Friday, April 11, 2014

Endings


‘Anand, what was the name of your first one?’
‘Sudarshana…’
‘That’s Sudarshan’s sister, right? Didn’t that come later… in the ninth or tenth?’
‘Hmm… true… got it… Archana… that’s the only one that ended well.’
‘Since she didn’t know you, I guess that was assured. After her, it was Tina, right?’
‘Gina, Tina’s sister. Tina came later.’
‘Oh yeah… Gina… those were the poetic days, I remember!’
‘Don’t remind me.’
‘You sent a poem by post every week or something like that, right?’
‘Twice a week…’
‘And she showed it to everyone?’
‘She did…’
‘How dreadful…’
‘I have not looked at poetry since then.’
‘I understand. Sudarshana was next, right? What went wrong with her?’
‘Nothing…’
‘Isn’t that when you claimed you lost your virginity?’
‘Hmm… and, you had to check that out with her.’
‘Oh yes, that just slipped my mind.’
‘That just would…’
‘Come on… at that age, it was a big thing. Who was next – Tina?’
‘Briefly… the poetry had a lasting effect…’
‘Wasn’t there some girl in college? Hey, that sweet one…’
‘Shereen…’
‘Ha…. Sweet Shereen, Sweet Sherbet…’
‘You should try her with her three brothers…’
‘You had to leave college, right?’
‘And town. Some idiot told her brothers that I claimed to have lost my virginity with her.’
‘Just anticipated your claim…’
‘Was it you?’
‘Hey, it was just a joke…’
‘A joke indeed… those three wanted to take my virginity…’
‘Then, there was a long break till the next one, right?’
‘Had to… nerves and all that…’
‘Then there was that girl in Mumbai, right? What was her name?’
‘Don’t remember…’
‘Come on, we went out for lunch to a Chinese restaurant…’
‘Hmm…’
‘What happened with her?’
‘She died.’
‘Oh… is that why you dropped off the grid?’
‘Hmm…’ 
‘Man, you should have contacted me… what are friends for?’
‘For such stuff…?’
‘You disappeared for three or four years… till your wedding… you didn’t share that either…’
‘Well, you did get to know…’
‘But, still… you didn’t tell me.’
‘Sorry…’
‘As if you mean it…’
‘Hmm…’
‘So, how is it going?’
‘How is what going?’
‘Marriage, of course…’
‘Going good… very good, in fact…’
‘I see…’
‘You sound disappointed… some affairs don’t end, you know…’
‘Anand, there is something you need to know…’
‘What?’
‘Your wife wants out…’
‘What?’
‘She requested me to talk to you…’
‘Requested you…?’
‘Yeah…’
‘Why?’
‘Why what…?’
‘Why does she want our marriage to end?’
‘Ah… I think there is someone…’
‘Is it you?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’
‘That’s exactly the kind of ridiculous stuff you would do…’
‘Now, don’t start taking it out on me…’
‘How could you…?’
‘How could I what?’
‘Speak on her behalf…’
‘I am not speaking on her behalf… she asked me because she thinks I have been there with you when each of your affairs ended…’
‘How well she knows me!’
‘Now, don’t be sarcastic…’
‘Get lost…’
‘Come on, Anand… let’s deal with it like men.’
‘Get lost.’

Monday, March 31, 2014

For Your Thoughts Only


The Council for Developing Studies in its 2014 Mid-Winter Report titled ‘Changing Society’ has gathered and analyzed data from the top 50 universities in the country. The conclusions of this study calls for an immediate rethink of the fabric and future of society.
It should be noted that the Council had earlier, in its 2011 Mid-Summer Report, observed: ‘Though the rate of growth is well below what it should be, probably influenced by global factors, it is encouraging to find that youth of both sexes are following similar professional trajectories and the gulf between men and women, by way of salaries or promotions and its associated ills such as discrimination or harassment, has reduced appreciably.’
The 2014 report emphasizes that the divide has diminished even further. The most startling revelation of this study is that the professional trajectory of the sexes has altered inexplicably.
In fact, the study reveals a mind-boggling divergence in the division of labor. Unlike the growing trend of conservatism in some developed economies as revealed by the reduction of women in the work-force and an increasing demand for stable and comfortable lifestyle, the situation here clearly indicates neo-liberal and postmodern influences.
In the top 50 universities, women show a clear preference for the ‘soft streams’, leaving the ‘hard streams’ colloquially referred to as ‘crap dip/dept’ for men. The dominance of women in the Arts departments is near total, averaging an impressive 92.3%. In the R&D divisions of science and technology departments, though the faculty still shows a slight bias towards males, the student population, from undergraduate to postgraduate levels, is mostly female. The rank-lists of the last few years clearly support this fact. Meanwhile, in areas such as management, business administration, politics and law, the absence of female students is startling with a meager representation of 4.6%.
The study mentions in passing that this development or divide could possibly explain greater awareness and financial security along with lesser frustration in society, shown by the dip in suicide and divorce rates in recent years, and increased stability of marriages, even though those entering that institution are fewer.
  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dreams I Live


A few days back, in a dream just before dawn, I saw news of the missing MH370 flight, that it has been found. I woke up, rushed outside and waited for the newspaper boy. I tried to recollect other details, if I had seen any, the date, the dead or the survivors, the place.
When I was twelve, a girl came to me. Shoulder length hair, feather-cut I think, slender, she caught me staring at her, I must have looked surprised, she did not seem offended, we searched in each other’s eyes, there was sadness in hers but that could have been the reflection of mine, she smiled, she said something, I remember she walked away. Three years later, at a Cultural Festival away from home, in another district, I met her, I was surprised, it was as I saw, she did say something to me I cannot remember, or forget, I remember her walking away.
In my early twenties, an old love entered a dream, that she would surprise me with a visit. A week later, she turned up at the Institute, I was in a students’ meeting. Aren’t you surprised, she asked me. I shook my head. I laughed, I was damn happy. I had another chance, after years of exile, to tell her that I love her. But that I did not see and it never happened, just another love better left unsaid.
Then, in my late twenties, I saw the dream that changed my life.
It was me I am sure, a life strange though, a hundred or two hundred years earlier. I recognized my land, though I am not sure if it was mine, there was someone there who decided all for me and my lot. My hut had clay plastered walls and floor, it was dark, tiny windows that remained closed, a few mats and pots, privy somewhere, or in the open, I remember the darkness, the silence, the tiredness. Working in the fields, beasts of burden, from dawn till dusk, porridge or tapioca on a leaf scooped up with a leaf, animals sitting in the shade or under the sun, in the fields, away from houses and those folk, water from a well for my lot, a dip in the river where we were allowed. There was little time to be bitter, to think, to worry, just a life that was the same each day, every day, illness or death brought a break. The small kids slept inside with the women, others outside. I vaguely remember my wife. A girl, a good girl I heard some tell me. I do not remember talking to her, or giving her gifts, or taking care of her or the kids when they were sick. But I was there. I did not drink, well, not excessively before the bitterness took root. I did not hit her I am rather sure, before then. She looked nervous, with me. I saw her laughing and smiling, with others. Mostly, it was just silent labor for her too, just the usual. Once in a while, I went to her, I held her, with little to say, we buried our heads against each other, the quick thrusting and release over like ablution. Into that idyllic life entered a woman. Was she the girl I saw at twelve or the old love who surprised me, I wondered when I was awake. She walked past us in the fields, to the house of the lords. We muddy dirty lot disappeared into the slush, only eyes remained, peeping through the paddy or the pile of coconuts. I went near her house, feeling brave, a great hero, they let loose the dogs on me, they laughed, they thrashed, and they laughed and decided it was better fun to leave me alive. I worked harder, tired myself out, I drank longer, till I could not sense my tiredness, I disappeared into my shell, and when others tried to enter, I attacked viciously. I hated the moments of clarity, to think I can’t think. I hated life, with no love or hope or desire or thought. I woke up before I died, it must have been better fun to keep me alive to live that dream.  

Transformation


The lawyers debated about the length and nature of the alleged incident. Her side called it bestial brutality, his conceded that it was just a consensual affair. The accused seemed innocent, head down, admitting guilt about adultery, not rape, and when he looked at her, his eyes expressed hurt or dismay. He was described as a hardworking white-collar employee who lived for his wife, kids and aged parents, a mere mortal stumbling over wily seduction. Her lawyer described the abuse that went on for hours, moved to the evidence, including each object and method employed. The other side questioned her character. She looked like a victim then, shriveled, defeated, confused. Her choice of clothing, leading to the incident, was called inappropriate and suggestive. It was recorded that she was not a virgin. Her experience in matters related to sex was impressed upon the learned judge with the impassive face.
She looked up, stared at his lawyer, bewildered, flinching at the conjectures about her sexual life, her sad eyes turned to the accused, her lawyer, the clerks before the judge and then to the judge.
She changed then.

Her back straightened, chest pushed out, her breasts heaving, the shawl slipping, her legs parted slightly, in a wide stance, a hand on her hip, her ample curves visible, the other hand toyed with a charm on a chain near  her breast. His lawyer stopped the narration when she smiled, a smile that lurked on her smirking lips and teasing eyes, the eyes that seemed to have turned kohl-lined, dark and fearless. She stared at the lawyer for a while. Then, her seductive gaze fell on everyone in the room, daring people to speak. Her tongue flicked out to wet her pouting lips or suggestively poked within at her dimpled cheek. The judge wiped his forehead. Her lawyer appeared stunned. The accused kept his head down, fidgeting, nervous or scared.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Love Stories In Berlin

 
His second Christmas in Berlin was much better than the first one. During that week-long break from Christmas till Sylvester, he wrote a love story. It is the twenty-first entry in a big notebook. For five days he wrote, fourteen hours a day, without stepping out of the apartment, living on bread, rice, yoghurt, leftover curry and ready-to-heat-and-eat packs.
That notebook has a queer feature that stands out. In spite of being handwritten, each and every piece remains in its pristine untitled first draft, unedited, without a single correction, with all the typos and other glaring errors. There is an irritating aspect too. At least half of that lot has a melancholic character recurring in some guise, always brooding about a painful memory.  These cathartic traits tend to put off readers. But an effort to break free of the past and the dear-diary genre is also evident.
This love story was supposed to be his Escape From Alcatraz moment. It has a melancholic guy with a painful memory, but thankfully that past is mentioned in passing and not spelt out in any great detail. To redeem himself or the story, the ‘hero’ metamorphoses into a less pathetic character but only after plodding around for long enough making a mess of the reader’s interest. There is a married woman without her husband, as it should be for a story not to lose steam. And the two have their Roman Holiday in a hill resort. When the holiday is ready to end, the husband appears on the scene, and without any grand speech or confrontation the two main protagonists live happily ever after separately with a memory good for future rainy days.
Many years later, with very different motives, he would rewrite that story, give it a title, add avoidable doggerel and make the marital status of the woman ambiguous. When he wrote that first draft of his twenty-first story, it must have been meant to remain in the realms of his daydreams especially because that notebook had always enjoyed the status of a personal diary. But like a dream, he got a reader. In fact, he got the reader of his daydreams.
He returned to office on the first Monday after Sylvester. She came back two days later, after a Christmas at home with her folks in the erstwhile Eastern bloc. They used to be the early birds in the department. As was their custom every morning, they chatted after she made her morning cup of coffee, standing near his office door. She told him about her ‘lovely’ vacation. He suspected that she made the picture rosier than it truly was. He let it be. He did not even rub her wrong for not bringing goodies for him. Christmas had never been good to him that way.
‘What did you do?’ she asked him.
‘Nothing much,’ he said.
‘Stayed at home?’ she made it sound half-tease, half-reproach.
‘Yes.’ Till that stage, he could have been evading.
 ‘And did nothing?’ she persisted.
‘I wrote.’
‘Novels…?’ That came as a full-tease.
‘Story.’ Now, one suspects if he had been laying the trap all the while.
‘Really… a story…?’ she asked.
He gave a polite shrug. She had no way out. Check-mate!
‘Can I read it?’ she asked politely. She had to, right?
He nodded.
Next day, he gave her the notebook. He bookmarked his last entry, his magnum opus, the love story. He had initially kept a bookmark with a picture of a young boy holding out a rose to a little girl-love. To seem reasonably sane, he replaced that with a plain piece of paper.
A day later, she used a greeting in the story, ‘Abhey, saala…’ and asked him what that means. He told her a polite version of the meaning. He noted that she had used a greeting between the male protagonist and his male friend. He hid his disappointment well. It took her a weekend to finish reading the story. The Monday after that, she returned the notebook and used the heroine’s greeting, ‘ah, my knight who refuses to fight…’ and he replied with, ‘yes, milady in shining armor…’ His spirits perked up.
She said little else about that story. It is a long story after all.
But she asked, ‘Can I read the other stories?’
‘Yes,’ he handed that notebook back to her.
A week went by, and another week too. She reached half-way through the book.
She accosted him one morning with, ‘Is this me?’
He shrugged his same old shrug. He did not have to ask her which story she was referring to.
She continued, ‘Is that what you think I think?’
He smiled, shrugged and then gave an ambiguous shake of his head. He knew that if that scene had happened in his fiction, his protagonist would have given one of many smart-ass replies.
The entry she was referring to was the following:

‘I am in the mood to write about something of no consequence. There is a difference between that and the ordinary. One might remember the latter for being a reassuring boredom or a melancholic treat of self-pity. Reading novels; flirting with friends; watching the searching looks of males that nearly strip you as you flick your hair or, knowingly chose to wear a dress of daring d├ęcolletage; or even the laughter at lunchtime, a trick that you learned to stay on top of men who usually associate laughter with submission and abysmal intellect. But all that is ordinary. I do it every day (nearly) and it is just sweet survival. But that is not what I want to think about right now. I want to think about a matter of no consequence. Let me define it as something which needs a bloody effort to be remembered. And in my diary why can’t I call it bloody though it seems to be a word raped by male domination over the centuries?
I joined this department few weeks back. I happen to be the only gal around. Even the stuck-up wallowing in self-importance has noticed my existence. And it helps to be a social animal. I go to the canteen with the group. For a few laughs and criticism about the state of my country, they keep the conversation centered round me. There are a few in the group who go for lunch separately – they look like misfits. One of them is ideal as a matter of no consequence.
During my first visit, I had an official meeting with him, a guy from the east, possibly India. He had done his homework to look a bit smart in my eyes. But I suspected that he knew of his own limitations. A typical one who liked my company because I am a woman, and I am sure he wished for friendship. He is not attractive. He does not speak well. He is not charming. He does not even have a smile I would like to look at. And the worst part is that he doesn’t seem to have qualities to dislike him either. I can never remember his name and he knows his state – he never introduces himself. I wonder how it is like to be somebody worse than ordinary, someone nearly invisible, a person of no consequence whatsoever…’

After sharing a quick laugh about their mutual acquaintance, the stuck-up wallowing in self-importance, that particular entry was laid to rest without any further discussion. She read the other entries.
They got closer. They talked more. They shared their views on books and music. They talked on the phone during weekends. He wrote another story about a girl lying in a bath tub reading that story. She did not comment on that. It was already a plot well-used. Theirs was a good friendship. He wondered if she would meet him for lunch some weekend. Theirs was just a good friendship. He never asked her. He knew that she went to church on Sundays and had lunch with other friends.
He thought about that entry in his notebook. He wrote that after he massaged her neck in his office. However crappy it might sound, for him it was actually a case of love at first touch. She had complained of a stiff neck that morning. He offered to massage her neck. Surprisingly, it worked and she looked relieved. She also looked shy and embarrassed. He kept a straight face and remained silent, quite like an accomplished masseur. That evening, or during the weekend that followed, he wrote about her.
Even a neutral observer might appreciate the fortuitous turn of events and classify the situation as rather cute, starting with that massage, then the writing and the denouement via the love story written during the second Christmas many months later. Maybe, such a person can also view the affair with a dispassionate critical eye.
For him, it was a love story that was not supposed to sound like a love story. He was quite sure of himself then, even though he presented himself as a goofy guy. And he dreamt of the day when she would read that story about her writing a story about him. He thought that his love for her was very clearly apparent, if not in the story, in the fact that he wrote about her. He should have clarified that with additional efforts, maybe, but instead he waited for her to reciprocate.
There was no chance for that because his plan had backfired. He was successful in making that love story not sound like a love story. She read it simply as a story about her writing about him. It did not cross her mind that it was supposed to be any kind of love story. And worse, she assumed that he actually thought of himself that way. She wanted him to know otherwise and became the good friend she turned out to be.
 In a sane moment much later, he reasoned that the fate of his love story could have been different if she had not read it soon after Christmas with thoughts of charity still in the air. But, even then, he did not think of writing a simple love story about her that really sounded like a love story.
They also lived happily ever after separately with their respective spouses, with a memory good for a stormy day, one of a friendship long dead and the other of a love that never sounded like love.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Before Dark


It was getting dark. I had fifteen minutes or less. She had not sounded too keen when I called this morning and requested for a meeting. But when we met, it was like always, like we had never separated, really glad to be together. We have been in touch for more than forty years, nearly all our life. I had seen her last twenty years back. Then, we separated. I went abroad to the west. She went back east to her country. She married, had three kids. We exchanged e-mails every few years, just one per person each time. We never talked about meeting. I never asked about her husband or her kids. This morning, I landed in her city, checked into a hotel and called her hospital number at the Neurology department where she works. I told her that I am in her city for a day and that I wanted to meet her, just for half an hour or so. Casual conversation lasted five minutes. We sipped Chinese tea and laughed over some old joke. I gave her my medical report. I studied her graying hair, her eyes and shamelessly let my eyes take in the rest of her. I was glad that I had not forgotten all that. When she raised her head, I was staring straight at her lovely eyes. I will try to forget the tears. It will not be difficult, I guess. But will I remember her smiling eyes then? I told her that I might forget her soon. I told her that I have always loved her. I tried to make it sound trivial and joked that I might forget that soon. She did not say anything. Or maybe she did. The darkness is creeping in and the shadows are lengthening.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Dreamt I Was Killed



I dreamt I was killed at dusk:
Took the hit while remembering a prayer,
A bullet, a knife or a cardiac attack felt like arrows of kama,
Thought of an old laughable act, flailing-arms-crying-ma
But I stood silent till the last thought vapourized.
Those crazy eyes stared at me, massacring everyone,
I returned a crazy loving smile, recognizing my killer,
That hopping on one leg, those locks of matted hair
I should have said thank-you-o-god-you-latecomer
But I stood silent till the last thought vapourized.

That dream erased my nightmares, nearly.
I nearly forgot the lives I killed each day.
There was love’s death, divorce, suicide of the soul,
And a bewildering loneliness on a stage with no role,
I faced the unseeing crowd, a joker with no words, wide-eyed fool.
A tourist, a foreigner till I was a stranger in native land,
Raped, tortured, a mere plaything, forsaken and forgotten,
In solitary confinement, with emptiness, without rest,
And a fading drip-drip-drip of hope, that’s the cruelest.
I faced the unseeing crowd, a joker with no words, wide-eyed fool.