Entitled Dreams 101

Your body sweating,

hands sliding down south, mouth following, breaths drowning ~

The radio had stopped long back, and

the static had mixed with

moans.

All in a dream, I wake up with

lingering smell of your

breasts. If the windows could open,

a thesis could have been written

on desperation;

But the world is saved, for now.

Advertisements

Holiday Cheer

We reached the church rather early, in time to see the choir practice. This was my first time attending a Christmas service, my wife having done it during her school days (she used to be a choir singer in her Diocese days). We were greeted by the charming Pastor and also by a little boy who was trying his best not to smile, only to break into toothless laughter the moment he saw someone, including my wife, who came back with a glee in her eyes after she spent two minutes adoring him.

With freezing, howling winds outside, the Christmas eve was certain to be one to be indoors. Two hours later, we were coming out of the church with smiles, meeting new people, yet my memory was already painting a different picture.

My end-year memories are all over the place. They have the joyfulness of a first kiss, yet there are pangs of heartbreak as well; calm ripples of a gray sea are there, with the remnants a tsunami had left dead corals on the beach – you are bound to land on one of two extremes. I met my wife in one of such highs more than ten years ago (feels like an eternity, or yesterday!). I distinctly remember calling her during the end of my engineering exams, since there was a change in the schedule and all of a sudden I had three days’ to spare – I wanted to check if she could meet me. In my excitement I had worn a particularly choice, hideous florescent orange t-shirt for the occasion, sure to turn off any prospective gazes from opposite sex. There I was, standing in a popular destination for the lovebirds (how cliched!), looking like a scarecrow, waiting for a disaster to happen.

We had gone to the Cathedral. Not because we wanted to pray, but because it was silent, detached from the crowstorms of a clunky city. That winter morning had painted a spectacular picture in my mind. My mother thought I looked particularly giddy that night when I returned home, though it didn’t take her long enough to figure out what had happened to her son. I was on cloud nine, and for good reason.

But there was a winter when I had told someone to forget me, that ‘we’ couldn’t happen, that ‘it’ was going nowhere. Sitting on my balcony, listening to her quivering voice at the other end, I had cried for the very first time on the account of heartbreak. For this was the very first time. Umpteen years later, that forgotten chapter had found its way to the same city, and on a rainy afternoon, we were standing in front of each other, eons between us, two people who had lost parts of their soul on that fateful wintry night, thinking about how awkward it was.

In Bengal, the suburb winters are different than city winters. Suburb winter afternoons are spent in typical laziness, rolling around on warm blankets and pillows, catching up on Sunday potpourri. In the city, the smell of jaggery is masked by aroma of cakes. A particular nostalgic favorite, Nahoum’s, brought out Parsee goodness every winter from its unending stash. A favorite of my father’s, the love-shaped cake, or paan-cake, as he calls it, is still smeared all over my childhood memories.

Winter is a difficult season to endure at times. Here, at times the temperature goes beyond zero, sending a chill through the body with every gush of wind. Bengal winters, in comparison, are much more spring-like than we want to admit; there are hardly a week of sweater-wearing cold. More often than not, it’s the zeal of the Bong parents that makes us wear monkey-caps and scarfs. Those memories, childish and joyous, have no fixed places in my brain. They come and go as they please.

This Christmas, two benches before us was sitting a guy with mental disability. While the entire church was filled to the brim, no one sat by him. We sat alone too, our bench a stark contrast to others. It left a drop of disjointed, unwelcome cold in my otherwise warm evening. Were we to be judged based on how we dressed and talked and in certain cases, behaved? I don’t know the rules of the world, I must say. Differences are not considered necessary for society; for everyone must wear the same mask.

I am no one to judge. I cannot even judge my memories. People I chose to be my close compatriots have often abandoned me. But I don’t turn a blind eye on things that happen around me, be it the nauseating stiffness in acceptance, or warm embrace of love.

A winter always has two sides.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Spotless mind

When the color of the sky is like a dying tip of a cigarette, a soul is seen wandering around the city in search of memories. His gait meanders around spots that are too trivial for novella couples, so out goes the gray river, the ruins of the bridge, the dusty green park…

And enters the sneaky alleys, the paan-spit smeared walls containing seedy advertisements, both political and personal; enters the road by the tram depot that has not yet fully decided where to start and where to end, splitting in every nature of path possible; enters the Pripyat of  railway stations where trains hardly stop – and the lonely cha shop on it.

Eons apart, another soul emerges on the window of a highrise, with pen in tow, waiting to write a future. But the past poisons her thought with pangs of nostalgia.

As if she has seen Medusa, her movement freezes. Somewhere down below, five million people scamper around a city like stray cats on a mission. Only there are never stray cats.

The world forgets how to smile, only to retrieve it from an ashpile of deadbodies, and then chooses to ampute that thought. A vicious cycle ensues, aided by psychedelic advertisement boards where skimpily clad women hail a man who has clearly still dreaming.

He and she, they both carry a similar card on their hands. ‘Lacuna’, it reads, ‘The finest memory-erasers at your service’.

“What if you stayed this time?” the Durga-Pooja time text reads.

“I can’t,” the reply on Facebook Messenger, neatly archived between thirty chatboxes, “I walked away.” Between curry colored sarees and bottle green kurtas, the festive songs are a heartbreak.

Rolling of seasons is the only thing that keeps people sane.

Type F for Faith

During Thanksgiving, the glaring headline of papers worldwide was of yet another fate-fueled attack on the general populi, killing more than three hundred people in the process. Two sides of faith, with two different outcomes in mind; one celebrates homecoming; the other: ruin.

There was a story that I grew up reading. A Hindu scholar, having read in the ancient texts that God is both with a form and without, decided to test the theory by himself. Upon visiting the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, he asked this question to the grand priest – who answered in the same way as the texts prescribed. Annoyed, the academic took a stick and decided to walk by the idol – declaring that if the stick touches the wooden idol it would prove that the omnipresent has a form; if not, then the opposite will be proven.

To his surprise, the stick touched the idol in one of his two passes; while he was coming back, the stick remained as is. Baffled, he stood there, until the grand priest, who was watching it all from a distance, decided to come in. He smiled, and said that the one you and I – all of us seek, is formative and formless. Was he talking about God? I think now that he was talking about faith as well. For us, faith can be a book, or a man’s quotes, even a worn-out dozen shoeboxes where we preserve our memories. Or it can be promises of freedom, of the grandiose life in heaven.

Or at times, it can simply manifest itself to be something simple. Like a shoulder to cry upon, a body to blame, an abyss for all of our tears to go. For centuries, widows have been shunned in the Hindu culture and banished to the corners, be it in one’s house or in ravenous sanctuaries like Kashi, Vrindavan and the ilks. There were rules made, terrible and inhuman rules, to break their minds and their bodies. It is not one of the greatest mysteries of the world why a chauvinistic society took whatever means necessary to drown the women in misery – both married and unmarried, and post-married in particular. To these widowed souls, the only way to live the rest of their lives was to cling to the only thing they had left, willingly or unwillingly : faith. Thus generations after generations, we saw grandmothers who spent their time in the deity-room, being particularly excessive when it came to spirituality. It was often not their choice, but they accepted it and made it their own. Faith works in mysterious ways.

Yesterday, my wife and I were to attend a market that happened to be inside a Cathedral, and we ended up reaching the place two hours late; the empty parking lot should’ve been the spoiler alert, but we carried on, only to be informed by the last car that was loading up that it was over. Bummed out, we decided to go inside anyway, just to see the main hall and offer our prayers, only to offer them standing on the other side of a closed door (The cathedral was closed). While we were on our way out, my wife suggested to go inside the bookstore, and we went in.

The Christmas decorations were in full swing, spearheaded by three women, all past their prime, one a little older than the other two, but the most energetic and talkative. She took a particular liking to my wife, telling her stories about her visits to Jerusalem, driving in the highways around Atlanta, and about her husband who had passed away. I was following them, listening to her cheerful banter, and picking up and looking at trinkets, photo frames, music CDs  – as the wintry afternoon was slowly coming down with a chill, painting the sky a melange of orange, ochre yellow and crimson, tugging at the handful of leaves that remained, brightly colored – before they fell too, making me wonder at the simplicity of it all. There was something remarkably simple in this design, yet so marvelously complex. To a naked eye, it was overwhelming. But you needed to sit down and let your mind do the math; then it wasn’t as boggling at all.

“Isn’t this the cutest thing?” The old lady asked, pulling out a wooden replica of a mouse, complete with beady eyes and all, a Christmas decor obviously. My wife nodded, and expressed her chirpy mirth, to which the lady continued while putting it back on the Christmas Tree that it came from, “I don’t have trees in my house anymore. Not after he’s gone. But I keep these things with me. Like the mouse, I’ve hung it in my kitchen cupboard. Every time I see it, I laugh.”

There was something on both me and my wife’s faces at that moment, a similarity in emotion that pulsated in both our hearts. Faith, in its simplest manifestation, was a powerful tool. Even thousands of miles apart, I saw a woman who was like my grandmother, displaying the same emotions, resting her head on the same shoulders of faith. “It’s a way of touching God with your own hands, when your hands are empty,” she said while showing my wife the intricate rosaries, “people buy these things as jewelry these days. But these are not just things to wear. These are tools of faith. These are what keeps faith to yourself, personal.” This wasn’t simply a perceived way to offer prayers to a being of higher conscience, but it was a mean to cling on to something that offered a sentience of a greater acceptance, something that our society had so miserably failed to provide.

While we were on our way out, she asked us to come back again, like any loving grandmother would do (though she thought we were Spanish, judging by our dialogues in Bengali), and we came back with smiles on our faces.

My faith has its days. At times it is strong; and at times my existential crisis makes it harder to cling on to any hope, any faith at all. There are gaps, and the woes of the world and the surrounding make it that much worse to rest my thoughts on any shoulders, let alone be it on faith. I grew up amidst spirituality and faith, but my conscience had pulled me away at times from it. I discern faith for what it is; an instrument of creation and destruction; of putting one’s life through it in expectation of something grandiose and then something simple; more often than not, faith is the belief that there is something inside us that may someday take the shape of something good. Be it a windfall or a phone call from a grandson that lives seven oceans away (A common proverb : seven oceans and thirteen rivers, quoted to denote great lengths), or a yearly Thanksgiving, playing the strings of the heart, cherishing the living, remembering the dead and the gone.

As I was writing this, soundtracks from Miyazaki’s movies were playing. Piano for me is faith too, in its simplest form, yet again, since it evokes tendencies in me that I keep on reserve for special occasions. Anime and its wonderful music are part of a feel-good society, a utopia that we have forgotten, especially the great animes that graced the world during the 80’s and early 90’s. The piano playing classical tunes is bound to make a believer out of a skeptic.

What is faith but the simplest form of belief. At times, it takes the form of something monstrous if you let it grow uncontrolled. At times, it grows into a beautiful garden of memories.

Men without Women – Haruki Murakami : Book Review

It must’ve been ten years back. Looking into my jar of memories, I cannot find the exact calendar. Amidst the blurry mess that my subjective hearing and sort of cognizant, destructive amnesia made of my past, I somehow find a few solid, well formed artifacts, like one finds a ring from a papier-mâché of rose petals, water and milk during some Indian marriage ceremonies. Those memories are especially vivid- like me attending an awkward Physics Lab exam in my college years, or getting engrossed in the pond-fishing in our school complex when I was ten, or my first actual date with a representative of the opposite sex. I don’t then remember other stories; of me almost drowning when I was a toddler, of countless Durga Pujos I’ve spent, of some long dead relatives who are just a face in yellowed out album pages now. My existential crisis is only worsened by authors like Haruki Murakami, who continues to write stories of unknown sadnesses, and introduces me to another ocean that I need to conquer, only this one more grayer than the last, more hands to drag me down under, to choke my last bits of sanity.

I’ve been remarkably slow in reading books this year. I started well, however, finishing 4-5 books under the first one and a half months. That’s almost blazing speed for someone who reads and re-reads, and is painstakingly slow in the process. Then I was hit by a barrage of personal events: I got married, moved to a bigger apartment, and have been trying to settle down in the quagmire that is married, docile life. So when I began reading Murakami’s latest and greatest, I wanted to get back to the habit, and to keep my promise of finishing twenty five books in 2017, not realizing what I was getting into.

Men without Women is a concept. A man meets multiple women in his life; some he becomes friends with; some he makes love with; and then there are some that just exist, right on the border of his attention span, waiting, faceless existences that at times get slight warmth of notice. The man may have similar situations where he’s the mannequin, just another voice in the ether, but that often doesn’t bother him until he becomes a ‘Man without Woman’. A man who has no woman in his life – no Scheherazade to tell eccentric stories of lampreys and breaking into others houses. No once known, now a blur woman that had a thing for wonderful sex and elevator music. Not even a woman with burn scars and a woman with her breasts undulating while she rode another man in front of her husband. This profound state of systemic decay, a rather dystopian conclusion of human sentiments is ‘Men without Women’. There’s not only tragicomic sadness at play here, but Murakami plays from strength to strength narrating stories that has a familiarity, a loneliness that is often found in his works. Dr. Tokai finds love all of a sudden in a sea of nonchalance. Kafuku wants to know the lovers of his late wife to make a complete picture of a woman he never really knew fully. Kitaru, one day, vanishes, leaving his friend and his girlfriend in complete darkness – these stories are intertwined in curious cases of emotions. Men with Women, fascinated by Men without Women.

The stories, except the last one, circle around in a narrow boundary. Murakami keeps a strong bind here – a mixture of solitude and vivid abstraction with his undenying love for old music and movies. This book is so much more than a collection of stories – it’s a homage to Ernest Hemingway, a direct tribute to Franz Kafka and ‘Metamorphosis’ (one of my favorite stories in the book), and also a nod to a lot of forgotten people, standing in the queue, waiting for their turn to tell stories. I as a writer find this amazing, but I may be biased, so leaving this to personal interpretations is the best choice.

Are all men to become ‘Men without Women’ eventually? Is there an indication here, a forecasting of our lives? Yes, and no. Like a lamprey hunting for its halibut to cling on, our relationships are also clingy. Subconsciously we wait for the right moment to jump and press our jaws into one another’s body, and suck emotions from each other – that’s how we survive. The book tells you the exact thing. Don’t believe for a moment that you can swim through this madness of becoming Men without Women.

You can’t.

Rust

Lacquered in a comatose white and gray, the auburn thatched mud houses look like the ruins of a terracotta army, battered by time. But they stand hollow, their windows stolen, their doors eaten by nature.
When the vicious jungle wind blows from the dry riverbed and passes through this necropolis, a howl ensues that tears open the naked breast of the rainforest.

Guineafowls peck little mites from the bones scattered across the plateau. Skeletal hands holding rifles, books, bags.

Or other hands.

A century ago, this patch of dense green had leopards, lions, tigers, elephants, wild buffaloes. Trapped between the bullets of sixty years of ferocious monarchy and the peculiarity of human masculine pride, the animals have traveled to become busts, adorned in the living rooms of the richest.

Time has crushed the biggest of kingdoms. The Kings and Queens have died. Revolution had taken place.

Then the rebels became rulers, and the first thing they did was to put every opposing butterfly to the waiting guillotine. Carnivals were named on dead men and women, their blood gushing through the river. That river has dried up into a valley of rust, where souls without salvation wander.

This used to be a good world. But then good worlds barely lasted.


He loved light. Like the flicker of sunlight that fell on his eyes, making their way between her flowy hair and salwar-clad shoulders, while he fiddled with poetry, lying on her lap.

This city of broken bridges ate small-time love like theirs, people said. They didn’t pay heed. Reckless as the monsoon, their love was devoid of any measured steps.

Five years later, the light had returned in his life. As he was slowly watching her body being engulfed in the pyre, he thought why he loved light so much, only to realize that it wasn’t light that he loved.

On that cold November night, two souls had melted into the darkness.

Only the city remained, ravenously waiting for its next victim, throwing poetry in the air as lures.

17458340_1216251558492354_7671135740612698325_n

Let’s talk about Love

I am a hapless romantic. No matter how hard the outer cynical, nonchalant shell becomes, there are always some things that I cannot overlook. Even in the days when my mood is as inclement as a pre-norwester weather, simple things often coo their presence and put a smile on my face. Remembering a particular morning when I was en route to Ganesh Chandra Avenue, the mecca to all things eletronic in Kolkata, and was in a particularly foul mood. The hour-long journey from my place to the city in the local train was as exhaustive as travelling through a cattle van, not only because there were way too many people on board, but most of them moved and behaved like biped bovine.

On my way, I was walking through the bustling footpaths that were often home to all sorts of people – hawkers, homeless, the mischievous and the charlatan,  and the common beggars and loonies. On other days, this common fixture didn’t bother me, but on that day, I saw something amidst them that made me pause for a while.

A little baby was lying on his back a sheet of torn cloth, barely enough for his little toddling body. His eyes were beautifully rounded by gracious lines of kajal; and his toothless smile was a stark contrast to the paltry conditions where he was in. A few paces away, his mother, probably a sweeper, worked on making lunch from the spoils of a vegetable shop. He, unperturbed, smiled away at whomever looked at him.

No matter how much annoyed I was then, drenched in sweat and my despair, at that moment, I couldn’t keep myself away from smiling. The more I smiled, the more the kid smiled back. In the end, I walked away from that scene happy, content that the world still made sense. That pure love was still a thing.

Being the fat, shy guy I was (and still am), getting my courage up to actually propose a girl was completely out of the picture for me. That and my reluctance to discuss my personal life, coupled with the complete lack of any social media (Orkut was in rage those days, but I wasn’t that involved until later on) gave my friends plenty to speculate about my potential girlfriend. I remember walking into such a conversation during my second year in the college, only to be slightly amused.

Interestingly, in my entire life of about thirty summers, girls that I have proposed to always turned me down, whereas I always accepted any proposals that came my way. How much that speaks about the certain desperateness of mine, you’re only to judge. I am also very fortunate that both the women who proposed to me turned out to be amazing, and shaped my life in a major way. One, the latest (if you call nine years latest, that is), is going to be ma femme very soon.

But my love isn’t bound to flesh and blood entities. I am drawn to nature, I am drawn to books ; I am drawn to anime, cartoons, comicbooks, manga ; I am drawn to technology; I am drawn to video games. I am more at ease in a calm, natural habitat rather than in the hullabaloos of a city life, yet the duality in me craves presence of other souls. Souls that would listen and hear what I need to say. At times, my rants and ideas might last a few hours; at times they’re confined to one conversation. Over the years, I had plenty conversations about the not-so-normal things, and absolutely enjoyed the deviation. As intrigued I am as to the Basilica and the modern history and paleontology, I am equally drawn to long hours in Diablo 3 or League of Legends or reading through the lore in Age of Mythology or Dungeon Siege 2. Besides reading news, one of my daily routines is to check AnandTech or Tom’s Hardware to read the latest and greatest in technology. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read The New Yorker or The Paris Review for their excellent articles and literature published. Moreover, I am equally fond of both Bengali and World literature.

In essence, love doesn’t need to be in cards or paintings and pretty words. It needs to be more than that. With all of our feelings withering for each other and our blue planet, it is high time that we don’t get stuck to the confines of a single day to profess our love for something or someone. Get out, hold a hand, or hands, or paws, or hooves, or branches, or pages – and make it worthwhile.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!