October 25, 2007

Something wicked this way comes.

The city is like a giant complex of smoke and facades, behind which a billion unspeakable things may happen in the course of a day. You may be living in an apartment block holding hundreds, but if your neighbours perform secret sacrifices to eldritch gods, you will never know. You will walk down a crowded street in the middle of the day, but if a hand should reach out and pluck the person walking next to you, you will never know. If all the members of your office are covertly engaging in organised mass sexual congress, you will never know. If you decide one night to go out into the dark and embrace your inner freak, whatever he may be, they need never know. In this sort of beautiful anarchic anonymity, strange things have the chance to lurk and grow. Strange, and perhaps even beautiful sometimes, but often merely macabre.
I love Delhi for its delicious urban legends. The flavour of the moment, for instance, is the Hammer Man. And before that, the even stranger story of the Monkey Man. This story is not about them. It is about the things you will never know about. Of course, if you're a sufficiently warped individual, there's nothing to prevent you from opening the manhole cover and taking a peek at what crawls beneath. And this is basically an effort in that direction. Witness:

I don't know what this is. In this crazy place, it could be anything, ranging from the mundane (some sort of MCD/DDA warning) to the misleading ( a bunch of students having fun) to the macabre (the symbol used to mark the spot where volunteers for blood sacrifices to Eldritch gods may assemble at precisely three fifty three in the morning, leaving no trace behind by three fifty six). It appears all over my part of South Delhi. On direction boards, on walls, on busstands. This particular specimen appeared on the wall of a flyover I was crossing. As you can see, its neither outrightly mundane or macabre. It's not your average skull and crossbones denoting danger. Rather, it is the sunken, emaciated image of someone's face, complete with eyes, a nose and a perfunctory sort of mouth. It's also not an overt image of threat or violence. The eyes hold no violence, instead, preferring to fix the observer with a baleful glance that seems to tread the line between bovineness and malevolence. There are bags under the eyes, perhaps to indicate some measure of malevolence, but more probably to convey suffering and depradation. The lines also seem to indicate that, while the person who created the stencil for this image (for I believe it is a stencil painted one, judging by the sharp, symmetrical outlines that accompany all the images, as well as the extra thick borders) inserted some of the features of a face, he clearly was aiming to portray a skull to the casual passerby. However, it is more than that. It is a portrait of a visage that is halfway between deteriorating from a human face into a vacant skull. Decay in its final stages before death. I would like to think of it as a message, but I am a little looney. I've asked my fellow Delhiites if they know what it is, but no one seems to have a clue. Very few others have even admitted to noticing it. Is it a desperate cry for help? A dire warning in the endtimes? A bloody marker for doings of unimaginable horror and depravity? You will never know.