Every year, the bricks of promise build a house for the new you, and then you slowly ebb away and manifest yourself in that crummy old tent that has been your shelter for all these curry-coloured seasons.
Familiarity smells like warm crepes filled with jaggeried coconuts, soft, tender, the same madness prepared in nostalgia sauce, served hot, lest you forget that you are you, and the bricks of resolve are just marshmellows of the past.
Would you like some coffee with your lightly-charred goals?
We thought we lost everything in the fire. Embers flicking amidst an ocean of ash looked like tiny, glowing fishing boats – contained stories that were told of warmth. The other pages told grim tales, of despair and grieving, of souls that ebbed away in ether.
Months have passed since that tsunami had hit our shores. People have started going out in the sea, in search of newer tides. New patches of grass have grown on the deserted, dilapidated courtyards. Nature has started to reemerge.
The demon king hasn’t died. Deep down in his tartarus, he is concocting newer plans to take over the world, mixing old potions with new poisons. “People are quick to forget”, his ancient text reads, as he smirks and throws another piece of arcane magic into the mix.
Our heroes have fallen, only to be replaced by new, inexperienced faces. The road to our eventual redemption has gotten somewhat better – but evolved challenges now await. Let us honour our fallen peers by wielding their experience as our shields.
Let us move forward towards a future that is not dictated by gods of privilege but avatars of humanity.
People—and I’m no exception—seem capable of forgetting almost anything, much as if our island were unable to float in anything but an expanse of totally empty sea.
A dry, pale grey afternoon has eaten our city. Cold, nippy breeze blows at times from the north, bringing the smog and clutter and burden of the people and their memories to us. We could put these natural anomalies at trial for their indecencies, but we are too occupied by our forgetfulness. For many of us, this is a blessing, a minor inconvenience. Gathering our food is priority – be it the intelligentia or the unintelligible.
Yoko Ogawa strings the losing memories of an island and their inhabitants into her 1994 novel, ‘The Memory Police’. The world is a dystopian one, put into order by a cavalry of titular strongmen.
Every once in a while, something vanishes. From birds to flowers, from ferries to novels – no mundane, mortal thing is left unscathed. The memory police enforces the disappearances, Ogawa’s central character in the story, a novelist, says, and so do people who refuse to follow suit. It remains unclear why the disappearances occur – and their randomness makes the motives even blurrier, like lost memories. That is hardly unsettling, however. What gets you is the nonchalant acceptance of every disappearance by the islanders. The proverbial tsunami arrives as a last-ditch tug to their consciousness, but they are already too far gone, drowned too deep in the black sludge that the novelist (we never get to learn her name) often compares her reservoir of memories to.
“Joely, what if you stayed this time?” Clementine asks a distraught Joel, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Things around them are crumbling and disappearing. The sea waves are lashing and retreating. Whatever remains of a house slowly starts to fade.
“I can’t,” Joel cries, “I walked out already,” and the screen blurs into a shot of both of them nearby. Clementine whispers: “Meet me in Montauk.”
In ‘The Memory Police’, there’s no Montauk. Or the entire island is one big Montauk, where dreams and memories crumble every day, churned into a slurry of illegible voices that are then retrofitted into similar shaped holes in every inhabitant’s hearts.
An old boatman and R, who edits the novels that the central character writes, are the only two voices of reason, like two dots of light in a grey sea. Both try to influence the story in their own way, and they come up short in their own ways, succumbing to their frailties. R is incessantly, almost demonically hopeful, yet he’s no Joel of Eternal Sunshine, who had bouts of rage, despair and denseness in him – qualities that made him a standout against Clementine’s boisterousness (have you seen her hair?). Does R hide his pain and his helplessness behind these fortified senses of hope? We never come to know.
The parallel story, one that the novelist is unable to finish, narrates ‘The Memory Police’ in a much more dark, menacing way. The protagonist, a girl, who is fond of typing, gets lured and trapped into the church clockroom by a mysterious typing teacher. Like the original story, she does not protest her disappearance and eventual detachment from the outside world, and reduces herself to a voiceless being, unable to respond to any known sensory or auditory stimulus. The novelist’s fate is strewn in similar lines, as she also accepts her disappearance. Her soul darkens from the greyish shades of the sea, to a terrible kelpish green and then to void. Like deleted memories, everything that made her entity fades into ether.
What is ‘The Memory Police’? It is a diary of frustration – the one you may get when in the middle of a power outage, your friend decides to continuously flick the torch on and off, knowing that the battery will run out soon. It is a picture of our present, drawn with colours from the past that we do not remember – to be sold in our future, maybe as an NFT and not an actual being? Harrowingly beautiful, heart-sinking memoir of our afternoons that we purged in fire, like Ogawa’s novelist burns her books.
Seared by a mirage of perfection, our evenings are a mix of Instagram stories and novels of lost innocence. We are creatures of noisy isolation, finding solace in detachment amidst a crowd; Never stop, never pause, never Learn.
Throwing away old masks and donning new ones has become passe. Now the plastic has molded into our skin, burn scars hidden beneath another layer of dead skin. Roses are still red, violets still blue – our skies have become purple and maybe so have you.
We are all obsessed, with something or someone, or both. Aila Kageyama is (or rather, was) obsessed with boneless creatures. Not shapeless beings, but things that hardly had a bone to pick with anything else. But her definition of boneless broke the usual mold too; sometimes, things came with bones. Bones jutted out of things when she treated them a certain way; and most interestingly, people gave her bone(r?)s – people like Ranjit Roshan and rock-gods like Freddie Mercury introduced her to worlds of bones and no-bones.
Why do we have to define things? Our desperation to create forms out of the formless continues to spawn boundaries that we cannot cross; like what even is a name, a color, a fruit? Scientific definition aside, definitive words often stifle imagination. Aila Kageyama in Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi’s electric flash-fiction ‘Incomplete Remains of a Millionaire Florist’ is a formless reflection of us, trying to pick a bone with our definitions with hers.
“Those were the two classifications pervading her life. Either it was bonesor no bones. Freddie Mercury was bones. The strawberry catsuit Britney Spears wore in “Oops!” was no bones.”
She dreams about objects that she has never seen, and experiences the boniness of those objects. This dream-reality confuses her terribly, so much so that it makes her perception of reality boneless. The truth of “Incomplete Remains..” is that like all boneless objects, Aila’s life and death – her bony, material existence and the formless memories – actually end up creating a sludge. A formless, endless, boneless existence with different endpoints to other endless, formless existences. Maybe that’s what we all are?
“Incomplete Remains of a Millionaire Florist”, a flash fiction by Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi, published in Electric Lit’s September Issue.
A rusty truck filled with jutebags packing onions so tight they might as well cry; but the blinding LED lights hide their suffering. Six hours later, relished between peeled, stale relationships, the wine doused soup does not even attempt to rebel.
Somewhere, two computers sit in front of each other; one a rickety composition of stored memories and experiences posing as a human – the other, an overheated mess of wires and expectations squared into an affordable reality.
The thick air of the diner had slowly absorbed into after-smells of roasted coffee and bacon grease. Soon they would be gone too, as adept hands cleaned surfaces and every lingering memories off from them. It was 3am, and the little shack had to be ready for another day, come Perl Harbour or not.
A few people were still sitting on the high stools, refusing to leave. Or maybe they had nowhere else to go. Attracted like insects to fire, they have sought refuge in the last bastion of light amidst this ocean of darkness. Maybe they were running away from their lives, their memories, their greasy surfaces that refused to be cleaned.
Amongst the awake, a couple – a man and a woman, both in their forties, maybe, strike up a conversation with the owner of the cleaning hands. Perhaps the coffee in their cups are done, just like the day, just like the page of their lives dated today, ready for another refill. Cleaning Hands does not comprehend. His mind is a maze of a different kind, his memories squeezed out like orange juice, tart, nauseating, vicious.
On the other side of the island, a man sits by himself. He has already finished his coffee. Semblances of his sanity have spilled out into the streets alongside the pale glow of the bulbs in the diner. The roads are clear. There’s a night curfew. The government has started containing the memories in apartments.
A great war is imminent.
Memories undulating, conversations die down. The surfaces never get cleaned. The coffee swirls around the cup and then drowns in its own sugary misery.
Four nighthawks sit in a diner in New York City, not waiting for miracles.
Going to the same guillotine to be severed in the same way is heresy; the gravest offence – the rankest demise and rebirth. Like every monsoon, waterlogged streets muddled with a billion curses that will disappear and return again next year.
We are addicts of misery, and pain has become a habit.
Eons ago moonlit nights carried rebellions of fireflies who lit their own paths in protest against the shattering white coat of paint atop every corner. Now all we have left is morose LED lights feigning normalcy in a world that is too foreign for its own right.
Orange-dyed clouds on the silhouettes carry a fresh batch of hopes like storks carrying newborns and then they are led to the abattoir, one by one to be transformed into looping spirits, coming and going with seasons and monsoons
Committing crimes against fireflies, never stopping to hear what all of us have to say..
Looking at pictures old and new makes me realize that the crests and troughs between two people are really like city afternoons; often hot, humid and insufferable – but on the days when the blessings of the sun are more southbound – beautiful, rich and frothy.
We wish for what could have been and taken those thoughts through our years of suffering, adding jagged edges to the thorny jacket of time that grows sharper as our hair grows silver and then withers.
Some birds to come back home, like Olive Ridley turtles swimming to the beaches they grew up in to lay more eggs. A new heartbreak awaits the returned – same city, same bodies, different souls, different seasons – hot, humid, patchy, numbing – wrapped in the comfort of being back together.
A set of rules have always dictated my life; or the lack of them have shaped my adolescence, my youth, my so called ‘parent years’ – like mini streams ending into an aimless river that meandered its way back to the land.
As a child, I always thought the world was a flat bed of emotions, either good or bad, till I had my first heartbreak and felt like a comet had hit me and charred everything beyond recovery.
With a hope of redemption, I had walked straight into the jaws of normalcy, then down the stairs to mediocrity, then to the basement of despair to search for my case files, like archaeologists descending on the remains of Pompeii.
Several decades and multiple comets later, my planet still stands, albeit with different creatures in them. I threw away some dreams and let some others wither; For I was a parent to many birds who did not want to stay home.