The car was stuck. For a moment at least. But that moment was enough to let the derision start pouring in from those pimples of the city that usually just form an ugly backdrop to the car owner’s life. It was a black sedan. A Japanese affair. I was in an auto behind it. The auto-driver and his friend were shouting at the person ineptly driving the car.
‘Asshole, can’t you keep a driver?’
‘Let the car stay in the showroom if you can’t drive it, bastard.’
The heat and the humidity wasn’t helping anybody. Nerves were shot with the dripping sweat on everyone’s foreheads and backs. Five people in the small auto, going from Mechua to Kadapara. The auto driver and his friend were getting antsy, you could tell that they were going to enjoy this person’s ineptness at maneuvering his car down narrow lanes.
The car was stuck and it only came unstuck because the street dwellers become active parties to the resolution. There was after all a big commotion in their hole-in-the-wall dwellings because of the car. A woman who presumably lived under a tarpaulin with what seemed like three children, pulled one of her wooden beams back. Thus further contracting her ‘house’ which was already smaller than the car.
Everybody was laughing. The woman. Her children. The man across the street from her who ran an open-air barber shop. The auto drivers stuck behind the car, the lorry driver stuck next to the car. The sweaty men milling about the street doing their various chores. Some had come out of the street works just to laugh and enjoy the spectacular failure of the rich amongst their all too humble abodes.
‘Idiots, why do they drive if they don’t know how to?’
‘He should also just stay in the showroom, that’s where these rich fucks belong anyway.’
A rich man was getting battered by the sneers of poverty. I loved it. I could imagine him sweating profusely behind the wheel, hoping to god he just somehow gets out of there without a scratch. I could almost sense him shaking physically as he turned the wheel this way and that. His mind racing to avoid the realization of his downfall. His comfortable brain weaving a narrative of some sort to incorporate this unexpected twist of events so he could keep his self-respect intact.
The lorry came unstuck with much heaving and bellowing, it rounded the corner and sped off in the other direction. The car moved ahead bit by bit. The middle aged woman of tarpaulin fame kept the car company on foot – telling people to move out of the way, shouting at the driver to keep the god damned car from colliding into other vehicles. My auto-driver was having a conversation in Bengali with her. They kept laughing about the car owner, calling him this and that.
Maybe as a rich man myself, I should have felt sympathy for the bugger. I wasn’t very good at driving either and if I dared to take a car out on the streets of Kolkata, I would probably get into his situation very easily. But I just felt a strange sense of satisfaction. As if justice was working itself out right in front of me, spontaneously.
I am of the opinion that the rich should be miserable. Or to give a more acceptable version, as long as the poor live horribly, the rich should live miserably. It would only be fair, not that fairness is to be expected out of any situation. This man with his big car was getting his share of misery, he would probably be rattled for the entire day, think twice about taking the car out for the next week, maybe even hire a driver to save his soul from the laughter of the poor.
Their laughter has a particular sting for a rich man. A man in a car is too used to being respectable, he is too used to the artificial signs of respect that the poor are made to show towards him everywhere he goes. As far as he is concerned, the poor were given the breath of life to bow down to him and do his bidding. Now, suddenly, they had become human beings. They had become confrontational, they had become an existential dilemma. He couldn’t be rude, they would beat him up. He couldn’t run them over, they would beat him up. He couldn’t even nick anything or anybody with his car, they would beat him up. He was at their mercy. Where he was stuck, policeman don’t patrol protecting the rich from the rage of the poor, or their laughter.
Laughter, Arendt says, is the best way to strike at the impotence at the heart of power. A man is made powerful by opinion, and laughter takes that opinion right down to hell. A decent man, unclothed in the middle of the street by laughter. Harassed by the laughing of a few tramps.
Rape by laughter, a new way of dealing with cars that are bigger than houses. Laugh the rich away. Wherever you see a rich man, an affectations’ man, an arrogant man, a powerful man, laugh him away into the slimy gutters of humanity. Laugh till he is nothing but a naked body. Laugh till he stops being a sign post of his own income.
Laugh, laugh, laugh, and throw a few expletives his way, make him feel like an idiot, make him feel like scum. Maybe he will get angry and fight. All the better, beat the shit out of him and laugh some more. GO ahead. See a man on a holiday in an expensive resort, laugh at him. See an expensive watch adorning the wrist of an erstwhile monkey, laugh at him till the straps come off. Laugh at the film stars, the bankers, the sports icons, the lawyers, the software engineers, the doctors, the damned politicians. Laugh at the decent mass of comfortable humanity till they cannot find comfort outside their own cages. Reclaim your public spaces, laugh them into ownership. Instill fear in their hearts. What are they gonna do, send the police to curb laughter. Laugh at the policemen.
A new passive resistance was swelling up in my imagination as the car torturously weaved through the narrow by-lanes to emerge onto the main street where it was more used to being. Well, so much for utopian thinking, the car took a left and my auto took a right. He probably went to his spacious air conditioned home while the laughing poor remained where they were, in the grime and the dirt of the infested streets of Kolkata.