Board Makers and Unnavigable Roads

TW: Mention of anxiety

For some time now I feel like I have been trapped in a pool of my own anxiety, not quite drowning yet, but just flapping my tired little limbs to keep myself from sinking. Which basically means I have been pacing every free minute I have; trying to stay afloat; in a constant state of caffeine overload or withdrawal without even being able to differentiate between the two anymore. 

I have no idea why, in this state of chaotic anxiety, did I ask my friend to ride towards the crowded city market. Was overstimulation my idea of masochism? I don’t really know. Or maybe it's just that the way to the market happened to be right through one of my favourite roads in this city. It is the road from Gandhi Circle to the city market. It passes by the Army Farms and beautiful colonial houses but for the most part both sides of the road are covered with meadows of baby-green grass.The sun is setting and we can see the moon, about an hour or so before it gets dark. It feels calmer than most other roads in the city. Here, I too, feel calmer than in most places in the city. 

I start to see the Nandi Flames as I get closer to the main city. Nandi Flames are these tall trees with beautiful dark green leaves, strong bark and for a few months in winter the most beautiful fiery orange-red flowers. I like thinking about them. They are beautiful and I love them and they seem to be everywhere in the city. 

The chaos in the market didn't do what I thought it would, it didn't hurt me. I sit here, on the bike, with my friend riding, making his way through the crowd. I feel calm. For the first time in a while, the commotion of the environment around me seemed to match the commotion inside of me. The market is full of people and cycles and bikes and the few unfortunate cars that dared to venture into the narrow street where the vendors and their mats take up a fourth of the street, they sell fresh fruit for half the price they do in the suburbs. Good produce too. We pass by the intricately cut up guavavas, the apples arranged in pyramids, pomegranates torn apart to look like bleeding flowery organs. 

I see the old food stall our parents used to take us to as kids. There they serve great benne dosas that you can eat late at night under the orange glow of the streetlamps after having finished your errands. We used to love that place, then I think my mother saw a rat around there and we stopped going. The rat still thrives there, I think, like it always did; unbothered by our boycott. Only I lost something. 

My calm fades as soon as we sit down in our usual place at our favourite restaurant, which is usually quiet but today it is filled with people, so many people it becomes hard to hear my thoughts even. We drink the coffee and eat the idli and when the bill comes we realise that this place without it’s quite seems overpriced and useless. We pay for privacy.

When we are out, my friend asks if we could walk around for a while. I look at my phone, it’s 7 pm, I have time, so I nod. As we walk I spot in the streets a small, old shop selling frames and I quickly fall in love with its board. It was a painted board that must have been at least 50 years old. It had the name of the shop embossed in raised wooden lettering, painted in what must have been bright red that is now a deep maroon and in need of a fresh coat of paint. It had these antique looking small spotlights at the bottom of the board, projecting two beams of slightly yellow light over it. It stood out as a clear superior when compared to the flashy backlit printed banners all around it. 

If you think about it, around 50 years ago, this city surely looked radically different and was not sprawling with suburbs as we know it be now, when most of the neighbourhoods that we will occupy now used to be just trees and grazingling lands but the market area was bustling back then too, as you can see old photographs and also in the 50 year old documentary “A Case for Justice” that can be seen as mild propaganda, if not in its mere existence, then in its re-release in 2021. It is Maharashtra’s case for its claim over this city. Either way it is delightful to be able to see old footage of the city.

I think, maybe in those days they had a very skilled board maker that everybody loved, who was known for his beautiful handwriting and creative layout, who made the best embossed lettering and got you the brightest colours. You can still see a lot of these old time-y boards in the market if you look closely. I wish I could trace them back to their makers. They all have a distinct personality, it literally is a person’s handiwork, it contains a little bit of their soul. 

After walking we came across this shop selling diwali decorations, in my struggle with anxiety I had forgotten how near the festival was. We see diyas and rangoli and I was taken back to the time when my mother used to get us here to select rangoli colours. I would always ask for black

and I would always be refused. It's not auspicious. In the process of coming to terms my queer identity, I realise, I had started to hold close to my heart everything tradition seemed to disarpove of and felt a sudden urge to buy some black rangoli. 

We walked around for a while until it was time to go back. We traced our path back. The roads that seemed unnavigable in cars and scary on bikes seemed alright on foot. Maybe these roads are meant for walking.

About The Author

Poorvi is a queer filmmaker, writer, content creator. They are the co-founder of Stogies Zine, a student magazine reporting on local stories and films. They also founded the Half Way to the Hill Production House, producing, writing and directing animated films and documentaries-que videos.