Slipping. In a herd of slipping buffaloes, who would remain victorious – the one with a bit of guile, or the one with the largest hooves? Leaning. It is all about leaning. And not being afraid, or ashamed, to do so. As soon as this is recognised and brought forth into popular thinking, herd and beyond, there will be better understanding. For the leader of the herd knows the guileless will be lost, and will prefer that they not know that he does. Until of course, water is found. This is the distraction. Clear, clean water. A chance to forego due explanation, to rest finally, to revel in the course rightly pursued. The course that brought them here, no less.
And then there will be the snort, that which will bring us back to reality, to tell us that things could never be so serious.
The jade and the pink, above and below, Come together in a lazy moment of reconciliation. Emerald trees sway, as if trapped in a languid, slipping gait. The mariner crosses his hands for the last time, Imagines being among groves and children once again; This dream among countless others, that he can never fully recollect.
There remain no longer any birds circling the sky.
Armaan had seen this often enough. From the roof of his house, he watched perplexed as mobs of youngsters in the streets below hurled abuse and stones at each other, which more often than not, ended badly; all, conveniently sanctioned in the name of religion.
Armaan and his mother lived in their ancestral home, in a city which had seen more than its fair share of communal riots. Vaguely, Armaan remembered a time, when as a little boy he had lived in this same place, and all the people seemed to live easily together, like people do. That was normal then. But this was now.
‘Amma, I’m going back to college. And this time, you’re coming with me, ‘ he announced as he reached her bedroom, where she lay reading.
Amma looked at her son and smiled. All grown up, she thought. He’d had been studying the arts at a college in another city not too far away. However, with the situation at home as it was, he’d decided to return for awhile to be with his mother. His father had long since left them, and he was the only child they’d had.
But now the sometime had stretched to long months, and looked to go on longer.
‘I have three months till graduation, and I need to finish this.’ He went on, ‘I’m sick of the ‘dire communal situation’ that everyone seems to write about.. why doesn’t someone do something?’ Armaan’s mother put a comforting arm around her son’s shoulders, ‘It’ll all get better soon. It has to.’
‘Nahi Amma, we’ve been through this over and over again for too long now. What we need now is good leadership, not good rhetoric. Of course, you could blame me for that myself right now,’ he smiled and continued, ‘But I know now what I’m going to do with my life.’ His mother didn’t need to ask him what that was. ‘If I decide to come with you, what will happen to the house?’
‘We’ll work something out,’ he replied. ‘Right now, I’m going to go over to the station to get us the train tickets. Or to Salim, if the station’s sold out,’ he continue with a wink and a smile.
‘Why don’t you just ask Salim to bring them over? I really don’t want you to go out right now.’ Amma had been hearing the shouts below.
Armaan leaned out of the window. ‘It’s quieted down. They’ve probably remembered their favourite serials are on. Besides, I have to meet someone before I leave, and I’ll be taking the back door, so there’s no need to worry.’
He moved toward the door. ‘Come back quickly. I’ve made something special for dinner.’ He smiled as he closed the door behind him.
As he stepped out into the alley, Amma felt her stomach lurch, as only a mother could; Armaan would never know what hit him – the police would later report that it was a stone, hurled carelessly by one of the retreating mobs. None of that mattered anymore.
The moment his life flashed before his eyes, the light went out of Amma’s.
Dear Sister, Yesterday there was an interview. I have mellowed down considerably due to it. In fact, I am now a completely changed man. You will probably not recognize me the next time we meet – but that we can attribute mostly to the fact that I now sport a pince-nez, a judge’s wig and six-inch heels, not to mention my excellent checked-skirt. I am slowly transforming into the person that in my mind I imagine myself to be. Thus, in effect, soon you will have a brother who is an astute lawyer masquerading around the courtrooms as a bagpiper on elevated skates. The interview truly, and quite literally, opened my eyes. The most important thing I learned was that it is well bloody hopeless going for an interview when you’re half-asleep and humming to yourself. Next time, I hope to overcome this inadequacy, and more importantly, to promise myself to go to the correct venue for the interview, so as not to end up having to be interviewed for the job of a junior janitor at a private warehouse. Which also explains why the interviewer was a burly ape of a man, and not a boring advocate, and who laughed as he saw me but turned deeply grave, and a brilliant crimson, when I showed him my credentials. It all ended well though, and I wish one day to be like that man, extremely respectful and kind. He assured me I didn’t require to be interviewed, and personally showed me out. All the men in the warehouse were smiling brightly too, looking at me as I walked out. Perhaps working in a weapons warehouse really is a satisfactory experience. I do realize the implications of what I saw, make no mistake about that. ‘A weapons store in a private warehouse?’ you may pointedly ask. True, I thought of doing something about it long and hard, and found that the best I could do was to offer them a better warehouse (pray tell me what better alternative may have occurred to you, concerned, as I’m sure, you must be with the safety of the men there, as am I ). But that simply would not suffice, especially if there was no air-conditioning. Thus I let it be, and perhaps someday soon, those fine men will get air-conditioning themselves. Now I must return to my favourite daily pleasure, if I may – I must walk to the newsstand, read the various newspaper titles and laugh uproariously until it gets dark. Then I wait to get back home. I do hope things are alright with you. Your brother.
The intricacies of a once discovered, lost again blade of the reddest grass can be quite misleading. No, it is not an uncommon phenomenon, as exponents of the ‘grass is green’ theory would like you to believe; in fact, they would like you to think that red is actually green.
For see, in parts of the world where people seldom eat more than three pigs a day, each, mostly always roasted, and mostly always with great wine, grass grows red. And a wonderful red, as though Ferrari’s paint shop had mistakenly spilt its contents all over here. Of course then, it is a pointless affair to attempt to drive one through here, as no one would notice. True also, you’d have to build a road yourself first.
Watch. It is untouched land. No, food does grow here, but it is quickly eaten, always. See, red is a deeply hunger-inducing colour. And this, combined with the thought of having to stay awake, leaves people with no confusion in their minds, and they do not hesitate to stuff themselves, and thus feel happily drowsy the entire day.
Near where the trees grow in circles, and raccoons sing songs about the choicest mozzarella cheese, there is a space where the clearest water stands as deep as your ankles. Pray, do not take your dog there, specially if he lacks an average IQ, as I remember mine dove headfirst into the water at his own reflection; true, I followed him, but it was merely out of concern, and sympathy, but mostly out of curiosity. And it must be said there is little else that is more hurtful physically, psychologically and ergonomically. So I was a changed man after that.
I was once walking through Red (as we shall call this place), and it was a rare moment when three people on the street decided to discuss the politics of a herd of deer and their particular relationships with predators, thus blocking all traffic. So the only bicycle in town could be heard all through the day with its little bell ringing; even its rider tried shouting – of course, the men, like all men in the world, simply reveled in their power to cause a potential gridlock, and showed a great deal of surprise when their wives whacked them that night, for what reason no one knows.
In Red, there is a man who thinks, besides doing some other things. This has led him to believe that if all the forces in the Universe were to combine into one Big Force, it would be possible to lift Old Lady, his aunt, from her chair, where she has been sitting for the past twenty three years, trying to outdo her own aunt. It has also led to his growing concern over the future of identical twins in this changing world. His most recent discovery had to do with ants. He found that they were a disorganized bunch, and so must be the closest genetically to us humans.
An excerpt from one of his latest works in fiction, titled ‘ The Futility of Laments’ –
From Chapter 3 ‘..It caused me a fair degree of incredulity, and itching too, to find that of all the things that can grow exponentially in this world, the number of cactii had taken an obvious lead. To learn more, I tried putting on my thinking cap, but found that it was full of cat hair, and no longer fit anyone but my cat.
From Chapter 111 ‘..Do you know what one can debate endlessly upon? One can argue indefinitely about the sad state of the music industry today, or the merits of government sponsored toothpaste, or the usefulness of transparent pencils, but two can have a great time at the restaurant on Main street.’
Coming back to the subject of the grass here in Red, mention must be made of the great reverence people here have for this otherwise common and taken-for-granted plant - why, once when it hadn’t rained for an entire day, a third of Red’s inhabitants actually gave up eating it, much to the delight of their respective digestive systems, and even more so for the cows, who had never before had such a field day.
True, there is not a sight that can be compared with the lush red at Red. Apart from squirrels dancing on chimneys. Or the finest spread of the finest broccoli, placed on white linen.
I walk the streets now, newfound desire, Unaware, yet, as ever, of the show being played out around; And only, perhaps, in answer to her little-opened window. True, when the sun is lazy in the afternoons, She lifts her hand upto the window, sitting beside it herself, pushing it out a little; just a little, just so the sliver the sun sends so anxiously only for her, now perches itself on a little seat on her temple, lights her so. She continues brushing her dark, lonely hair, Unaware, still, of the sun's eager gift, and my entrance. Waiting, perhaps, only for restful sleep.
(contd..) Intruding Now – or, making envious the sun She lies in her repose now – I, intruder, beside her; When she, full of causeless desire, of uncharted dreams, And little wayward smiles that question me so, Leans ever so slightly towards And with one last giggle, Forgives my trespassing, I imagine. And so, she will forget me soon, As the countless others before; Yet, it is merely some of what I love of her.
As the children of the moon pass us by, they whisper secret names. And we stand together 'neath the cloudless void, unmindful of anything else. You're gone tonight, and blissfully for a moment, I don't long for tomorrow. After everything, I miss you, as I would a tender loving stone. Obviously cruel, but you are not there.
It was yet one of those warm and very beautiful days, thought Giri, as he watched the sun make its presence gracefully, slowly over the mountains. He had woken up in this room for as long as he could remember. And he remembered each day as one of promise.
Getting ready for the day, Giri wished he could have his wife and children back home, but knew they wouldn’t be back from the plains for another two weeks. Ah, the plains. He often wondered how it would be to actually live down there, away from the pure air, the birds, the silent mountains. Having lived on this hilltop in the Simla Hills, in quaint little Sanwara ever since a child, he decided he certainly wouldn’t like it. More because the rigorous hill lifestyle was now a part of his character, a result of several past generations who had lived at this very place.
Snick. The blade jolted Giri back to the present. He quickly finished dressing, offered his prayers to his god, and had his usual breakfast. Since taking over from his father, Giri had followed this routine each morning.
Now he made his way to the main street of the town – mall road. Never did he have to lock his front door. He again reminisced – about his childhood, his parents, his innocence now inherited ably by his children, parenthood and its accompanying innocence. In a life as this, nostalgia was a constant friend, and time was not scarce. He waved to his neighbour, pacified the excited dog, and continued on his way.
As he reached the Mall, he noticed a few tourists already roaming about. It was the season, at the height of summer down in the plains. He went to his shop and shook away the rickety shutters - which in the day served as ramps leading up to his shop. He took his place behind the low, glass counter and looked around, mechanically and quite unnecessarily, to check if anything was missing. Giri ran the family souvenir-shop and after years of experience, had learned to remember every day’s sale for the next few days. Of course, all the objects were marked at four times the normal selling value. The general clientele made this practice very feasible and profitable.
As he settled himself properly, Giri noticed an old man take his place on a little backless chair just outside the shop. There was no overt exchange - but the two men had acknowledged each other without words, as old friends do.
The day’s first customers presented themselves. A French couple, decided Giri, and married – both facts inferred by the incessant rattling they troubled each other with. The lady walked up the ramp and smiled at Giri.
‘Bonjour,’ she offered, ‘Avez-vous d’evian?’ To which she received a wide smile from Giri, even displaying his gold tooth. She sat down on the stool and dragged her husband there too. Now that she understood that the shop-owner was clueless as to what she was saying, she tried frantic hand-waving, to which she only received frantic hand-waving from Giri – intended, of course, to signal the husband to sit down. After a few minutes, when he’d had enough fun from one customer, Giri told her he didn’t stock mineral water. Her husband tried, resigned, to explain that a souvenir-shop would hardly specialize in selling Evian. She threw her hands up exasperated, and stormed out, allowing her husband to follow in her trail.
The next customer was another European – a woman backpacker who thought she knew English. What she didn’t know was that right now, Giri had decided that he did not.
‘Souvenirs?’ she asked.
Giri nodded, happy that the woman noticed.
‘Gem, for..’ she pointed to her necklace, ‘ ..Colour..’ – she rummaged in her bag for something green, but Giri thought it would have been better if she’d just pointed to her shirt. Giri showed her a few green stones and she selected one. ‘Real, eh?’ she enquired. No, replied Giri – but only in his mind. But he managed a ‘Hmmm’ and a slow peculiar nodding motion.
‘How much?’ she asked.
‘Four fifty,’ said Giri, bracing himself for the shock and incredulity, and the eventual bout of bargaining that was sure to follow. But surprisingly, she paid him. Well, not bad, eh, thought Giri as he pocketed the money.
The next person was a burly man, sweating profusely from the arduous task of walking the fifty yards from the hotel to Giri’s shop. He wanted a paper cutter. When he’d selected one, he asked for the price.
‘Two-forty,’ replied Giri.
‘Too much,’ said the man, not sweating anymore, his body having realized that it was no longer being unjustly exerted.
‘Two-twenty,’ countered Giri.
‘Uh-huh,’ said the man, shaking his head, which started sweating at the movement.
Suddenly the old man outside the shop crackled, ‘I could give that to you for half the original price.’
The big man heaved himself around, then turned back to see Giri’s reaction. Giri’s face was expressionless. However, for some reason, the man slowly got up – started sweating again – and left the shop. Giri and the old man simply looked at each other.
Thereafter till about noon, the going was fairly idle. Just as he was about to close his shop for the half-hour lunch break, a young man marched in, seemingly in a hurry. He looked around, and his eyes lit-up as he spied a chess-set on display.
‘Just what I always wanted,’ he muttered under his breath. ‘How much?’
Giri ventured ‘Nine hundred’ – one hundred more than even the quadrupled marked price.
‘Eight hundred fifty,’ Giri said. The young man shook his head.
‘Alright.. Eight hundred, no less,’ Giri declared.
The man again shook his head and looked genuinely crestfallen, until he reminded himself that he didn’t know how to play chess. He was about to leave, when the old man sprang up, ‘I could give that to you for half the original price.’
‘I’ll take it!’ snapped the youth, smiling now.
‘Come back here in ten minutes, five if you’re taking the bus,’ said the old man, well aware of the only bus each day departing from Sanwara.
When the young man left, the old man got up, walked up the ramp to Giri, and held out his hand. He received the chess set.
‘You needn’t have done that this time. I was getting there,’ Giri said simply, not angry.
‘I know,’ the old man said. ‘Allow an old man some fun, what?’ He smiled and returned to his place.
The young man came shortly after, received the chess set, and handed the promised sum over to the old man. Then when the youth left, the old man trudged over to Giri, handed him half the amount, and pocketed the rest himself. This time another smile was exchanged.
The uncle and nephew then settled down in their original positions, as they had done for the last fifteen years.
She was like the queen you didn’t want to touch, nor offend by addressing directly, only mention in well-disguised awe, as if you didn’t notice the slight quiver each time you did.
I think we just tried to please each other by our wonderful dreams and stories, continually ignoring this most beautiful dream being played out between us. It still remains ignored; and I hope, to her disappointment as well.
She never would let her hair open out in front of me, as if in it she faithfully contained all that I must never see.
When you are young, life is full of promises; she was one of them. And there are few.
You say nothing, and that is enough Away a whisper, always, away a whisper.
It is to your credit that you will always seek, not one who is of material wealth, but a poet, writer, tragic soon, seeker himself.
In a dream could one touch you? Love you without ever knowing you; And love you more without ever understanding you.
What do I have to go on - a face, turned into, now turned away; a song I cannot recall, framed by grace - the idea of song. Fingers on the guitar, gently forming a pattern, soon to leave, outside, in the rain, clasping a burning cigarette.
This is all. All that I have seen in the rain and a moment's hesitant glance.
This night two things happen which normally never do in Sawa. One, it stands that the white blanket of the moon has spread itself over the land, subjugating all the sub-elements, the distractions; true, it has the power to illuminate every one of them, and yet it chooses to shine just so it is the center of every visitor and spectator’s world. And second, the wind no longer is resting. And the night wind whispers the secret names of lovers new and yet hidden. And the wind blows soft carrying with it the lovers’ eager messages, and the still profound declarations of love. It may not be long for many before their enchanting lovers become uninteresting, and it becomes harder each day to keep the proclamations genuine, and going. But the wind’s own commitment is unconditionally eternal, and unfailing.
So many times I have seen her sitting on her balcony parapet, knees drawn up, her chin resting on them, straining to decipher the wind’s fleeting sounds. Sometimes her eyes cloud over, and she looks down at nothing in particular. But many times she smiles, and throws her head back in sweet laughter, drawing her knees closer, as if enveloping herself more securely in this new happiness.
There are night-sounds – someone waking up. There is the groan, the creaking bed, and then the shuffling feet, trying to locate the slippers, elusive. This followed by, reassuringly, the sound of a thud, and a creak, as the person finds it is too much trouble to wake up, and decides to return to sleep.
There is perhaps little that is more remote and uncaring as an estranged lover. Unless you consider pickled mangoes. Or fried green apples. So says my old and loyal friend, Mara – let’s call her Mara. (We met yesterday, as she was trying to jump over a puddle, and I decided to do so at the same time – I love being challenged. We met mid-air, and crashed down with a lovely, muddy splash, fell in love, and lived happily ever after.) Yes..you wish. Such profound insights scarcely seem to elude her, and I have often sat, danced and fallen headlong into a pot of burning soup, transfixed all the while as she gives a lengthy discourse on the joys of living in a leafless tree, and simultaneously telling me the recipe for turnip-radish cheesecake, all the while falling asleep on the chair. However she has never been able to tell me the true meaning of the word “and”. Mara loves movies, as I found out once when we were trying to cross Kyrgyzstan by canoe. We never made quick progress, nor got very far, as we were never able to find a river longer than the stream from the leaking bath. Once, facing a deadly desert snake and his many friends, Mara turned to me, terrified of the heat, and said “I love movies.” I smiled, said that I did too, we embraced, falling to the ground, still holding the other with one hand, and a spot of glowing cotton candy in the other, the snakes turned into obedient servants, and a magnificent palace sprung up in front of us, made of the finest mud. No, not quite. Hidden in the hills of North India lives a man who dresses stones. We chanced upon him once as we were traveling through China, and lost our way. The man would trek up a mountain each day, and reaching the top, would strip all his clothes, pick a stone and proceed to dress it. He even had a bag in which he had food that he would serve to these friends who were also stones. At night, he would return and there would be great revelry, songs sung about great rocks, and about terrified tuna too. Mara almost fell in love with him, and had decided to live with him, until she found out that he only dressed good-looking stones, and ignored the uglier ones. See, Mara hated discrimination. Also the man had no money, and liked turnips. Today I twirled around endlessly on my toes when I realized I was a hopelessly boring person. It is a panic attack, and it rarely happens, except on the frequent occasions when I realize I’m hopelessly boring. To add to my misery, all my peers seemed to agree completely, and laughed contemptuously, continually sneering down at me, perched high atop their spectacles. I wonder why they do this – they always end up having to get a new pair. A week ago was Mara’s birthday. I wished her profusely and dreamed of a bright future with her. I also dreamed of a future where birthdays wouldn’t be such a big thing. Which brings me to another thought. It is this – one of the things everyone in today’s world must be concerned about is today’s world. By that, I mean, of course, the magazine by that name - the print, and more specifically, the paper quality have deteriorated miserably over the years, so much so that I can no longer bear to serve bits of it as appetizer to my unsuspecting and polite guests. On deeper introspection, I think my choice of appetizer is the reason for my limited circle of friends. Introspection is very important. Introspection once led me to believe that I had a mind of my own. Which of course led to many things dangerous, as I then tried to cross the road on my own. And later the same day, I tried to unclog the kitchen sink – not only did the house get flooded, but my pet pigeon stopped feeding me grapes after that. Such is life. Or life is such. Which is better, or more apt when explaining a situation as this? Undoubtedly, one could debate endlessly for countless hours over this. Mark that I say one, and that does not include Mara. She would merely thonk me over the head and say “Yours is not a life”. Then she would continue to shampoo her hair, thrice daily. Later she would put me to bed reading ‘On the probability of the Impromptu Jive actually happening’.
We were racing the sunset, and it was fast catching up. Above the smog now, but soon below it. That was a surprise in itself – normally, you don’t escape the smog until you’re very close to the airport. Being Diwali, and very near winter, you would expect it to be worse. Delhi’s a pretty sight from the air on Diwali. The city’s all dressed up, lit up. There are patches of sulphur light, in them strings of smaller deep-yellow lights from the diyas lining the roofs of the houses. And the intermittent little bright flashes on the ground, that I’d never before seen from a night flight - a jeweled sprawl below. The sprawl who’s sky was routinely lit up by balls of fire of red and green and white and yellow. We landed amidst the violet lights lining Delhi airport’s tarmac. Violet is pretty light. Violet filaments have a red tinge to them - and you stare at them long enough, and they even turn pink, then blue.
The girl at the conveyor belt. Frail, demure even, beautiful with marble eyes, and great poise. And she knew the effect she had on the men, and women, all around. She stood with one leg stretched out, leaning on the trolley, looked around and sighed – with general contempt, I imagine. Traveling with her parents, with whom she shared no facial resemblance. The mother looked Assamese, the father not – neither had her green eyes, or peach skin. To try and imagine her origins in a crowd would be hopeless then.
And while I sit here contemplating the wistful sinner's next move, he takes a bow and moves out. Where? I don't know. Maybe to faraway fields, empty, empty, beckoning. This little light is almost down to its last. He lit it once when he was growing up, When sin was new, pleasure unending, and the world, his playground. He was good though – the light always burned high and bright. Often he asks me why it is that men die. Why? I don't know. When this light goes out, he will know.
There was the grey of the concrete, of the smoke, of the smoke that fell to the ground. Worst of all was the grey of the people’s faces. There were however, two sights that gave this place its extraordinary colour – the singing birds from the south, and the two lovers on the roof.
Back when he was younger, I could always see him perched atop the roof, as he rested against the chimney, and she against him – staring out, always just staring out. It was never important what they were looking at; just to stay there that way, their legs playing - and the growing fondness of the realization that this was their special place, a place where man and woman could sit for countless hours and not have to speak a word, and each understand which bird, or kite, the other was following, and follow it together hence.
I never saw them after that summer in which the birds from the south never returned – which of course meant that I didn’t either. I kept moving on. And so did they, in their own way, perched atop the roof, him resting against the chimney, she against him, staring out. True, it was here, I hear, that she breathed his last.