Monday, February 28, 2005
It was hard to imagine they were playing a song like that on the radio at prime time, but there it was, an uncontestable truth. He adjusted the headphone in his right ear, and stood on the platform, hands punched into the pockets of his denim jacket, waiting for the Andheri local to come chugging along. Like a Bridge over troubled waters
/ I will lay me down...
Simon and Garfunkel had always held a special place for him, and it was one of his favourite tunes: one of their most popular
tunes, but that did not deflect from its very obvious genius and melody. A woman named Ayesha had called up the radio station and asked the RJ to play this song for her husband, Arun, and he had smiled at the beautiful absurdity of it all. In some way, he had wished he had called up some RJ during the heydays and asked them to play a song for them
, but it had never happened. And he could not fathom why.
The train arrived, and the usual eight-o-clock rush almost overwhelmed him, but he stuck close to his target: located the door of the approaching carriage, and stood in a direction not exactly in front of the doorway, but beside it, so that when the train stopped and the steady stream of humanity pushed, shoved, released outwards, he snug in, beneath the extended armpits of a middle-aged Parsi man, and slithered to the middle of the carriage, where the two doors on either side were equidistant. Then he readjusted the headphones. This was the routine.
The Parsi man was wearing a black blazer over a white shirt and grey synthetic trousers. His name was Faraaz, Contractor and he looked at the young man who had slipped in the train, avoiding the angry pushes of the rest of the commuters from Elphinstone Road station. He smiled, it was all so beautifully resilient, somehow: this borrowed pride from a face in the crowd he would probably never see again. The boy was listening to music on his walkman, and his eyes were half-closed, but Faraaz could see that he was alert, as alert as any man could ever be in the throng of a crowded Bombay local. He had a red bag strapped around his shoulders, and while one hand gripped the overhead beam for support, his other hand was curled protectively around the bag. Faraaz thought he could hear the wafting strains of some music from the walkman, and he smiled to himself in the imagined melody. But the train had slowed down for Dadar, and he blanked out momentarily, stiffened himself for the throng that would soon shove its way into the already crowded carriage.
The faceless young men with the red bag around his body and Simon-and-Garfunkel in his soul opened his eyes and looked around. The crush in Dadar had been terrible, but he had been saved the worst part of it, because of his vantage position in the middle, his back against the seats-partition. The song had finished and the RJ was reading out dedications now, but he still found himself thinking about Ayesha and Arun, her husband, dancing in some remote corner of the city, in what could be nothing more than a rented one-bedroom-hall-kitchen, to the strains of the song. A part of him wondered what Ayesha looked like, and what Arun had done for her, that she was this impressed, and a chuckle escaped his lips. He wondered whether he should have taken tips from Arun, and then decided that it would not have been of much use.
Matunga Road was like the quiet breeze just before the storm, Faraaz Contractor thought to himself. He edged slowly towards the interior of the carriage: he had been able to stand the terrible throng at Dadar, but entertained no such illusions about his prospects in Mahim. The junction was not marked a big red in the station-chart that hung overhead, it was a chrome-blue like the other ‘minor’ stops, but the oncoming rush at Mahim was always too terrible to imagine. And, directly after Mahim, came Bandra, a big red circle on the chart.
Faraaz sighed, and wondered why on earth he ever allowed his wife to convince him to move from Colaba, in the first place. But then, he reminded himself that the flat had sold for a good sum like Rehaanaa had said it would, and it had certainly got rid of all the debts they had. Santa Cruz is a nice place to live, really,
he mused, but it was the horrendous journey every morning and every evening to and from Churchgate that so irritated him. As he glanced at Red Bag, he wondered not for the first time whether he should buy one of those walkmans and portable radios that he had seen so many of the young men around Bombay hitch onto their waists. And then he gave a little chortle as to how his son’s eyes would widen on seeing him head out to work in the morning with a walkman hitched to his belt. But, aaaaaa, to revel in the music –
and he widened his smile in a stream of imagined Beethoven.
Ayesha had come on the line again, and explained to the RJ that her husband had surprised her this morning when she came out of the bathroom with a dozen long-stemmed red roses lying there on the bed, while he himself was no where to be found. The RJ laughed and asked her whether Arun knew she had called up to ask for a special song for him, and Ayesha said, she didn’t think so. That was when the RJ had his brilliant idea of getting Arun’s cell phone number from Ayesha and said, he would give the busy husband a call, so that they would play a little game with him. Ayesha, of course, was quite delighted at the turn of events. The RJ started playing Kiss Me
, by Sixpence None The Richer.
In spite of rehearsing his lines, the forthcoming exchange made him smile, as he listened to the RJ’s banter and Ayesha’s obvious excitement. One of the newcomers at Mahim had collided with him, even as he stood by the side, pressed against the partition, but he had ignored the fierce look the Mahim commuter had thrown his way, and tried to catch a breath of fresh air in the crowded train. And he tried to think of his lines, that he was going to tell her, when he reached Khar Road. She would be waiting at the restaurant on S V Road, and he would have to go and tell her the lines he had agonized over for days and nights now. Hearing Simon and Garfunkel talking about troubled waters had not exactly been easy, either.
She would sit at the table he knew so well, away from the busy road, towards the back of the restaurant, with the open window, overlooking the lawns on the right. She would glance at her slim, detailed watch, and frown because he was late, and order starters. She was used to him being late. It would probably be the grilled prawns.
“I’ve been thinking about us - "Would that do? Or would it seem, as if it was a festering problem..?
“I have something to say about us – " But it had been festering, hadn’t it? Hadn’t he better be honest now?
“I want to tell you something – "Should he pause? For how long?
“This is not going to work.”
He hoped it wouldn’t be like in the movies, and she would think he was making a joke. He hoped that she would recognize the import in his voice and eyes and understand what he was saying. She probably would. She was different, in that way. Different, and yet –
“I love spending time with you. I love being with you, - but – “
“There’s nothing else that I can see. I’m not in love with you.”
“I don’t see where we’re going with this – “
Or, “I don’t think we’re going anywhere with this – “
“It would be best to call it off. I don’t think we should go ahead with this – “
“I don’t see myself spending my whole life with you. I’m sorry – “Did that sound too cavalier, too condescending? Should he apologize? Perhaps it would be better if she could hate him – though he wished she wouldn’t...
Faraaz Contractor roused himself from the reverie he had suddenly lapsed into, and realized that he had completely missed Bandra. What was the matter with him, he wondered, a bit frustrated at himself. At this rate, I’ll find myself half-way to Borivilli again, like the other day! It won’t do, loosing track of time like this – this would never happen if we were still in Colaba – I never dozed off in the bus!
And he chuckled, despite his self-directed ire: Colaba seemed such a long way away now.
He looked sideways at the young man with the walkman who slumped heavily against the partition. He seemed preoccupied with something, and his eyes were closed again: Faraaz thought about shaking him slightly to make sure he didn’t miss his stop, but then he noted the flicker of white below the eyelashes and knew he wasn’t dozing, after all. There was, once again, the faraway gleam of music from his walkman, and Faraaz made up his mind, now. The music was necessary, he decided, if only to distract, if only to attract, if only to make him miss all his stops on his future journeys – and he laughed, because of the bad joke directed at himself. He would tell Rehaanaa tonight.
Khar Road arrived. Arun had been called up by the RJ, and told that his wife had called in to say that she felt neglected by her husband – and had he anything to say in his defence? He had been embarrassed to be questioned like this on air, and he fumbled and hemmed and hawed, and said he had no idea why Ayesha would think this about him. He had always tried to be a good husband, he protested, even as the RJ grilled him about their love life. When the RJ asked him if he had done anything nice lately for his wife, Arun said that, well, he had left a dozen roses on the bedside – and then both Ayesha and the RJ yelled “SURPRISE!!!!” to a flabbergasted Arun. The episode had been successful, the RJ wished the couple all the very best in their life together, the audience level had soared in the last few minutes of the drama, and the RJ invited anyone else who had a personal story of love and life to narrate to call the radio station. As he played Arun’s request, Ayesha
by Outkast, the faceless young man in the train patted his red bag protectively again, rechecked his headphones in his ears, and alighted at Khar Road station.
He had news to give, and he walked briskly down the platform towards the overhead walkway, from where he would hire an auto rickshaw to take him to a certain restaurant in S V Road, where a young lady had probably ordered grilled prawns while she waited for him.
Faraaz Contractor stepped off the train at Santa Cruz, and began his own walk down the platform, to climb the overhead walkway. He had a certain skip in his steps, though he would deny it if someone told him so. He was whistling a tune, something he had imagined he heard from the young man’s walkman when he had departed, a station earlier, but it was really an old little melody that Rehaanaa and he had danced to ages ago in their little flat in Colaba, when debts did not seem quite so burdensome. The night was a trifle chilly, but Faraaz never noticed the nip in the air.
posted by livinghigh 10:18 PM...
The Fairy Bower
I can't see the ceiling from here. I can hear the dull whirr of the fan overhead, spot the faint shimmer of the mosquito-net in the darkness from the moonlight without. The pillow exudes a warmth that suddenly seems terribly stifling and not even the fan's efforts can make up for it. My chest is damp with sweat, and my upper lip fringed with the same. One more sigh, and I close my eyes, reopening them once again. I can see the open windows on the other side of the room - two large doorways that frame a strange milky glow outside.
I turn over onto my side. She's still asleep - I can hear the steady, even breath that escapes her nostrils, even see in the dull gloom the slow rising and lowering of her breast. My mouth curves itself into a smile inexplicably, and I close my eyes again. It's time to sleep, I tell myself. It's late - quite, quite late. A yawn, and I open my eyes. For awhile, I'm staring at her inert form, just staring vacantly. It's empty inside, not a single thought as I gaze at her, not a single emotion bubbling over or even cascading gently in a trance. A blink, and the heat from the pillows is too much to bear.
Tucking the ends of the netting back underneath the mattress, I step back and stand for a second, surveying the neatly packaged bed and its contents for awhile. A hiss of exhaled breath, and I paddle softly on down the corridor. I'm not wearing any slippers, I've lost any idea I ever had about where they could possibly be. The noiselessness suits me just fine, anyhow. I'm walking through billowing curtains and stepping on cashmere rugs, up stairs and down corridors. For awhile, I forget where I am in the darkness. It's so strange - this is the house I grew up in... A hand extends itself and feels the smooth edge of a glass table - I'm in the main hall. Almost simultaneous with the mental recognition, my senses start to kick in. My eyes spot the glint of moonlight on the crystal centerpiece, the smell of stubbed-out cigarettes comes assailing me from the ashtray pushed underneath the drapes, I catch the soft rustle of the wind on the gauze curtains, and my arms seek out the contours of the velveteen sofa...
I bask in the warm glow of the refrigerator light as I open the door. A tall pitcher of juice. Covered remnants of dinner. A huge hunk of pomegranate. A bottle of water. I retract the water and stifle the amber glow of the refrigerator once again. Somehow, I'm content to simply stand there in the pitch blackness - in spite of the same sultry warmth that drove me from my bed. Somehow, I'm in that same place I found myself earlier gazing and not seeing her face, as I lay next to her in bed. A drop of water condenses, rolls down the length of the bottle, and falling on my foot, pierces my thoughtless reverie. Suddenly, bottle and dark, empty room flood back to my consciousness, and I leave hurriedly. I knock down the little carved stool next to the ottoman, but I don't notice.
They're all asleep. As I roam up the stairs, paddling along silently, I can feel their thoughts resting serenely in their beds next to their hearts. In spite of the sultry weather, and in spite of the barking dogs outside on the road. I stop there at the head of the stairs, listening to one of them howl outside. It's a strange call, I conclude, a call bespeaking so much of anguish to my tired human ears, but actually borne of probably nothing more than a missing gnawed-out bone from last week's treasure-find. I shrug my shoulders at the strange disparity between my perceptions and what really happens out there, and take a gulp of water from the bottle. The water helps to assuage the mugginess somewhat.
I open the door softly, and step in. The netting on the bed makes it look like some strangely ornate shrine. My room is bare, save the treasure that lies asleep within her fairy-bower, oblivious to this incessant dampness that torments me. My windows are bare too, and the dull milky shine of the night sky pours unabated into the room. I stoop to place the bottle of water on the floor, at the foot of the bed, and amble over to the tall windows. They look on over the neighbor's compound, dotted with tall palm fronds that I can't make out in the dark. As far as I can see, there's only rough tangled undergrowth looking equally forbidding before me - somehow, I get the feeling of being this savage witch-doctor of eons ago in some grim and mysterious part of the world. These are my secrets lying before me, shrouded in the deepest, blackest veils that not even the clearest beam can pierce through. Perhaps not even a stone's throw away, the forlorn night-lights of some other houses down the block shine in the gloom - in this atmosphere, I find it so easy to forget that I walked down there just this morning and picturize instead far-away watch-towers and their messages of ill-tidings come swiftly forth. An aboriginal atmosphere in a supernatural frame of mind.
A slight snort from within the packaged treasure throws a stone at my mired consciousness. I turn bodily, and spy her form beneath the shimmering netting, turning over onto her side now. Her slender hand reaches forth to my side of the bed, feels about for a few seconds and then stays put. I can hear the sigh of contentedness issue forth from her lips, even now, as far as I am away from her. A blink, and the silence of the sleeping house becomes a living entity with me. I look out over the window again, but the witch-doctor's domain seems to have been washed away in invisible smoke...
My eyes follow the path of the smoke and affix onto the strangely curdling sky overhead. It's as if a nebula has opened up before me. Soft and silent, ringed with colour and shine. A slight breeze, and somehow the witch-doctor becomes quite, quite redundant. Somehow, the open doesn't permit any more shrouded mysteries of the deep - somehow, there's this very real urging to open Thineself to the wonders abroad - as terribly weird and tailor-made as it may sound. This is not a line from a Rebel Song of the Sixties, nor a pot-induced spot of spontaneously optimistic thinking - in some strangely haunting way, this is the truth. The truth out There that calls to the one in Here. And all of it because of some optical phenomena reflected in the nocturnal sky of one hot, muggy night in April...
Another gulp of cool water, and I set the bottle to rest on the floor again, amidst the converging concentric rings of condensation. And then, I enter through the veils of the glimmering bower and take my place in my bed.
posted by livinghigh 1:34 PM...
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Ten strokes,well-counted beneath her breath. It had been a routine she had grown up with, inculcated with great meticulousness. She performed it now, never wavering from her gaze at her reflection in the mirror, the short bone comb never pausing in its descent. A wince always followed from habit, more than anything else. Hair parted easily enough, hardly anything so momentous, hardly anything so important, and yet there was a certain formality to the occasion. A certain hardness crept into her features then, but she would have argued otherwise.
The first stroke always met the most resistance, she knew. That had been when she had said 'no' to him. The second stroke had been met with defiance, rather than any real anger. It had been a game, and she smiled fleetingly at the memory. The hardness did not exactly melt away, however. The third stroke had been his persistence, and she had flicked up her nose at him. He had been much younger than she, how could he possibly think that she would do what he wanted from her…?! Ridiculous, and yet - there had been longing, yes, there had been longing -
On the fourth stroke, she had decided to play his game, and outwit him, so the maneuvers started. The fifth stroke met her stolid glare at him, and his young, irreverent (young!)
smirk in response.
There had been others, since then. Five other strokes of their relationship had sounded, like deep, sonorous gongs of a bell, signifying each new beginning and each new climax before she found herself hungry enough for him. It was ridiculous to think of who had won and who had lost. She had extracted whatever he had to offer, and he had been paid in kind. Was there something mercenary about it, she paused to wonder, and her lips, exquisitely pink-and-peach with make-up, quivered slightly. It had been give-and-take. Even marriage was like that, she reassured herself, and finally smiled into the mirror. Her ten strokes were done.
She wondered idly, holding the glittering fabric over her skin, whether she would ever tire of these parties, and then laughed to herself, saying, not bloody likely!
She liked the attention much too much, liked the way she flitted across the room, glided even, so that even the most hardened socialite could not suppress a twinge of envy at her consummate ease. There was something beautiful in the way she did her stuff, and even the best of the best had to acknowledge that. Their acknowledgement came like this: in delicate little party invitations that were embossed and laced and gilded and zardozied with tassels, which invited Mr and Mrs… to the annual affair at Mr and Mrs… for dinner and cocktails, promptly at eight. She laughed. Decided the fabric was exactly the correct shade of party brashness to suit the night's needs, and put her watch back down on the derriere after noting it was past ten. The Husband would be waiting downstairs.
The idea, as she told everyone repeatedly, was to be different. You had to stand out in a crowd, but just sufficiently enough. Even if you wanted to wear cotton, you couldn't very well indulge yourself when everyone else was in silks. The trick was to get what you wanted over a period of time, slowly entrench yourself so that every one else soon wants the same kind of things that you do - and then, next party season, to completely reinvent yourself, so that everyone else was left gasping for air and gaping in astonished admiration! She was an expert chameleon. Her success on the circuit was a testimony to that. The bitches could hardly hide their green while she strutted her way over in front of them.
At the party, they all commented on how glossy her hair looked and she smiled her pearly whites at them. Glossy was a euphemism for 'obviously dyed', but then she was not going to waste her time worrying about the jackals. She downed her wine, ran a light hand over her perfect do, and smiled some more. Ten strokes that guaranteed a sheen.
The Husband was by her side, of course - he always was. In some ways, she was glad of that. Now, more than ever before. Now, because she knew the Lover was somewhere about. Perhaps in the anteroom, perhaps in the cellar, inspecting the wine. She knew that he was here, and she was looking forward to seeing him. She had almost not come to this party when the Husband had asked her, and had capitulated only when she had pored over the guest list.
What were the other strokes, she tried to remember now… The fifth had ended in a blatant challenge from either end. In the sixth, he had gone down on bended knee, capitulating before her. That had tempted her, that had tempted her so very
much. She had longed to give in to the purity she had seen then, touch his hair, touch his lips, hold him close, fall in love, fall in love, fall in love...
But she had recovered in time, and taken what he had to offer. She had loved him, and made sure that he fell in love with her. The seventh stroke signified her victory. She smiled now, tingling with the red wine in her mouth, recalling the fervent worship at the Bandra flat where he would wait for her. The little attentions he would lavish on her, and fuss over her, the passionate love bites she had pretended were mosquito bites when her friends at the pool asked - o, of course, they weren't fooled for a minute (she giggled) but one could never ask outright! One could never say anything
The eighth stroke had set the ball rolling for a jettison, and she had been late for those afternoon trysts, she had called him a silly boy and mulled his hair, she had flung gifts at him like a little boy you take to the fair grounds. Her mind had been made up, the ninth stroke had been the eighth's anti-climax, and she had soothed his worried, shushed his doubts, loved him again, pulled him closer, tortured herself with her own doubts, but emerged stronger, more resilient, more focused in the game. Now it's time to play the dice, my love,
she had crooned softly to herself that evening, as she clipped on the shining diamond danglers to her ears. She had inspected herself in the mirror, while the Husband had been waiting downstairs reading a copy of The Economic Times, pouted her lips like she had once seen Angeline Jolie do in a movie, and tip-tapped her way out of the room. Tonight was the tenth stroke when she broke a heart. Tonight would be the bitter-sweet climax. Wince? - no, not really.
In a way, it had been all too ordinary. She was no longer as young as she had once been, no longer as easily satisfied, either. No longer so easily humoured. It wasn't a sudden occurrence, this strange new side of her, but it certainly felt like that on hindsight. Certainly, it felt that she had awoken one day and cried her bleary eyes out. Her life had been a full one, she had told herself, and yet somehow under the light, it seemed so completely uniform - that horrible old mother of all evils. That was the trouble, she surmised: the vague, helpless feeling that there could easily be thousands of replacements for you if you happened to disappear one fine day. Childishly, she had thought about that: what would happen if indeed one fine day she disappeared into thin air, would her husband sit in the front hall, shattered… He still loved her, of course - she knew that, but couldn't imagine why. What had she offered him that no other woman of her age and her beauty and her graces could not? What had been the strange underpinning characteristic that made him still so helplessly in love with her…?
Whatever it was, she had brought him here now, so that the Lover could see the two of them together. She spied him now, at the anteroom, talking to some giddy female in a backless dress the colour of hot chilly and eyes like burgundy. His eyes passed her by dismissively. She would have been angry then, if this had been anytime, anywhere else - but now, she only smiled a secret enigma to herself. He would see soon enough: he would see the Husband's adoration and he would be startled. He would raise his eyebrows and sidle over to her side to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, and she would laugh in a tinkle and flit away from him, hand in hand with the Husband. She would make him beg, and take his calls only the next day, and she would then haughtily deign to meet him at the Bandra flat one last time, out of pity.
First stroke. His eyes caught her again, and this time, they saw her arm in arm with the Husband. Was he thinking now, of the two of them, together? His eyes seemed all smoky, all hazy...
She looked away into the ruby liquid of her glass.
Second stroke. He laughed with the girl in the red dress, reached over and whispered something in her ear, but then moved away from her. He strode across the room and wafted over to her.
Third stroke. The fat Punjabi hostess laughed raucously suddenly, and said something about the new gazebo, and insisted on showing it off to her uninterested guests. The Husband nodded placidly, agreeing, and she assented as well. Let the Lover wait his turn.
Fourth stroke. The night air felt delectably cool on her skin, and she pulled the zardozi stole closer around her shoulders. She suddenly thought of the ice-cube in the Lover's mouth the last time they had met at Bandra, his hungry eyes as he crawled over to her on the bed across the expanse of silver satin sheets. A shiver, and he was right there beside her on the lawns.
Fifth stroke. His hands were folded. The corners of his fingers touched her bare fore-arms. He was wearing a ring, she noted, something spiraled, something she had not given him. A part of him wondered if his job was paying well now.
Sixth stroke. She could see the gregarious vultures there on the other side, ogling her. They had seen the Lover next to her, his husky build and his strong fingers that fed their fantasies. Their eyes were glinting with jealousy and she suddenly laughed. No light tinkle: a deep, throaty laugh.
Seventh stroke. The Husband looked flummoxed at her sudden laugh and smiled agreeably to himself. He ran his arm over her back and pulled her in closer to him. He whispered something in her ear. The Lover noted it all.
Eighth stroke. She was ready now. She would turn and face the Lover, put on a look of utter astonishment and pretend to just have noticed him. She would act as if it was a great surprise to see him here, and she could not acknowledge him now, as he was a nobody
, he simply did not matter enough - He would turn red then, and he would stutter.
Ninth stroke. Her eyes danced as she turned. Her mouth opened and she said 'Ooo…', her fingers were raised, perhaps a tiny spill of the wine could be good for the drama, a detached part of her brain thought, perhaps a different intonation in the voice, perhaps she should hold onto his arms, perhaps -
Tenth stroke. His eyes smiled, and he said "Darling!" and pushed past her to the burgundy woman in the dress that crinkled and ripened like dry chillies. He bent slightly from his huge frame and kissed her squarely on the lips, with his strong, masculine lips. The Husband was engrossed by the new gazebo.Wince.
posted by livinghigh 5:26 PM...
Thursday, February 24, 2005
An Important Night
An Important Night
"There are more important things in the world than money," she said, taking a sip from her red wine, "It's another matter altogether that I can't think of one right now."
It was typical of her to make a statement like that, he thought, gazing fondly at her. He could never imagine her otherwise. "It's all right, you don't have to, darling. All you have to do is get rich quick, so that I can break your petite little shoulders, while you earn for the both of us," he laughed, raising his own wine glass.
Tinkle of laughter, or something of the sort. She wasn't the sort who tinkled. She had a raspy sort of snort that she emitted to indicate pleasure at something. Her features could not quite contain a tinkle of any sort, he mused, but gem that she was, she wasn't really concerned. While he tenderly described her as 'on the heavier side', Chandni would snort and call herself 'fat'. That was the kind of person she was.
“Fag!" she exclaimed, with mock disdain, “Blood-sucking fag! Who told you to go in for those airy-fairy NGO things in the first place?!”
“I’m the tender sort, love. Not made out to suck blood in true corporate fashion like you, at any rate,” he retorted happily. This was the sort of exchange they had missed, the sort of stupid laughs and stupid insults that somehow lost their bite over the phone or over the internet chat. It was the kind of evening that demanded personal presence, an almost full moon lording over the sky in its jaundice colour, and the clink of red wine glasses drained quite dry of their red wine.
“God, I’ve missed this,” she said suddenly, giving words to his stream of thought. And on impulse, she reached forward to hug him. It was an incomplete funny little hug, as they were both on cushions, legs splayed over the verandah floor, but it was a hug nonetheless, and that satisfied Chandni’s sense of closeness.
“Good grief, woman. You’re going to be a rich MBA. You can’t get all touchy-feely like this!” he laughed, placing the glass a little out of the way, where she would not crush the damn thing.
“Of course I can, “ she shot back, tilting her head back, and her nose up in the air, “I’m just getting ready for all those gorgeous men in the office I’ll be sexually harassing”, and she gave something that passed for a wicked cackle in her head.
“You’re drunk, babe,” he pointed out.
“I’m buzzed,” she nodded, and then looked at her empty glass mournfully. A split second later, she looked up again – “Fancy going out?”
He grinned. It was just the sort of thing that she would have come back with. It was just the sort of thing he wanted, too. Getting even more drunk. The excuse? Will ‘tomorrow is another day’, suffice, he wondered. Who cares!
“Sure” – lopsided grin again.*****2
"So, what’s more important than money?" he shouted in Chandni’s ears, over the loud music. He was rewarded by a smile of total absentia in her face, and he knew he had to shout louder in her brain for her to hear - "WHAT'S MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY?"
Horrible to think of Calcutta like this, a part of him pondered. When was the last time he had been down here to the city’s nether-regions, its hot spots and pubs? Never, really. Calcutta had always been the sane city for him. The place of his origin, where he was the goody-goody boy next door. It had taken his sojourn in Delhi to realize his wilder side, so to speak. Wilder side
– and he smirked quite absentmindedly – bloody corny like hell!
“I’LL TELL YOU WHEN I FIND OUT!” she yelled back. Chandni was drunk, hopelessly drunk, and he thanked his stars that she had the keys to her flat and he wouldn’t have to wake up her parents to put her into bed. He could almost picture the looks on Mr and Mrs Chatterjee’s faces when he brought their stumbling, lolling, slurring daughter back home. He cringed, and he found the idea vastly funny, so he laughed at her reply, while she had no idea why on earth he was laughing. O well, she thought, gay men do funny things. They’re absolute darlings, but they
do do funny things!
For the moment, Chandni’s attention was focused completely on the demigod sitting two places away from her at the bar. He was tall and broad-shouldered, had long hair that curled sinfully at the back of his neck. He was wearing an ashen blazer over a black v-neck that emphasized the tanned skin of his throat. He had to be Marwari, no Bong could ever look so sexy, she smiled mischievously to herself. I want you
, she mouthed, and then coloured when she realized from his grin (o, hell!
) that she had spoken out loud, quite aloud in fact. While Abhi looked on mortified, V-neck actually came over to her side of the bar.
“Hey. I’m Deb.” O great – so he was
Bong, in the end. So much for women’s intuition!
“Hi, Chandni here.”
“Hi, Chandni. Can I buy you a drink?” He had the most gorgeous grey eyes, she noticed, while tottering over their brink.
“Aaa.. no, thanks. I think I’ve already had one too many. Judging from that little display of mine” I’m colouring, I’m colouring, O god, help me now, Abhi, what the fuck are you doing now!
“Ahemmmmm – “ He coughed pointedly in their direction, and Chandni turned, grateful for the interruption to Deb’s laugh. “Hi, I’m Abhi, Chandni’s friend
.” O my god, you idiot Abhi, did you have to stress that frikkin’ word?!
She was gratified to note that it was Deb’s turn to blush now. “O, I’m sorry, I didn’t think that you guys were together – I wouldn’t have – “
Laughs all around. “O we’re not
“I mean, we’re just friends. We really are just friends!”
“We’re just friends.” I feel like a frikkin’ echo – why the hell doesn’t she go away with him somewhere now?
Deb smiled, satisfied at the proceedings. He looked Abhi over: wild curly hair, silly poker smile on face, no paunch, but not well-built either, dark blue shirt with top two buttons undone, black stonewashed jeans and brown loafers. She wasn’t going to fall for him
, he decided, and turned his attention squarely back to Chandni. “So, I haven’t seen you around here. Are you new in town?”
Abhi sighed, and settled back into his bar stool. Chalk another one up for the Great Tart. How did
she manage, a part of him wondered in admiration, but then he smirked at the silly little name he had just called her privately and wondered whether he was actually jealous of her. He turned back to get a look at Deb’s tight black V-neck and his Gigolo Joe corduroys and told himself, Never! Thank God!
That helped to make him feel better, and he smiled his most flirtatious grin at the bartender.
“A refill please. Double it, this time, will you?”*****3
Chandni smiled beatifically, while Deb’s hands moved at her waist, up her sides, flirted suggestively at her bodice and then trailed back down to rest at her waist again. I’m not really fat, she told herself, I’m not really fat, Abhi always says I’m just on the ‘heavier side’. And Bongs like their women to be a bit... meaty (?)
The adjective did nothing to satisfy her ever-probing MBA soul, however, so she simply kept on beaming at Deb, and wondered what he would look like, naked.
“So, are you going to specialize in marketing or finance?” he asked her, flashing his pearly-whites.He really does have the longest lashes! Could he be... like Abhi…? But then his hands would hardly be going
“Neither,” she replied happily,” I’m into HR.”
Deb grinned again, “You know, everybody blames HR for everything. You’ll be made the scapegoat for everything!”
So, he knew someone in the line and knew absolutely nothing about HR, she thought, but hell, I don’t really want his brains now, do I?
“HR’s in charge of the purse strings. That’s what counts in the end, you know!”
He was trying to be clever now, and he roared in laughter, “So you’re after money, are you?”
“Of course. Aren’t you
It was as if she had said something wildly funny, and he tossed his head back to laugh, and then, when the slow number came back on, he pulled her close to him suddenly, and wrapped his hands around her waist. A startling development, Chandni thought, but on the whole, not very bad, as she felt his hot muscular thighs brush against her. I knew he likes ‘heavier’ women!
Blush of joy and triumph.*****4
“I’m sorry you got dumped,” the bartender winked at Abhi, pouring him his double vodka, with lemon juice and bitters, on the rocks. “The guy’s a regular here. Usually has a lot of the women falling for him. But you can warn your lady friend,” and he gave another conspiratorial smile, warm and flush, with just the faintest traces of Bacardi on his breath.
Abhi flushed himself. “O, no. You’ve got that wrong. We’re not together, the lady and I. I mean, we’re together, but not – “ He stopped, not very inclined to make a further mess of things, and feeling that the bartender had understood the gist of what he was trying to say, despite the creasing of his forehead in an effort to follow Abhi. So, he ended with a simple proclamation that is bound to have any bartender preen with joy – “I’m quite drunk, I’m afraid.”
This admission had the desired effect on Irfaan (for that was who his brass name-tag pronounced him to be), and he smiled brilliantly. “O, that’s quite alright. The guys here can get you a cab, if you feel unwell,” then hurriedly, as if to prevent Abhi from balking out the door and searching for a cab the very next instant, he grabbed his arm, and said – “But I think you’re ok. Not that far gone, at all. Here’s your drink, sir.” And he was gone, to the other side, as someone hollered for a martini.
Abhi sipped on his double vodka and smiled at Irfaan’s busy back. He’s pretty cute, and maybe he was coming on to me. Was he...?
He laughed then, and took another drink. I’m so frikkin’ strange I keep on imagining men are coming onto me, when they’d probably want to keep me at arms’ length first thing, if they find out I’m gay, he laughed – pathetic!
He turned to see that Chandni was apparently having a whale of a time, and Deb was making bull-faces at her with his index fingers, while she pretended to be some virtuous (?) Italian Madonna-cum-matador. On a wildly vindictive level, he wished with all his might that Mr and Mrs Chatterjee would suddenly appear out of thin air to see their daughter in the act – maybe the old fart would get a heart attack, he grinned – and was disappointed to see that God had denied him special powers. Or maybe, he had given him those special powers after all: Abhi grinned to himself, as a smiling Irfaan came back to him, after delivering the martini.
“Not usually so busy on a Tuesday night,” the bartender said, smoothening out his black apron. Abhi eyed it critically. It was a short one, not at all like the longish ones waiters at the Italian restaurants wore, while serving pastas, but it was hooked in the same style, and reminded Abhi something of what he expected a blacksmith in the Welsh countryside to wear (not that he had ever seen a blacksmith in the Welsh countryside). This was worn over some red shirt with ruffles with the pub’s insignia on top, and smart black trousers that clung to the man’s legs. Abhi licked his lips and imagined Irfaan wearing only the short black apron. “Isn’t it?” he replied, and his voice sounded raspy even to his ears.
The bartender smiled, poured himself a quick vodka shot, and gave Abhi a sly grin. “So, I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you new in town? My name is Irfaan.”
Abhi chuckled for some strange reason, and touched his index finger to Irfaan’s name-tag. “I figured that out. My name is Abhi – Abhinay. Yea, I’ve been living in Delhi. I’m here on vacation, with my friend.”
The bartender flashed another smile and crept closer. “The lady? Do you have other friends in Calcutta? If you need anyone to show you around, I could – “
He was gone, as a fat businessman in a safari suit yelled out an order for two RCs, two gins-and-sodas, one Old Monk with coke, and one Absolut shot. Abhi was left contemplating the sleek black hair at the base of his head, when Chandni almost fell over him. “Hey, love – Deb wants to go to some sexy place in Tolly. Do you want to come along, or should we leave?” So she had noticed the way little (?) Irfaan had leant over the bar, Abhi thought, with a twinge of satisfaction. “You could stay here, if you want, and go over to my place to spend the night, if you want,” Chandni said again.
It was an attractive proposal, Abhi tinkered, and when Irfaan looked back over his shoulder to smile at him, he decided that he was going to take it. He changed his mind, when he turned back to find Deb’s hands wrapped firmly around Chandni’s waist, his lips nuzzling her ears, and Mr and Mrs Chatterje’s astral projections behind them staring accusingly at him. Abhi gulped and said, “No hassles, I’ll come with you guys.”
So, he popped off the stool, waved at a crestfallen Irfaan and shouted back, “I’ll be back some time!”, before hurrying after the fast-disappearing pair.*****5
“I am so, so, SO drunk!” Chandni declared happily, pressing Deb’s shoulders. He turned to grin at her, and pat her head as if he was rewarding a puppy for doing something particularly cute and turned back to the wheel. Abhi snorted from the back seat – not very loud, he took care. Somehow, the insides of the Lancer had always seemed larger to him earlier, or was he drunk now, as well?
“Sooooooo – what was going on with the cute bartender, Abhi baby?” Chandni crooned from the front, and he wished he could shake her hard right there and make him forget that he existed. Deb was looking at him in the rear view mirror, he noted, and gave a silly laugh – “Bar tender? They had a female bar tender? I never noticed that – and I’m a regular there!”I know that, you dick,
Anhi snarled, but kept on smiling like a placid schoolboy, hoping that his silence would prompt Chandni to keep her mouth shut. But she was far too drunk and far too happy at being groped at, so she tittered at Deb’s remark, “No, silly
! It was a guy, only – a verrrrry cute guy, too! Abhi’s gay
, silly! Couldn’t you tell?”O great, now I need to carry a signboard around my neck! Gay man walking – straight men, beware!
He wondered why on earth Mr and Mrs Chatterjee’s astral projections hadn’t reappeared now to kill their daughter, and then wondered if they wanted him to do the dirty work for them.
But Deb’s face hadn’t changed to the all-too-predictable shocked visage Abhi had expected. His brows had furrowed, and then he burst out grinning as if he had known Abhi for ages and this turn of events was vintage-Abhi, something to be predicted only too well. “Aaa, we’re here,” and he eased the Lancer away into the private road that led to the private club.
“I am SO drunk, “Chandni announced again, as they entered the club, and she took in the red interiors with the bright light in her eyes of a child being offered a whole basket of sweets for herself. “This place is AMAZING!” she whooped, as the red laser beams danced off the red vinyl upholstery and the whirling red strobe lights on the walls, and she lifted a blood-red tequila shot off the tray that a waiting girl in a shining red miniskirt was carrying by. Abhi felt like killing someone, and settled for a place at the bar, instead.
“Stay away from the bartender, dude!” Deb winked at him, as a parting shot, before heading on to the dance floor with Chandni, and Abhi made a face. Why on earth could she never find a normal guy, like the boring pinstriped jerks she would work with at some boring pinstriped office, he groaned.
But the music was excellent, and he found himself shedding his Scrooge suit after a few minutes. It was the kind of music they play for people who know what good music is, he told himself, with the realization that he was quite a snob really: not the kind of brainless trance or hip hop that was quite the rage anywhere on the world, but a touch of exotica, a touch of strum and soul that would render the most incapable brute of stopping in his tracks and smiling in his motion. Poetic? – perhaps, but to him, it was natural. So, he drifted over to the dance floor, with his drink in hand, even without a dance partner, dancing with his tall glass, noting how the people around him made way quite automatically for him. It was intoxicating. Or maybe, he was getting drunk, too.
That’s one of the stereotypes about us, Abhi moaned to himself, while moving his body on the floor, the old stereotype about gay men knowing how to dance well. A woman with an extra-size bust, crammed into a tight knee-length black dress moved onto the floor beside him, and flashed him a quick grin. Maybe she knows, he thought, maybe she can sense it – but aaa, what the fuck do I care about it?
It was all so unimportant, he decided, as his feet played to the beat, and he twirled Black Dress around on his arm.
“OMIGAWD! Abhiiiiiii,” - he recognized the shriek and turned to laugh, while Chandni pirouetted into his arms. Deb was laughing too, and he flashed a grin at Black Dress, who seemed a bit nervous now at the new entrants. But Chandni seemed unwilling to surrender her best friend back to Black Dress, and held fast onto him, dancing and laughing, letting Deb dance with her instead. A corner of Abhi’s mind wondered at this turn of events and whether everything was hunky-dory with them, but the greater part of him didn’t really care, and so he kept on twirling Chandni around.
She seemed to be having a great time, tanked up as she was. She turned and turned, and yelled on about how drunk she was, and what a great piece of ass Abhi was, when suddenly she groaned aloud, clutched her throat, and lurched to the floor. The greenish-grey vomit seemed red in here, a detached part of Abhi noted.
“Holy CRAP! Are you alright, Chandni? Chandni?” No astral projections of the parents to disturb him. Even Black Dress and Deb were hunched over her now.
Chandni nodded weakly, and tried to give a smile, not really succeeding. Most of the people around them still continued to dance, oblivious to anything at all. Somebody called for the management, and Abhi wanted to hit the person, when he made out the disgust in the man’s voice. “Baby, are you okay? You want to go to the loo? Baby?”
Black Dress knelt down now, and helped Chandni up. She was shivering suddenly. “I’ll take her. I’ll take her to the washroom. Can you walk?” She had a beautiful, soft voice, Abhi noted, suddenly exceedingly grateful.
Chandni nodded, and the two women moved slowly through the red hall packed with red people dancing in the red light to a music that had lost its charm to a now sobre Abhi. The manager had arrived now, and Deb was speaking to him, and then the attendant arrived with a bucket to wash the floor, while the manager put on his best Santa Claus imitation ho-ho-ho and asked the rest of the dancers to carry on dancing, as it was a minor glitch only. Abhi heaved a sigh forcefully in the red light, and brushed back his sweat-stricken hair with both his hands. There was a light slap on his back, and Deb boomed into his ear – “Wow, that was something, huh, champ?! Don’t think she’ll be back for more fun, do you?”
Abhi looked at his red face, which seemed to throb strangely in the music, even though the man was not moving, and saw the idiotic grin on his face, and turned away for the washroom, himself.
The loo was a bright white, something of what he expected of a secret FBI facility. Sparkling white, clinically spotless, great white square patches overhead that bathed the room in a white gleam, Parryware urinals that lined up next to each other like offering bowls in some futuristic temple, I have a morbid imagination, Abhi told himself, as he walked over to one of the urinals in a surprisingly steady gait, and unzipped his trousers. That was when he allowed himself to utter “Idiot!” out loud in the empty room.
As if on cue, Deb walked in, with his Gigolo Joe corduroys, black V-neck, and Lancer-matching shiny teeth. “I looked in on the Ladies, I think they’re almost done,” he declared, and came to stand at the urinal next to Abhi’s.
“So what have we got here?” – and Abhi started: “Excuse me?”
Deb laughed in staccato bursts, and said, “I mean, so what do you do, Abhi? I know that Chandni’s in the MBA thing. What about you?”
Abhi reminded himself to smile politely like all good Bengali boys are supposed to, and replied, “I work for a NGO. I live in Delhi.”
“O” silence, and Abhi hoped it would last, but it was not meant to – “So the gay scene in Delhi is supposed to be really rocking. You must be getting a lot of action there.”
Am I colouring? A part of him wondered in a detached fashion. No, I don’t think so. But it is strange for him to ask that. Why would he ask me that? What do I say now? Shall I keep quiet, or do I say something? Shall I laugh? I can laugh. I can laugh and blow it away. Shall I laugh?
The laugh died away on his lips, however, when he felt Deb’s hands touch his inner thighs just below his crotch, from behind, and Abhi’s entire body stiffened. Is this really happening?
and the detached part of him started chuckling at the absurdity of the entire situation.
“Or maybe you don’t really get much there – or you prefer good ole Calcutta boys, mmmm?” Deb whispered fiercely in his ear now, pressing his body against his behind, so that Abhi could make out his state of arousal. This feels like a hilarious porno flick,
Abhi started laughing inside, and there was the necessary interruption in such cases – the old, bald man in the safari suit who hurried in to one of the urinals, glancing suspiciously towards Deb and Abhi, as Deb quickly stepped back a couple of paces from Abhi. That was all the opening he needed. He stepped away from the urinals himself, flashed Deb a sardonic grin while passing him, and stepped out of the white room.
Black Dress and Chandni were standing right outside, and the music was still beating – “You ready to go home, babe?” Chandni nodded. Abhi turned to Black Dress and smiled his thanks, while Chandni touched her arm. They turned towards the entrance. “Chandni, wait – “ Deb’s voice came from behind, but neither of them stopped on their way out.*****6
The cab wound its way towards Prince Anwar Shah Road, and Chandni settled in Abhi’s arms, in the back seat. The cabbie’s eyebrows were interested at the prospect, but a careening Maruti distracted him, and he yelled “Haraami, maalkhor!
” at the driver whose tail lights were swishing in the dark, deserted city.
“I hope mum and dad are asleep,” Chandni murmured into Abhi’s shirt.
“I hope so, too.” There had been no more astral projections of the Chatterjees since they had left the pub, but he knew that as far as they were concerned, anything was possible. “Do you have the key?”
She felt around in her tiny black purse for a few seconds, and sighed – “Yes.”
Abhi looked at the closed shutters of the shops that were whizzing past, and imagined them a few hours from now, in the glinting sunlight, brimming with activity, with crowds of people in front of them, jostling for space, the roads swarming with busy, busy Calcuttans, on their way to work, on their way to a bit of gossip, anything that caught their fancy. And people said, it was a dying city! “So, how was your night?” he asked, after some time.
“Not bad. It was fun,” she mewed into his shirt, and then settled herself better so she wouldn’t suffocate into his chest – “I had fun,” she reaffirmed, “Didn’t you have fun?”
Abhi nodded. “I did,” he said, thinking about Irfaan’s dimples, and then, “What about your date? You took his number?”
Chandni shook her head and sniffed. “Nopes. Not interested. Felt me up too much,” and then she burst out laughing for some reason. He joined in. It was ridiculous, he thought, she was ridiculous – she had always been like this, for as long as he could remember, and he was suddenly laughing at all those times when he had laughed and laughed and laughed and…
They reached the house, and the lights were all off: Mr and Mrs Chatterjee were sound asleep in their beds, hopefully. He paid the fare, while Chandni unlocked the front door, and scampered up the stairs. He followed, taking care to be silent, even as he could hear her heavy footfalls dance above in the darkness. He thought about hissing a warning, but decided that his stupid hiss would probably wake up her stupid parents, so he kept silent, and followed her up to the terrace. Their red wine glasses still stood, tall and empty on the parapet, next to the candle that had flickered out, and the wine bottle that still contained some of the wine. Chandni switched on the terrace light and sat on the lawn chairs the Chatterjees lined their terrace with. There was an impressive view of the city around them, and Abbhi sauntered over to the edge to get a glimpse of the dark skyline. This was a quiet city, he mused, there was no glitter of fairy-lights in the distance, or tall sky scrapers on every road and gully, as in Delhi or Bombay, he thought. This was the city that was meant for you to come home to.
“Careful – don’t fall,” her baby-voice sounded through, and he turned to grin at her – “I won’t.”
She had poured herself some more wine, and was licking the fluted glass. She had been watching him, he realized, watching him watch the city, and the cloud of emotions and feelings flit continually over his face, wax and wane like some mutant moonlight. Chandni grinned now, her pixie grin, as he called it, and sipped some wine – “So, what’s more important than money?” she teased, scratching an imaginary spot on her long legs.
Abhi grinned, and gave her the answer she expected in her heart of hearts, “I’ll tell you when I find out.”
posted by livinghigh 1:17 PM...
Friday, February 11, 2005
I'm not sure when I'll be back, and I say so. Tarun looks at me, and I can't tell what his eyes are saying, through his glasses.
"It's not my fault," I tell him, "This is the way it was meant to be - as corny as that sounds. We both knew that I had to leave."
He nods, and shifts his attention back to the task of preparing coffee, or so he would like it to seem. I can tell there's more. I want to say something more, too, but I can't. Maybe I'll leave it for later, when the vodka is uncapped and the liquor burns our throats.
I'll miss this place, and I say so. He knows it. As much as I may call Gurgaon a dust bowl, I like sitting out here on Tarun's balcony, straddling the banister like I'm doing right now. I've done it for ages, it seems, and I'm going to miss not doing it for a long, long time.
"Are you going to try to come back?" he asks, and I wonder what to reply. It all seems to hopelessly comic at times. We almost seem like lovers when we talk like this. We're not lovers. We never have been. But somehow, it's there. It's been there since the time I was dating his best friend.
"I can try," I say, "But obviously, I won't be able to come back immediately. I'll have to be there for some time. It's a job, you know. I can't leave it just like that. You're better that way. You decide your own work. I don't."
He nods, and I think he's listening to the strains of the music now. We keep quiet for a while, till I feel the urge to dance. That happens to me, whenever I'm drunk and they're playing something in the background. It could be the most god-awful track in the world, but my feet will soon start tapping, my fingers will start drumming, I'll be wishing I could twirl and whirl on the floor. Tarun calls me a social embarrassment; I always knew he loved me.
"I'm going to miss Delhi," I repeat for the hundredth time that evening, and I think the vodka is finally taking effect. Tarun grins at me, I think he's getting a bit drunk too, and he ruffles my head. I'm teetering on the banister, but I wouldn't get off for the world. I'm high, right now, and it doesn’t matter that six months in Delhi have seen me through two-and-a-half relationships and I'm still single. Tarun hasn't been in a relationship for the last two years, and we celebrate our single again-together again status like this, every week, over a bottle.
"You're getting very mushy now," he grins, and I know he's wicked to say so.
"You're wicked to say so. I'm being nice and sentimental. I'm going to miss you, you sodden old cow!"
"I like the way Gurgaon winks at me," I say, leaning forward, my knees pressed together.
"Delhi doesn't wink?" he asks, bemused.
"It's too full of people and buildings to wink. It's bustling and jostling. Or it's empty. It doesn't wink like this." And I spread my hand to show the tall blinking lights from the call centre buildings and MNC towers that glitter in the dark and empty Gurgaon landscape. "A friend of mine once told me, she thought Gurgaon looks like Las Vegas at night, popping out of the desert!"
And he laughs, rich and throaty. "I love your friend! Do you have her number?"
"Save it," I retort, pushing up my left eyebrow in a gesture I do so well, "She's moving to Bombay, with the rest of us." (He shrugs.) "And anyhow, she's not your type."
"She's not the one I saw you talking with, outside your building? The cute, high-brow one?"
I laugh in a cackle. I wonder what my 'high-brow' friend would say, on hearing she's been noticed by him. She's the most darling creature you ever saw, the most unpossessing creature, who finds it so utterly ridiculous to think that there are men in the world who would find her attractive, the kind of women who usually have the most admirers. "No, she's not the one. This one's different. This one is the Big Flirt. Love her, hate her, bitch with her, bitch about her. Like Delhi."
Horrible joke, but we still raise a toast. The bottle is almost empty, I notice.
"I touched your board once," I say suddenly, pointing towards the lighted mini-hoarding hanging from the balcony, proclaiming Tarun's business to the outside world. "I got a huge jolt of electricity. I was surprised at first, and actually touched it again."
Tarun dissolves in laughter. He's pouring himself the last of the bottle's contents, and spills quite a lot on the tabletop. "I'm sure you were so frikkin' high!"
"I was! I was!" It's funny, and I admit that I'd laughed even then, when I'd realised that first time, it was a current jolt through my hand. Realisation takes her own sweet time. Sometimes, I plough ahead, even with her sage advice on my shoulders.
Quiet walks bring reflection; that at least is a universal truth you don't have to be a prophet to discover. Dead of night, and the roads are empty. The bus ride back home to Patel Nagar from Gurgaon has been uneventful. The bus was almost empty, the driver was wrapped up in his private world, and I focused on the quiet trees rustling past the window. We made good time.
I love drives in the dead of night. I love walks in the dead of night. Would I were a wolf, I would howl. Would I were a human, I would hug myself to eternity, as I do now. Trudge in a world that is vastly different from the hustle and bustle of West Delhi that I know so well. This is the world I know best. I'm a pretender at times in my private reverie, and I have learnt to treasure these moments so much, all the more because I know Bombay will leave me so little of quiet moments like these.
Tomorrow (technically, today) I leave Delhi. And like I told Tarun, I don't know when I'll be back. I hate the feeling of not knowing. They say, it's good to not know, and let Fate take her course. I suppose I have an innate dislike and distrust for Fate. She takes me for granted, and the egoist in me cannot handle that. So this is my way of ranting against Fate. A walk in the dead of night, in a Delhi that has gone asleep, the night sky with a mother-of-pearl glow to the east if I crane my neck, and me silently brooding.
It's hard to leave a place where you had your first heartbreak. Love is easy, something tells me. Love can be re-found. But heartbreak teaches you so much, much more. Like when you’re riding on a bike and you pass this coffee shop where you once stood waiting for someone. Like when you're hanging on a bus and hear the song that was 'your' song. What can you do in such situations, but wince once and smile wryly? Heartbreak teaches you endurance, falling in love teaches you to let your guard down. I'm an old dog in an old town, sniffing for something to remind me again that I'm happy with my career move. An internal recorder replays all the things I told Tarun earlier today (technically, yesterday) - It's not my fault, this is the way it was meant to be, it's a job, I can't leave it just like that, You decide your own work. I don't - but it doesn't quite ring a bell. I have my cake, and suddenly I don't want to eat it anymore.
I remember standing in front of the Jama Masjid for the first time, and simply looking up. I stood at the floor of the stairs that led up to the huge structure and watched it awhile. Nothing else. After some time, I made my perambulations, took my amateur photographs, and settled in a corner of the mosque, watching the imam call the faithful to the prayer. It was an exercise in awe. To watch the people stream forth from the four main doors of the mosque and kneel before the great big dome in prayer. It was inspiring. I gave in to the temptation and clicked some more snaps. But then, I watched, patient. And I heard the chants of the faithful. The lone voice in the empty air, followed by the sounds that came from a hundred, thousand, (how many?) people shifting on their knees, their sounds as they bowed before their God. I watched the sun set over that great big dome and wondered at the magnificence of it all. The pigeons at the long trough of water before the Masjid remained as they were, playful, alert, energetic, thirsty, but in some way mindful of the somber occasion encircling them. I stayed till the sun set and then I had returned home.
I think of that first day in front of the Masjid now, even as I stand in a deserted West Delhi street, before the house I have lived in for the past few months. Already, there are signs of activity within, or so my hyperactive imagination tells me. It's time to go. I'm packed. It's time to go. I've said my goodbyes to all my friends. Well, all except this great big gigantic city that has an untouchable soul.
posted by livinghigh 10:31 AM...
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Act I – The Dressing Room
I'm tired, but it's nothing a chocolate will not cure, I tell myself, and pop the little drug of instant contentment in my mouth. I wash my face, feel the cool spray of water from the basin, and the warm melting of the caramel at the back of my throat. It's strange to be so dual like this - completely fagged out to the dry marrow of my bones and yet so utterly raring to step out the door. That's where I want to be, so completely out on Page 3, so completely crass. It's so strangely chameleon-like of me: something that is not me wants to be a part of something else. And the part that is me, that part stays so outside of it all, observing, watching, hoping for a kill, hoping for some... contact to happen.
Spray of water, and I turn on the shower, feel the warm needles sting and surge, and watch the pool collect at my feet, the same water trickling down my body now configured in some strange way into a kind of effluent. It reminds me of worship. I scratch idly behind an ear and cup my hands to collect the flush of warm liquid below my neck. I feel my body responding in its own natural rhythm, parts creaking and wilting, aching and suffusing, drinking rapidly, trying to catch a glimpse of the succor that moisture promises. I wonder what people living in deserts do, how they live, and how they revel, and how they wash away their lethargy, their sins, their hopes - whether they have fluffy terry towels to calm their soothed tendons, and I laugh at myself, at my brand of strange idiocy reserved for my introspective moments.
It's funniest when you laugh at yourself, somebody once told me. Why do so few people remember that, I wonder.
I rub the bathroom mirror that has got all fogged up, and peer at myself. I do that a lot. People call me egoistic. I don't know what I stare for, but I do it anyway. It still looks blurry, despite my hand’s caress. It's hot and foggy here in the bathroom, and I feel an insane urge to giggle. They say, it's funniest when you laugh at yourself, but I don't see anything funny here at all. At one point of time, or so they tell me, there was something about me.
Act II – The Game
Drawing lines has always been easy for me, and I've always done it. I've been able to differentiate between love and pity, between work and profession, holiday and vacation, chocolate and chocolat
, sex and love. You would hate me for it, to know how easily it all comes to me. I walk into a room and spy out the thing I want and I beckon, and it comes. Dressed in a black pinstriped shirt, open at the throat, exposing a tanned Adam's apple that I can taste even now, and can barely contain myself from biting into. They call me a vamp, at times, when they can think of nothing else. I can tell the difference, between the hate they centre on me and the envy they try to suppress. They want him as much as I do.
It's as simple as that. Simple as letting your hair down on a large velvet couch, reveling in the delectable decadence of life. This is where I can do and be anything at all. A masquerade. This, or the life before I strolled in through the door? Sometimes I lose the point. I'm only human – though they call me the vamp sometimes.
He's sitting next to me now, his dancing green eyes looking at my neck. I can tell that he wants me. It never takes too long.
I want love, I tell myself. Or I tell my alter ego in the mirror, the one who can't speak but makes these tired expressions through dumb eyes, dumb nose, dumb mouth, wide-eyed looks of pathos and mercy and pain that I can't feel. I crave love, and she knows that. She would help me find it, had I any idea about it myself. I thought I did, at one point of time. I know what’s not love. What’s not love is this -
He's lying on my bed, on his back, and I can hear him breathe. Ragged. He's tired. I can be a handful. Snigger.
I'm proud of myself. I prod at his black pinstriped shirt on the floor with my toe, delicately. I wonder if I ripped it in my haste. Does he want me to take care of him, I wonder. Do I have to take him home every day, ask him how it was at the photo-shoot, treat him to some ice cream, pander to his ego, and tell him he fucks like the devil... and gift him a Rolex when it's time for him to leave. They wonder how I get them all, and sometimes I wonder the same. It's something inside me. Something the alter ego and I share, through our little portal, the mirror. It's not love, it never could be. But it's interesting, and she knows it. She wants me to see what’s happening to me, and I wonder if she knows more than she’s telling me. I need some more wine.
Act III – The Flashback
They say, I had love once. The mirror-girl whispers in my ears, whenever she has the chance, that they speak the truth. Maybe I've become too bitter to see that myself now. Bitter about why he left me and why I pushed him away. I can tell the difference, but I wonder why I still can't say what it was with him. Maybe that's a sign. That's what the mirror-girl would have me believe!
How stupid do you think I am?! Anymore stupid than he
thought I was? Not likely.
Sometimes, the memories come flitting when I'm lying in bed, sipping my wine and sucking on a piece of mint. Standing at a shop window and waiting for him. Watching the yellow light of the floor spill out onto the sidewalk and touch my toes, and I wonder whether I've been touched by an angel. I wonder why he's late, but I'm glad he is. It gives me this time to think and pause and revel and feel. I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, it has to be, it can't get better than this - I must be in love, so this is how it feels, this, this, this strange mushrooming of a cloud I can't tell what is made of, or the strange colour that's dancing in front of my eyes -
Bitter pill to swallow. And I tell myself stories. I eat chocolate and I cry. That's a horrible thing to have to do. So I dress. And tell myself to forget about what might have been. The girl in the mirror is a bitch. She's not be believed. She's a liar and a trollop who sleeps around with anything that makes a pass at her. She's loose. O my god
, she's loose.
He saw me with the boy in blue one night. It was a mistake. I fell. I wasn't supposed to fall, but I did. It was a mistake. Shouldn't he have caught me? Shouldn't he have let me go and have another chance? I fell. I thought it would be fine. Love is love and sex is sex. I tried to tell him. But even the alter ego turned traitor on me. I was alone, and he left.
Boy in blue was still grinning sheepishly. He wanted some more from me. I was a slut. If that was what I was, it would have been fine. I could deal with it. What I couldn't deal with, was all the strange conflicting views in the mirror when I shattered it: one alter ego had been bad enough, a thousand million were terrifying.
Act IV – The Hook
But a life such as mine is boring, compared to the ones around me. There's a wild thumping in the background, and a crescendo in my brain. I've lost track of the number of times I've burned my throat at this bar, watching the strange Bohemian fantasy unfold around me. My world is in shades of fiery reds and enthralling blues and deep dark cloaks of purple. Somebody calls me a bitch, and I raise my pitch of laughter a notch so that they can hear me laugh, and know that I heard them. It's not as if I care. It's not as if I'm listening. I'm in love. With a man who’s gone. Did I actually say that? Was it the truth, or was I dreaming? Did I say that or was I joshing? Was it the caramel or the champagne that made me say it? The alter ego isn't here, so I can't blame it on her today. I wonder if I should be heart broken. I wonder what made me say that. Maybe it was the fact that I'm sitting in a corner here, watching him dance with a stranger in the middle of the room.
I wonder if I'm jealous and think I probably am. That might explain the casual diffidence with which I'm treating the sluts behind me who called me a bitch. I'm in love with this man. I'm in love with this man who I cheated on. He doesn't even see me. I'm not sure whether I want him to see me.
He's holding his dance partner very close, an arm around a waist, a chin on a head, a pair of lips closed but not tight, a smile at the edges of his mouth, a smile that has still not made up its mind whether or not to appear. He's thinking about something, perhaps dreaming
of something, and his body is turning while he’s dancing. It's strangely fantastic, a smorgasbord of strangeness all concentrated on this one moment, on this one man. I'm ignoring his partner, I'm even ignoring myself - we don't count. He's the star. The Star.
His eyes have opened, and he's seen me.
Act V – The Hang-over
Perhaps Dialogue should follow. My alter ego gazes back at me, wondering at the look of contemplation I'm giving it. I'm tired, bone-tired, and I'm not sure the wine is working.
Tall, lovely, shining, glittering crystal, fluted with all the most pleasing proportions man can ask for. It seems to be able to promise something, but maybe deliverance depends on you. It's like some horribly shriveled apple that rolled down from Eden - it has a promise, it whispers a dream to you, and you feel yourself charged up, ready for action. The curse is in that it promises the same to all and sundry, so you think you're equal to a task even when you're not. So you try and try and you fail and fail, and you curse the fates for ever conceiving a feature such as you, but in the haste of your vanity, you tend to forget that little piece of apple that promised you so much and haunted you so much.
Turn the tap, and watch the water stream down from the showerhead, sizzle and burn on the floor, marble tiles writhing in water agony, tender heart trying to feel what else is made of stone. My bath is a plea today, as much as it is a longing - help me, help me, help me to understand what it is he wants!
Help me to understand what it is the bitch wants. I'm not sure I ever knew.
I'm trying to let the fear flow out of me, trying to let the exhaustion seep and collect into the pools of destitution at my feet before they drain away into the gutter. I rest against the wall and watch the water jump and sparkle on my skin and I trace a finger over the crevices of my body. It's a very silly thing I keep asking myself, over and over: Is the fear going? Is it gone? Is it gone? My own adult version of that silly little thing the child-me kept asking my parents on a trip – are we there yet? Are we there yet
I don't know. The facts, put squarely before me, are thus –
I turn the tap off. I scrub my body, taking as much time as possible. I glance at the alter ego, but there's a silence there that none of us can breach. I hold my breath and walk out of the bathroom. There's my bed. There's the fluffy blue slippers I must slip my feet in, before strolling over to the bed. There's the man I love lying asleep, one hand trailing on the soft rug of the floor, looking like some new-age Cupid some new-age Medusa has seduced into her den.
I know I should be elated that he came. There's something in this that troubles me, though, and doesn't leave, even when the customary caramel is ingested. I don't know what he's doing here.
I don't know why he made love to me tonight. Why he kissed me, with his tongue making me touch heavens of self-discovery. Why he walked over to me in the club when he caught sight of me. Why he laughed softly, into my ear, when I told him afterwards how I had always loved him.
I don't know. Whether it's still a game, even when the player has thrown in the towel.
posted by livinghigh 8:22 PM...