Sunday, January 24, 2010

The phone reduces him to one-handed left-handedness. Throughout the call, the right hand stays upright as if carrying the weight of the conversation on its palms, and the fingers fight through flying hair to glue the handset to the ears.

But his left hand is animated enough for two, he waves it around like a baton in a traffic cop’s hand, the words wouldn’t grind to a halt as long as he keeps waving them onward.

He bends forwards, a little stupidly, neck tilted downwards so that his whispers warn off the ants that fall one by one into the strangulated burrs of his socks. He takes care to walk in the shade but the sunbeams seeks him out from behind the trees to shoo off the music in his ears and the words from his throat until he hears nothing, sees nothing, till he is freed of that white hot blindfold.

Admitting defeat, he walks a suddenly splay-legged walk, hands-in pocket kicking his feet forward as if he is sending the very air that is filled with his voice heavenward with a prayer.

A slower gait that carries the dread of silence in each step appears when sentences start all over again, trying vainly to jump over every inarticulate attempt, when the pause that breathes with weariness grows longer between words that mask them, when time threatens to gnash its teeth and prompt a glance at the clock.

And he will walk faster when a sudden exclamation, a promising turn of phrase, a confession in the garb of a story steps in redeem him.

He has wept over a million lines of verse but they stay only long enough to desert him when a dry throat seeks to make them his own.

His voice hadn’t music enough for poetry and his memory hadn’t tricks enough to wrestle down silence and pin it flat in submission. He hadn’t the art of painting the happenings of a day in anecdotal colours and say, “Guess what happened” and really make her guess.

His fingers grip a low-slung branch and pulls it downward like a slingshot, scarcely noticing the fleeing butterfly, the cloud burst of leaves, the bare-headed agony of the branch when it swings back into a sunless place.

The world walks past him, shaking its head at his unmoving intent one, the length of grass that has been trod read in the marks of his shoe soles the distance he has travelled.

And when a merciful tower snaps its fingers in disgust, his right arm will ache itself back to existence. Blinking like a man who’s been reborn, he looks at the number that briefly flashes on the screen before fading out regretfully. He has been dead for thirty nine minutes and twenty three seconds.

Each of the seams of his pocket insides writhe with the unspent change of speech, he sighs before fishing out the phone and dialling again.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Too old to weep

Few places can stand on their own, without ever swallowing the snub of being directed to by calling forth a bigger or older or a more celebrated building or road that acquires the halo of a “landmark” for reasons that appear arbitary to the outsider.

I used to live in such a “You can’t miss it” place, Pizza boys and courier deliveries could make it without a thousand instructive phone calls. But RBI Quarters had taken second place, many a time to a school of dance, a prominent church or a society of theosophy. But we knew that even as we began a disbelieving explanation to an ignorant pizza “Do you know Velankanni Church, ours lies on the way.” We would take it good naturedly enough because others said “You know RBI Quarters, we live right across the road.”

Funny how one memory draws others to itself and claims them for its own just as a landmark does an entire neighbourhood. This queen bee of a memory lives quietly enough among a clutter of less painful ones, with a heart still tearless though struck white hot with pain everyday, as if were a gong to keep time with the pendulum of grief.

Today might not have been such a day but I know where the memory of it will strike root. This like everything else that happened this year belongs to Pilani.

I’m too old to weep, I thought, when I got onto the bus to work, too old to weep like a child who avoids the accusing red eyes of a corrected answer sheet on the first day of school. Too old to feel post-vacation blues, too old to lose sleep over a fading love, too old to lie awake after passing over the reins of my love into the hands of the unknown only to realize there aren’t any reins. Too old for the gleeful smiles that pay for window seats. Too old to lean out of the window and believe that the day is new in spite of the dubious sheen of its resealable resalable packing. Too old to notice how prettily the leaf hugged the window bars in fright when the branch broke away from the tree at the bidding of the bus. Too old to weep for the leaf when a callous wind breaks the embrace and sends the leaf flying away from an imprudent entanglement. Too old to remember to weep for the window.

Dutiful chimes of “Happy New year” resounded dully at every reunion. I was congratulated on wrangling a 10 day break. I in turn, congratulated them in return for getting rip-roaringly drunk so cheap by staying, while telling myself that they were exchanging one form of drunkenness for another.

Too old to weep for the promises I’ve kept waiting for a decade, for the dreams that took ten years to settle down into a sediment of someday suffixes. Too old to seize somebody by hand and cry without restraint, and tell them, “This is what I’d wanted to stake my life on, but I have so little of it left.”

I find it less embarrassing to ask for money than for a kind word, a split-second caress of an elbow that wants to say “See you tomorrow” leaves me warm for hours but I won’t trust myself to slip my hand into another’s if only feel a little less alone.

And just when I thought I’d grown too old to weep, I heard the very words that condone an infantile unrestrained bawling, and kiss its imaginary bruises away-

“Relax. You’re just a kid.”