Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

A Slice of New York

Navtej Sarna

There are times when one has to draw the line and say that this is it; when one has to put aside the dallying and dallying, the pushing-under-the carpet routine and get down to doing things.

Three visits to New York and I had still not seen the Statute of Liberty. I had kept thinking about it, talking about it and of course kept pushing it away to the next weekend until the whole thing had stopped being a joke and become an embarrassment. It was thus that I took the bus that was to take me to the point from where I could take a ferry. There were others in the bus who had obviously the same idea.

But it was the two ladies on the seat behind me who caught and retained my attention for the entire journey. Through the corner of my eye I could see the hands of the one who was talking. They were a fascinating pair of hands which had seen many years, hands with long deep lines on them and two very thick gold rings. The hands moved incessantly as she talked.

“It’s something to do with your ancestors, I suppose, “she said. “Mine probably came from Scotland. That’s why I love all that fog and rain. I love it. Sometimes it’s so thick that the top of the UN building vanishes. I like it when that happens. Coming back to New York sometimes, just when you cross the New Jersey lowlands, it gets so thick that you can’t see the front of the car. You have to stop.” “Yeah, that’s Starbucks coffee,” she continued, “it’s a chain where you get the flavored coffees. I like their flavours. The nut ones, the hazel nut. Can’t stand the Irish one, don’t like the taste of whisky”.

The bus continued to move ponderously down Second Avenue. The Frenchman hadn’t looked up once from his tour guide and I couldn’t get the fascinating hands out of the corner of my eye. “I wonder if they ever got down to cleaning that mansion they used to have up there. They kept trying to clean it up but there was a kind of café there which wouldn’t go away. A café of the hippie-era. They used to sit there all night. And this building there used to be the hospital. You know there’s something about living near a hospital. It gives me a weird feeling. I didn’t let my parents move down here even though the flat they had wanted was very good and the rents were so cheap those days…”

Oh! By the way, what about the plot? Who’s buried there now, besides Daddy, Mommy, and Tommy? Is there a place vacant there? There is? But of course that’s Conie’s. Her Dad had given it to her for Christmas last year or something. Imagine! and Joe almost died when he told me that story”.

We had by now entered the narrower, more crowded lanes of China Town. The voice behind the hands became a conspiratorial whisper. “You know all these are Chinese shops. It’s from here to… and from there to … and even all these lanes which go up and down, all full of Chinese shops. They are actually quite cheap, you know. My God, these buses sure have to be good nowadays. Look how it turns into these lanes. And the number of cars is simply impossible. I can never drive down here. I get lost in these streets. Oh, there’s Peck Street…. There’s Pearl Street…that’s South Street.”

The bus stopped and with amazing alacrity; the two ladies in identical black dresses stepped out, taking with them all the crowded, warm bric-a brac of life. And after a glimpse of the statue which seemed lifeless and insipid in comparison, I returned to the New York of glass and concrete.