I have lived in many cities and towns and regions, but I spent most of my initial life, till I graduated from an engineering college, in a state of India that is known as the ‘Desert State’. As I had to point out before to a lot of people in various parts of India, that appellation is not quite accurate, for the said state, Rajasthan, is now the largest state of India in terms of area (it used to be the second largest before Chhattisgarh was carved out Madhya Pradesh), and it has a very varied geography and climate. It has places where it rains so much and which have so much greenery, that you might get fed up with both. It has places on the northern border which are almost like those in Punjab, because they are on the border of Punjab. There are places which border Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and they resemble places in those states, i.e., they are not part of a desert. It even boasts of a famous hill station and one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, even though these ‘mountains’ are more like hills or hillocks, so much so that when people from the Uttarakhand (from the Himalayan region) see them, they mockingly refer to them by using a colloquial term used for a part of the female anatomy. Still, a considerable area of Rajasthan is part of the Thar desert, which includes areas in the bordering Pakistan. Moreover, the desert is said to be spreading, not just now, but for a very long time, in a process that may be a part of the climate change going around the world.
Though I spent the initial (long) part of my life in that state, I have lived in various places all over the state. After that I lived in some other cities, but all these cities had a climate that lacked one thing which is rare in a tropical country: It does not snow in any of these cities. Although, again, India has an even more varied geography and there are the Himalayas in the north and lots of places in India where it does snow a lot, I had never before seen snow in real life. I had seen it only on the screen or in photographs. Even when I visited Kashmir sometime ago (for the first time), I avoided visiting any places (such as those where you can see snow) as a matter of principle, given the historical (and other) contexts in which I went there.
A couple of months ago, it snowed for several days in several parts of Europe, including in France and in the part of France where I currently live and work. It was not the first time this season, so I had already seen it snowing at least once. But on this day a couple of months ago, when I went out for work, it was white everywhere. Everything was covered in snow. Now, I might be half dead (as many have said to my face, some going even further) and I might be in a state where it is difficult to take pleasure in anything, but I couldn’t resist the charm of that sight. Not completely, at least.
I walked up to the train station, looking at the cars and houses covered with snow, the sidewalks covered with thick snow, so that you had to walk on it, and even the trees covered with snow. A sight to behold for a person from the Desert State and from a tropical country. I looked at it in a way a country boy looks at skyscrapers when he first comes to a big city. Though I tried to make it more like a world-weary person looking at charms he has little time for.
I took the train and walked up to the bus stand to get the bus to the work place. The bus took a long time in coming, and I (and the others there) waited for it. I stood in the place where I usually stand, that is, next to the bus shelter, not inside it.
The bus came and I boarded it. All through the ride, there was person in front of me, who kept glaring at me, almost unblinkingly. I tried to avoid noticing, but I couldn’t because he really was persistent. I don’t think he even once shifted the gaze from me. But it was glare, not a gaze. It was not ogling either.
It turned out that the bus was not going all the way to the place where I (and others working there) normally get down. Instead, it was going in a different direction. It was the right bus, but there was some work going on the road leading up to my bus stop, so the bus took a different route. I had received a mail about this, but I forgot it, and anyway I was still under the spell of the snow.
Since the bus was taking a different route than usual, the driver announced it (in French). I couldn’t understand all of what he said as I am still struggling with French, especially spoken French. And I had forgotten about the route change. But since many others got down, I understood I had to get down too (these things happen in India also, you know). However, I understood a bit too late, so that I did not get down at the place which was near to my office and from where I knew the way. I got down at the next stop, which was around one and a half kilometer further down the road and in the wrong direction for me. Now I had to walk to the office from there and I had to find my way.
There was another person who got down with me. A colleague, sort of. As I was walking this way and that, trying to figure out which way to go, as there was no one around to ask, he came up to me and asked in English whether I knew the way, because he didn’t either. The place where we had got down, being an open space, was covered even more with the snow. I couldn’t resist taking some photos with my small mobile phone camera, although I have almost completely stopped taking photos for the last several years. Why is that so is another story. Story not in the fictional sense, but in a journalistic sense, just like this story that I am narrating now.
So the two of us walked this way and that, trying to find our way to the office. We even asked one person who came along, but he couldn’t help us, partly I think because neither of us spoke much French and he didn’t speak any English (or our respective mother tongues, which are not English or French).
Finally, we found the way and I reached the office. I carries a backpack with me to the work, like always. The backpack is for the laptop. And an umbrella. I put down the backpack and it was only then that I noticed that I was made a spectacle of all the way from the bus to the office. For my backpack was all open. Its zippers (if that is how they are called, in Hindi we call them ‘chain’) were open from end to end. If you are familiar with this kind of backpack, you might recall than the ‘chains’ of these backpacks run from the lower end one the one side to the lower end on the other side. The lower end is almost at the bottom. Thus, if the chain is open from end to end, all the entrails of the backpack hang out. And it was not just the chain of main container that was open from end to end, even the other large pocket, in which I keep the umbrella, was also open from end to end. That means, all the entrails of my backpack, the major container as well as the minor container, were hanging out for all the world to see. The only reason why the laptop did not fall out was because it was kept in a slot within the open container that such backpacks have for laptops.
Now I do sometimes forget to ‘close’ the chains while picking it up and going somewhere, but I am very well aware of that and so I try to make sure that I don’t. This was not something that had happened to me for the first time. It happened several times in India, but there I thought it was a prank by the students. When I noticed it the first time (in India), I thought I might have forgotten it, so the next time I made sure that I had closed it. And on such occasions when I had made sure that I had closed the chains, I still found after going from one place to another that they were open. But all these times, they were open only a little at the top and only one container, minor or major. Open enough to take out the laptop, no more. That is how I open the backpack too: just enough to be able to take out the laptop. I never open it from end to end. Why would I? Except on special occasions, but then the thing is so visible right in front of you that you can’t forget closing it back.
There is no way I could have opened it (both containers) from end to end and forgotten to close it, especially when I know that I sometimes do forget it. But when I do forget, as I said, it is only one container and only enough to take out the laptop. That is why it is not so visible and that I why I forget in the first place.
Who could have done that? Looking back at the sequence of events, I am pretty sure who did it. At the bus stop, a person came and stood right next to me, between me and the bus shelter, which was unusual in itself as there was little space there. Then he moved behind me, between me and the wall. I wondered at that time why he had moved behind me, but I did not look back. This is a posh area, a completely gentrified area, where no riff-raff is usually to be seen. It used to be a banlieue, if I am not mistaken, but it is not that now. All those who wait there are usually sophisticated people, most of them researchers or academicians, as this is an area with a number of academic institutions and research centres. That is. higher level academic institutions. The person who moved behind me looked no different from any researcher. In fact, he looked better. It was at that time, during the wait for the bus that he mush have done it.
And, looking back, I am almost sure that the person who glared at me during the whole of the ride was this same person. Reconsidering, although he looked sophisticated and no different from a researcher, he also could be seen as a tough looking man. It was as if he was looking at his handiwork and passing on a message to the object of that handiwork.
But this is not the part that jolted me most. The opening of the backpack by some tough but sophisticated looking person. May be he just wanted to have some fun.
What I can’t get out of my mind is the fact that when I got into the bus, all the entrails of my backpack were hanging out, visible for anyone to see, so much so that it would be difficult to resist looking at it. And if you have some kindness or decency in you, you might point out to the person that his backpack is all open. Everyone there must have understood that the backpack had a laptop in it. But no one, not a single person even glanced at me or the backpack, let alone telling me about it. It was as if they didn’t see it at all. If it was involuntary on their part, it was something way beyond my overlooking to close my backpack. And if if was voluntary, it was a remarkable achievement of a sadistic kind.
Then there was the person who got down from the bus with me and who searched for and walked all the way to the office with me. The colleague, sort of. Since we were stopping at various places and waiting for each other, as one of us did some exploration, he was several times directly behind me, so there is no way he could have avoided seeing it. I, meanwhile, stopped at several places to take photos of the snow. Not once did this person even hinted with his eyes or otherwise that there was something unusual on my back. Let alone telling me that I should put my backpack right.
For it was raining.
It was raining and the rain was getting into the backpack. Had we taken longer to find the way and reach our offices (he works in the same place but in different building), water would have reached inside the laptop. And my laptop is my most precious possession here, as anyone can guess who even knows me slightly. When I put down the bag and took out the laptop to check, there was indeed some water on it, but fortunately it was still working.
I may have a number of shortcomings as human being, but I know for sure that if I saw something like this happen to someone else (whether deliberately done by someone or happened accidentally) and I walked with that person trying to find the way to the workplace where both of us worked (while we even had some friendly chat), even if I hated that person, I would let him know that not only was the backpack open all the way on all sides, the laptop could be damaged, so he should close it (if he wanted to, and why wouldn’t he?).
I have not overlooked another possibility. That it was this person who did what was done to the backpack, and not that person on the bus stand. If that is true, unlikely as it is, it would be even worse.
I have a feeling, pardon me for saying so and for banging on this theme so much on this blog, if it had been the 20th century, this kind of thing would not have happened. May be I am wrong and it would have happened even in that century. But I also have the feeling that in the 21st century, this kind thing would be a norm, not an aberration.
And it would be so in any country you might go to, if you happen to be in a situation that I am in. Or perhaps even otherwise. Perhaps just because you are not ‘one of us’.
You would be told, and told in a perverted way, to watch your back. And your backpack.
And to give you a treatment to cure you of the audacity to admire and be attracted to ‘our (developed) snow’ and appropriate ‘our (civilized and cultured) heritage’. Especially if you also have the audacity to question what is happening in the world, including the ‘developed’ world.
This, and all such things I have described here (on this blog) are literally true. They are, I would say, borrowing the words from Kenneth Chamberlain, ‘my sworn testimony’, as I wait for worse things to happen.
But wait. This is not the end of the story.
It was on that day that I found out that my one year contract was not going to be renewed. That did not upset me very much, because I was prepared for this.
What happened further on that day is that I went from the office directly to a supermarket to buy the groceries that I had run out of. I don’t eat outside (almost ever) and I rarely go anywhere. I go to a supermarket, because it is the place where I can get most things I need in the least possible time so that I can get back to my room as soon as possible, so as to avoid unpleasant experiences. That is how it has been for the last several years. I go to the supermarket around once or twice a month, bring a large bagful of groceries, and manage with that throughout the month.
As I got all that I needed and reached the counter, two men came behind me. They were, again, tough looking men. One of them, by the way, looked similar to the man at the bus stop. They were not actually there to buy anything. One of them just picked up some little thing to make it appear that he was there to buy something (I have seen this drama before) and got directly behind me at the counter.
And then he said loudly, very clearly, and with a long pause after each word, so that I simply could not *not understand* what he was saying. He said that loudly for everyone to hear, but addressing no one in particular, and he said it mockingly (and dare I say sadistically?).
Then he repeated at least twice, in the same loud and clear voice, even more mockingly, full of hate:
I work. That’s what he said. I work. Tomorrow. Like always.
“I work”. That was a phrase I had used earlier in the day. “Like always” was also a phrase I had used.
And believe it or not, although I had every intention of going to work the next day, and I was not much upset (as these things keep happening and I have learnt to live with them as much as possible), I had such a horrible night that I could not sleep and I was in no shape to go to work the next day. It was as if a chemical had entered my body that did not agree at all with me.
This too has happened before (and after), but on that day it was particularly bad. I know my health problems, to the extent they are present (I don’t have any major disease, as far as I know: never had), I am familiar with all the symptoms, but this thing is unlike any of the usual things. And for some strange reason, it usually happens on the weekends. It starts on Friday evening and is the worst on Saturday and subsides by Sunday evening. It had stopped happening for some months, but it reappeared after (whether there is any relation between the two or not) I went out to see one of the Paris sights on a Saturday a few weeks ago. If it sounds crazy, I can’t help it, because I am just narrating the literal truth with as little interpretation from my side as possible.
But that particular day was not a weekend day. It was not even Friday.
As I said, this is my sworn testimony. Just a small part of it.
Today, i.e., the next day after writing the above, I woke up to find this mail in my official mailbox, addressed to all in the mailing list:
Selon les dernières volontés du testateur, il n’y aura ni fleurs ni couronnes.
Un registre est mis à la disposition des personnes qui désirent laisser leur témoignage.
Donc, dorénavant :
After that, there is a list of people’s names and their tasks, as in movie credits. It doesn’t say anything else.
One day after, that is 29-03-13, I had to go for giving a presentation for a possible job at a city near Paris. I prepared the presentation and saved three different versions of it yesterday. I made them on Linux, saved them on the Windows partition, opened Windows and checked that they were there and I could open them. I have to do this because my notebook does not work with projectors when in Linux. I have to use Windows if I have to give a presentation using a projector.
As I was closing down my system, the display configuration window automatically (where you select the monitor/projector in my version of Linux) opened. I didn’t give it much thought.
I should have. Because today morning, as I was preparing to leave the presentation, I started Windows and tried to go through the presentation as I had some time. But I found that all the three versions were gone.
I tried a data recovery tool to try to recover them, but even that tool won’t show them. Since I had to leave, I gave up and started redoing the presentation. I thought I would complete it on the train ride, as I already knew well enough what was in it.
I went to the train station. I had the e-ticket confirmation, which has a file number. With that file number, you have retrieve your ticket from the kiosk at the station. I entered the file number, and the machine accepted that. Then it asked for my name. I entered my name, but it said the name is unknown. I tried various combinations of my names, but none of them worked. At the counter, there was no one there to ask. So I had no option but to return.
I had applied to more than a dozen places and this was the only place from where I got a (non-negative) reply.
I come back to my apartment and send a mail about this to the concerned person that I will not be able to come for this reason. Then I open switch to another window, the one that lists files and folder (Nautilus). And, magically, all those three versions of the presentation are back! Right where they were.
A few hour later, on the same day (29-03-2013), as I take backup of my laptop (which actually a small notebook), I have almost completed the process. I come to the place where I had saved those presentations, and they are gone again.
Along with that, the complete folder in which I download and keep Democracy Now! videos everyday is also gone.
On closer inspection (using some Linux commands for checking disk space), it seems almost certain that they are not actually gone. that is the data is still on the disk. However, it is not visible or accessible, like deleted. The other folders and files (at least most of them) are still present. In the same partition, even in the same folder.
I go back and check if they have magically come back again. They haven’t. Not so far.