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.