The Invisibles


Two young men, one in a bright red t-shirt and the other in a navy blue one, were perched on top of a huge billboard positioned strategically on the roof of a five-storied building. The view was impeccably majestic. A Bollywood superstar standing tall beside a taller bottle of beverage, living his life large. The pre-Dashain sun glazed the pitched road. Micros and buses blazed through, one trying to over-take the other, and the tempos cowered behind. The men were facing each other, their legs dangling over the advertorial text, and replacing the old flex with a new one. It’s Dashain season which means everything gets a touch-up; the walls get re-painted with fresh colors of spring, the window-panes are adorned with fashionable mannequins and “sale” signs, roundabouts are decorated with sayapatris, and billboards with amazing festive offers that you can’t ignore. The pre-festive mood of the city is a cacophony of the visibles, and a humdrum of the invisibles.

What conversations did they make, I wondered. Perhaps they were discussing the meal for dinner, or ticket prices for the buses that would take them home, or the upcoming movie of the Bollywood superstar. Nowadays, I find myself wondering about the invisibles who inhabit this town. Our level-headedness prevents us from noticing them, but they exist. All we have to do is raise our heads, or lower it, or turn it even to recognize those anonymous faces. They have been there for a while, you know. They have been here for a while. They traveled along the routes of economy and aspirations – along with the promises of “making it large;” actually just making it would suffice.

A young man inched his way through a bamboo scaffolding on a building opposite to the billboard. Tall amber stilts, tied with jute ropes, form a maze that only he can decipher. He cautiously raised his right leg; his left leg firmly placed on the bamboo, and both his hands out-stretched to get a better grip of the frame. His lean body crawled through the beam, over the building that is under-construction for the past few months. A new mall is going to be opened in this building – a multi-plex with shopping centers, grocery shops, clothing stores, and a cinema hall. The mall is going to be a welcome addition to the dozens of already existing ones – offering consumers with endless possibilities of luxury items and commodities that they can access in one space with no hassles. In few months, the place will be crawling with frenzied shoppers and enthusiasts – no traces of the young man left behind.

It is absurd why certain things become visible and invisible to human eyes and conscience. We have evolved, developed our motor skills, expanded intellectual boundaries, explored spaces and beyond, discovered and invented technologies. But, we have forgotten to raise our heads to notice things that we must – things that we probably do not have any control over, or does not affect our lives directly, but things that are there in relation to the larger collective experience of being human.
On the fourth, or maybe fifth floor of a building is an office. It has numerous windows to let the natural light in. Wooden panels, soft-toned carpet, and sturdy furniture – each cubicle a replication of another. Every alternate day, a man in his late thirties, brings in three jars of mineral water that his shop supplies to the office. He climbs the building three times – with each step, he lets out a heavy sigh that reverberates through the cement stairs. After opening his chappals outside, meanwhile balancing the jar on his right shoulder, he enters the room. He leaves the room with the empty jar swinging in a carefree manner from his left arm. Only he knows how unburdening feels.

I know these are fragments – fractured and scattered – that are mere dots and what I am trying to do is connect them through an excessive usage of dashes. I know these people, invisible to many, probably live a very fulfilling life in their own sense. There is no one standard to measuring contentment, or success, or happiness. Every one of us strive for, and live with aspirations that may or may not materialize into reality. Every one of us have deep hollows of disappointments, and deeper sense of inadequacies. Every one of us have moments of little epiphanies, and sparks of ecstasy. Every one of us is invisible to others. I am invisible to the two young men who will move on to another billboard on a high building, with no equipment to ensure their safety. I am invisible to the daredevil young man whose superpower is invisible to others. I am invisible to the man whose stamina I will never be able to match. I am among the many invisibles who dwell in this city. I am.