There are six women and six men in the City of Incident, each of them is struggling to keep their balance in a big city that gives them no power, no hope, and no chance of liberation. Like moths to a flame, they flutter towards the light. These tales come together to give you, the reader, a grandstand view into the lives of those who have thus far remained on the very edges of our vision. It is like seeing life through the blurring edges of a fish eye lens.
Who are these 12 people? You may fondly ask. Some of them you might meet travelling on the Metro; some you might see framed by the window of your car and some might jump out from the newsprint of your daily. Other eyes may be following you as you hasten past silent balconies, or from under flyovers, or behind the glass partitions of fancy offices. These are ordinary people, living extraordinary lives and hold little of your interest. That is only until the time a fragile moment cracks open like an egg shell to reveal the darkness around the majority of its powerless citizenry.
In ‘A Policeman Reflects on Accidents, Careless Women, and Infanticide’, you meet a constable of the railway police who for 14 long years has been tasked with protecting the first-class ladies coach on the Western line. With an eye for detail, the author says: “His rifle sits on the cushioned teal blue of the first-class seat, as if it has nothing to do with him. A plop of foam sticks out of the Rexine seat cover. He notices that it matches the khaki of his uniform. His fingers pick at the foam and he wonders if the ladies have been ripping up seat covers on purpose”. In the story ‘A Bank Teller Sees a Happy Baby on the Street, and Wants to Die’, you meet the woman who, on all six days of the week that she goes out, wears jasmine religiously in her hair. The not-so-secret joke among her colleagues is that the sweetness of the scent and brilliance of the flowers in her hair are in inverse proportion to the sourness of her tongue and the blackness of her mood.
Empathy takes the first hit as you flick through the pages. Cities, after all, are much more than just concrete and steel. This is where people meet; this is where they fall in love and this is where they settle down. Those riding its trains, buses and ferries have their dreams too, though mostly unfulfilled. That is a given. But one cannot brush them aside or push them under the mildewing carpet of memory. Trouble comes knocking when you see the city with blinkers on. Things seen through the wrong end of a binocular are always too far. It’s an interesting view of a city and its powerless inhabitants.
City Of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts
By: Annie Zaidi
Price: Rs 499