Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, toast, coffee and marmalade. Pranay hasn’t had breakfast for almost a week now and, never for that matter, bacon and sausages. He thinks, though, Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast is Floyd’s finest.
Pink Floyd is Pranay Kashyap’s favorite band. Back in his growing up years in the boarding school of Shillong, when everyone worshipped Bruce ‘air raid siren’ Dickinson’s Iron Maiden, Pranay had discovered Floyd through one of his seniors and, since, has been unwaveringly faithful to Roger Waters and co. Like most serious Floyd fans, Pranay, too, doesn’t consider the post Waters albums as Pink Floyd’s and believes people who regard Delicate Sound of Thunder as a Floyd work are only phony Floyd fans. He is listening to Echoes today, as he patiently waits at the Barakhamba Road Metro Station for the evening crowd to recede. The mad rush of the office goers to get back home always unnerved Pranay. Back in Shillong, which was much more of a home to him than Guwahati, where his parents worked and lived, people never hurried. It was not in Shillong’s character to haste. In the sweet after taste of Old Monk rum with warm water, the clot of the jadoh , and the frost of dew drops on pine trees -the eternally overcast skies, the incessant rains, and the sweetly morbid atmosphere of Shillong linger on forever.
In fact, Pranay doesn’t like traveling by the metro at all. The metro, he thinks, is too fast and impersonal. The metro stations, too, have too much metal for his liking. Delhi’s obsession for sleekness in their constructions, which implies using metal in great abundance, had always depressed him - the pinewood back in Shillong, he felt was so much familiarly warmer and welcoming.
Echoes is a long song even by Floyd standards. At almost twenty -three minutes, it is characterized by David Gilmour’s brilliant guitars and happens to be Gilmour’s first real contribution to the band. And it is just perfect for Pranay today. The rush is at its peak and Gilmour’s guitar is perfect for him to happily drift to his other world- the world to which, he still harbored hopes of retiring to someday. Delhi, to him, is where he would run the rat race but never rest in the true sense. Home, it will never be.
Just as Pranay starts to go adrift in the aroma of crackling firewood and Gold Flakes in a cozy pine wood room, the metro’s clamor drowns Gilmour’s riff, rudely transporting Pranay, from a cozy red roofed house, perched on one of those meandering steep roads of Shillong to the harshness of Barakhamba Road’s metro station. The melee of the evening crowd is almost over now; Pranay gets into the train. There’s no place to sit. He is used to it though. In front of him is a middle-aged lady in black capris pants and a mauve shirt sitting cross legged. She looks Punjabi with her fair full body and the kada on her right wrist. He thinks she is quite pretty. Ever since he has come to Delhi, he has developed a kind of likeness for the big breasted fair and creamy like the malai (he had had at Amritsar) Punjabi women. He wonders when she last made love; then, without really contemplating an answer, smiles at his boyish perverseness. The metro stops too often and he can’t concentrate on the music, so he puts on some light MLTR.
It’s a cold October evening in Shillong and there’s rain in the air. Pranay is wearing a fake Chelsea windcheater with a pair of newly bought blue Wranglers. One could feel a sense of excitement and anticipation in the chill of the evening air. He lights a Gold Flake small and puffs at it vigorously. He’s a little drunk on Royal Stag whiskey. MLTR, the Scandinavian pop band will perform at the Polo Grounds here in Shillong today. The town’s abuzz with people from nearby places like Dimapur and Guwahati. Many of his friends from Guwahati would come too. The pre- show sound check welcomes him as he enters the Netaji Stadium Polo Grounds. It’s drizzling now but nobody seems to mind the rain.
“Hey man! I knew you’d be here”, a tall dark man slaps him almost too hard on his back.
Anahita, this is Pranay. We were at Edmund’s together, he continues, at the petite girl with him without waiting for him to reply.
“Hello man! Long time, eh!”
It’s his classmate Rajkamal from school. He politely says hello to the girl, desperately trying not to slur whose name he instantly likes. Anahita is Raj’s sister, two years younger. She is in the 2nd year of her degree course in History from Guwahati University. They stay in the plains of Tezpur, a small historical town on the north bank of the mighty river.
The metro relentlessly rattles over the Yamuna, as it prepares to leave the peripatetic boundaries of Delhi for Noida. The lights across the river remind Pranay of the panoramic view of the city of Guwahati from his grandfather’s home on the Nabagraha hills. The last time, he had been there, Anahita was with him. It was barely a week after their marriage. Back then, he had marveled at the number of lights and had decided that the big cities are where the lights and life are. But today, the luminescent yellow dots on the black horizon are hurting his eyes. The contrast is too stark- the bright superficial lights against the dark callous horizon of a city, where just like its people, the lights, too, seemed to feign their intensity.
“…. Doors open on the left. Please mind the gap”. Pranay doesn’t have to make much of an effort to de-board- he is pushed out of the train with the wave of people that get down. He adjusts his glasses and climbs down the stairs of the metro station. As he exits the air-conditioned portals of the metro station, the mugginess of the evening depresses him. Like everything in the city, the clouds, too, flattered to deceive. The rains would never come, paving way for a sticky and smelly night. He lights a Gold Flake small, as the numerous tempo wallas try to hassle him into one of their overcrowded tempos. He would just walk today. The tempos are full of people returning home from work and inside them would be an air of tired humdrumness that Pranay doesn’t want to breathe today. He starts walking back in a slow, languid fashion- an outline of drooping shoulders; emanating the very air of bored withdrawal, he avoids the auto for with MLTR’s Breaking My Heart for company.
If there’s one place where the melting glaciers of The Himalayas made their pain felt, it has to be Guwahati, one of the most unloved capital cities of the country. This town in the plains of Assam has tragically transformed from being a moderately weathered pleasant small town into an extremely hot, humid cramped city in less than a decade. The Brahmaputra still flows through the old town in its unparalleled might and the Kopou still blossoms, but Guwahati has ceased to wear its original colours. The swanky coffee bars, the international restaurant chains and high-rise flats of a metropolis in making have, rather heartlessly, taken over the old city’s gossipy teashops, dreamy eateries and spacious Assam type houses. And the sadness that is; is the most penitent for the romantic like Pranay. The rains have refused to come and the heart objects to sleeping dry. And, like all things loved but not enough for life to be spared, a new haven is searched upon and for Pranay, the order of events weren’t different too. With college, Shillong had come to an unwilling, but necessary end. Guwahati seemed greener for some time but bigger meadows beckoned and Guwahati with its confused state of in-between big and small, sensitive and superficial could not suffice for long too. Delhi is the biggest meadow in the vicinity and here was where Pranay, like countless other young men of the country ended, or, began the great Indian game of struggle for the proverbial roti, kapda aur makaan.
The clammy evening is enveloping into the dark mystique of a starless night. Pranay observes the smooth transience of the kinds that roam the street as the day begins to get darker and he is reminded of the overpriced Comesum outside the Nizamuddin Railway Station. When with parents, he used to see the mundane families and students, on their way to homes and holidays, and later, with friends, at night, the odd stoned firang and party sick youngsters- he was fascinated by the metamorphosis of the place with the colour of the sky. The roads, now, have more cars and fewer pedestrians and, the night has a very mean whiff to it. He thinks of buying a quarter of Royal Stag whiskey but gives up the idea as soon as power cut of the last night comes to his mind. There’s some beef in the fridge. Maybe, he could make a simple curry. He wonders how his mother, becoming increasingly religious with age, would react if she were ever to know that her son ate and enjoyed cow’s meat. He had first eaten beef as a curious 14 year old at Keith’s home and had really liked it.
The house smells of a faint sandal wood room freshener and of a woman having lived there not too long back. His mother would always say one could easily tell a house with a woman from a one without one. It’s just not the tidiness, but, something about the very character of the house. Come to think of it, it’s probably that essential enigmatic something that makes a home out of a house. The pencil sketch like photo of him and Anahita on the wall stares him uncomfortably blankly. The Sikkimese masks, Anahita had bought from Paharganj on the pale yellow wall seem to look at him eerily with a sense of deep-rooted disgust. He never liked them anyway; it reminded him of a horror movie he had seen as a kid.
He washes himself in the pigeonhole of a bathroom- Anahita had always complained about the smallness of the bathroom. It is just not the bathroom. Anahita ,as he thinks now, was perhaps complaining about the smallness of all things remotely associated to him –a petty job in a non-descript academic publication house , a small house with an even smaller bathroom- the realization dawns upon him like the unexpected evening fog in Shillong, which engulfs the most cheerful of things and thoughts in a hazy blanket of murk and melancholy. The Royal Stag (the brand of whiskey he’s been drinking for years now) full bottle in the kitchen cupboard, which exhorts its drinkers to make it large - makes him almost smile at the irony of the situation.
He doesn’t make beef curry, rather boils some rice and a potato together for an early dinner and reads some Poe while waiting for the rice and the potato to boil. He is reading Al Araaf- a poem he knows by heart- for the umpteenth time and wonders if he will be ever able to write something of such unearthly caliber ever. The job at the publishing house is so not his cup of tea. He is not an editor who can check for sloppy grammatical errors by people who wrote pseudo academic novels; he never wanted to be one. A poet is what he always wanted to be.
It is a rainy Sunday afternoon in Guwahati. It’s been raining for over a day now but the mood is far from gloomy in the Hazarika household. Their only son has come home for his summer holidays from boarding school in Shillong and his first poem has been published in the Sunday Magazine of the most popular local English daily.
“Babu, the poem’s good; even Bhonti Jethai likes it a lot but to improve, you must constantly keep writing”, Mr. Hazarika says to Pranay in a preachy fatherly tone.
Pranay tries to appear nonchalant but heart in heart the praise does matter to him. The poem is about colours. He had written it after reading Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening in his English textbook. Though Frost paints a very dreary image of a white sleepy landscape full of saturnine snow, the poem had, in Pranay, conjured a flurry of surreal colours. And he knew, he had to write a poem; though why he chose colours, he doesn’t remember too.
The whistle of the pressure cooker blows and Pranay puts on some Oasis as he eats his dinner. The potato is slightly undercooked and the rice is too watery. But he is hungry and eats well. He had planned to keep some rice for the next morning but ends up eating everything. Champagne Supernova plays in the background as Pranay does the dishes. The song talks about special people in life changing. Many special people around him have changed; none more than Anahita or was it him who couldn’t, as Anahita claimed, adjust to changing times. The fragile bubble of romanticism that he has been precariously holding on to for all these years in hope that the purple prose painted by the likes of Poe and Frost was more than just symmetric black ink marks on cheap paper was beginning to burst slowly, much like the slow but ultimately devastating realization for an unsuspecting kid that Santa Claus was just daddy in a particularly generous avatar.
It is half a year since Anahita has come to Delhi. Initially overwhelmed by the ruthlessness of the city, she has coped well and has even managed to get a job in a primary school nearby. But Anahita was starting to get taken over by the mad melee of a city in perpetual motion. Her colleagues had husbands who were in the city’s ‘export-import’ business and so were better off than they were. They were mothers who discussed donation-engineering colleges in Noida and Bangalore and how the donations seemed to be getting higher every year. They were women who discussed sales in sari showrooms at the Lajpat Nagar Central Market. They were neighbours who gossiped about Sharmaji’s daughter being spotted at India Gate biting into Mother Diary lollies with a ‘bazaaru launda’. They were Dilliwalas who had big dils but even bigger bank balances. Anahita, in their sangeet and sagai ceremonies had a sneak peek into their gold and Benarasi Sari lives and now she wanted more. More than Pranay could ever give or perhaps, even aspire to give.
She has just come back from her cousin’s place in Lajpat Nagar and is in a bad mood which further worsens when she sees Pranay typing on his laptop in the drawing room and sipping whiskey in between.
“You could always write anyway, Pranay. See Rajiv is doing so well, he had started on the floor and in just two years, he is an executive today”, Anahita says, trying very hard not to lose it.
“I’m not meant for a call centre job where I can’t even keep my own name just because some cunt of a retarded American thinks it’s too difficult for him to pronounce”, Pranay gives the same answer that he has been giving for more than a month”
“See your Tagore and Poe will not feed us. Besides I’m not asking you to stop writing. You could always write during the day”
Pranay lies down on the bed, switches on the TV, and watches a movie about a charismatic American Senator, played by Tom Hanks. He has seen the movie before and is not so attentive. During the commercial breaks, while browsing through the channels, he comes across Sourav Ganguly playing a valiant innings for Kolkata Knight Riders in what appeared to be a losing cause. Ganguly is someone Pranay really looked upto and he sees a tragic hero in him- a man who has not had it easy but finally made it. Watching him bat well makes him happy until sleep finally takes over him.
It’s past midnight and Pranay is drunk. He’s had almost a half of whiskey and a few beers too. He carefully unlocks the door, earnestly hoping Anahita is asleep but that is not to be the case. Fully awake, half out of concern and the half out of anger, Pranay’s sloppy steps and slur as he tries to convince her that he hasn’t drunk so much annoys her.
“This is all you can ever do in life. Come back home drunk and wasted. This is not bloody Shillong and you’re not Edgar Allan Poe or whoever! I’ve been waiting all this all while to have dinner and look at the state you’ve come back home in now”, Anahita bursts out , genuinely wounded .
As Pranay tries to explain, he throws up on the sofa . The stench of the retch and the fermented tension in the air combine to give the air an ominous stink- a stalemate of frustration and disillusionment, which no room freshener in the air can ever purify.
“I’m going Pranay, forever. I am filing for divorce. I can’t live in this suffocating smug world of yours anymore”, Anahita stamps off and Pranay is reminded of that rainy evening in Shillong when he had first met her and amidst MLTR’s love ballads had fallen in love with her forever.
He wakes up early next morning, makes himself a strong cup of extra sweet cup of tea, and browses through the Indian Express. The front page contains a small snippet of Tarun Gogoi being reelected for a record third time in Assam. The cover story is about Mamata Banerjee overthrowing the 34 years old Left rule in Bengal in a landslide victory with a full scape photo of her making the victory symbol with her fingers. And all of a sudden, Pranay picks up the papers lying on the centre table for quite some time now and signs on them as fast as he can. It’s done- Pranay and Anahita are finally legally over too. Just as he puts the paper back, his phone beeps for an incoming message, which reads:
“Mr. Hazarika, This text is from Life Publishing House; we have decided to compile your poems into an anthology. We should be able to pay you an advance of around 2 lacs and we shall discuss other details if you could come to our office at around 11 today”.
Pranay lights a Gold Flake , pours himself a stiff peg from the Royal Stag bottle that was lying in the kitchen cabinet and puts on Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.