In the auto, on the way to school, I spotted this woman writing on a handbill. I was some distance away, and first thought she was pasting blank handbills and writing on them. A sticker of handbills, like many other I’ve seen. As the auto pulled away from the scene, I realized that nobody pastes blank handbills and then writes on them; the handbills are invariably pre-printed. It is only graffiti writers who inscribe messages and draw pictures with their hands. So, was she producing graffiti? Political messages, perhaps? Even Maoist propaganda? It seemed highly unlikely, but I was curious enough to stop the auto on the way back and investigate.
What I saw was something scribbled in Malayalam with a blue ballpoint pen. Now, I can’t read Malayalam, so I took a photo of the writing, and asked the auto driver to read it aloud.
The scribbled message can be divided into three parts. On the top left, below the date (13/1/2015; yes, the message was date stamped), it read: “Buses should stop only at the designated bus stops.” And below this was written, “One with experience, Journalist.” On the bottom right was written: “Buses should not stop away from the designated bus stops and force hapless commuters to run in order to board the buses.”
But what was of greater interest was what was written in the box, an incomplete sentence: “Those who have succeeded in isolating me for 21 years.” Was she then, insane, or a harmless neurotic? And was I a neurotic myself to interrupt my busy day and stop to read the scribblings of an unstable woman? Had I really expected to discover Maoist propaganda?
But for my interest in street photography, I’d never have noticed this woman writing on a handbill. Photography trains the eye to see what would lie below the perceptual threshold of most people. And but for my interest in psychology, especially abnormal psychology, I’d never have become curious enough to stop and read what she wrote. And who was this woman? What life story lies behind those mysterious words? Was she abandoned by a bus driver husband? Had she been sacked by a newspaper?
Whoever this mystery woman was, she was battling her isolation with a time-honored remedy: self-expression, with a pen, producing messages she knows nobody will read.
But is that so different from what I’m doing now?