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A Cynic's Chance Encounter With Community

By Aditya Chaudhuri




I am a contrarian. I will offer tenderloin to a Hindu. I will offer bacon to a Muslim.

I will joke about transgenders when I am with liberals. I will joke about god when I

am with conservatives. I will defy easy classifications like misogynist, racist, bigot

and be an equal-opportunity prankster. Having the humility to respectfully disagree

with what one vehemently opposes is a prerequisite to decency. So I play devil’s

advocate wherever I go. People find me indecipherable, insane or idiotic but I

don’t mind whether one thinks I am a joke or a jerk. I will hold up a mirror to

reflect all hypocrisy I uncover. I would not know where to start about community

because I have never been part of one.


I am a dreamer. A few years ago I quit my job to write. I watch movies, read

books, play with my cat and live on a diet of beer, bourbon and bhang. Relax it’s

legal because of its religious associations. When you are still getting stoned and

drunk writing the next interesting thing in your thirties you are either on a journey

of profound self-discovery or complete self-destruction. There are days when it

feels like all dreamers are disillusioned and only the delusional dream. Dreamers

are misfits as far as I am concerned. They struggle to belong so they hold on to

their wacky ideas it’s how they define themselves. Community as a concept is

inscrutable, alien and esoteric to a loner like me.


I have an attitude problem. I have nothing but contempt for my country, culture

and family. I love my parents but don’t respect them. My culture is not fond of

individuality; it is befitting for sheep but unsuitable for iconoclasts. As far as my

feelings about my country - India's identity as world's biggest democracy and

epicenter of spirituality is essentially a marketing gimmick. It is a third world

shithole, this is not a political statement it's a fact of life. Tragically most Indians

refuse to accept this truth, comically everyone who refuses to accept it will gladly

accept a one way ticket out of the country. I can’t write about community because I

made my peace with the hard truth - I don’t fit in anywhere and neither do I want

to.


Don’t get me wrong I am not a tough guy. I am a harmless eccentric. I have the

soul of a poet and the work ethic of a parasite. I am doubtful of decency and am

suspicious of sanity. I might be a louse, a lush, a lowlife, a loser but I am proud of

my ways. I might hit rock bottom soon but it won’t be a turgid record of self-pity,

it will be a joyous celebration of not fitting in. I believed the only community

where I might fit in would be made up of desperate drunks and irreverent court

jesters.


I had nowhere to go but the bars. I preferred heading to them after the lunch hour

crowd has disappeared and the party revelers had not yet come in. When human

conversation was plausible, when the music did not intend to deafen you, when

every building in the street was not decked up like it was Durga Pujo, and when

everyone did not pretend all dreams came out of conveyor belts. Maybe I was

getting tired of the platitudinal conversations with the bartenders but I needed a

new place to hang out and I had heard of Chaitown. Figured it was a place where rich

spoilt brats and talentless hacks pretended to be aspiring artists.


In spite of all my misgivings, I told myself if nothing else Chaitown would have

good-looking women. I was right. There were a couple of beautiful coeds from the

city’s biggest liberal arts college who seemed like they would have something

smart to say on a lot of subjects. Then they saw me and I knew I wasn't going to be

the one they would have those discussions with. I still went back to Chaitown’s

writer group. This time my excuse was free food. Beth - the matriarch of Chaitown

was a shrewd businesswoman. She always offered tasty food, that’s the best way

of building customer loyalty. During that visit, a teenager read a corny poem. He

had a fake accent, a made-up stage name and he wrote about love too reverentially.

It was devoid of truth and personal experience but he had a hint of potential, a

touch of the sublime. And when his reading was over everyone clapped. A

conscious, spontaneous decision to applaud that spark of talent, that whiff of

promise. I went back to Chaitown a third time. This time I did not need an

extraneous excuse. I still didn’t think I could write about community but the place

was growing on me.


Next time I read a poem. Everyone there seemed to write about love, I read one of

my angry young man poems. I was not bad but I was not brilliant either. The claps

however were deafening, they enjoyed that I was different. The audience was

supportive, nurturing, and eager to celebrate each other’s successes. They did not

judge but encouraged you to be unequivocally you. If you were pretentious they

understood you were just covering up your insecurities. If you were trying too hard

they understood you were just looking for a kind word. It became a place where I


felt safe to express my unpopular opinions, a place that welcomed me and accepted

me for who I am. I came for beautiful women and free food and stayed on for the

people and the environment. Maybe that’s what community is. They sure made me

grateful enough to try penning my thoughts on community, a subject on which I had

hardly any knowledge before I discovered Chaitown.

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