We are a tired bunch, caught in this habit of being bored and lazy all the time. We are the same everyday. Nothing new happens. Because our prides have been by hurt by better people and countless self-realisations. And so, we exist, incapable of being surprised, shocked, touched, inspired by anything as our innards are clogged with our sad, hurt, self-loathing, foolish prides.
After a little more than a year, I'm writing here again and I hate to admit that it was a centipede in my bathroom that catapulted me to the act. Strangely, I have been trying to defeat a virtual centipede too - but that one controls lightning - in a game called Ys: The Origin. I wonder if there is any ominous connection between the two myriapods.
The centipedes have caused me to think, or rather they have distilled my amorphous thought, that I have to make substantial changes in my life - myriad changes (as in myriapod!). Firstly, I must write more often - It is a shame that I haven't documented to understand better so many important events in the past year. Secondly, I must move out of this house quickly. And thirdly, I have to make changes in my social person.
I will jump to the third immediately. Lately, I have begun to painfully realise that my social skills aren't the best. Sure, I can be very charming in brief interactions but when it comes to prolonged exchange of words and social courtesies, I become a nervous wreck who just doesn't know what to say to people and wants simply to disappear. I fear that this is some kind of chronic disintegration of my social person due to some personal history - I need one of those 'life changing experiences' or complete amnesia.
I have begun to realise that this social handicap is proving to be a hindrance not only in my career (If only I could just get up with my brilliant ideas to the man and show him what I could do! I'd love to tell him that I think his ideas are crap and that I'm not always on Facebook doing insignificant work) but also in my relationships with my friends and any potential lovers. I realise that I should either learn to better my social skills or completely abandon them for the rest of my life and spend all my days hidden in a burrow. Although the latter does seem more attractive, I don't think that with today's population it would be a convenient choice. Firstly, I wouldn't be able to find such solitude and secondly, even if I did, they'd dig me up right back to the surface and I'd have to say 'Thank You' and other nice things and go back to leading a 'normal', 'happy' life.
Also my room is a mess, I have stopped caring about the way I look - in fact, I seem to have stopped caring about anything. I eat just about anything and sometimes nothing at all. I'm too inured to even complain. All I want is a long holiday, but I am too tired to make any preparations for the same.
I guess the centipede that appeared in my bathroom at 3.30 am in the morning is trying to tell me something. Of course I went death white when I saw it, and had to flush it down the toilet because I hate to hear the sound of cracking exoskeleton. But yes, I don't think it's healthy to willingly lock myself in my tiny apartment for 2 whole days without interacting with any living soul. I simply speak to myself -unknowingly at times - and save kingdoms and goddesses, slay dragons and shop swords and armors. Strangely, it isn't loneliness I fear as much as the outside world.
A man is on his way home wearing a plain brown T-shirt, the sleeves of which have been folded exposing his well shaped but weak forearms. His jeans are of an ordinary blue and he wears brown slippers in an attempt to match his shirt. An attempt that reveals his deliberated image and his indigence. Yet in spite of this deliberation he is easily lost in the business of the streets. Perhaps he attracts a glance or two but nothing more than that.
It has been an ordinary day for he is an ordinary man. He is coming from work this evening, like he does every evening of a week day. He is thoroughly exhausted. Going home has become a habit, he mutters and he needs it. He needs to be quiet this night. As he walks through the streets half lit by the slanting sun and half by the street lamps, inattentive to the daily passing environment, half unaware of the faces in the liminal dark, he thinks of what he will cook. His mind opens the fridge next to the window. There aren’t many options and besides he feels a tiredness and languor. Some instant noodles will do with some orange juice. Nothing too exciting.
He’ll watch a film. Yes, that is what he will do. What should he watch? A film that reflects his mood and makes him forget it. But nothing too depressing. He’s afraid he’ll breakdown. Breaking down in solitude hurts and besides he is afraid he’ll have puffed up eyes the next morning and the people at work will conceal their curiosities and their assumptions with their affected warmth and indifference, but he knows they will see it. No, nothing too depressing. He hasn’t even played Philip Glass for sometime even though he longs for it. He clearly remembers the serpentine repetitions of the piano. He loves it and he fears it. So what film should he watch? He walks down the stairs and into the coolness of the air conditioned metro station. He contributes to the crowdedness of the train and the alienation of it.
Sitting in the dark in the verandah, he is home. Smoke lazily rises from a lit cigarette held loosely between his fingers. He is a silhouette. The day has been forgotten and with it it’s burden. He is just thought now - an amorphous gathering of unconsciousness. He is no longer the man who woke up this morning with puffed up eyes. He’s forgotten the cup of coffee he made hurriedly; he’s forgotten its auburn taste, its muddy texture. He’s forgotten what he did at work, the voices he heard. He’s forgotten the sound of his own voice. He’s forgotten that the day existed.
An unexpected wind and suddenly a drizzle. Lightning and thunder follows like an afterthought. The night sky is migrating. He rushes into the house. He is afraid the lights will go out. He feels silly about feeling afraid. It has started raining outside and through the netted mesh of the windows, some rain and some wind enter stealthily. The lights go out and he is purged in the wet blackness of this unlit night. Once again, only his thoughts exist and the howling rain. A ghost slowly creeps in through a window and the black mass walks to and fro in the other room. It plays with the window and he hears the creaking rhythm but he will ignore it. He hears the incoherent moaning but he will ignore it. It is best not to confront this ghost. He is not prepared to meet it for he shall not be forgiven. He knows the ghost is looking at him from the door with unblinking sunken eyes but he will act calm and feign ignorance. The ghost stares and stares with so many questions. He will not answer. He has chosen to forget the day.
He steps out in to the wet verandah. It has stopped raining and the sky has left the earth. Under the expansive hollow he stands in absolute forgetfullness. Inside the ghost walks to and fro, moaning incoherently.
Lay us on the operating table.
Take a scalpel
and make a neat incision.
Open the cut wide
till it becomes a wound,
till you map all
our veins, arteries and feelings.
Rationalise our irrationalities.
Notice the heart beat quicken
and slow down,
'Without reason', you might say.
And in your careful patience and precision
the heart might stop altogether
and with it all this world.
And our lingering selves
like the flutter of birds
after a gunshot,
groping for redemption.
But you'll still be there
Under the blinding light -
a silhouette of dreams
and of fears -
with a detached air,
the general nature of death.
I do not know if I can write about it now. I do not know if I have gathered enough experience to say yes, I know it. I do not. I do not know the entirety of it. But then again, against all criticisms I can argue that beauty is that which has made me happy - all those things that which have given me a glimpse of the sublime, although one might say that there is nothing sublime or that the sublime is not available to anyone. But even if it is that or even if all sublime feelings are chemical reactions in my organism, so what? All those chemical reactions have given me a sense of sublimity, real or imagined.
It is there this evening which has a quiet glint of the morning which we all slept through. It was there in the late Spanish breakfast I made - only possible because the cat was here only last week. It's there in the way Yam's gobbles up her white bread peanut butter sandwich at 5 pm when she is so against everything inorganic. This surprise is beautiful. It was there last night and it was there this afternoon when I had to shout on skype calling for Jordi when he went to the other room in his house in the Canary Islands. It was there in that moment's brevity when I was so absorbed in the moment and half-believed that the distance was unreal and didn't mean anything.
It is there when someone tilts his or her head to look at the most ordinary of things with a smile reserved only for that most ordinary thing. It is in that tilting of the head, that rare smile that that ordinary thing is uplifted to become something sublime.
Now it is there in this stale freshness of the evening - this one coated with a morning's disappearance. It is there in this sad inability to get out of the house and do something 'physical' because we all feel this inertia. It is there but you might have to tilt your head to see it because that beauty has a notorious tendency to escape. A little constriction of the eyes to focus, a little tilt of the head and a suspension of one's own identity - that which Keats talked about - and there it is in full blown technicolor. And to think that all our lives have been spent in search of waiting for that sublime beauty when it is always there in our willingness to see.
From the roof top, I looked down and saw a gray tom cat loitering about in the children's park. It was a most surprising event - to see a cat freely strolling about in canophilic Delhi. I have always been troubled by the invisibility of cats and it is especially true in the capital. One sees dogs, domesticated and stray, everywhere, but to see a cat becomes an event. It is a sad truth. Back home, I was so used to the meowing presence of cats that now in Delhi I am very disappointed by their absence. Cats have always lived with us and have been very important members of the family. And dogs and cats have always gotten along so much so that, to me, the whole pseudo-science about dogs and cats being arch enemies and the film 'Cats and Dogs' have been incredible and a nuisance.
So, there was this solitary cat, walking about in loose circles. A lazy pedestrian in gray stripes. A yawning bohemian unmindful of the swings and slides - simply minding its own business, with an unmatched air of sophistication. And then suddenly, it started rubbing its groin on the grass. It was masturbating. I know, I know this is a normal thing and a behaviour not solely the prerogative of men, but still this shocked me. This might sound most absurd but was this cat masturbating because it could not find any other cat to get it on with? Perhaps, it couldn't find a partner because all of them have been chased away by dogs, buildings, cars, concrete roads, fences, car honks, midnight drunkards, the police, shopping, gardens, children in the park, morning yoga... The solitary cat can no longer find solitude.
The Cheshire cat can no longer appear and disappear according to its whims.
On my way to work this morning I was blissfully immersed in my book, deaf to cars honking away meaninglessly and grateful to the drizzling, cool weather. It seemed to be a start of another eventless but happy day. The bumps of the road could not deter me from jumping from one sentence to another as the protagonist was ascending the social ladder, carefully attired and perfumed, in a marvelous ball that I secretly imagined myself in. As I closed the book at a suitably pleasant junction, I looked out of the auto rickshaw to see a man under a flyover stark naked and on his haunches keeping his body as close as he could to himself to keep warm against the wet coldness of the morning. How was it possible that in my contentment someone else was suffering the lack of something so basic? And I had specially deliberated upon what I would wear today, what image I would project. I felt guilt of course and wondered if others in their cars, inside autos, the pedestrians felt the same. Perhaps I wondered about the other’s feelings only because mine were inadequate and because I did not want to take responsibility for the nakedness of that man. Is guilt and indifference the same thing?
As the vista changed with the movement of the auto rickshaw, I contemplated upon this man and his nakedness. I would have liked to stop, go back and give the man the blanket that has been lying under my mattress. Of course I didn’t and I know I wouldn't. So, I decided to redeem myself by writing about him and about my inability to do anything.
I’m at work now. Today, I’ll help in the process of selling expensive clothes to people abroad while that man will sit naked on his haunches under the flyover in the cold wetness.
I decided that we would talk. Talk about anything at all, rather than just sit and get lost in the music, in our thoughts, in ourselves. It would be a change. A change most wanted to make us feel that we had moved from we were – an affirmation that we have been moving, we have grown. As elusive it might be, some kind of sign, symbol or affectation is always required to tell us that yes, we are no longer the same. Yes, the world has changed and with it, we have too. And the world will accept us only if we move with it or else, we become ruins.
So, this need to talk plummeted me to say just anything at all. And in that intoxication, I asked an absurd question, ‘Drowning or burning alive?’ Of course, there is no answer to this because we have no choice. But for a moment, we were to excuse all absurdities and imagine them to be real. We were to imagine that we have choice. Somewhere in the background lingered music, inspired by the crimson flight of flamingoes. Little, had I realized till then the searing gap between him and me – made palpable now with my words, my indifference and our incoherence. And between words said, there were vast sentences that should have been said. Sentences that bridge lovers. Strange, that which so unites two people now proves to be inefficient. It failed again – language. Somehow, I was pleased by the limitation of this construct.
Am I too clingy? I never thought that about myself. But in retrospect I have seen myself burst into the most unexpected of emotions - uncontrollable and devastating. I think it's happening again! And I'm holding myself preparing for the storm. I'm extremely vulnerable.
If my life were to be a book it would be a series of tragedies.And the hamartia leading to all my downfalls would be my inconstancies. To be or not to be. To do or not to do. To love or not to love. Of course I choose the negative, but always have wanted the 'to be' the 'to do' the 'to love'. And this conflict between the 'to be' and the 'not' has led to all my tragedies. This temporary self denial I impose upon myself for some form of drama, friction, grandeur, experience, life or whatever one wants to call it... It would be all fine if only I would have to bear the consequences of my choice or its fluctuations but what I don't realise is that I involve others in my story. And the others are not as inconsistent. For them the 'to be' or 'not to be' are final. Full stops. There's no going back. No apologies. No retracing. It's done. Final.
I spent the night killing wasps. I don't know where they come from. Only this Saturday I was stung by one. The sting still remains and swells and itches at times. So I know its bitterness. Hence, I killed them today. Yams darted off here and there and sometimes blending with the natural environment hoping that they would think her to be a part of the natural environment. But fear overtook such noble dispositions. I was 'masculine' as I got up and killed them. But that masculinity, Yams argues I'm sure, is nothing but fear. And so it was.
I have come here to write after a vapid state of literary hibernation. I've been feeling this inadequacy(?) since the past couple of weeks. And today I return to write down some meaningless, untempered and scattered sentences. Torment and anxiety have brought me here - the same catalysts. But if they support my writing habits, then I don't condemn them.
Getting back to the question - Am I too clingy? Perhaps I am. But only after I throw all my belongings into the deepest wells, only when my hands start throbbing because of the weight I had been previously carrying, only because of the absence of that weight, do I realise that I actually need that. And then I try to cling on to that discarded something utterly remorseful. Only when I see the vague silhouettes of my past in that deep dark well, do I realise that I was happy. And when I was I asked myself, do I want it? Do I want that happiness? Is it not making me laid back? Is it not a burden? But when I am relieved of it - is that absence not a greater burden?
At yam's. again. exchanging lives online - she says get off facebook and get on life. verbose excretion.
talking of excretions, this night yam's had access to the most intimate detail of my existence - an opportunity came her way - an opportunity that hasn't been available to lovers. Only Navs had been subjected to such mishaps. but this night Yam's too was subjected to the same. However, this time the culprit wasn't my forgetfulness.
No water. And even with this realisation, my biology could not control it's processes. So I rushed to the toilet. The rest need not be stated.
I used drinking water but then how much of it can I use to flush down the evidence of my physical reality? Vestiges of my insides remained afloat and Yams saw them to her horror - which would, of course, inspire her to waste another 15 minutes talking.
However, all said and done, all secrets revealed, I guess this was the last step to our fondness for each other. The last step towards our knowing each other - inside out. She now has access to the most embarrassing and most intimate fact about me - that I too crap.
And it's true you know, you can romanticise anything! Perhaps, only because, everything is beautiful!
Woke up at Yam's house again. It's comforting to wake up after her - to know that she's walking around the house, stepping into the kitchen and making coffee. It's not just the coffee but the idea of someone being there and being completely at ease with that someone, even when you wake up ugly with swollen eyes and bad breath.
Went to Qahwa after much dillydallying , for Nav's sake and ours. It is a rare pleasure to catch a glimpse of him smile as he watches the petite waitress strutting around, with such pure love.
And then, to capture moments with Yam's camera that doesn't zoom in or out - but it makes it all the more special to capture them in that unchangeable limitation. And even though we pose for each shot with lightning fast reflexes, I think they're still spontaneous. I think that quickness is our nature - to look at life in the eye when it appears. This is not to say that the camera defines us - no. But I don't have to explain what I mean - it would only diminish everything I would want to say. And besides, I don't have the words.
Then we trailed off to Select City to look for earphones, hats and toys! My shoes were killing me but I didn't complain - physical pain didn't compare to the joy my soul experienced.
And then, we stood in front of a toy store for some 10 - 15 minutes to decide on the next activity.
We went to Dilli Haat where Yam's order was the star. Rajasthani thali - understated and homely - sensuously consumed by hands. Then, she wanted some silver and beauty defeated all practicality.
Came back to her place again and chatted with Ayms. It's great - my discovery of skype! I melted into love. And love was the only thing I experienced - for him, for myself, for Yams, for Navin, for the whole universe.
And dinner at a small charming bengali restaurant - fish, rice and mishti doi.
Came back to Yam's - she said it was nice to have me around. What do you say to that? I just did an awww but meant so much more.
It'll be nice to move in here - to spend the evenings together in hope and despair till 3 in the morning. To talk about inane things. To keep plants and a strand of rajnigandha on the table every night. To cook together and to discuss life to endlessness. And most importantly, to feel love everyday.
at my new office, I write about sarees, ornaments, shirts and suits. It's alright, in the sense, that it numbs me. No inspiration required, no thinking. It is most spontaneous - where I am and am not.
today however the first problematic rose in that new space. I was writing about some earring or necklace, free of judgement and describing it blissfully bereft of passion, completely detached from the whole affair. I was so out of it that I was so absorbed. Does it make sense? Anyway I was writing, oblivious to everything else including the projector where they were projecting THE match which would lead to the strengthening of patriotism for most or to distasteful slandering of the players, when suddenly everyone around me started getting up. They were playing the national anthem on the screen. I told myself I don't have to get up, don't get up - don't be a hypocrite. But you know, no matter how much your visceral ideologies deny it, your skin gives in to the pressure. And I got up reluctantly, my insides rebelling against my actions. There was no truce.
I cooked for the first time last night. Well, I can't take all the credit - actually not much of it - since Yams did most of the work. But I inspired her, and called mother for the recipe - and that is sufficient! Of course, I grated the tomatoes, the garlic and the ginger and occasionally gave the fluttering hag some words which she chewed upon - to no real consequence of course, but it did at times pacify her. And this is a big deal!
So, with grated tomatoes and all that, and large chunks of cauliflower we were ready to cook nepali food in a south indian household. On a large frying pan, we cooked for two people. Perhaps, it was because of the pan or my alienation from my nepali roots and eating habits, or perhaps the overwhelming south indianness of things, the phoolgobhi ko sabji took hours to cook! In the span of that hour, mails were received, sent, read and reread and lines, words and sentences exploded in the room - these explosions were far more luminous (and disturbing) than the ones flaring up in the skies to celebrate (again) india's victory... the same story that cannot be summarised because you have to watch the match for 8 - 10 hours and because magazines call it a holiday so that all the employees are kept happy - some sort of diabolical compensation!
several cups of water softened the hard cauliflower - (note: this is a metaphor). and we ate - rice, dal and phoolgobhi ko sabji with our hands, as Yams is of the opinion that it is a sensuous experience. And sensuously, we were full like bitches.
The rest of the night was spent in fluttering, between verbosity and silence, hope and despair - same thing! - holding life by the collar and displaying it on facebook - so that the night would pass.
I remember the two,
While the two of us
On one tiny bed,
Squeaking with every small thrust,
Lay half asleep
From night’s sleeplessness.
They were looking to nest,
As the summer heat
Had found its way down
Into their loins,
And wanted to house
If I had to answer the question, “What has been the main agenda of my life?” then I would simply say, “Escaping life”. Following which I would immediately be confronted with a why. I know that ‘why’ is the most difficult and destabilizing of questions, the answers to which have never been truly satisfying till today (and perhaps never will be). Yet one goes on looking for answers to that fundamental ‘why’ of things, and gives answers with an implicit knowledge that those answers are unsatisfactory and will be replaced by another in the future.
This agenda of my life is mainly because of that fundamental question. Escaping life is, in a way, a final answer, a putting down of the foot, a metaphorical dead-end to that ontological question. To escape would mean that one is no longer interested, that one is completely saturated and no longer cares for answers (at least within that given structure). By escaping one is not looking for or providing answers; one is simply tired and must get out or else will die of suffocation or worse, boredom. At the same time, when one escapes, one leaves a comment as a trail for those willing to follow. Those who understand the comment and decide to follow understand the plight of the escapee. They also understand the utter meaninglessness of the prison from which he escapes…
“It was an intense experience. We were there for six months everyday, except on Sundays and during the university holidays. So, our relationship with the space developed over time,” Madhuban tells me on the telephone, as she talks about the exhibition Through a Lens, Darkly, being displayed at PHOTOINK since December. Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya had been invited by the Department of Film Studies, JadavpurUniversity, to the (earlier) National Instruments Ltd. in June 2010. The National Instruments Ltd. was the first and only still camera factory. The 1980s saw the company dissolving its workforce as it was declared a sick industry. Eventually, it handed itself over to the JadavpurUniversity in January 2009. The place now lies in ruins waiting to be converted into the new university campus. By the end of November, their visit was to result in a collection of photographs.
As they entered the premises of the factory, they were immediately struck by startling and moving images of what had been: A huge cardboard replica of a camera at the foyer of the building; in the ‘machine room’, they found a shirt hanging in the middle of the space as if someone had left it there but never quite came back for it. Madhuban adds, “People knew that they were leaving but had left their things behind; everywhere there were traces and marks of things left behind.”
What the photographs depict, capturing inanimate objects, is an absence that is eerie and suggestive of the presence of workers in those spaces in the past. Of the series, ‘The Archaeology of Silence’, the duo set out to look at the history of labour, “that comes into view”, Madhuban explains, “through these inanimate objects which lets us imagine the people rather than their presence. The photographs become insights into the people through the traces they’ve left behind. In most industrial spaces, the workers are very anonymous.”
The duo decided to do the project with a digital camera and this is interesting as they look at a certain history of photographs through photographs. Madhuban adds, “It becomes ironic because we are looking at the analogue through a digital camera which, in a way, suggests that the digital camera has taken over the analogue camera. And this is poignant.”
Apart from the photographs, the exhibition also comprises several photo-animations, which the photographers felt would help in showing and explaining better the abandoned plight of the factory. “We didn’t go in thinking that we would be doing the animations,” Madhuban says, “Although it’s a dead space, in terms of the absence of people and production, there were slight movements and changes caused by the wind and the light.” The animations explore the liminal space between the still and the moving image.
In a way, the exhibition is a documentary of a certain history of Indian photography in India. “But it goes beyond that”, Madhuban insists, “If it had just been a documentary we wouldn’t have done the photo animations. It is also about entering into that space and time. Along with the documentation, there is also an interpretation of what one sees.” Madhuban and Manas have tried to depict the factory and its ruins in an objective manner. “Most of the colours you see in the photographs are the way we found it. We didn’t make use of any artificial light. We didn’t move things around; the organisation of objects was already so dramatic, so solemn.”
The title has been derived from the biblical phrase, ‘Through a glass, darkly’, which refers to the vague human understanding of god which is clear only after death. Although, the exhibition does not make any religious references, the title serves the purpose. As Madhuban says, “Through a camera, we are looking at the ruins of a camera factory.”
(Through a Lens, Darkly, was on view at PHOTOINK, till February 12.)