin in her hand, to match the Common Man's umbrella, a weapon as pointless as his.

The rains have started and the ground has thrown up its insects. I avoid going near the backyard of my burnt house, as it stinks of strange smells and has a constant cloud of little gnats. As I sit here in the not-mine place and consider my house from across the street, I wonder if I will ever forget that I lived there for so long, if it will ever heal, how long I can cling to this precipice, if I will be soon persuaded to abandon the place I'd bought and made my own, if I can ever heal with this burnt, gaping, raw hole in the center of who I am, if I am even capable of abandoning.

After all, what new beginning can empower the Common Man? He is destined to trudge along the same dusty, weary roads that run among the many Systems that control them. I better put on my bi-focal glasses, and armed with a broken umbrella and an old rolling pin, begin to scour and trample the old long road on whose side I had rested awhile to write this post.


  1. Yours is a terrifying tale; I wish you and the house much healing and soon!

  2. The frustrations of a common man are very effectively expressed in this piece. I pray to God that, unlike the bureaucracy, he will have time to look at you and your burnt house and will cure both of you.


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