The trunk

Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say:

Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

-Omar Khayyam

 

There are times when I just want to randomly select and take out a newspaper from amongst the piles stacked up in the little place next to the terrace.

There was a time when we did not have a specific place to store those things that we did not need anymore and yet had not decided if they could be done away with. But this place certainly had to be outside the viewing range of the men of the house, lest their already reputed temper led to some sort of an explosion. Enter a trunk.

Big enough to fit a full grown cow minus the holy head, we placed it in that little place, which remained quite dark unless one of us opened the door right next to it leading to the terrace, during the day. Once painted black, it has had patches of the paint come off from several places revealing a layer of brown beneath the original layer of paint. But it does not matter to the trunk, because you cannot see it anymore. With newspapers flocking in by the hundreds, the trunk has sheltered more than it can before getting lost somewhere in the midst of the fast growing gargantuan.

But a newspaper does not qualify for a berth in the trunk until it has done time in a cabinet in one of the rooms in the ground floor of the house. There, very newly discarded from usefulness, they ease into a word or two with their new companions: empty bottles of whisky my father has had. They stay there, peacefully coexisting and completely unaware of what their consumers have gone on to achieve both instantly and in time. The newspapers may have been read. The whisky in the bottles may have kept the regrets at bay. But now they have been rendered useless alike. And the melancholy that surrounds them is palpable. But do these empty bottles, much like the new newspapers, wonder where the old newspapers go to when the cupboard can take no more and therefore vacated?

The distinct smell of paper wafts out of this place. Just like that smell that pervades into the deep reaches of your lungs when you have crackled open a newspaper at the break of daylight. Covered in dust and infested with silverfish and the occasional lizard trampling away at the slightest disturbance, this is the place where you would find yourself after having been in the sun in the terrace and right before taking a bath, if at all. But if I am anywhere near this heap of mess, and do not have anything to do anytime soon that would need me to be clean, the idea of wresting out a newspaper from the bottom of the pile and looking at the date at the top seems ineluctable. I look at the date, and then look away, trying fondly to remember what happened on that day and marvel at being able to live past the end-of-the-world events which were always deemed imminent. Once just another object that was thrown hard aimed at the face by a questionable man as he rode away on his bicycle while we sipped on the first cup of tea in the balcony alert and ready to dodge, was now some sort of a relic of the day gone by, dripping with nostalgic potential. This bygone day may have felt like any other when I had no other option but to live it, but not now. Not today. The date seems to bring forth a surge of feelings, entailing a period of time.  It is strange how much of the news on the paper, like some of the events in our lives, are all but irrelevant now.

Not before long, I had a newspaper in my hand, taken out from somewhere at the bottom of the stack, dated 14th January, 2015. I look away, through the door, out as far as my two eyes can see. But I couldn’t see too far thanks to the even taller houses that have reared their heads to surpass ours in height, if not in soul. I carefully rest the paper on top of the pile. It looked displaced, even naked, devoid of the fabric of dust under which the others of its kind took refuge.

It was cold and I think I lit a cigarette in the balcony as she made a makeshift bed for us, out of one of the mattresses that were laid out in the drawing room for visitors and a pillow from the actual bed pushed up against the wall in her room. This bed, though big enough to accommodate us when we have cuddled up into one, promised peril for when one of us teetered on the unwalled edge later having pushed each other apart to focus on the sleep at hand. She may have then lied down waiting for me silently, facing half the pillow she saved for me to rest my head, expecting little. Closing the door behind me, I slowly slipped in next to her and held her, more out of habit than love. We may have watched something funny on her laptop before this, she turning to me and kissing me on the cheek every time I laughed. And the next thing I remember is dragging myself into the kitchen much after she had not left a place on my face unkissed, in an unsuccessful attempt to wake me up in the morning. She packed her lunch for work, and then parted with almost half of it lest I reach work hungry.

The newspaper will disintegrate into nothingness, earlier than a few, and after the rest. But the memories from the day will not follow them. They march into a little box, waiting to be pried open at the slightest nudge.

The night is darkest and the stars shine with vigor and virility. Dreams, however grotesque they may sometimes be, seldom fail to fulfill the unfulfilled.

I decide not to smoke. She doesn’t like the idea of me smoking. But I am in the balcony now, so I look through the clothes hanging on the ropes connecting one side to the other to the person pacing from one side of his balcony to the other with a phone in one hand, in the house bang opposite to the one where I was. Then I walk inside, help her with the bed and hug her tight once I had her stand up on the bed. This way I can place my head against her chest. I looked at her a little while longer than I usually do through the meshed steel gate when she opened the wooden door at the sound of the bell a while back. The mesh, though successful at keeping burglars away is rather ineffective when it comes to thwarting love. I arrived early from work. But she knew it was me who rang the bell. And she galloped her way to the door like I was her pizza, delivered much before thirty minutes. She had saved some food for me, by eating less herself. That hunger coupled with the chagrin of her friends, the other tenants, who too may have had a bit more to eat if it wasn’t for the share she parted with me. Later, when we watched that show on her laptop, I turned abruptly cutting my laugh short, so I offered my lips to her, instead of my cheek, surprising her. Then, dropping the idea of sleeping on the mattress, we sleep on the bed instead. And though her back moves further away from the wall and I move further towards the edge as we slip deeper and deeper into the night, she makes sure she has one hand around my back, and one around my neck. She can never let me fall.

 

 

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Where the evening is spread out against the sky

People who barge into your room early in the morning while you’re still in bed and sit next to you in that very bed and talk and talk about shit like you have woken up two hours ago right around the time they have, aren’t cool. They keep talking because either your mouth has puffed up so abnormally from the extra amount of sleep you have had that it is hard to read your obvious irritation, or this person just loves you too much and at the heart of hearts, is still a mischief. I usually throw my sheet aside and get up with an angry grunt, but the strength of the grunt has consistently dissipated with time as I have realized that no antic will alleviate the disturbance next morning. In fact there is a better chance of the disturbance aggravating. I tend to sap this anger from a bad wake-up shining shoes. I shine them well beyond their potential, take a shower, eat my breakfast and go to work. But I could not find a shoe to shine this morning.  Because I am back home in Calcutta and I do not go to work here. And the din I yearn to shut my ears against is thamma, the quintessential Bengali grandmother.

It’s far past noon and this part of the city is fast asleep. I’m visiting my grandmother after three months. That Bengalis cannot function without the afternoon nap is stuff of legend. And when there is no more napping to be had, they choose not to function anyway. Calcutta has had too much of life, and the city doesn’t give a fuck anymore. She makes for the gate when she hears the car park. It gets so quiet at this time of the day that you can almost hear the car from as far as a kilometer away rolling over the pebbles on the road while it takes that turn. She held me tight as I alighted the car. One could’ve called it a hug if she was a foot taller. But she wasn’t. She smelt of a Pears soap bar, and Boroline  Suthol. Taking her head away from my stomach where it rested when she held me tight, she listed her concerns. She had thoroughly studied me from the corner of her eyes as we made our way from the gate to the dining room.

She – “You have lost a lot of weight.”

Me – “You said I put on a lot of weight last time.”

She – “You have become shorter.”

Me – “That’s unlikely.”

She keeps on –“You look odd, have you been doing drugs?”

I keep up –“I don’t do drugs, maybe the odd cigarette.”

She won’t stop –“Cigarettes are worse. Wish you did drugs instead.”

Then there’s a bit of a lull as we make for her room and lie down on her bed, me facing the ceiling and my right hand comfortably sandwiched between the back of my head and the pillow, the other hand toying with the heavily rimmed spectacles she is not presently wearing. Both our legs are folded and crossed now on either side of the bed. Her eyes are fixed on me. The smell of incense hung heavy. It is a part of the ambience she deliberately creates to make the setting look pious enough to promise eternal damnation if one did not heed her words.

The ultimatum – “You have lost a bit of hair and you look old. Cut that beard. And don’t go drinking with that friend you have here.”

The first hour with her, after those months apart, have always been this way, at least for as long as I can remember. Now happiness. Now existential crisis. Now murderous irritation.  But the bed is warm, and I lay on the side of the bed where her husband, my dada got himself a much needed shuteye when he was still around. It has been a long time since then. He looked at us from a photo perched on a bureau. This photo must have been taken much before I was tumbled forth into existence and he looked half the age of the person I remember from his last days.

The excitement of being at home after long plateaus with each passing day. But even at its most mundane I would prefer the comfort of grandma’s mutton and bhaat to any ‘mid pleasures and palaces’. Hell I would rather have her tell me I look old and drugged than have my landlady in Delhi say she loves me, any day of the week. That’s home for you, and the love of your own.

Caveat : My landlady is quite presentable and must have been a piece of ass back in the day.

The breeze in the evening, just a touch cooler than the temperature of the day, brings with it the smell of earth, dead leaves and shiuli. If you have grown up in this part of the country back when I did, and ever cared to venture out of your study, you’d know that the breeze smelt the same a couple of decades back. The smell stood the test of time, through all the several events leading to the here and now.

What will be

But she is tinier than I remember her to be, not to mention much older. All that she seems to have retained from her younger body is her ear, big and always on the lookout for information within the four walls and beyond. It would have moved fetching for news if it were any more curious. When I will leave her home in Calcutta until next time, I won’t be able to help but think about our mortality. None of us will live forever and neither will she. I sip on the ginger and lemon tea she has made, much like she does every evening, sitting on a chair in her verandah. The same very place I rushed to after having dropped my school bag and loosened my tie when I came back from school, years ago. The view from this place hasn’t changed. Granted a few trees have been felled here and there, some houses redone and the couple on the balcony in the adjacent house looks older. But you can see the new shoots coming out of the barks, the paint on the newly done houses wear away by rain and time to what it once was and the couple fight as passionately as when they were younger. The difference is hard to tell. Read between the lines and one realizes, that no matter what, the show will go on.

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Time

As I sit here and type, I bleed. Just as Mr. Hemingway in his infinite wisdom expected of someone who has ever decided to write something.  For one, this feels much better than bleeding on the inside while I lie on my bed tucked away in a blanket. I tried to sleep, for hours on end. But I just couldn’t seem to get any. So I rolled from one side of the bed to the other, several times, pretending that it was in the posture that the uneasiness lay. Nothing in the vicinity could comfort my thumping heart. So I decided to get up, wash my face and type away.

Any relationship that has stood the test of time has the knack for travelling a circular trajectory as opposed to a straight one. Seldom is there a clear end. Most of us go back and forth not just for the comfort of the familiar or fear of starting anew but also because it becomes special with time and even too precious to part with. One tries of course, if the situation demands.

Passion rekindles when you least expect it to. It was almost impossible in these ‘rekindled moments’ to remember how nauseating our very presence had become for each other when we had fallen out of love. There were times we took each other for granted, not treated each other as well, even showing the door to one another without a valid reason. But as nature would have it, it wasn’t before long that we gravitated back towards each other. And there were no explanations put forth and no questions asked. That’s the effect of ‘time’, which would much rather prefer a silent assessment that a dust-up. One can’t help but hark back to Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby for reference, a relationship rife with Tom’s unabashed misdemeanors and extramarital affairs. But the surge in Tom’s emotions when he feels Daisy slipping away from his hands into Jay Gatsby’s, is more than palpable. This is clearly more than misplaced ego on part of Tom. This is platonic love, imperfect though it may seem. He tries to come back stronger and reminds her of the times he did truly ‘love’ her. Reminds her of those little moments, those that were all but lost in the pages of time. That, coupled with Jay Gatsby’s irrational demand that she should tell Tom that she NEVER loved him and that her marriage to him was just a ‘filler’ before she could finally be with Jay made the situation all the more difficult for her. Daisy drifted away further into Tom’s arms, never to return.

Condescending and unapologetic, Tom Buchanan was the husband few women aspire to spend a life with, but one that most of us turn out to be with regardless. Jay Gatsby on the other hand seemed like the ideal man, waiting several years to find his feet and ask for Daisy’s hand in marriage only to blow it in a matter of seconds.

Life doesn’t always tip the scales in favor of the good, probably because ‘good’ is nothing if not a matter of perception. What is good according to one person might not be quite so according to another. It just seems like ‘time’ almost always has a pivotal role to play here. A relatively average proposition that turns up at an opportune moment looks so much better than the best proposition which raises its head when the time is not quite right.  Or maybe we haven’t been able to tell the good and the bad apart. In that case we will just have to see a lot of either until we can tell the difference.

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About a girl

I told her I had decided to go home in the evening of the same very day I begged her to meet me. I remember waking up late in the dark room, the light barely managing to trickle in. Half my face sunk into the pillow and the other half facing away from the light, I looked blankly at the idols of some of the Hindu Gods that were placed symmetrically at one corner of the room. They looked like a team. I had an entire day ahead of me and I knew it would mean nothing if I did not get to see her.

I decided to go home because I realized I needed to turn my back on her. Her family was preparing to get her married and our clandestine love affair had to stop, sooner or later. Not only because it felt right, but because years of being in a relationship with her had made me realize that she was better than any of those girls who could sneak into a guy’s room while contemplating another relationship, with aplomb. Actually she is so much better than anyone else that I have known thus far that I couldn’t allow her this hush affair with me, even though she wasn’t going to get married anytime soon. She is pure, without the slightest blemish. And that is exactly what I told her, punctuated by the blubbering, on either side of the phone. But she would continue to meet me if it wasn’t for this conversation, because she knew she was all I had. So I had decided I’d go home, far away from the city that she had made me fall in love with, and spare her the misdeeds that would ensue.

It was almost noon and my stomach felt sick. It was either from the food I had at Jama Masjid late last night or the conversation I had with her later. She said she had moved on, though not entirely. That she had had her share of grief and crying in order to get over me, all this while crying some more. I lift my head to check the phone with one hand as the other gently stroked my groin imagining what would happen when she came over. Things get hotter manifolds when slipping out of our hands. She was no different. There have been day and months I have not so much as spoken to her, expecting her to stay regardless. I disrespected time maybe and I was not spared.

I told her, among many things, that I did not feel as strongly about the idea of living any more, in that conversation first thing I woke up. That visibly left her shaken. She did everything she could to stop what looked like the imminent. And few messages that ensued from my end reinforced my feelings and that led her to add everybody who knew me on facebook and messenger to stop me. She has always been like that, a mother to me, doing all that she possibly can to get me in line, only to love me some more. I wasn’t going for a ‘sweet release’ maybe, but a little attention doesn’t hurt.

On Sunday evening she said she would meet me on Monday after work and spend all of Tuesday with me instead. But that wasn’t to be. I picked up the phone, braved the surge of emotions to tell her parting ways was the best thing to do. That I believe in miracles, but yet if nothing transpired that I will meet her on the other side with as much love in my chest. If she was standing near me, I would have hugged her tight and kissed her in the warm region between the nose and her right eye. But I could only pretend she was not crying as much as she really was and tell her it was alright. I wish I could kiss her forehead and tell her, on the contrary to what she felt, we would keep talking to each other. But the water was turbulent under the bridge and I either wouldn’t be able to heal if I spoke to her or relapse if I had healed. She meant too much. It wasn’t long before I disconnected the call and all the crying had dissipated into a lull.

Calcutta gives me hope. The soupy air and cool summer breeze makes me melancholic and nostalgic. I turned by back on Delhi because her memories linger there in every corner. But I turned my back to Delhi for a city simmering with similar emotions, though maybe less. The restaurants where we have eaten, the streets we have trawled and the rooms we surrendered ourselves unto each other, they are all still here, probably with similar people, doing similar things, destined to meet the same fate.

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