Leaving home for work yesterday morning I had to stop in the alley leading to the main road because two men were blocking my path, chatting amicably as one straddled a gun-metal gray Vespa. Angry shouts suddenly rang out from behind, from where I’d come, and a blazing-eyed young man wearing green pants sped around the corner on his Vespa, stopped nearly on the other Vespa driver’s shoes and yelled in his face, accusatorily, condemning, cursing, and he grabbed his collar and shook the smaller man. Then just as I squeezed by green pants cocked his right arm, once twice, and let fly a punch into his offender’s jaw. Grabbing each other’s shirts and shaking the two clambered off the scooters and started to wrestle, still shouting, bringing men from nearby doorways and alleys, some trying halfheartedly to separate them and others watching with concern, interest, indifference. At one point the green pantsed man was getting the better of the other and the two were separated, venomous words spitting across the meter-wide divide. Then, queerly, a smallish oval was cleared and the inflamed duo were left to their passions, a chicken fight christened. The two danced unpredictably in the dirt for a few seconds then pounced simultaneously, twisting and grimacing. Finding a free arm, smaller black shirt got in a couple good shots from close range, enraging the bigger green pants.
Out of my peripheral vision stepped an older gent, who came close, amiably, as if we were at the zoo or the circus, “Hello, Sir! And where are you going?” he smiled broadly, gesturing towards my motorbike. “Uhh,” I responded, grasping now the meaning of the word desensitized. “What are they fighting about?”
“Huhnph?” he queried, not knowing to what I was referring. “Oh, this,” and he smiled the smile of the older and wiser as if it were boys being boys, ”Oh, it’s nothing. Where are you from?”
Green pants had his black-eyed and bloodied opponent in a solid headlock and eyed the brick wall, at which point saner heads stepped in. And from violence back we swung back to urgent diplomacy, the two men breathing heavily with reddened faces and rent clothing,staring daggers, green pants still incensed about some great offense the other embarrassed to be so thoroughly thrashed and, if his eyes were any indication, still 1intent on revenge. The scene appeared to be calming when suddenly another young man flew in from nowhere – my right, actually, where I and green pants had come from – and started punching black shirt, which sparked an entirely larger and more complicated ruckus. Suddenly there were four or five combatants, somebody’s head was very nearly thumped into the wall, and a white shirted deviant picked up a softball-sized chunk of black pavement and bashed it into the head of black shirt. I stepped in and separated those two and coralled black shirt from behind to make sure he was OK, which he was generally, although woozy and with the eyes of a frightened animal, red molasses dripping from his dark curly hair. Stuck in survival mode, he wheeled as if to punch me but stopped short upon seeing my face.
Passions waned. Black shirt waved off aid and suggestions of the hospital, green pants was led back to his waiting, prone Vespa, and the white shirted lunatic stared into and kicked the dirt in the face of a gentle talking-to from a white-capped older gentlemen.
My new friend smiled. “It’s OK, it’s OK,” he said. “This is Kashmir.”