Saturday, 17 August 2013

New York City

It's late in the night and I'm walking down 6th Avenue towards the Empire State Building, hoping to catch a glimpse of the tricolour lighting up the top of one of America's most recognizable monuments. I'm walking through the chilly air that seems to hang at every turning. A pretty woman, smoking a cigarette, sporting a Gucci bag and wearing a figure-kissing dress walks briskly across the road; the road is a still picture as she walks. Her skirt, split down the side, catches the breeze. These things don't bother New Yorkers. I turn into a Starbucks, as she walks away. "That's three dollars and seventy-five."

Macy's is closed now. That doesn't stop the bustle at its door. Some distance away, an old homeless man sleeps. People walk past him, laughing, singing, and sometimes on the phone. Wrapped in a woolen shawl, he sleeps comfortably on a wooden stool. Mornings are chilly in New York. That's why people wear suits.

I decide to return home after being trapped in Times Square like a deer in headlights. I'm spinning, turning, seeing so many things. Finally I'm asleep.

The next day begins on the same note. Everyday here begins on the same note. I take the tube from Grand Central Station. I'm going to Brooklyn. I want to see what the buzz about the bridge is all about. There's a buzz about everything here. I make a fool of myself trying to buy tickets. How am I to know the machine is smart enough to return change? I'm trying to fish for the exact coins and notes, looking at George Washington's picture, when a beefy guy pushes me out of his way impatiently. Things are fast here, faster perhaps than in Bombay. But everything is structured. There's no uncertainty about anything.

I reach Brooklyn and naturally, I'm engrossed in the Manhattan skyline. I miss out on what is happening directly in front of me. A newly married couple heads for the Pier straight from the church. They're surrounded by bridesmaids, best-men - the whole entourage. They kiss for a long time. Camera-shutters sound. It doesn't matter. Smart-ass Mexican guy standing next to me shouts, "Game over, man!", which the groom smilingly acknowledges. "Keep the bridesmaids too," yells another voice.

Before heading back to 42nd Street, I stop at Wall Street. All the big banks are here, and all the fancy TV channels which tell you 'Mutual Funds are subject to market risks'. I see a man outside The Trump Building, dressed impeccably in a costly suit. But he's sitting on the sidewalk and smoking a cigarette. Not exactly what you'd expect. Then again, people here hardly do things which are commonly expected.

Midtown again. There are photographers everywhere. It's pretty mad. On top of towers and in the subway. I'm one of them. I don't think people in New York City go to work without their fancy cameras. I need coffee again. Three dollars and seventy-five cents.

As I exit the shop, the same things greet me. Everything greets me. In fact, in all its overbearing diversity, New York looks mundane. The whole world is here, dressed in suits, vests, baggy caps and panama hats, shorts with ties, shirtless with trousers on, dresses that end over the navel, dresses that start over the neckline... Everything.

And then, I see a woman - Caucasian, fairly large-boned, and completely naked. She's standing in the middle of Times Square, outside a Broadway Theatre. She's campaigning for something, covered only in paint. And nothing else. She doesn't seem to mind, but no one else does either. People are walking past her casually. People don't have the time for naked women on Times Square.

I take another picture of Adriana Lima, who is smiling from a huge billboard far above our heads. She's looking rather stunning in her single piece swimsuit, but then there are women prettier than her on the NYC roads perhaps. They all mostly end up heading into one of those stores with large hoardings on top of them.

I think I need coffee. The usual: $3.75.

I walk out and sit down on a park-bench, to drink my coffee and read 'Kafka on the Shore'. I turning to page two-hundred-and-forty when I realize I'm sitting next to a couple who are visiting New York just like me. But they're smiling, talking and laughing. Their faces are very close, like in the moments just before you kiss someone. But they don't. I get up and walk.

I have not even finished the coffee yet when the antithesis of romance sets itself upon me. "Throw the ring away, Jane, and walk out of the house!" yells a man on top of his voice. "I don't care." I throw my coffee cup away and watch the man disappear around the bend. According to the movies, he ought to be heading to a Gentlemen's Club now, no? Anyway, I'm at Madisson Square Garden. I take out my camera.

I try to enter a busy souvenir shop. It's run by a large African-American lady. She treats me like some autistic child who is incapable of normal understanding. I feel a little discriminated against. I look up at the board which says 'NY Penn Station' and smile at America's history. Oh, the irony of it all!

I think I've had enough for the day. I've seen more, heard more, felt more and eaten more than I ought to have. I feel like the New York Times already, with omniscient eyes and all. The NY Times covers theatre just the way they cover the world, they claim. I have to see that for myself. I'll go watch  'Phantom of the Opera' tomorrow, I think.

But now, I need some coffee.