Wednesday, March 29, 2006

And now for something completely different

Here is a different list.
It is a list of things I learnt while reading a translation of two passages: one in the Valimiki Ramayana and one somewhere more arcane.
Here is the list:
  1. Kousalya, contrary to her usual weepy-woman image, was actually quite fun-loving. Quite so.
  2. Much of the mantras chanted in the yajnas consists of playful abuses of a risque nature
  3. In the good old days, the chief queen (Mahishi) was not the favourite wife of the king. Never. The favourite wife was someone else. Always. And there was a rejected wife too. Always.
  4. The aroma of well-cooked meat (to be specific, horse lard) washes away all sins.
  5. Brahmins have been great cooks since those days.
Here is the relevant context. I never knew that just two paragraphs could be so enlightening.

To reiterate, Kousalya actually played with it all night.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A thing of beauty...and another

Here is something quite, quite sublime.The important point here is to enjoy it till the end, brood, ponder, ruminate, carry it in your brain and keep living it moment by moment, frame by frame.

Waring 1: As usual, not for the weak-hearted.

Warning 2: Can change your concept of beauty.

Warning 3: Working knowledge of Bengali (absolutely) necessary.

Check it out here.
And here's a follow-up.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tags old and new

Every blogger belongs to a network: a small, almost closed group that is part of another larger network of many such small closed groups.

We all have duties to such networks. Broadly, they are:

  1. Update own blogs regularly
  2. In these update, link to other bloggers within the network
  3. Provide a list of blogs read – which is a list of blogs in the network
  4. Comment on blogs in the network.
  5. Respond to others’ comments on own blog
  6. Pass tags around – strengthening the network.
  7. Respond to tags.

I have not done any of these lately, so I probably do not belong anywhere.

However, some kind souls who I did not know chanced upon my site and offered me encouragement. It was nice to meet new, very interesting people who are not really listed in my old list of blogs read. At times, I have even failed to respond to comments. (I am sorry, Arthur. Cat got tongue.)

Interestingly, the one link sending me most traffic was this, where a great Bong said that “Nothing Happens” is a rather apt description of Anil Kapoor’s “My Wife’s Murder”. I do not know how far the analogy goes, and I am scared to think.

I thought I would undo some of the sins of not doing any of the above sevens, and start with the seventh.

Here goes, the seven tag, which I owe to Urmea:

Seven things that I plan on doing (apart from the seven duties to bloggerdom):

  1. Live life for a few years in the middle east
  2. Write again in Bangla
  3. Read the classics
  4. Get back to India and teach
  5. ?
  6. ?
  7. Have more ambitions

Seven things I can’t do (apart from the seven duties to bloggerdom):

  1. Get the payesh exactly right
  2. Quit smoking (do I really want to?)
  3. Set a daily routine and keep it for more than 2 days
  4. Say the right thing at the right time in the right way
  5. Stop thinking aloud (even when people are around)
  6. Take the distant future (like 3-4 years away) seriously
  7. Make any list of seven things

Seven things I say a lot :

I really cannot do this, given my proven inability to make any list of seven things.

Here comes the newer and more dangerous tag - the eight things about the perfect lover. Thankfully, it is a list of eight and not seven. But Vishkanya, why, oh why do you have to:

  1. make me make difficult lists – goes against my stream of consciousness approach, because my consciousness cannot count
  2. make me talk about the perfect lover – when I am not sure about the concept of perfection
  3. make me talk about the perfect lover – when I am not sure about the concept of love
  4. make me talk about the perfect lover – when I am not sure whether, assuming the existence of a lover, I want to brood on her perfection
  5. make me talk about the perfect lover – when I am not sure whether, assuming that I know what my perfect lover should be like, I want my lover (if any) to know my ideas on that
  6. make me talk about the perfect lover – when I am not sure whether, assuming that I know what my perfect lover is like and that my lover too knows my ideas on that, I want the wide world to know that
  7. make me talk about the perfect lover – when (after such analysis) I know there cannot be any

Hmm, now is the time to pass on the good/bad/ugly Karma. So, I tag the great Gamesmaster, who is suffering from a block. Incidentally, it was his tag that once before had cured me of blogger's block. So, I am hoping to return the favour.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Waiting for her on a Sunday

It’s Sunday, after all. Take it slow.

Look out the window. Life drizzles, everywhere, in tiny white dreamlets of snow. And then falls asleep on the grass, on the branches, on the shiny asphalt. Forget the cars whooshing past. They do not exist. Switch off your cellphone. You have nothing to finish. Take it slow.

Notice the firefly at the tip of your cigarette. See how it rests sadly on the groove in the ashtray, living its journey to the ashes. Follow the grey wisp that rises from it, rises and diffuses. Feel how it lives on, unseen, in the café nostalgia. Do not worry about her, she will come. Relish the wait, for it will not last. Caress the present, and take it slow.

Turn off the radio. Believe, that nothing happens. News is a form of fiction, anyway. Listen to their laughter. Listen hard. You will hear the Sunday dew dripping. And you will hear the stars that fell yesterday night when you were not looking. Look, so you don’t miss. Take it slow.

Do not think of what you have or what you do not have. Do not pine for what you have not done. You are not answerable to anyone, you are not responsible for anyone. You are the king of the universe. Feel the world, the rain, the snow, the mountains, the asphalt, the café, and the lingering music inside take a bow to you. Do not think of her. Do not think. Thinking is still an act. Just be. Be what you long ago promised to yourself to be. To get into your own skin, you have to take it slow.

Listen to the wafting music that someone must be playing somewhere. Don’t try to figure who, where, or what instrument. Just trust it, and let it take you with it. You can fly. You have a right to. You are too vast for these walls. Do not think of who you leave behind. Let your fairytales come alive. Don’t resist them. Let your guards down, little by sweet little. Take it slow.

Do not be afraid. Let the others in the café look. They will not know. It is only a Sunday, and you owe it to yourself to take it slow. There will be men coming in, and there will be men that will go. There will be those behind the counter that will remain, with their hurried handling of orders, with their quips, smirks and notions. They will want to talk to you, and you, the king of the cosmos, will stutter. But when their time comes, even they will go. So, do not care, and take it slow.

She too probably will have left. Thank her, and let her go. Just take it slow.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another cafe story

Here's another cafe story I chanced upon on the net. It was written by a High School student who lives in a small town somewhere in Ohio. Liked it, so I thought I would share it.

Fitting In, Breaking Out
By Hilary M. Post

Coffee cups clink on their saucers as the bitter-smelling steam rises and dances among the swirling cigarette smoke overhead. It is surprisingly quiet for a room packed with people, but you can still hear waitresses taking orders, women whispering behind their newspapers, men swapping sport scores and work stories … and the gentle scrawling of pencil on paper coming from the corner, where leaning against the neglected jukebox is a silent observer.

She envies them in a way, their security and comfort in places like this that are so familiar that conversations and moments of silence mingle together easily into an intimate hum. She finds their naiveté endearing, how things so feeble as high school football could mean the world, while the real world -– with its pain and its hatred and its diversity –- could sail past without even a flicker of their attention. How freeing it must be to live like that, she thinks, existing in only one realm, in one element, in the one and only home you've ever known and needed.

Deep down she knows that she could easily have all of that. She could have the assurance and the purity. She was raised here. She had lived here her whole life, just like all of the patrons sitting before her. It was the desire to have more that set her apart. The agonizing seclusion of a person with a dream that is far bigger than her meandering existence should ever permit. It was a paradox: a limbo between wanting to fit in and wanting desperately to break out. She wants to travel, she wants to create art and have ideas that would be completely useless here. No, not useless, but ignored. She feels … above it all. Even as she sits among these people, effortlessly blending into the woodwork, she feels unengaged and uninvolved.

Maybe what she thinks is envy is really a form of deluded pity. She watches them like an adult watching children. She covets their youthful indulgence, but could never bring herself to go down to their level and play in the mud.

Her pencil stops writing because it is in complete disgust at its own condescension. She is comparing her hometown to mud? How dare she presume what these people think, how they feel, what they want. Maybe someone among this crowd drinking their black Folgers and eating their curly fries imagines a different life, just like she does. Maybe, like her, they shut their eyes and let the diner, the town, the whole world dissolve beneath them and gather again in a different configuration. Paris, a café in Montmartre. The mechanic at the counter is now an artist; his grease-smudged fingers now show traces of grease paint. The widow in the front booth becomes a bourgeois heiress, slumming it with the artist and vagrants. Here, she doesn't just blend in. She fits. She belongs here among these bohemians, and in her mind's eye she desperately searches for that familiar face that proves she's not alone. Today is not the day.

As she opens her eyes she accepts the fact that she thinks far too much. She knows her aimless scrawling amounts to nothing but analytical rambling. Yet she comes here every week and watches this little diner. She is Jane Goodall and the daily diner inhabitants are Gorillas in the Appalachian Mist.

She is fortunate that she can think this much, this clearly … fortunate to have grown up here. Maybe big dreams don't come from a big existence. This town is the furtive soil she needed to grow. Now she's a vine weaving itself out over the garden wall. But no matter how big she grows or how much she blooms, her roots will not change. Someday she will truly be in that Montmartre café. Anyone else is free to come along.

Her glass of water is empty. Her toothpick is gnawed down to a stub. Her paper is full and her pencil is dull, so she stands to leave. She's observed enough for today. She breathes in deep, inhaling the bitter coffee steam and the cigarette smoke, and she knows it will smell exactly the same in Paris.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Its Story

I wake up with an acute physical awareness of it. Then I remember that it is Sunday and that I do not have a project deadline coming up, which means I can go back to sleep.

When I open my eyes next, it is about eleven. I realize that I haven’t really been sleeping; it was some kind of a half-sleep with a mishmash of jagged images passing through my head like daily commuters in a train. Worse, I cannot remember any of those images. Only, the awareness of it has become more palpable. It seems to be demanding my utmost attention all the time, especially when I am vacant, which is anytime when I am not writing a program.

Then I remember all the ugly details. The laundry, the cooking for the week, the dutiful phone calls to India, all that I leave for Sunday. I try to go back to sleep again, and end up staying in bed for another half-hour or so, with eyes wide open, mind vacant, thoughtless, and aware only of it.

I pry open my eyes basically because I am hungry. Probably I have some leftover in the fridge from last week. Searching for some nicer thought, I try to remember whether there is anything special that I had planned with anyone for today. I recall Shalini saying something at office last week about going to the movie on one of the Sundays. She was quite ugly to start with, and is only growing fatter with all the fries-and-burger dinners, but anything is better than spending an empty Sunday. I realize that it acknowledges the thought of Shalini – even Shalini!

Its nice outside and I feel like going out, but it is too much of a bother to put on any kind of clothes on a Sunday morning. But the warmth of the slice of sunbeam on my bed puts me in a celebratory mood, and I pick up one of the magazines from the floor. Nothing in it holds my attention, and in these magazines there isn’t much to read anyway. I leaf through the pictures – all the bodies look the same. They are all good, and I feel instantly bored and frustrated at the same time, and drag myself out of the bed.

I try to search for some nice thought, some exciting event to happen today which I forgot about, but keep coming up with things like the dreaded phone conversation about when was it the last time I went home or about the girl I need to see when I am in India the next time. I rummage my memory for something good from yesterday, and then think about this woman in the chatroom. A nurse or somebody somewhere in California, she claimed to be single and looking. She wanted to talk more, but I was just too sleepy. Now I think I should have taken her phone number at least. The problem with these chatroom women is that you never know – she may be the man who sits in the next cubicle. Voice chat is better that way – you are at least sure about the gender, which is really the only thing that matters to it.

I look into the fridge – only the French fries from Wednesday. Bad lunch. Anyway.

I switch the TV on and off a few times. Nothing interesting to watch, there never is.

I need some action. So I put my laptop on my lap, tuck it under the laptop, and log on to the internet. No one interesting is on the instant messenger. There are a few software bachelors like me though. I quickly go to the invisible mode, don’t feel like talking to men now. While moving from one news site to another, I realize that it is the same news that they all carry. I feel I should have noticed this long before. Then I am a little comforted, thinking that I can chat undisturbed today.

I assume a name (this is always fun – I like names like William Hornspike rather than Masalaman or coolguy2006) and jump into a fetish room. I am happy that I can unload. I can say things here that I otherwise cannot. Keeps things in perspective. It is very happy too.

But I like nothing for too long. Different people, but they are always saying the same things. I move to another room. It is sort of vanilla, but a little more fake than the other one. Almost everything is boring. I wonder why I still keep trying to satisfy it all the time. Maybe if Shalini comes, that would provide some variety. Or, maybe some real food. Whatever.

Damn. Suddenly, I think I have clicked on what could be a virus. That’s the other danger in these chatrooms. And, despite all the controls that I had put in, my laptop screen goes blank for a moment. And, then the screen lights up with the image of a member. A human organ – dangling, swaying ever so slightly in the happy April breeze that I see blowing outside my window, smiling - half lit with the holiday sun. It looks quite comfortable, even complacent.

I check myself as a reflex, and find that it is not there in its usual place. Then I realise that it, my sole object of attention, my bedfellow, is trapped in my computer. Funny, I could not recognize my member as mine when I first looked at it on the screen. I know my face – I can tell my face when I see an image of it, but I do not know how my most intimate part looks.

I try to retrieve it, and the darn laptop asks for a password. The computer won’t let me in. I try various things. No use. I press control-alt-del. Nothing works.

I cannot switch the laptop off for fear of an irrevocable loss.

Someone knocks on my door. Surely Shalini. But what’s the point, now?

Monday, January 02, 2006

I am sorry for these long pauses. I am working on another story. I want to finish the story before putting it online, so I will ramble less.
I also realised that the chronological ordering of blogger is a little problematic - blogger shows you part 2 of the story before part 1.
So I though it would be nice to publish the whole story in a post.
I have done that for the other stpry too.

Nothing Happens

The vision

He had never written prose before. No, that’s not true. No prose that was personal in essence. It just did not gel with his lifestyle. Prose requires too long a span of commitment, and he had had too many demands on his time. Too many women to think about. Too many books to contemplate reading. Wife. Work. Friends. Too many angry, jealous-of-each-other Gods to pacify. But primarily, too many women. Besides, in the non-America where he grew up, it was customary to shroud one’s personal emotions in the delicate vagueness of poesy. Poetry has its advantages. The act of commission does not place too much demand on his time. And, he does not need to invoke a name for the girl.

He was not sure whether it was the café or his age or his changed circumstances (new profession, new country) that seemed to force him to document his wisdom (newfound, American) in turgid sentences of prose. The first day it happened, he was caught unawares, so to say. Prose-writing had long been in that long list of sacred wishes which he did not want to molest by fulfilment. But when the girl in the dark corner lit up, he saw a brutally direct, hard-hitting sensuality in the folds between her eyebrows which shook him like it was a tremor, and he had this almost biological urge to hold the moment, not to let go, and he knew that the only way to do that was to write it verbatim, undistorted, pure.

The fixed point

What is sacred, he asks. Fixed points, probably. The Absolute zero, say. Some axioms he can anchor his thoughts on, that tell him that he is, that distinguish his self from his perceptions. Without acknowledging it to himself, he has always been somewhat suspicious of “truth”. But he has been all too aware of the dangers of ending up in madland in his attempts to escape the thrall of perception. On top, he was never sure that there are any fixed points. But there was this whining, nagging, difficult otherness in him that defined sense in a different sense. It insists that truth, or what seems, can be peeled like an onion to search for fixed points or sacredness or purity or whatever, and in that journey (certainly futile, because there is no inside of an onion) lies a lot of fun. But maybe there is an asylum inside an onion? And here his normal self deliberately intends the pun, despite knowing jolly well that the pun is the lowest form of humour.

If you are confused, you follow your instincts. After five thousand years of civilization, our primary instinct is carnal – all that our history has done is rationalize it with knowledge, embellish it with frills and institutionalise it with norms. Thankfully! Therefore, when he, with all his selves, his confusion, his non-American values, his American experience, his five thousand years of history weighing down on his axioms, walked into the café, it did not strike him as odd that he found what he thought was his moment of truth in a woman lighting a cigarette.

The tragedy

He knows that he has to distinguish between the act and the vision, but he can’t . The vision is his and his alone, he can turn it over, rewind it, fast-forward it, replay it. But the act belongs to a different time and a different person. Being human, his immediate desire is to possess what is just eluding him – that again is another human drive that has built five thousand years of civilization, with its markets, monuments and institutions. (Immediate corollary, history is a continuous chain of small incremental changes, and not a link of quantum jumps.) In this case, he is not happy with the image; he wants to seize the reality which is projected in that moment. This is how he peels the onion, by defining every next stage of the wild goose chase as “reality”.

That translates into his desperate need to find this woman, although he is not sure what he does then. (Ha, the prodigality of search!) The difficulty is that he never saw her again. He has tried it all. He asked those who tend the café, those who patronise it, those who sit and sip, those who come only to idle away or to show off their latest find in Amazon, he visited the café everyday, but she seemed to have had materialised only for him, and only for that moment. I guess any intelligent non-human being would have found in that a sense of finality, and even a sort of happy, though mystic, ending. But he, being intensely and fatally human, saw a beginning instead. He decided to create her.

The Story begins

Thus started his story. Rather, her story. He doesn’t have much time, you see. Besides, he loves freedom. And variety. And possibilities. So he creates her bit by bit. He sits on the computer everyday for a short while, and gives colour to his passion. She changes everyday, as he does. She grows, as he does. She comes to life through him, and he tastes life through her. But then, wasn’t she his secret life? Why the hell does he put her up on the internet?

Hope-against-hope, in its doomed struggle against rationality, always uses devious means.

The dance

The Right. The left. Swing. One-Two-Three.... To the right. To the left. Then one, then two. Then again. Hands outstretched. She loses her hands. The right. The left. The feet forget to touch the ground. Higher...higher. Her name recedes into sweet oblivion. Everybody watches. She slowly forgets that. She is suddenly frightened that she is losing it all. All that she has built over the years. What the heck, she thinks. Thankgod that she can still think at all with the cadence going lub..dup...lub...dup...inside her being. Her life sinks into the vortex - her groceries, her bank account, her profession, her identity, her secrets, her fairytales, her thoughts, her unborn words, her longings, her cravings, all scooped out of her. She stops existing. She grows into someone far, far away and spreads her wings in the open blue...

And his hope-against-hope, the stubborn, the wily, knows that someone far away is reading this as she dances away into the darkness.

The redemption

As soon as he is done posting, an emptiness hits him. So long, the vision was his, very intimately, very secretly, his own. Now that he had translated it in words and laid it bare in front of the world, he has nothing to cling to. He feels naked. God! She is on the internet! The world can now peer into him. He cringes. He feels powerless. She is no longer his captive – she has slipped out into the open. This is what unbridled, irrational hope does to you! And then his impudent hope has the gall to sermonise to him – everything has a purpose! Not knowing what to do, he does the only thing a mother knows to avoid postnatal depression – commit all her being to the newborn.

She, the sparrow

She did not want to be a fairy. Fairytales are always partial to the good. The only one she likes is where one has to kiss a million frogs. That approximates life, which really is an endless stream of chimerical frog-kissing. The value of the prince is in his non-existence: if one gets the prince, he decides to go after the next one. So, in general, she hated fairytales where people lived happily ever after. She, rather, longed to be the little bird that lived and died for the Happy Prince.

And now that she was flying, she became the bird. The little sparrow. She does not attract attention. So she can live life on its own terms. No obligation to sing, or to look good. Or to soar into powerful countries’ national anthems. All she cares about is building a little nest, caring for the little ones, flying to get them food, flying to teach them to fly, flying to live in the moment. The only way one could escape the frog-kissing routine was to see the world from a distance. To fly high.

The no-story begins

There is no story here, he discovers. He wonders why most of original writing, prose, at any rate, tells stories. There, things happen, and things follow – like a column of men marching under orders. It puzzles him. Feelings always come in eruptions. Visions always pop up from nowhere. It is this constant oscillation of shock and surprise that makes life worth living. And the only thing that there is to express is this excitement that defines life itself. And, the only way one can do that is to express it verbatim, virgin.

The revolution

Sometimes she hates her shadow. She wants to run away from it. Then she flies. She flies over lands and hills and lakes and seas. She feels the warmth of sunlight on her wings. She knows that just like her, her shadow is also running with her along the lands and hills and lakes and the seas. But she cannot see her shadow. She takes comfort in her distance from her shadow. (Is that how I think about independence? He thinks.) But as the sun begins to scorch her wings, as all the lands start looking the same shade of vacuous grey, her tired feathers pine for the coolness of her shadow. She disagrees with her senses, but she knows that there is no escape. The shadow, like death, stalks her. It tempts her with its motherly shade. She gives in, and even bows to it. Because she knows that some time she has to. And, with night, it engulfs her. Maybe, it may just be, that we all love death when it comes. And every revolution is doomed at birth.

He is appalled at this verbosity. More so, because it is pointless. But was there ever a point anyway?

The point

Much of modern philosophising tries to establish some point in the very pointlessness of life, of anything. He doesn’t see any. There is really no secret, nothing lying at the centre waiting to be revealed. There is no destination, only another road at the end of the road. The same onion story.

Why does he go on living, then? Largely, because he is stuck with life. The switching cost to non-life is too high.

Now that he is stuck, what does he do to bide his time?

Create a point. Chimerical, but nonetheless…

Isn't that what we all do? Isn't that the only thing everyone ever does?

Happenstance 1

She was here, the owner tells him.
Disquiet, disbelief. Who? He asks again. Yes, it was her – the one you saw – the café guy says. She just left.

His first feeling was one of being wronged. Violated, in a hundred ways. If he missed her, why did he have to know it? Why would the café guy have to know his story? Why would someone else, who did not pine for her, who did not deserve to see her, get the vision that was his alone? Why would someone who could not tell the sight of her from the vision of her, have to see her?
He ran out – looked around. The metropolitan traffic mocked at him with its crowded emptiness. She was not there; or worse, she was there – melted among the ordinary. He would not know her unless he saw her in the setting of the café…

While walking back, he remembered that he had forgotten to thank the café guy.

Truth dawns

Then it occurs to him. Like a flash. He tries to arrange it in plain, no-frills, brass tacks terms in his head. It frightens him.

The search had so far been his private luxury. His life might not have had a point, but it had a career, a family, some norms he had abided by, some carefully constructed myths which he lived by, some limits and a slow movement in a certain direction. Even while he searched for this woman or whatever he had seen or felt, he went to office, he caressed his wife, he chimed his regular words to his friends and family, he met expectations – his life was still in the regular orbit it had followed so far. This trajectory was almost pre-ordained during his childhood, and save for some itsy bitsy random perturbations, his life had moved along this path over the last thirty or so years, and over the three or so continents. This sameness defined him, and gave him comfort.

But now that he had had this brush with actually finding the point of his life – he was in danger of being thrown out of the orbit. He knew that he probably could not live the same life any longer, if he had found her. But what was there beyond the orbit? What did it mean to have no trajectory?

What is there beyond the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? And, what do you do with the pot, especially after it kills all you have been so far?

The decision

He mulls over it for a long long time. Cannot decide. Paces across. Does so for an hour. Wife notices. Doesn’t say anything. He reaches for a coin in his pocket. Mumbles his call. He is about to toss, but stops on the way. Brings out a pad. To commit to the call, scribbles: Heads – go for it. Tails – lucky, safe.

Then tosses the coin. It’s a tail. Relief, indeed.

He looks back, hesitates – then with slow, doubtful, slouch-shouldered paces, walks toward the café. Somehow he knows she is there today.

Happenstance 2

The café looked quite the same, with the hum, aroma, and haze in its three chambers. The outside chamber, the façade, was the place where coffee-lovers came, sat, read, drank their cups and left. Then there was the lounge, with its sofas and board games. People came there to have a nice time. It had to be there because the inner “real room” was so different a world from the outer façade, there had to be a buffer – you could not just walk from the north pole, cross a door, and enter the south. The third, core chamber, was the frequented by people addicted to the bitter, tangy taste of life. This was the only smoking chamber. He had seen a wide range of people there – half-mad men from a mental home in the neighbourhood, bikers from faraway places, foreign students who had not been home in six years, couples that liked to bite each other, normal looking people with destabilised insides like him, and a woman lighting a cigarette, whose face he did not remember.

Now he realised that all he had noticed about her was the tilt of her head, the shade of her hair that fell across her face, the shape of her fingers and nothing else. The café owner would really know her better than he would.

So he sat in a daze, his infusion getting cold, scanning the faces around in search of the face he thought he knew by heart but in reality had no clue of.

Then the girl, right next to him, took out a cigarette from her packet, put it to her lips, searched her bag, tilted her head to him with her hair falling across, held out a hand with the fingers he knew so well and asked whether he had a lighter.

He took out his lighter, flicked it on, and as he was reaching towards her with the little flame – unable to believe what he saw or did – a mad desire swept across his whole being: he wanted to put fire to her hair that fell across her face, to her face that held her firefly eyes, to her eyes that pierced his being and knew his secret instantly. He wanted this moment to go up in flames, so that there is nothing after it.

The conversation

The moment hung still, like a summer noon in a blind alley. He felt trapped in a time warp, where all that existed was the aroma of coffee and the dark odour of tobacoo wrapped around a tilted head with hair cascading across piercing eyes, and all that moved was wave after wave of doomed desire.

Hw would probably have been asphyxiated, when he was brought back to the familiar world by her voice: is it…about…me? Spoken with disbelief, confusion, hesitation, diffidence.

It was then that he realised that he has been caught in the act. His laptop screen was right in front, there for all to see.

Angry that his fantasy had lost its virginity, confused that his many realities were suddenly forced stand face to face without knowing what to say or do, he blurted out: NO.

She seemed relieved: Sorry, I was…getting ideas. She got up, took her things, evidently quite embarrassed.

Every tragedy has its comic moments. By the time he had rushed to the door mumbling yeses and no’s and buts, she was already on the other side of the street, and a river of speeding cars separated the two.


Moments, moments, moments. They come unannounced, they leave without saying goodbye. They test you in a brief flash. You cannot run or hide. You are defined by how you receive the moment that visits you, how you take it in your arms, how you respond to its call. You don’t get a second chance.

And he let his moment go. He had been praying for it, with all his being. But when it came, it blinded him with its flash. He was overpowered, inadequate. It slipped by.

Am I not strong enough for love?

The word. Love. It almost jumped out of the context and hit him. It occurred to him that he had not thought of the word in a very, very long time – it had reached out to him from the abyss of oblivion. Strange is the power of moments.

Ruminations of the elsewhere

She has come with her friends. They look happy. They look full. No chinks. No doubts. No entry. He too is happy, when she is absorbed and oblivious. Then he can comfortably withdraw from the happenings around him, forget the tension, and convert the café into a 3D cinema screen.

She smiles a half-smile. Bittersweet. Tangy. Her friends feel the reason. They comfort her with a knowing quietude. She exhales. The smoke flows like a sigh. She looks. The screen is pierced. And he remembers scenes from another time, another land. This little squirrel that he runs after. This sparrow that watches him running in vain. But he knows, and the sparrow knows that he is running for fun, the destination is the journey. The girl that wants him to catch the squirrel for her. The girl does not know that he just wants to run. The girl that realises that after she grows up. The girl that still wants him to catch the squirrel for her. The girl that still makes him run. The girl he ran across three continents for. The girl he got married to.

He suddenly feels tired of running after the squirrel. He desperately looks for the sparrow. But there are so few birds in the land around him today.

He forces himself back to the screen in the café. A cigarette dies in her fingers. She lights another. Her friend sitting next starts another story. Everyone hears. Everyone laughs. She too. He is happy that she is not looking. Affords him freedom. He notices that in this land they do not share cigarettes. Maybe close friends do. He remembers the time he shared cigarettes with his friends. He had once yearned to do so with another girl. He never could. She never would smoke. They got married eventually.

This is dangerous, this woman in the café, this no-one-to-him, telling him about his unrequited longings.

Conversation, finally

Something wrong?

The green plastic chairs outside the café are all empty, as if waiting for someone with a sad somnolence. The coffee-cigarette aroma hangs listlessly in the desolate rooms, filling the normally redolent air with a damp heaviness. The man at the counter tells him that it is just too hot, and they are closing in fifteen minutes. He picks up his daily cup, walks into the smoking room, and is immediately thrown out.

He is thrown out by the sheer power of what he sees inside. Empty room, dark, dank – with only a woman with hair falling across her face, looking straight at him with piercing eyes, and the only thing moving being the thick grey plume arising from the bright orange between her fingers. The same vision. Déjà vu.

He realises that he cannot step out of the room like that. We do not know whether it was the desire to snatch this opportunity to resume his once-broken conversation with her or it was his remaining social sense that told him that such a rushing out is impolite to the point of being insulting – he decided to retrace his steps, but with the trepidation of a fell beast, certain of the inevitable death, but hoping against hope for some miracle to happen.

When alone, he had researched a lot of opening lines. He actually had a problem of plenty. He could ask her her name. He could ask her what she did. He could ask her why she was there, or tell her why he was there. He could make it look like an accident that they met again. Or he could tell her the truth (what was the truth?). Above all, he had told himself a million times – if such an opportunity (as now) would ever proffer itself to him, he should not repeat the mistake the he committed the last time. Be positive, be forthright, be forceful, be out there – he had reproached himself. Say something. Let your conviction, your education, your Kundera, your Derrida speak. No confusion. Clarity. Yo.

So he walks up to her with a forced menace in his steps, offers a sweaty, shaky hand and says, in a half-audible, hollow voice, the first sentence that comes to his mind: I love you, and then chokes.

LOVE? Nothing could be further from the truth. He is not even sure what that word signifies, apart from a lot of kitsch. It could be obsession, infatuation, madness, desperation or pure self-absorbed delusion – anything but love. So he corrects himself before she can react – Don’t mean it though.

She takes her time. Giggles, high-pitched, to fight her stupefaction. The giggle turns from embarrassment to sarcasm, and she asks: so, what DO you mean?

Thankfully, the café guy came to close the shop, and this time it was him who crossed the road and melted into the traffic.

In search of Meaning

He crossed the street, and the question chased him home. So, what does he mean? What on earth did he want to tell her?

He realises that he had nothing to say to her. Nor was he interested in the content of what he conveyed to her, except to will her to come to the café everyday, every minute. He was never interested in the woman – who she was in her life, which land she came from, who she cared for, who she slept with or who she pined for. The thought, appalling as it might be, disturbed him in a different way. It faced him, for the first time, with the reality that she was a person and not a figment of his imagination – that he had not created her. This left in him paranoid – because he subconsciously, but surely, knew that the only thing that could ever destroy his private world of ruminations, his unique world where he was the creator, the GOD, was the knowledge of her as a person, the knowledge that the projection of his imagination actually stood for something else.

For the first time he realised that the world he had built with all his care, all his tenderness, all his imagination, was hurtling towards its own doom, as infallibly as life rushing towards death.

For the first time in a few months, he stayed home in the evening.

The café missed a beat.