Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Baby are you down down down down

In the eleventh, N and I went to Calcutta. It was our first trip on our own. The next few days we roamed around the falling city, stayed here and there, got our pockets picked, watched movies at practically every theater we passed by.

After we returned, things started falling apart for N. Or that’s the way I put it because my imagination is stunted. His dad was out of a job, disinherited from ancestral property, they had to move out, his brother was an incapacitated recluse—getting by became this angry, insistent visitor who sat at your threshold every morning, waiting for you before you even woke up. The business of the house fell squarely on N’s shoulders. He dropped out of college, started giving tuitions, counting every penny.

More than ten years have passed since. N finished his twelfth somewhere along the line, a few years belated. He couldn’t do his graduation, hasn’t yet. Between then and now, he has taught tens of school kids, been in Amway, taught spoken English/personality development/all sorts of things to BPO aspirants, aspiring MBAs, all and sundry.

I don’t take stock of N when I meet him, which is every year and a half or so. I mean I ask him what’s up and he tells me animatedly—non-perfunctorily—and I listen interestedly. But that’s only what it appears to be. What I do instead is listen to the story of dignity. And it’s a tale that grips me ever tighter because everything he does is a metaphor. He doesn’t slog to pay the rent or take his family to Esselworld. He’s giving dignity a story to be remembered by. How else could we even begin to teach our kids about it? Without people like N, we would sound so vain and pretentious mouthing words we have no business bandying.

And the life-reassuring thing is that there are others like N. I know a few myself. What each of them inadvertently says is that it is never too late to pick a dropped stitch. It’s never wise to throw our fabric away, thinking there’s nothing more we can do with it. Because if we do—if we let ourselves believe that it will unravel to shreds—we just choose to exclude ourselves from the story of dignity. And that would be a pity.

I wish Gujja the very best for his first performance at Zero G, Residency Road, Bangalore, this Friday the 21st. Who would have thought.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Cleansing

I wake up at five am
before the ghosts have been buried,
sudden, to a sticky back on a marble grid
to birdsong on the western coast before
it is mowed by revving engines
in this place they call the metropolis in weather reports
how long has it been?

Yester night’s remnants in system ridden of
beer mouth rinsed, beer smell scrubbed
clothes dumped
huddled in red bucket in shame
a roundabout way of undertaking
project ‘I’m going to clean myself’

Fridge checked for happy surprises
water gulped down parched throat,
some cake bitten into
through the window I can see
clumpy wet hair draped over
ironed polyester salwar

Stray thought: fifth standard, picnic day
killed before it began
by pop and mom
playing ‘I blame you’
why did we go then?
something bigger than happiness
showed up at the door
mr. and mrs. neighbors were ready to leave
lunch packed, extra tissue taken, ambassador purring at the turn

Old blood swirling in my veins
thickened with self-pity
a caul of disgust enveloping
no illusions harbored,
i have been riffled the same cards
will be singed too, to the roots if i don’t

Call, find those numbers
and call
‘hi! sorry i can’t come to your party
i’m not sure i want to, actually something came up’
you social rat, still wriggling the old leathery tongue?
no, brace and say: the truth
then call after call
no, i don’t care anymore; it doesn’t matter what you think
voices thick with sleep soothe
awww! it’s just a meltdown
don’t worry, it’s only the stress, nothing really
relax, we still love you

By then I have hung up.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Revolutionary Whiskey

Just finished reading Revolutionary Road again. Took a rather long time even by my standards. I can’t finish a book in a few sittings. I don’t try either, makes me feel like a sieve when I want to be a sponge. There’s some collusion between my reading and whisky-drinking habits. I also just happened to use up a Jack Daniels a friend had gifted last December. I’ve been sipping at it for as long as I can remember (ok I might’ve tempered my greed because it was scotch) and last night was the last of the swigs I took. And there haven’t been any conscious periods of whisky abstinence much the same way the story of Frank and April Wheeler has never really left me. I’ve kept going back: a page here, a small there. They’ve always been around the bend, just a few steps and I bump into them.

So, the book, yes: the writing is sublime, Yates is unforgiving. Harsh or unforgiving is not the word actually; I don’t think it’s any one thing at all. It’s definitely not a style unless you think holding a mirror to the deepest recesses and the darkest motives is. It’s just relentless dissection of what appears to be the truth. There’s a line where Yates could as well have been explaining how he wrote that book. If you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone. The book’s embarrassingly beautiful, really. To think that some of those who have read it will draw on the experience to merely engage in social conversations, fill out silences with their grasp of things, (‘Have you read it? It’s so depressing but so nice.’ and then in the same breath, ‘You should also read Three States. It's unputdownable.’) is pretty deflating (and very cynical of me).

What does having read the book mean but? I’m in circles. Reading about the Wheelers doesn’t bring me closer to any realization. (Self-deception is no realization, I think I know it well enough after years of trying to fit in.) Writing something as singularly honest wouldn’t change a thing either. Yates picked up some numbers in his time: two marriages, two divorces, nervous breakdowns, drinking binges. Writing is a release, I guess; a simple but excruciating business: going to a dark place, pouring your heart out, hoping to be understood.

Awareness is not a gift, in fact it can be rather unsettling. At least when the take-home is that you are not the only one to have fucked up, people have messed up in eerily similar ways. It’s a fairly non-usable purport, you know. Like when facing an incomprehensible problem, you suddenly have a private Eureka moment: you have finally managed to figure out what the problem is. That gives you a kick, even if you are still as clueless about how to fix it. Living is the same beast. Taming it is as slippery.