Monday, July 29, 2013

Of memories and the links between them

It’s a train I’ve been on quite a few times; in fact I’ve been in this same bogey more than once too. The first time I travelled on this route, I was here too – four years younger and existential dilemmas not just an alien phrase but an absurd notion too.

Trains, in their serpentine motions, are equipped to hold on to a lot of memories, and the Raxaul-Howrah Mithila Express has access to a lot of mine, but they are intermittent, without the important details, which shape them for what they are, but today I have the whole night and more than 300 kilometres to myself to link them. It’ll be an exercise in futile ephemeral nostalgia, but then nostalgia, in itself, is transient – much like those Rajnigandhas, whose effervescent fragrance would wear off heartbreakingly hurriedly for my 12-year old’s liking.

It has been an exceptionally humid day; even by Jharkhand’s unreasonable standards, and the smell of sour sweat clings tenaciously on to the diminutive old man who stands next to me at the entrance to the B1 coach. The ever-bustling Jasidih station rolls by, exhibiting a placid indifference only railway stations are capable of, as I desperately try to soak all of it in – the ramshackle remnants of  a life gone by - in the faces of people who’ve come to see me. I know it’ll be a sleepless night in spite of the strong Kingfisher I’ve just had.

Four years ago, the train must have rattled over the Subarrnekha river too, as it is now. The monsoons are yet to arrive, and the Subarrnekha’s dry shriveled bosom glitters, melancholic in the moonlight, perhaps rather emblematically of the times. I slip into the washroom, almost comfortable in its lavender-piss concoction smelling environs and light a cigarette, more out of habit than anything else.  I struggle to finish the cigarette, and suddenly my senses become more aware of the train’s rhythmic chugging, and I am taken back to a smoke-filled aromatic room, replete with raucous laughter and heavy with weed-induced lethargy; all very far away from the ghostly Subarnekha underneath, and the dense jungles, which have their own grammar of sound.

Hostel rooms are notorious centres of hollow talks and idealistic rants – almost at par with the Parliament perhaps, but then hardly ever scrutinised as critically. In the security and company of fellow inebriated souls, we have all been, on multiple occasion, guilty of sermonising and preaching morality and idealism on unsuspecting stoned and drunk, and resultantly, totally defenseless beings.  I can almost hear K animatedly explain the relationship between slippers and promiscuity in women, and N listening in rapt attention as his weed-laced head tries processing the newly-gathered information. Dissent and disapproval of the theory are to follow soon; the way A holds his half-full glass of watery whiskey tells me it’ll be any moment  now.

I settle into my side upper berth following a rather awkward climb; I am designed to be clumsy while negotiating climbs of any sort. I like to believe it’s a part of the whole creative thing; K would routinely say ‘bollocks’ to that contention – a word I’d imbibe in my vocabulary really soon and use it on him more than he would on me – he wouldn’t get a chance, for I always made a conscious effort to keep all my climbing endeavours to the bare minimum. The train’s really quiet now; the people who got up at Madhupur seem to have settled down finally; the sleeper coaches would be livelier, but the silence is conducive for recollection, and I am a man on a memory-mission after all.

We are very near to the Bengal-Jharkhand border now, and it’s a pity that there is no jhal-muri and lebu-cha  at this hour of the night to punctuate this leg of the journey. Tea after whisky back in the hostel is a custom – in fact the only time during the day I’d have tea during the last four years; sweet milky tea at Chakai Mod to wash down the bread-omelet, the unanimously agreed-upon post Royal Stag snack. Now, post-alcohol food is a novelty I can’t afford at Bangalore in spite of sometimes editing more than five articles on MS Dhoni in one night.  I am not complaining, in case my managing editor somehow happens to read this; just that I think an honest comparison of things is better for my memory-mission.

Bengal has finally come, and the train comes to a screeching stop at the biggest station en route – Asansol. Asansol, for the world between the two old cities of Patna and Calcutta, is somewhat of a one-stop destination for business and pleasure. It was for me too, during the last four years. The coal-town was a gate away of sorts for us; and had the dexterity to cater to a fairly wide range of sensibilities. The newly-opened mall with its Kentucky Fried Chicken was inviting to all the city boys who’d get bored of the Chilli Chicken-Partantha; the multiplex to almost everyone in general, for there would be hardly anyone in Indian engineering colleges who could claim to be totally oblivious to cinema. However, at the centre of its attraction is forbidden pleasure in the form of the great carnal-carnival of Lacchipur. A small red-light area, which houses 50 odd Bengali and Nepali women, Lacchipur was immensely popular with the boys whose raging hormones, a small town like Deoghar had neither the space nor the sensibilities to satiate.

I decide to get down from my berth and step out for some fresh air; the Wheeler store is right across the platform but closed for the night. The Wheeler store has been in some strange way a recorder of change too, just like the train, and would be a part of my drive along with the cinema to undertake the three-hour journey on the footboard of a local train from college to this railway-town. I am glad I got down from the train as I just manage to dispense change for a cup of lebu-cha a solitary hawker is selling at the platform.

The train finally moves, but I decide to linger at the door for some more time. I realise I have been there for quite some time when I see the great steel factory of Durgapur gleaming  like a queen of the night, emanating a long trail of grayish-black smoke, sublime in structure, yet in some way humanely beautiful. It’s almost morning, and the sun must be already up back in my home town, lighting up my small silent room in a sad watery crimson. My mother would wake up soon and would perhaps instinctively pass a surreptitious glance in its direction and grow inexplicably sad at the absence of the only possession she could ever call hers yet, never truly own.

N must have just gone to bed now, fixed on the day’s last chillum, and he too would perhaps pass a momentary albeit much less sentimental look at my empty bed across the room. I hope he puts on some Mumford and Sons as he tries sleeping, warding off worries about the paper he may not pass but desperately needs to.  I hope he doesn’t make too noise looking for his earphones, for A’ll get irritated otherwise, and there would be no one in my absence to broker a truce as V and R peacefully sleep, dreaming of IIT Delhi and New Jersey respectively.

The first rays of the sun are beginnning to creak in through the frosted window panes of the AC compartment, and the grand old city with the majestic red-walled station, I know, is very close now. The memory-mission has very apparently gone nowhere, and I’m all of a sudden overcome with a strong sense of guilt for embroiling too many people in my quest for meaning.  The pursuit of happiness, I’ve come to realise, is a rather sad and lonely process, and the cushion of procrastination, I’ve been seeking solace in for the last four years, will be a thing of the past in another half an hour.  The links between the memories seem as intangible and indecipherable as ever, but then memories perhaps, by nature, slide over one another on their own will, and don’t give their owner the luxury of sieving and neatly demarcating them, but I’d perhaps be gladder if the people who come with the memories just stayed as they are in the memory, and not as the links compel them to be, for the links, in my case, seem to have obliterated me to them and them to me much more than I’d prefer.

I look at the towering grandeur of the Howrah Bridge in a touristy way, as I finally step out of the train and the ever-busy station and pretend to be deaf to the Pathan taxi-driver, who seems to be getting genuinely agitated at my complete no-response. It’s another humid July morning; the loochis and the bhaji smell great as usual; the taxi drivers and the pimps insistent and pushy as always. I, however, decide, to take it slow, for college has ended and who knows, when I can just look at nothing and smoke a cigarette again. Oh, the flight back to Bangalore – that could wait.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Horn Lullaby

And now I know the best lullabies are the flat horns
Of those Budi nazar wale tera muh kaala trucks,
On the way from Bhagalpur to Dimapur,
Smelling of Ghoda Chaap rum and effervescent Howrah beedis,
Enveloped in the musky fake Charlie perfumed hangover
Of the Nepali whore at the Bharat Petroleum pump.
Nepali whores, a Bengali whore told me once in Kalighat,
Are the promiscuous of them all
Only to burst out giggling at the
Ridiculousness of the ranking of randiness.
Sab behen behen, she said.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

To Ugliness.

Those red Chrysanthemums on the way home
Now withered into the stillness of a sad sober night,
The silence deafening, the calm ghostly, the rain joyless
All shameless spectators of your disappearance
Into the lusty labyrinth of liberation after life.

Symmetrical splendor in balanced beings is like a whore without antics—drab like a sterilised supermarket where there’s no haggling. But unwavering cravers of equilibrium that we are, we let ourselves submit to the hegemonic idea of rightness and beauty without ever attempting to dissect the ugly and understand it, embrace it as a natural doppelganger of all of us. Some braver mortals do; mostly sub-consciously though. This is a tribute to one of them—a drunk-fuck, a moneyless miserable mess of a man.  And in respects more than just a few—a disagreeable double of myself. Of course, they said he was ugly.

I don’t know when we first met. I’m not supposed to. In all probability, it was the first day of my life. If he was sober enough to come to the hospital that is. I clearly remember when we last did though. An uncannily bright day in the midst of a monsoon that was particularly savage. It had rained so much that year they say the rhinos even meandered into the dhaba at Jokholabandha. The meeting, by any standards, was unsentimental, like they always are in my patriarchal side of the family. My mother’s family is more of the expressive kind—hugs, kisses, and extended pleasantries. I like to believe I’m more inclined towards the former. Ma says that too, though she is not one bit glad about it. So on the day too that he had come Ma served tea and biscuits. She wouldn’t cook anything for him; he wasn’t important enough. Ma’s a nice woman, but she has her set of prejudices. As her only son on whom she’s preached her ideologies for more than 22 years now, I’m supposed to understand them, but I don’t most of the time, which has resulted in a fair amount of friction, but then, we get along well enough, and things are sufficiently cordial for us to do all the ‘happy family’ things.

All families, they say, have a black sheep. He was the one in ours I suppose. I often hear wild phases get over with college. He didn’t attend college; in fact hardly finished school—an anomaly of rather catastrophic proportions, when contrasted to my father—his younger brother—who holds a PhD in something that I believe is almost nonsensically scholarly. His wasn’t much of a wild phase, more of a way of a life gone terribly wrong. A motley mix of severe social incongruity, constantly at loggerheads with the family, his was an existence that seemed to serve very little purpose. Maybe that’s why he finally just left—like people do when staying is no longer an option.  Into the oblivion of an unknown city he was in for the first time in his life, amidst people who didn’t understand the only language he spoke.

It’s been quite a while now since that evening. The impossible attempt to locate a missing person in our country undertaken, the customary tears shed, the odd reminiscence in family dinners about a particular mutton curry he would have surely liked,  normalcy for all the people to whom he mattered and—hopefully mattered to him too—has resumed. It’d be a case of glorifying relationships post their lifetime if I were to make the claim of being exceptionally close to him. The truth is I wasn’t. But as I struggle with my own quarter-life existential dilemmas, I am drawn back to those years when on my birthdays when he’d religiously get me a bar of chocolate or a fancy pen. Invariably, it would be my cheapest birthday present among encyclopedias and pullovers (I was born in December), but in my convent bred conscience, would be somewhat sentimental. Come to think of it, it wasn’t reverence that made me look at it in a different light, it wasn’t even love. It was, in fact, pity that I felt towards him. I knew he would never be able to afford the gifts I’d get from the other people, would perhaps never even have a son to celebrate birthdays of.  Now, it seems I knew a lot for someone who had just learnt how to jerk off stealing surreptitious glimpses of anorexic models on Fashion TV. But then, it is hardly difficult to identify asymmetry in a world obsessed with regularity, and inconformity to standards means disaster. As the case is with him, I was told in no uncertain terms.  

A bar of Kitkat is not exactly the best sixteenth birthday gift, but having  graduated from getting off on skinny Naomi Watts to actually feeling the warmness of the breasts of a more believable flawed girl, Kitkat had started to assume more significance than just an embodiment of  pity. And now as I grapple with my own existential dilemmas, I wonder if the solidarity I would put up or at least, pretend to was in anyway a premonition of things to come in my life, or perhaps a premature acknowledgement of a mirror image, completely at odds with my IIT- America wet dreams. Maybe it wasn’t any of that at all, it was just a casual cognizance of beauty in the ugly, for ugly is the imperfect, the failure, the pimpled, the freckled, the fat, and most obtrusively in the deviant, and I’m, and so are you, all of these and much more derisory, in quantities copious.

So, this is to the man who was ugly to the world, but who bought me Pierre Cardin pens and Kitkat bars beyond his means. And whatever Ma says, I think he was dark and handsome. And beside his smoke-infested left lung nestled a heart of gold. Yes, slightly flawed and ugly—just like the rest of us.