Friday, April 30, 2010

SOME VELVET IN THE MORNING

Before this age is lost
on old couplets damp with love
djinns born of bored liaisons
singing soulful romeo songs
as granted was a dying wish
with end so near to me

They decided to meet on a hot afternoon, like so many others did before them, running into each other’s arms, their chests exploding with anxiety and happiness. The men and women judged them, just like they judged others who dared to defy invisible rules and gods. It was not important which of the two arrived, they both simply waited for the moment when they will cry and smile and blurt out I Love yous reluctantly, hoping that the words get stuck in their throats.


Sometime, long ago, you could sit with your legs stretched, invisible drops of rain tickling your feet. The road across dry, not a whiff of cloud above the tarmac, not a patch of grey turning into black. But for the orange terrace, drenched in a flash of rain.


Sometime, not so long ago, a wish found its way into tired palms, that squeezed cheeks lined with salt tears running down as disobedient tributaries of a long dried river, trying hard to erase memories. Memories of exchanged glances, words of meaning and meaningless feelings. The kind that centuries of artistes and poets, scribbled on papers that turned into gold, or other notions of preciousness.


On a terrace of faded orange that burnt to white in the strong sun shining through the remainder of centuries calculated as time born of gases burning into exciting sparks of life, in the month of September, while Sinatra crooned in some desolate corner trapped inside four walls of concrete. Some clothes fluttered in a silent wind, holding on to a plastic line clipped by plastic wings that wouldn’t let them fly. They were purple, red, white that is washed, and grey which was not faded. A smile came through regular cracks in the floating clouds, a smile she never saw, but pretended to replicate in the one hundred and seventy two conversations she had with herself.


“Of all the ways I imagined I’d meet you, this was not one of them.”


But memories of the future deserve their due as well, so maybe it would be more pleasing if they met on a strange night, in a crowded room full of friends and foes. She will dance her old moves while he will watch her indifferently, conscious of the bodies separating her from the others. Glimpses of his infrequent glances might frustrate her but it will be a perfectly rehearsed act. When she will walk towards him, smiling cruelly, as if mocking his lusty intentions, he will lock her gaze and strip her naked. No more pretensions. She will hold his arm and dig her nails into his flesh. He will hug her and tickle her waist. They will start laughing like kids who no longer remembered the rules of hide and seek.


They invented black canvases of papyrus, celluloid or silicon, unknowingly feeding delusions of grandeur, expression and human evolution. Were they to know the evil that was to be unleashed, the ordinary turning them, the extraordinary into mere languages of the masses, they would have stayed by wooden fires, inhaling the moist smokes of smouldering ash and sang riddles meant for only the very few, the few that could not sing those songs ever again.


And of the land that emerged from chaos to witness history. A history of ultimate demise, through fractions of time. Once they tried to teach her of division, the division of this very time, which only existed in the cyclical notions of birth and death. That history played itself through a play on a stage that only someone eons away could watch but never be close enough to narrate or reply. The land remains, waiting for that far away creature to find its way through galaxies and a non –existent span of black nothingness. Sometimes, when the four year old child tries to remember the white sheets of hair she combed as a childhood game, she never played but was told of, looks up at the dark night sky, a burden of thousands of tonnes falls upon her chest, as she tries to conceive of the shape of the blackness above her. The stars might twinkle, the wind decides to blow for a few hundred kilometres, but her heart shudders at the blackness abound, of where it exists in her mind which cannot conceive of nothing she can’t touch, she can’t smell, she can’t feel.


And finally when they met, the only company they had was an old mattress with wine stains lying in a cold bare room filled with her careless laughter. Their naked bodies not touching but her feet occasionally rubbing against his to keep them warm. His head was resting on her elbow and his eyes were watching her talk animatedly about everything and nothing. She talked about classic rock, chasing bees out of a hive, failing to buy boots and a long story about a man getting lost in Paris even though she had never been to Paris. He knew her eccentric tales, predictable moves and shiny eyes but could not remember her name. She knew his songs, his melody and the colour of his socks but was a stranger to her childish heart; the only one who fed on dry sarcasm and professed undying love for her. He hated her for chain smoking, smelling of mint and singing Phil Collin songs. She loved the moles on his chest, his condescending nods and bored eyes. He wished she would grow up lying next to him; she wished he would love her again. When she finally fell asleep, the pit of his neck was filled with her warm breath and his thoughts with her dreams.


Once, after cycling along with the rotating land, she allows another child, only in mind not in soul to touch her inside that darkness. Cold fingers turn moist and tickle the neurons that lay convoluted in a cavity and turn the mass of her scaled flesh, and thick red corpuscles into waves of common ecstasy. Her hair turns white and she longs for a comb to run through the million tangles, that are crawling all over shoulder, falling across a shrivelled bosom and a corroded spine upon the terrace that is now mere grey dust covering a skeleton of iron and rust. She looks up and catches the blue cracks in clouds made of rabbits, deer, jesters and rodents. The dying embers of her star filter through and fall upon her eyelids now waiting to shut themselves for what could be forever, but the dying wish will be granted, only when the traces of his body erase themselves, leaving only long forgotten scars that were cherished as love. Sometimes, eternal.



She now remembers the rest of the script.
She watches his naked back and a cloud of smoke as he leaves.
She kisses his forehead and the red bruises turning purple.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

THE BASEMENT JACK

I woke up once again with the sound of a drill going through concrete floors. Today, it seemed to be inside my head too. I lay motionless, waiting for the grinding to stop, or to prolong the arrival of what was to come. The day ahead.

As I lay there watching an innocent cobweb flutter back and forth like a dead captain’s sail, the noise started to fade into whiteness and the nausea in my head began to ebb. The workers started work at ten, and I had not needed an alarm for the past two months.

The construction began three weeks after I moved into the basement of (well it was only a basement with nothing above it), with a carton of books, three pairs of trousers, five shirts, two shoes, one music player and a toilet kit. The broker found me a broom lying behind the over ground toilet and took a year’s deposit in exchange. The basement was built over a quarter of the plot of land, a city regulation perhaps, and it served as an underground bunker with rusted iron beams poking out of its roof, or shall I say the ground, marking this unsavoury hole’s existence. My colleague had found the lone basement rather macabre and had abandoned me as his prospective roommate.

It wasn’t that I liked the basement. I simply did not want to ride the broker’s scooter for another ten kilometres and look at five more rooms, no better than the one under the ground. Besides, there was no landlord to avoid, no neighbour to befriend, no dog to beware. It suited me just fine.

When the workers arrived, they did not inform me and used my toilet at leisure. The contractor later reasoned that there had been no door bell to ring, and that I should argue with the landlord about my living situation. I would have done that had the broker not told me that the landlord lived in San Francisco and was dying of pancreatic cancer. One of his four sons had decided to build a fort above it, with a steel skeleton and tonnes of concrete filling the space between vertical rows of columns.

I decided to live through the mayhem for three months, the time I had to serve if I wanted to see the year’s rent I had deposited again. The broker gave me a glass of orange juice as he smiled and pointed out sub clauses in the rent agreement. I looked through him at the glass window behind him. There was a crow gnawing on the window sill at something that looked like flesh. The office boy came in to take away the empty glass of juice. He pointed vaguely towards the wall on my left filled with shelves, that were filled with files, and told me that since the vultures have disappeared, the crows have taken over and carry around bits of flesh from the nearby tower of silence. The broker had stopped speaking by then and was looking at me without expression. He must have finished what he had to say and I had nothing more to say.

The construction work did not bother me in the beginning. I would leave for work when they started slapping the day’s fresh mortar on burnt red bricks and find them gone when I returned at night. Only my toilet bore scars of dried up cement and a clogged drain.

But then I was told that great things were in store for me in Mr Mehra’s office.

I was the inventory supervisor at a garment factory. The work was simple and paid for my modest expenses with enough left for a visit to my mother once a year with a cheque in her name and three new saris. The ulcers in my stomach which I have carried since I drank a bottle of vinegar ten years ago ensured that I cooked my own meals, light and simple with only a tea spoon of salt every day. The one luxury I allowed myself was the nine o’clock drink of rum and water. It puts me to sleep in a matter of minutes and I am never bothered by dreams that usually linger in the morning and leave you exhausted for no reason.

I had visited the factory owner’s office just once before, when he had hired me on my distant uncle’s request. I was called by Mr Mehra’s secretary a week after the construction had started. I quietly walked up to the glass cubicle and sat patiently on the blue cushioned bench opposite the rather unattractive secretary who had decided not to look at me. Her name was Savita as I recalled from her phone call down to the inventory. She looked thirty five, with stretch marks spreading in concentric circles all over her plump waist that rested comfortably around her sari. It was strange that she did not have a desk, only a chair and a stool with a red phone on it. Then she spoke to me as if she had read my mind.

“Sir is re-furbishing his office. My desk has gone for repair and they are going to buy new chairs, the new designs which are good for the back. I saw the bills myself, each costs eighteen thousand rupees.”

I did not know if I was to congratulate her so I settled for a nod and a smile. She looked satisfied and went back to looking away from me at her red phone, waiting for it to ring. I too waited for it to ring, so that I could be allowed inside Mr Mehra’s office. So like I said, great things were supposed to happen to me in his office, but I could not fathom the coming of this greatness yet. He had looked at me with a bored smile and a cell phone pressed to his right ear. Then he told me swiftly that I had been promoted, and that I will make three thousand rupees more as the new chief of packaging and warehouse. Then he got up, shook my hands, told me great things were in store for me, and left the office, still waiting for someone to pick up his call.

Now a promotion after four years was overdue, and I would have celebrated with an extra drink in the night had I not witnessed the death of the old chief of packaging and warehouse the previous morning. He died coughing out some kind of pale yellow fluid which I was told later was a result of a ruptured intestine. He was a forty year old man who had worked in the factory since he was a ten year old boy. He must have started as a daily wage worker and climbed his ladder of success by following the work flow day after day, but in his case, night after night. The finished garments were always loaded in waiting trucks at three in the morning and it was now my job to watch and account for an endless stream of brown boxes filled with collared shirts, T shirts, undershirts and socks neatly stacked upon an army of trucks and leave after the trucks had thundered off at six in the morning.

The cobweb fluttering on my basement’s ceiling suddenly stopped its animated dance. I realised it was late afternoon and I had not left my bed all day. Maybe I had slept or maybe I had drifted in and out of a wakeful solitude, the only kind of sleep I had enjoyed since the promotion six weeks ago. Either way, the shadows across the ventilation windows had changed their course and now cast long horizontal lines on the walls across. The workers had cut off the electricity again and sweat was pouring out of my pores onto the pillow, down the steel skeleton of my cot and into the invisible cracks of the cement floor.

I was running away from the rhythmic hammering, the crushing drill, the shouts of squatting men, and wailing of unattended infants, the sweat from my chest now flowing into a deliberate trickle, soaking the faded photograph in my pocket of a group of young girls, smiling and posing against the whitewashed wall of one of the hundred tiny photo shops. My legs carried me faster than they had carried me ten years ago from a long forgotten town to the comforts of a forgiving city. They usually lifted and dropped themselves out of their own mechanical desire, but today they carried my burnt up intestines towards the one tower, men did not visit breathing.

As I climbed the twenty feet high wall, the last of my breath gave way to gasps made up of vacuum. The throbbing in my head had stopped, the smell in my nostrils had vanished, and the muscles in my legs had withered away to a static numbness. I lay sprawled under the evening sun that was casting one, two, three, four, ten... now a hundred circular shadows, of wings flapping, coming down in a spiral towards my heavy eyelids. I remembered the story of the French captain whose salt tears made the hinges of his door go rusty. I was no captain, no sailor, no survivor, no victim. My insides were flooded not by the harmless acetic I had tasted a decade ago, but were corroded with the acid they had left in the toilet today.