“He doesn’t blink. He doesn’t smile. He doesn’t move. He is as stationary as a statue,” observed Father, when I asked him about the ‘statue man’. We were at VGP Golden Beach, Chennai’s first amusement park. I was 7.
The Statue Man stood on a dais all day long. With his bloodshot eyes, handlebar mustache, expressionless face, and loud clothes, he looked like a warrior to me. But for a lot of mischievous boys, The Statue Man was a clown. They would be rewarded if they bring an emotion to his face. He was bullied, insulted. They called him names. However, The Statue Man stood there as though he was blind and deaf. He stood there as though only his body was there and his mind had travelled miles away from him.
Father explained more about The Statue Man and how nobody could break his determination. He threw another quick glance at him before moving to the next exhibit. But Sister and I took a minute more. We looked at the boys who basked in hurling insults at him. We looked at The Statue Man who seemed impervious to all the hatred. While we were too young to meditate on the The Statue Man’s predicament, everything about that moment seemed wrong.
I carry myriad memories from that day. I remember riding a boat. I saw Sister riding a giant wheel and thought she was the bravest. I saw Father buying the Maharaja Dosa for us and reckoned he was the kindest. I saw Mother motivating me to go on more rides and becoming a wee bit crestfallen when I succumbed to my irrational fears. I lost my tooth while hogging the Maharaja Dosa and sulked at my inability to give a decent burial to my dear tooth. I remember bright smiles. Boisterous laughter. Terror married with excitement. And a dusk that seemed the longest.
22 years after that day, I remember The Statue Man. I wonder if his slumber was filled with nightmares. Did the boys laugh at him in his dreams? Did they throw stones at him? Did his knees wail in pain? Did he curse his employer? Or did he smile in his dreams? At least, in his dreams?
“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”
— The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman