Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Slum View

Plants arranged
On faded steps
Cover the open drain.

Traffic, inch by slow inch.
Legs scrape your door
Almost. Noses flinch.

The vanities of the poor
Then, no less than those
Of the rich. Only more

Functional. A screen
To see your home
As in a dream.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mallorka - The finale

When she had first met Kevin, it was on one of these subterfugical acts of rebellion disguised as a hard night of group studying at a friends house. Instead it was to be the young persons guide to whisky and other assorted pleasures, being launched at her friend appy’s house while her parents were away to visit a deathridden aunt. Appy, Spunky, Oozie, Melly…Mallorca’s friends from her all girls college had odd nicknames with no resemblance to their given good names or their homegrown pet names like dabboo, chutki, sonu used by family. The girls gave each other names far away from the familiar territory charted by the mundane vowels and consonants of their regular names. Mallorca had no such nick. When classmates questioned her on her unusual name, she refused to tell them the embarassingly bollywood-style story of her parents’ short-lived honeymoon at palma, preferring instead to lie that the name was special to her dad for unknown mysterious reasons. The name slowly became a sort of hallowed ground which could not be desecrated and so there were no nicknames, related or otherwise. Kevin was his real name too, not an assumed americanized halo, although he was an abcd who had recently moved back to calcutta reluctantly. He was one of the three guys who had been invited to the session and he was infact the ultra cool bartender for the occasion doling out RC and water like some fancy new cocktail invented by an up and coming pub. The girls took their first sips haltingly not wishing to admit that they were nervous, that the concotion burnt their tongues and seemed to dissolve the lining of the oesophagus as it made its way to squeamish stomachs untouched by the ravages of any alcohol. A second peg joined the first to its uneasy destination, while tongues and bodies loosened under the real and imagined effects of the whisky. By midnight, the octet had split it into hazy fluid groups that merged and moved and merged as events were dissected, wounds laid open, hearts bared, peeves aired and the beginninings of convergences mapped put. Mallorka found it the most irrational and natural thing that had ever happened to her, that by the time they approached the early hours of the next day, Kevin had become a fixture at her side.

Flashes of conversation from that first encounter still filtered through to her through the intervening haze of five years worth of happenings since then.
“ I can fool anyone you know. I am very good at lying.”
“Shall I tell you what you are thinking right now ?, he asked her. He was wearing a short sleeved checked white and lemon yellow shirt and the dim lights arranged clumsily to give the room some panache reflected a lurid spotlight onto the yellow.
She was thinking of herself as she lay sprawled on the mattress beside him. It was not a comfortable position and her stomach felt pushed and prodded by the lumpy dump of a mattress. It was not comfortable but she knew that she was looking beautiful and that he knew it. She could feel it in her veins, with the alcohol coursing through them gently now, and she knew that she had never felt so beautiful before. Her eyes felt uncannily perceptive as though they had suddenly been endowed with a superlative, even supernatural effulgence that caused everything around the ordinary room to be transformed into a beautiful operatic setting. Drama was being played out in this transformed room and she was at the heart of it. But he did not tell her what she was thinking.

Instead he simply lifted her limp hand that clutched the edge of the mattress and kissed it gently. It was a kiss many times older than his young years. The tenderness it conveyed brought along with it a fleeting commingling of souls, when for a delicious instant, all sense of self fell away and submerged itself in the preciousness of the moment. Eleanor Rigby played in the distance, Paul McCartney uncomfortably loud, and close to the truth.
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

They moved away from each other self consciously and rejoined the rest of the group as though they had never been apart, but it was understood that they would see each other again. This was four years ago, and now Kevin had vanished, the end of his line having morphed into the Setland drilling company. Was it a simple case of wired being crossed or was there something more playing out behind the scenes? Some deep cosmic game in which events were being orchestrated in super-control-mode by an unknown somebody. Mallorka managed to cast off this fatalistic streak as she realised that the taxi was hurtling down straight towards Ulta Danga instead of taking the detour to Salt Lake. “ Sector 1, Char Number Tanki”, she yelled out to the driver above the noise of the FM. “Kya bole”, the driver turned around slowly to ask, his left hand cranking down the radio. The amethyst ring on his hand glittered in the light of a passing street lamp and struck her with its sudden and complete familiarity on the hand of a strange taxi driver. Kevin! Complete with all the details down to the smallest ones. The small squarish set of his shoulders visible above the front seat of the amby, the superfine hair of his moustache weighed down by a faint perspiration, the faint amoeba like birthmark at the base of his neck. A mark that she had kissed so many times but failed to recognize through the drive absorbed in the claustrophobic space of her own mind. Mallorka clambered over into the front passenger seat falling into it like an odd lumpy object. “Kevin, where are we going?”

Kevin grinned, his slow unhurried smile reaching his eyes. “I am rescuing you”, he replied simply. His eyes were beautiful to watch, with their dark brown pupils, intent, looking ahead seriously, while his smile brightened his cheery light brown irises. “But what are we running from?”, she protested, “I don’t want to be rescued.” Kevin drove on silently. Mallorka looked out of the window watching the dark road running beside them. The road was falling away swiftly now, its sides hurtling towards the windows and sliding away as quickly as it had risen towards them. Her thoughts came on, one after the other, slipping into place, taking each other’s place, nudging and jostling each other, so thick and fast that there was hardly any time to arrange them neatly. I am being rescued by a Prince Charming, and we are riding away into the sunset, just like in the stories. The sunset is dark. I don’t want to go. No, that’s what I think I should be feeling. But I do want to go. Do I? I feel like Abhimanyu, fighting a lonely battle with an army closing in on me. I should die a valiant death. But I don’t want to die. I don’t want to face any of the choices waiting for me. She knew that the decisions awaiting her at home would be unbearable. Even if she chose to stay alone, loyalties would have to be proven to one parent or both. I am sitting on the edge of a see-saw that goes higher and higher, she thought, and there is no counter weight to pull me down again. One of these days, I will make one wrong move and fly up into the empty sky with all the dead weight of a cannon ball. My calm good sense, my reasonableness, my sensible ways, my amicable manner, none of it is going to save me. I cant save myself. But maybe, I should give someone else a chance to. She opened the window fully and took a deep breath while they drove on companionably until break of dawn.