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Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Death of A Writer - II

(This is the second part in a series of ... many. Continued from here)

The writer’s question was more prosaic: “Do you enjoy fiction?”

“Yes”, I said.
“May I tell you a story?”
“Of course.”

Perhaps, my memory fails me or a lovely marmalade nostalgia has tinted my perspective, but it strikes me as perfectly natural that he should propose to tell a story and I would readily agree. Time wasn’t an immediate constraint for either of us: my PhD was barely beginning and there were miles to go (though that never prevented me from sleeping well); he was a writer, who wrote in the mornings and researched – “gossiped” or “idled away” being less charitable adjectives – from noon to night. The larger point I want to make, though, is somewhat less immediate: time was rarely in short supply, for many of us then. 
    
“I want you to picture a man of forty-eight: tall, beard as white as salt, the island of baldness forever encroaching on the sea of his hair, his nose being his only distinguishing feature, though its excessive length made him look more crooked than distinguished; his – “

“— Are you describing yourself?”
“Ah, I gave too much away, didn’t I?”
“You might as well have said: ‘Picture me.’”
“But, I didn’t want to say it, because I wanted your objective opinion.”
“On how handsome you are?”

He burst out laughing. An old Purandaradasa song chiding the disrespectful tongue played in my head.

Luckily for me, he didn’t seem to mind.   

“Let me cut to the chase, then”, he said. 

Our tea and bonda had arrived. 
He continued:

“The other day, I was talking to Shesha – you know him, don’t you?”
“The PUC Maths teacher?”
“No”, he said – his voice falling away, in slight disappointment, “Shesha is the sweeper at Smriti Bhavan.”
“Oh”, I said, wondering why he expected me to know him.
“Well, Shesha told me this story about a landlord’s house being burnt in his village. It’s not too far away, this village – four hours, two buses – from here. He told me a few boys and girls from the forest did it – they had a gun, wore khaki. Picture this: four persons, a pair of guns, some oil, a few matchsticks. A house blazing. The hills and the trees are quiet witnesses.

Here’s the thing: no one dies, though. The landlord’s wife and children escape because they happen to be away, on an invitation to the temple by the priest. When they do get there, a very perplexed priest greets them. He asks them why they’d come without notice. They insist the priest’s new Brahmin trainee had sent for them; the priest says he doesn’t have a trainee; in fact, he’s never had a trainee, Brahmin or otherwise. Meanwhile, the landlord, who had decided to give God a miss to nap in his bedroom, finds the house burning, but his front door miraculously – and inexplicably – thrown wide open; he flees outside. The burning has real consequences: the very next day onwards, Shesha’s relatives stop walking all the way to the river to get water – a clearly shaken landlord has opened his well to all. Like the bard said: all’s well that ends well …”

I chuckled and asked:
“So, Shesha is from a formerly untouchable caste?”
“Yes.”
“And Shesha’s people have something to do with these gun-toting forest youth?”
“Those gun-toting forest youths are Naxals.”
“Naxals? In these parts, in these times?”
“Oh they may be factitious, but they’re resilient – come 2020, mark my words, they’ll still be saying: the red flag on the red fort, in ten years!”
“So you’re suggesting that the landlord realized that opening the well to all might placate these Naxals in some way”
“Yes, but – ”
“And that Shesha’s people have something to do with them?”
“No, you’ve got the relationship mixed up: I’m suggesting the Naxals may have something to do with Shesha’s people.”
I mulled over the statement, not entirely sure what he meant.
“And the Brahmin trainee?”, I asked, “A benevolent Naxal in disguise?”
“The priest claims that it was God himself, in disguise. The landlord believed him, though somewhat reluctantly – the priest made him part with a few hundred rupees as donation to the benevolent God as a token of gratitude.”
“Well, there’s precedent: Hanuman adopted the Brahmin guise too … you never know.”
“If there is a God”, the writer proclaimed so that everyone in Ice Land could hear, “then he is here – in these bondas and kaapi.”

The light through the window had turned the colour of clementines; the smell of incense wafted from behind the proprietor; a bunch of bored bank clerks from the corporation bank walked in quietly and stared at nothing in particular.

“So, why tell me all this?”, I asked the writer.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
I laughed.
“I told you all this because I wanted to know if you’d like to come to Shesha’s village with me …” the writer said, taking off his glasses and placing them on the table.
He continued:
“... I am going next week to meet with these Naxals. Shesha’s told me he’d arrange a meeting; they often come to eat in one of their houses.”

I remember being taken aback by the suggestion, but my pulse didn’t quicken, no sweat trickled down my brow. Instead, I remember, clear as the Suvarna in my memory’s eye, the reflection of the slowly spinning long ceiling fan (even then a relic of an earlier era) in the writer’s glasses.

And, the hotel radio was playing a popular Kannada film song that went:

She saw me,
I saw her,
She saw me. 



Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Death of A Writer - I

On the 7th of January 1995, the writer was murdered. Shot. By a bullet fired from nine feet away. The writer had a half-smile on his face. I didn’t see the body, but Ramesha –  the old chemistry lab assistant at our high school, famed for his penchant for hyperbole – did, and said to me: “What a crazy guy the writer was! To see a bullet – death – in the eye and smile? Unique in human history!”

I was sure it wasn’t unique. In fact, I had evidence of the contrary: on the seventeenth day of the Mahabharata war, which both the writer and I considered more fact than fiction, Karna did the same. The scene is gutting: desperately attempting to dislodge his sinking chariot wheel, Karna - unarmed - pleads for a pause in battle. However, goaded by an unforgiving Krishna, Arjuna fires an arrow aimed at Karna’s neck. Notwithstanding the injustice of it all, Karna embraces death with a smile.
Karna smiles because death comes as relief from a tragic life; the writer, on the other hand, must have had a joke strike him as he eyed the bullet.    

*

The writer and I had a conversation about death once. I had gone to see him and as was my wont, took some charmuri along.

As I entered, the old grandfather clock in the living room struck four. I found the writer in his usual position. On the floor, by a window, his back against a pillow propped by a wall; papers, filled with neat cursive ink, strewn across the carpet. A single sheet, a Parker pen and an ink-pot adorned the “writing table” – no more than a two-foot foldable contraption with a wooden surface – by his side. He was very proud of that table for he had built it from scratch. He had just made tea.  

“Ah, charmuri! What timing!” he said, making to get me a cup of tea as well.
“I have a knack, you know – serves me well, especially through the off-side”, I said.
He smiled and asked:
“How is work coming along?”
“Not bad – I may finally be funded to collect data on some of these village santhes

“I was born in a village”, he said and paused dramatically.
“I was born in a village
I will die in a city
What a real pity,
Makes me feel shitty.”

He was pleased with himself.

Such a clever ditty”, I said sarcastically.
“Don’t mock me, young man – these ditties, born out of ennui, composed in a flash, will die with me, unrecorded, unwritten.”
“This shitty one will survive”, I said, “when I write a novel, I will write you in as a character just so you can spout this nonsense.”
When you write your novel … I will be gone by then.”
“Why do you think you will die? Fifty-five is too young to go – you have another twenty years, at the very least!”
“I won’t die of ill-health”, he said, “I will die because my time would have come.”
“Whatever that means.”
“It means nothing. I was just spouting faux-abstruse stuff – “
“—making sure you don’t only come across as a one-note impromptu ditty-writer in my future novel?”
One-note impromptu ditty-writer: you read my mind like it’s the top row of the optometrist’s board.”

Now that was a truly great impromptu line.

We spoke, mostly about cricket, till the crickets, frogs and owls were well into their nightly symphony… The writer was right though. He didn’t die in his village, nor did he succumb to ill-health.

And while you are reading this, he never did.

*

When I first met the writer, he was walking briskly, like a man attempting to keep pace with his thoughts. I was walking briskly too – a man keeping pace with his racing heart. It was a typical October day, the air bit like a swarm of stingless bees. As we crossed each other, the writer looked at me and smiled. Back then, strangers smiled at each other. I smiled back and squinted to look beyond him, at the entrance to the girls’ hostel.

“Are you the young economist?”, he asked. We lived in a small university town, where everyone knew of everyone else.
“No”, I said, unthinkingly.
My subconscious mind had made a heuristic choice to answer in the negative when faced with a question from persons a generation older.
“Liar”, the writer said.     
“Yes, yes”, I quickly corrected myself, “I am the young economist.”
“Well? We must meet then!”
“Sure!”, I said, somewhat too enthusiastically, attempting to compensate for the lack of eye-contact.
“Ice Land hotel? Tea and bonda? Four in the evening, Friday?”
“Huh?”, I said, “Okay, okay.”

*

“You’re early.”, the writer announced, when I turned up at Ice Land at five to four on Friday. His beak-nose peered from above the Udayavani, the local Kannada daily.
“You’re early too.”, I said.

He returned to his newspaper as I drew myself a chair.

“You know what they say about great minds”, I said.
“That they think punctual thoughts?”, he muttered, still staring squarely at the newspaper through his brown-rimmed glasses.
“That they make terrible jokes.”, I said and laughed, to hide my embarrassment. I was somewhat taken aback by my audacity: I didn’t usually wisecrack with people twice my age, especially if I have just met them.  

He smiled and put his newspaper down. A waiter walked up to us.

Yenuntu?”, I asked the waiter. What do you have?


I knew exactly what they had (they serve the same things to this day, twenty-two years later). I leaned back on my chair and shut my eyes: inside, the clang of vessels clashed with the sound of scuffing chappals and wooden chairs; outside, a city-bus engaged in friendly fire with another. 

And sure enough, there it came, the familiar answer to my question: a torrent of sweets, savories, beverages – twenty-one items on the menu, rattled off in a rushed four seconds. 

In that instant, had the writer had asked me, “What is home?”, I’d have answered: 

This is.” 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Last Laugh

“Ye Nastika, I have an offer for you”, Seemanna called out.

Seemanna’s offers usually spelled trouble.

As I saw him approach, I remembered our conversation from a week ago: he was falling short of vanaras for his performance at the jatre and was on a mission to recruit volunteers.  

“Seemanna”, I said pre-empting his offer, “Don’t bother trying – I am not acting in that godforsaken dance-drama of yours.

Godforsaken dance-drama? Aiyo Nastika, how can you say such things? If there is no God, how can he forsake things?”

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Blue

My novel -- published by Harper Collins -- releases on the 15th of June!


To regular readers of this blog, a BIG thank you. Early drafts of this novel was serialized and written here. Then, I didn't know what I was doing. I wrote because I liked the idea of writing on the Ramayana. I continued writing because some people liked reading it, a smaller number commented here and encouraged me to plough on -- it was fun!

The novel has four sections: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4. With three of those Books, I wrote for the sheer joy of seeing where Reddumone would take me, where Rama would take us both. With the fourth, I took Reddumone back into his past. It is the most personal of the Books because I cannot tell where his past ends and mine begins.

Do grab a copy, if only to re-read an edited, crisper, modified version of posts long forgotten!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Loved (Part III)

(Continues from below)

Do you remember our argument before the first split? It wasn’t a fight as much as the voicing of an end, a comma, perhaps a full-stop. At least, that’s what I felt.   

I celebrated at Keventer's. I bought myself a strawberry shake: thirty rupees, one giant glass, seven sublime slurps, a burst of dreamy whistling somewhere in between. I was sitting on the second stair of a flight of steps that led into the higher levels of the marketplace, my head four-feet above the ground, my eyes level with the waists of the many students who walked past, oblivious to my presence, gripped as they were by the complete sense of self-absorbedness that affects one at that age.

What did I do? I watched legs: some bare, some hairy, mostly blue.  

One pair of legs really caught my attention: they belonged to a fashionable young girl, who wore, as December would demand, a warm black blazer above her waist and, as fashion would demand, a pair of skimpy shorts that barely extended beyond the upper half of her thighs. On another day, I wouldn’t have noticed those legs at all; on another day, had you pointed them out to me, I would have pooh-poohed them, scoffing the peculiar demands that fashion makes of people.

And yet, that day was not just another day: I watched them approach and I felt myself breathe heavier; they were a beautiful pair of legs— long, sexy, suave –  the cobblestones seemed to roll-out in front of them like red-carpets. I watched them all the way to the corner of the road. Only then, did I notice my own self.

I was whistling softly, an old, flirty duet.
I was ogling
I was free.

*

Recently, a friend of mine told me she always sensed I was distracted, like I was running multiple trains of thought inside my head. I had this image of my brain as a giant railway junction: Neuron-Sarai, thought-trains criss-crossing,  running in parallels, a series of signals at the many intersections; and my own hassled self, working overtime on a single switch-board, pulling levers and ensuring the absence of collisions and cross-connections.

As my friend spoke, I was struck by the memory of a conversation you and I had, strangely also at a railway station. As you chatted about some character you had read in a play, a segment of my mind wandered with my eyes as they followed a greying man in a frayed suit, presumably the Station Master. He seemed flustered, like all the world had dumped its problems on him. I think you noticed my attention drift and paused. Almost on cue, I said, surprising myself: “But wasn't Igor an anarcho-communist?” “Exactly",  you said, beaming, as though pleased with the fact that I was indeed listening. I smiled, because it was wonderful to see you satisfied and talk away, a wave of stray, luscious hair reaching for your ears from across your forehead.

I smiled some more, barely believing my luck.

When I pictured myself in my head, as the switch-board operator of Neuron-Sarai, I seemed to bear a striking resemblance to that Station Master.

“See?” I found my friend telling me, “there you go off again, smiling to yourself”

*

If only love died abruptly. And if only such deaths could be foretold.

On his last night, Radheya, son of the Sun and the Mahabharata’s most heart-wrenching creation, sat by himself in his war-tent and recapped his life. I don’t know if we ever discussed this event: I don’t remember doing so. Fully aware of his impending death,  Radheya sits alone and walks his memory, deliberately—every thought, every event, every person is carefully (even lovingly) plucked out of his past, turned around, examined, and dropped back into the basket of forgetfulness. He could afford such an act, because he couldn’t bother with forgetting: death spells the end for things far worse than memory and regret.

I wish I could have done the same when you had moved on: mark out a night, drench myself in nostalgia’s heady wine, and walk out into a fresh dew-drenched morning, a new soul within, a new life to look forward to. But, I never gathered the courage to voluntarily walk down our past; and forgetfulness slowly chipped away at memory’s walls, until all I have now is a confused collection of thoughts, full of wonderful, visceral, floating emotions, not always moored to any context.

*             

I bought myself a string of fancy, decorative lights a few months ago. They are a series of small, yellow bulbs, encased in punctured, perfectly geometric, octagonal (almost circular) cases; and, as they glow, they throw the most fantastic, interconnected patterns of shadows on the walls. I love staring at those lights, they seem to stand for something new every time I look at them.

There are fourteen lights, the eighth doesn't glow, the bulb long being fused. Sometimes, I see those lights as metaphoric for my own self: difference facets of the same base working in various directions simultaneously and frantically, yet outwardly, projecting one whole image. An isomorphism—a real-world, visual equivalent of the Neuron-Sarai. 

The last time I looked at them, I thought of the one light that didn't glow: it stood, like the great Godel's Proof, as testimony to the fact that the most beautiful things are never complete, never perfect. What is the self, after all, but a continuous, iterative collection of past selves? Of a conscious made from memories, some scattered, some diffused, some fused with a being residing deep inside one’s subconscious? And memory, by nature, is chaotic, murky and often indeterminable. Consequently, the self, built on the bedrock of memory, is imprecise, yet affectingly beautiful.

Once I dreamt that you had married a rich, old businessman: his face was lined, but he wore a smart suit and a tie, and the news of his marrying such a pretty, young thing as yourself was the toast of the town, splashed across newspapers. When I woke up, I remembered that, in the dream, I hadn’t felt terrible that you had married, thereby rendering the idea of us, as two letters fused into one whole, forever lost to the realm of possibilities. I also remember being surprised by how long it had been since I had seen you and yet, how strange it was that I had dreamt of you.

Sometimes, the bulb that doesn’t glow stands for you: as the one that got away, yet exists somewhere, casting its own shadow on the rest, quietly, perceptibly: the beautiful blemish of imperfection on an incomplete self.  

(Concludes)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Loved (Part II)


(Continued from below)

A few weeks after we split, I remember bumping into S: he asked about you. I was still reeling under the new sense of freedom I had acquired after the split, the loss hadn't sunk in. I must have been in a talkative mood, for I remember we ordered several rounds of coffee—we were at that South Indian place you and I used to frequent ever so often, with its laminated table-cloth and steel tumblers and davaras and wooden benches.

We broke up, I said solemnly. He was taken aback: ‘But, you seemed so happy. I met P last month, he said you both were going strong’. I made a mental note to tell P not to air his assumptions about my personal life to all and sundry, and proceeded to explain, like a talking head on television, the reasons for the split: one, two, three, four, I reeled off reasons. S had tried interrupting and I remember saying, in the same clinical vein: ‘Let me finish, you will get a chance to speak soon’ (See what I mean by talking head?).

It was a good show: I had done this often in the recent past and I was getting to be adept at it. Just the previous week, I had put on a similar performance for Uttam, who, subsequently, seemed thoroughly convinced that the break-up was the only logical option available.

But S was different: younger and wiser. He listened to what I had to say, waited patiently for me to finish and watched as I slurped my fourth coffee, fully pleased with myself. You speak like a lawyer, he said eventually, but when did love and logic become best friends?

Later that evening, one I had whiled away staring at the skies from the terrace with not a shred of responsibility on my mind, I received an email from S. It had no subject, no greeting,  and abruptly began with an extract from Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines:

“ … It is because that state, love, is so utterly alien to that other idea without which we cannot live as human beings—the idea of justice. It is because love is so profoundly the enemy of justice that our minds, shrinking in horror from its true nature, try to tame it by uniting it with its opposite
 [...] in the hope that if we apply all the metaphors of normality, that if we heap them high enough, we shall, in the end, be able to approximate that state metaphorically. And yet, between the state and it’s metaphors there is no more a connection than there is between a word, such as a mat, and the thing itself … ”

Underneath, in stately Times New Roman, was the sentence: “Lawyer saab, what do you think?”

My reply to that email was characteristically flippant, reflecting the state of my mind:  ":D"

*

Some memories, surreal, stand out. ‘Memory resides at the intersection of truth and imagination’, your balding literature professor used to remark, drawing circles in the air with a bent forefinger.

But, what if, as in this case, the truth feels so impossible that it seems imagined?

I do not know why we climbed the tree: I did, because it was one climb-worthy tree too many to resist. Growing up where I did, in the midst of mangoes and guavas and neems and peepals, trees seemed to exist to be scaled, their branches beckoned me— bent forefingers wagging, ushering. It was a quiet afternoon, the sort where lunches snoozed in blown-up bellies. The odd bird purred contently, the traffic beyond the college’s walls was refreshingly absent.

Half-way up the tree, I turned around, and crinkled my nose: coming? You had a desirable body, but it would be a stretch to call it athletic—I half-expected you to decline, even look down on my own childish urge to climb trees. Instead, you threw your bag on the unkempt lawns and made for the tree.

The scene remains etched in my mind: your nose-ring glinting in the afternoon sun, your bag—abandoned, gay—it’s many hues standing out against the soft yellow-green of the grass; and the guitar that, on cue, strummed in the distance: C-G-G-C.

In seconds, you were beside me, perched somewhat uncomfortably on a strip of dull-brown that nonchalantly bore our combined weights; I stood up, my head brushed against a branch, we were showered with dry, crisp leaves, you rose too, we kissed, my hands slipped under your kurta, you shut your eyes, we kissed some more, the branch underneath began to crack, you wrapped your legs around my waist, hoisting yourself with the help of the base of a branch above that snaked from the trunk, I bit your neck, you threw your head back, the branch cracked some more, tilting precariously, more leaves swirled and swung, the sun hid behind some clouds, I used my free hand to grip a branch above, the branch beneath our feet broke, my legs dangled free, you almost shrieked, but then, when we didn’t fall, your legs wrapped themselves tightly around me, relief flooded your face, tickled your eyes, your eyes sparkled like ripples caught by summer sunlight, and there we were, two souls torch-lighting into each other’s beings, dangling from trees and breathlessly kissing, barely concerned about how our arms would ache afterwards, or the mini-fall that would bruise our knees and elbows, or the tree-huggers joke that would haunt us for months to come, but we didn’t care yet, because then, that moment, you were there and so was I and even the passionately poor voice that accompanied the guitar strumming couldn’t distract us from knowing it.         

*

At our best, art spoke to me. You lit up and exposed sides of me I hadn’t explored previously, allowing art to seep into and imbue these corners with life. An evocative passage, filled with direct, bland prose, but brimming with poignant meaning— the sort I would dismiss previously as unimaginative— seemed to tease out a wry smile, a soft tear.

I have always been cinema’s genial uncle, nodding encouragingly at all the bilge that passes for mass entertainment.  But, ever since we met, these darkened halls have come to seize me by the scruff of my neck: I have scarcely come out of a theatre—pop-corn and butterflies swirling and dancing in my insides—not being affected by it all.

Indeed, people speak of how love is blind, I sometimes find it laughable. If anything, love is blinding: every pore in your being is alive, a crackling receptor of a profound, sensory assault.  As your brain grapples with the impossible task of indexing, neatly filing and storing all the beauty and the madness the world constantly churns out and one you’re only now suddenly experiencing, love, in a wonderfully self-referential manner, drives home the fact that love is incomprehensible. To love is to first give in, then give up.     

In some ways—and I say this without the sentimental extravagance of the romantic, but the pragmatism of a logician—you made life speak to me.

*

There is a photograph of us somewhere: you are saying something, your forehead is creased with exquisite, premature lines; I listen on, rapt, my eyes hidden behind my spectacles. Between us is an upturned fork, I cannot tell whose hand holds it, I cannot even tell if there is a hand holding it all. There is a sense of timelessness to the photograph, not because it could be from today, but because I do not remember when exactly it was taken.

I can guess, however.

We seem happy, like we haven’t yet tired from reaching out to the other’s hand in the middle of a conversation. On the other hand, it feels like we are no longer bewildered by love,  no longer willing happenstance to bend on demand: we don’t exude that aura of utter assuredness—of togetherness, of deterministic meaning— that marked the first half of our time together. The fork that stands between us, apparently defying gravity, seems to stand for something larger, something indescribable but appropriate.

I stared at that picture for long, watching something within me swell and ebb, hiss and leap. In that instant, my mind shot through our galaxy: words, images, conversations—all garbled and clear, quietly overwhelming—flickered in its wake, the incandescent tail of a shooting star.

A proud sadness descended upon me, the kind usually reserved for martyrs: it felt like something great had fleetingly touched me and escaped me forever. And, like martyrdom, the essence of this greatness lay as much in its occurrence as its subsequent vanishing.        

*
To conclude. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Loved. (Part 1)


Writing this is going to take a lot out of me. An image comes to mind—that of a giant, disembodied arm, reaching into my subconscious through my throat, excavating a mountain of memories that have been layered with locks. I don’t know if this is good for me, but I have been excited about it ever since the idea took seed in my mind—to write of you, on you, on us; to say what has never been clearer in my mind:

I loved you.

*

Do you remember the time we went to that Baul concert? We hadn’t met for months, we’d barely spoken. I’d called you, you were surprised I did and didn’t hide it—a trifling detail that, nevertheless, made shutterbugs flash in my lower-abdomen. Sleep coloured your speech, stultified your vocabulary. You once told me you thought you sounded cute when you were sleepy; I never told you this, but you sound extremely sensuous, like a fingernail trailing my back.

Before the concert, we were shooed into this hall by a volunteer who seemed to suffer from verbal diarrhea (Do you remember him? Stout, unibrowed, excited: I was, and remain, convinced it was your presence that made him jittery); it was filled with paintings from old Bombay. We’d gone for a talk on those paintings before—it’s remarkable how much of the talk came back to us, as we repeated lines from a year ago verbatim, flitting from painting to painting, like frenzied butterflies.

At some point, I remember standing a few inches behind you, as you stared at a painting of a perplexing three-headed man; your hair was bunched up, your bare neck—slender, delicate—was against my chest, your hands behind your back; for a brief second, I thought your hands were beckoning my own, and, instinctively, I made to link my fingers in yours, but better sense prevailed. I don’t remember much of the painting, even though we both agreed later on that that was the painting of the exhibition. How could I? The line of your neck— one I had traced with fingers and tongue, teeth and toes, a line I had clasped in my palm and caressed with my cheek—all that stood between that line and I was a still but crackling four inches of space and a line we couldn’t cross.

Did you feel it too, our presences mingling in the air between us, as you stared at that strange painting? Perhaps not, because, afterwards, you seemed to have so much to say about the three-headed man, peeling off layers of subtext like flakes of paint. Wasn’t that the evening we had a mild disagreement? Gone are the days, I remember thinking, when we had full-fledged fights, for even our disagreements are but mild.

But, I got to you that evening, didn’t I? I knew where you’d hurt and I was gentle and blunt: I called you the quintessential theorist, incapable of producing any true art, but adept at reading meaning into another’s. Someone else would have taken that as a compliment, but, for you, it was always a sore point: can’t draw, can’t write, can’t produce music.

*
Vexing.

Under the stars, your hair acquires a life of its own. You know it, just like you know when I am aroused by you. It’s a pity our night-skies in the city were usually coated by a thick sheet of white-grey—let alone the stars, even the pale moon merely marked attendance.

Which is why that night on the hills of Himachal was special. You must remember the guest-house we stayed at, overlooking the valley. It was perched right on top of the hill; the balcony we sat in afforded a priceless view of the skies. The stars twinkled—‘like a thousand Dumbledores’, I remember declaring—and you smiled. I must have gone on for a while about the stars on that moonless night, because, you seemed to drift into some sort of an uneasy equilibrium. ‘What is it?’, I asked. You shook your head, nothing.
I kissed your hair and asked again, softly: ‘What happened?’

You turned to look at me and said: ‘this is all so vexing’. I hadn’t heard anyone say ‘vexing’ in a conversation, so it took me a fraction longer to register the word.

‘I think the lights in the valley are more alluring than the stars—I am listening to you, but I keep looking at the wrong set of lights’, you explained, ‘and I don’t like it; for one, they are town-lights—street-lamps, tube-lights, head-lights—all man-made, artificial; and what’s more, you don’t even seem to notice them. Why don’t we see the same thing?’

And that’s when I looked down, at the valley: it seemed like someone had held a giant, psychedelic, dynamic mirror to the skies: unlike the lights above, these lights seemed to imbue the darkness with a wider palette—red, yellow, orange, even green dotted the valley of black; some lights even moved, streaking across the darkness like shooting stars; it was just as spectacular, perhaps even better than the stars above.

Later that night, as I hugged you tight and stared into the darkness beyond our thrown-open French windows, I remembered thinking of those lights. You were right, from where we sat, the town-lights outdid the stars and I hadn’t paid them the slightest attention.  I had always prided myself as being aesthetically aware, of being really drawn into my element by nature’s magic; but, clearly, my own understanding and appreciation of beauty was clouded, guided by what was conventionally needed to be seen than what was inherently pleasing. And, for you, beauty was immediate, profound. This realization didn’t hurt me as much as see you in a new, haloed light.

I love you, I whispered into your sleeping ears, stroking your hair. I love you.             

*

I know what it is to wait for a phone to flicker. I know what it is to share that sense—of twin phones beeping in the darkness, strings of lifeless alphabets communicating a gamut of emotions, reveling in a shared sense of breathlessness.  Equally, I know what it is to no longer share that sense, when I hoped to breathe life into a phone by simply staring at it for hours together.  

I wept. I hadn’t heard myself sob in years: it felt pathetic, hearing my sobs echo in the stillness. Remember ‘sound of your voice?’—our mock code-word for shut up? Remember the quirky tune we designed, the way our decibel levels rose, from the pale whisper of ‘sound’ to the shrill, shriek-y ‘voice’? Well, that night, when grief manifested itself in a discrete stream of broken sobs, I desperately wanted to stop, to not hear my pitiable self. And my mind, ever alert, chose your voice to issue the order in: sound of your VOICE.
I couldn’t get away from you even if I willed—for you had conquered my words, my silences.    

*

When did I know? Remember, you’d asked me the same? Us, snuggled like snails on the sofa, my hand in yours, your voice—sprinkled with charming innocence, fresh like coffee beans (amongst the few things that remained the same about you)—whispering to the darkness: ‘When did you know?’
I drew a line on the bridge of your nose with a finger and bought time. ‘When’, I said more to myself than you and pretended to be deep in thought: in truth, my mind drew a blank, not because I didn’t know, but because I was lost in the bubble we’d fashioned for ourselves. In those early days—of whose every tiny detail I can recollect like verses rote-learned in childhood—I spent many a night lost in love; hours sped without notice, my mind filled with a blissful, all-encompassing emptiness.       

I then picked out the party at Rishabh’s, when you danced like life was a big, wide tub of ice-cream; you looked perfectly happy, arriving at my state of inner emptiness in a manner that was the inverse of how I seemed to achieve it—while I needed quiet, darkness and the sense of your breathing self by me, you thrived on what, to my novice eyes, was staged chaos: loud music, frantic, semi-synchronized body-contorting and some beer.

At some point in the night, I remembered looking for you under the jazzy party-lights (I was away from the dance ‘scene’—sprawled out on a comfortable bean-bag in the corner of the room). I found you jumping by yourself, rising and falling on your feet lightly, slowly; I watched until all I knew was your body, the absence of gravity and a sense of space-less-ness; you seemed to function in a universe of your own: the song was yours, the stage was yours, the world was yours. ‘I knew then’, I told you as we lay on our sofa, ‘I knew then that this was it’.

It was a good story, possessing just the right dash of drama. Like all good lies.

In fact, I only really knew, I can now say with little doubt, many days after that party. I lied when you asked that night, because, as I explained, I wasn’t thinking. And, to pinpoint a specific instance in a fuzzy world—where the leap from not knowing to knowing can encompass a fraction of a moment— requires considerable reflection.

This is how I knew.

I was lunching at the Dhabha with my three newspapers in tow, having neatly made my way through two Paranthas and two sets of opinion pieces.  In between newspapers, I paused to look up: it was a clear winter day, the leaves on the peepal trees glistened like they were photoshopped, the skies were painted by someone who didn’t believe in subtlety—they were blue, as blue as blue could be and more; and the steam rose from the chai-cups, fingers reaching out to the sky’s bosom.

And, acquiring a mind of their own, my legs kicked my chair away. I stood up. And walked out of the dhabha, out of my hostel, and into the gully that led to the main road; I passed the back-gate of the hostel next-door, the small kirana shop with its grumpy owner who never had change. On reaching the main road, impulsively, my legs turned right, gathering pace—I was now trotting, overtaking cycle-rickshaws pulled by men twice my age; soon, I began to run, for no reason at all, hopping across gaps in the pavement; the ridge on my left was a green-blur, the odd passer-by turned to look at me or let me ahead.

I ran till my knees cracked, till my head spun, till my heart pounded against my chest.

I ran till my initial surprise at my own behavior gave way to a sense of calm.

That winter afternoon, in the middle of a nondescript University road, as a Sardarji Uncle with a blue turban spluttered past me on an old Chetak, my arms on my knees and gasping for breath, I realized that this was it: this dizzy sprint, this tranquility, this world with its idiosyncrasies. For that was how it was with love—a spell of rushed madness, a womb-like web of security and background noise.

I knew.

*

Do you remember the first time we kissed?
I don’t.

*

(To continue)