Here, darkness descends softly and quickly. It was only a quarter to six and still the purple sky enshrouded the campus in an intermingling web of shadows that spread all over, unevenly, interrupted by the yellow light from the street lamps punctuating the wide, now empty lanes. Clusters of listless students stood huddled together, buzzing amongst themselves like bees hovering over a flower, reluctant to go back home. Three of us walked into the building with a sense of exploration born out of idleness. We climbed up the stairs. A kind of restlessness had infected us, the kind that drives you towards irrationality. Darkness settled down on us like dust in an old damp storeroom, it crept up behind us, following us along the desolate staircase. Empty bottles and discarded cans littered the obscure corners. Slightly apprehensive, the adrenaline rush emboldened our young bored minds. Voices hummed in the distance. People talking in discreet, intimate whispers, words softly caressing each other. As we crossed the threshold, the stiffling claustrophobic box we often find ourselves trapped within, expanded and dissolved into thin air. Out in the open, the sky so wide, so vast. All above us. So vast, surrounding us. A kind of greatness that has a humbling effect without intimidating us. We stood in silence. Staring at the tiny blinking specks of light that glowed far below, like fireflies. The smell of cigarette smoke drifted to us with the breeze. We found comfort in the darkness cloaking us.
Yes, I am from Mumbai.
Yes, I had got into Delhi University, but I left it to come here,
To Jadavpur University.
Yes, I might be immature, and not know a lot of things that goes on around this world.
Yes, you might be 60 or 50 or 45,
But you – are dead inside.
Because when you say, “Dream a dream that you can achieve!”
I say, “That’s stupid.”
Because, a dream is meant to be unattainable in the first place.
You have to struggle strive toil and yet fail
You have to spend endless hours fruitless, ennumerable nights sleepless.
Race through the day’s routine only to lag behind at the end.
Skip dinners, parties or not see a friend.
And that is why when a dream comes true,
It’s a miracle.
I touched your feet to seek your blessings,
“জানো? আমার যাদবপুরে হয়ে গেছে,” said I.
A little excited, anticipating “Congratulations”,
some act of acknowledgement, praise;
“বোকামি করলি তুই, ওখানে পড়াশোনা হয় না। শুধু পলিটিক্স হয়। জানিস, ওখানে সবাই গাঁজা খায়?”
I stared at the words, stuck in the void between you and me
Heavy, dripping with judgement, choking me.
I felt my shoulders sag in disappointment.
I thought you were 60 or 50 or 45,
But you – were already dead inside.
Thanks to Maa Baba, I was still alive.
They taught me how to see through the fog,
How to read between the lines,
How to listen beyond the gossip,
Or how to question that which was given,
And how to feel from deep within.
Thanks to them, I could look into your eyes.
“কোলকাতা যা ছিল, আজ আর তা নেই” you said,
“কোলকাতা তো এখনও আছে কোলকাতা তেই” I believed.
Because you live in exile and see what the media portrays as you read your morning Times of India,
While I breathe in the same air which gets tainted by বিড়ি, সিগারেট আর গাঁজা তে
I walk through the corridors where on the walls, posters of revolt cry.
I see the students rising up in defiance, challenging a mammoth apolitical sleeping body of mind.
I see them pushing to break through the silence that spreads like an epidemic all around.
I see them struggle and fight alone in this slumbering ground.
তাই যাদবপুরে আজও হয় কলরব।
আর কোলকাতা আছে কোলকাতা তেই।
Because Kolkata is it’s people,
সকাল বেলার গরম কচুড়ী আর চা।
Where everyone speaks বাংলা ,
And even জয়দেব দা পাশের দোকানে,
Knows a little of politics, Rabindrasangeet and Satyajit Ray.
Kolkata is made up of US,
The ones who want to ask.
And that is why here I am,
From Mumbai to Delhi to Kolkata,
Because I love বাংলা and this is where my story began…
Yes, you might say I’m immature, and that I don’t know “real life”,
But I’d rather be a dreamer and stay ALIVE.
Words are stuck in my mouth like salt from the sea breeze clinging on to your lips. The wind breaks open the skin and creates new gulfs between our languages. I want to touch you, fold you in my arms and watch you evaporate under my gaze. The sense of pleasure shivering down the trunk of palm trees, dark and silhouetted against the red sky. The trees bend with the wind, arching to kneel at the feet of the soil. They make sloshing noises, the leaves rubbing against the bark of other trees. Like a huge tidal wave, I push you away from within my depths out towards the sand bare shore. Few minutes later, I choke on the void that I weave around myself. With another surge, I pull you away from that bed of stones and debris again. There is no fight, no struggle. You bob along the waves and ripples in the current, on my whims. I want to hold you and yet let go of you at the same time. Maybe in different parts of the world, it’s happening right now. Our alter-egos are pushing and pulling each other away simultaneously. In a parellel universe, we might be two poles of a magnet pulling each other yet kept infinitely separate. What would I have done if I never met you? Would I still be hanging suspended in this two dimension world waiting to be reborn in this inked life? Like a kite without a thread, flying listlessly or better yet floating aimlessly over our heads across the sky? Or perhaps, I would be the dust that rises and floats and settles back down on old furnitures and carpets and then rises up again with every wind that blows.
Je me souviens d’elle quand il neige
Dans le ciel vaste, les étoiles sont apparues et disparues
Quand l’odeur de la cigarette et des chocolats se mélange,
Ça me souviens d’elle encore
Ses cheveux courte et son tattoo dans la main
Ses yeux petites qui disparues
chaque fois qu’elle souri
Un sourire sans penser
Un sourire qui m’a attiré
Quelques chansons quelques poèmes
Je peux les écouter même aujourd’hui quand il pleut
Sur la pluie, sa voix du passé vient à moi dans le présent
Sa voix, pas trop douce, pas trop fort
Mais, un son que j’adore
Je ne peux pas oublier tout ça
Je vais les préserver
Parcequ’il me rend nostalgique de mon amour
Et c’est un souvenir près de mon cœur
Pine trees, ancient and majestic, stood all around us. As our car sped up the slope, the narrow roads snaked around the hills, twisting and turning at each bend suddenly. Despite the icy cold wind lashing at my face and biting into my skin, there was a certain unexpected crispiness in the very air that lifted my spirits. Clouds softly descended on us and slowly the roads ahead disappeared, the tall pine trees faded away and everything vanished into the white.
At night, these clouds enveloped the little hill station and left their faint traces behind, on the red tiled rooftops, the glass windows and car wind shields, just tiny water droplets.
With each gulp of the steaming hot coffee, the heat poured into my soul and warmed me up from within. I held the cup in my palms, absorbing it’s warmth quietly. Birds chirped outside. Wild flowers bloomed in the shrubs at the edge of the roads, in the bushes over the boundary walls and in little yellow red cane baskets near the schools. Children dressed in uniform ran outside laughing, talking, staring at us. Down below on the hillside, colourful Tibetan flags fluttered in the wind here and there.
the morning sky was just beginning to clear. Little shapes huddled together in the fading darkness were starting to form their own outlines against the grey that stretched far and wide. One could slowly distinguish the trees drenched in soft golden hues, standing tall and proud. The younger saplings swayed in the damp cold breeze. The wind swept across the valleys, through the pine trees, in between the green saplings and crept down towards the dingy settlements gathered at the foot of the hills. As it lashed upon the shut glass windows repeatedly, it grew colder, harsher. Left out in the open, it circled the settlements impatiently and wailed in complain, seeking for a hole or gap to burst in through. The morning lay cloaked in silence, except for the occasional moaning of the wind scraping at the wooden doors and slipping off the window panes. As the sun tried to emerge, in the distance, smoke went up from tiny chimneys here and there. Long dark serpents of fumes coiled together remained motionless in the air, almost meditative. Then, gradually they dispersed with the clouds in the sky. Sunlight washed all over the village. Another new day began.
She was sitting down on the raised edge of the pavement in broad daylight, squinting at nowhere in particular. It was a hot afternoon. She sat there quietly, lost and absentminded. A car honked past, breaking her reveries. What was it that she was thinking about?
She got up suddenly and adjusted the huge bag on her shoulder and started walking away at a brisk pace, unlike the calm that she had personified only moments ago. There was a mysterious pattern in the way she placed one foot in front of the other and walked with a purposeful gait. Her bag swinging at her side with each step she took. It looked bulky and heavy for her slender figure but there was no sign of struggle in her movements. She walked effortlessly with a flow of her own, uninhibited by the burden she carried. With two quick glances on either sides of the street to check for oncoming vehicles, she deftly started walking across. Clap clap echoed aloud, her boots on the empty road. The sound gradually receded in the distance and finally got muffled by other noises. Just like that, her silhouette merged with those of other people amidst the crowd. She faded away into thin air like mist in the sunlight.
While she lay in bed wide awake, suddenly the darkness cracked for a split second as the lightening bolt snaked into her room through the open window. Coiled up inside, wrenching apart parts of the darkness and then merged away into the shadows once again.
The thunder roared like an angry beast expressing it’s thirst. Nature was raging. It was pouring. The sky was sobbing. The trees shook their heads in silent consolation.
But she wasn’t afraid. It thrilled her. The sounds of thunder and the flashes of lightening jolted her out of the monotonous life.
It was a refreshing unpredictability. She loved the uncertainty, the suddenness of it. Her eyes twinkled in the dark, reflecting the luminiscent wet street lamps outside. A small smile played on her face. She didn’t have dimples on her cheeks. Just one soft dent in her chin where the darkness settled down and refused to leave. She looked out blindly at the chaos of wind sound and confused raindrops. One soul alone wide awake amidst the storm.
The sunlight mellowed as it rested on the metal head of the lamp post. It was a late winter afternoon. Sitting alongside the glass wall of the cafe that overlooked the busy street across, she sat stirring a cup of coffee lost in her own thoughts.
She was thinking about her mother and wondering how to pay the rent due at the end of this month. Her mother had suddenly called up to inform her that she will be coming to visit her. She had been reluctant in showing her happiness, on the phone. She knew her apartment was a mess. It worried her to have to put things in order again. She had become quite comfortable in her lazy routined life alone. Living in this regular dishabille had started seeming strangely pleasant to her. It reminded her of freedom.
That independence she had always yearned for. Her little actions of keeping a lock on the cupboard, shutting the computer every time her parents or cousins walked into the room and closing her door at night. They were just hints to her greater desire for some solitude, some privacy. She liked to stay out of the limelight, to remain unobserved. And finally, here in this big city, she had found a small room of her own where she could spend hours unnoticed and oblivious to the rest of the world outside.
She will have to put away the clothes for wash as soon as she gets home tonight, she thought to herself. Maybe she would also change the bedsheets. She had forgotten when was the last time she had replaced them. Looking up from her cup of coffee, she glanced outside the glass absently.
People were passing by in groups of two or three and some by themselves. The tired ones walking with a slow and heavy gait, while others walked briskly as if in a hurry. A few elementary-school kids in uniforms ran about from one corner of the street to the other screaming out each other’s names, laughing loudly.
She smiled as she watched a particular child among them. It was a girl who had tripped and fallen down. Instead of dusting herself when she got up, she was busy chasing and shouting at the two other boys who had by then disappeared around the bend. Her one ribbon had come off her plait and it dangled precariously at the edge of her hair, her jacket one size too big for her, flapped about her thighs as she shot through the road at her highest speed.
She hadn’t got this month’s payment yet. It was stressful to handle everything without enough money in the bank. And now even her mother was coming all of a sudden. The thought kept circling back to her. How will she pay the rent? Will she borrow some cash from her mother for now?
She took a sip of coffee from her cup. It was her favorite type, an Americano. The whole place was filled with various aromas but as she savoured the flavour on her tongue, it’s subtle scent stood out from the rest. She closed her eyes and tried to enjoy the aftertaste.
This was one of her usual haunts. She would often saunter in and sit for awhile in silent contemplation, figure out problems or just cherish her free time. But today that relative peace and meditative calm was being hard to come by, because her head was bubbling with unresolved thoughts and do what she could, she just couldn’t think of a way out of that loop. She sighed in defeat, as she kept the cup back down on the table. She felt like a rat running in a wheel. An endless race against time.
Instead of answers, today her mind was exploding with a multitude of questions. The sun was quickly going down. Winter days are shorter and the streets darken faster. Outside, the once busy avenue was now looking quite desolate. She looked at her phone, it was getting late. Time was running out.
She could talk to the landlord and convince him to extend the due date. She was sure her salary would be deposited in her account by next week at the latest. But would he be willing to consider her request? Will he agree to her proposal? What else could she do anyway? She didn’t want to borrow from her mother. This was just the fifth month since she left home and had decided to live by her own terms. She couldn’t possibly go back on her words of so-called freedom and independence now.
If push came to shove she would take a loan. Her eyes shone as she mentally recalled the events of the day she had left home. She felt the adrenaline rush through her once more. Her fingers trembled slightly around the handle of the cup as she lifted it and brought it up to her lips. She relived the sense of liberation each time she thought of that day. She had decided on the spur of the moment to leave her city of origins and move here, a strange land with an unfamiliar tongue and unknown people all around. She knew she would find solace amongst the different, the ‘other’.
She believed if she wanted to live like a free soul, she had to let go of all her attachments. If she let go of what tied her down, she could fly. And then she had soared.
In the past few months, she had become another immigrant in this huge city where so many people from so many different places come together and try to find an identity of their own, within this mad bazaar. It’s a gypsy fair of brilliantly coloured individual stories and ever-changing histories. And amidst them all, she is yet another person with a story. In the yellow lit cafe, somewhere on the wall a clock chimed softly, marking the hour. She shook herself out of the reverie and scanned the walls in search of the clock.
The melancholy note was still pouring out of the wooden clock as she stared at it’s pendulum. It was in the shape of a little red robin floating in mid-air. The robin was in suspension, flitting from one end to the other with the movement of the pendulum. As she watched it, she felt like that robin, moving on the waves of time, living in an infinite state of oscillation.
I have sex in a dark room without fans. A room filled with cigarette smoke and the smell of tobacco mixed with the rank stench of beer and vomit, heavy in the air, waiting to settle down on our bare bodies like dust in an old storeroom. I lie there on the hard plank thinking about nothing, just hearing the rhythmic squeaking of the rusted iron springs. I am sore. I can’t get used to the pain searing through me, ripping apart my insides. I have lost count of the number of times they come and go. I only register the pain hitting my limp body like endless waves of the sea crashing ashore. I’m painfully numb. But now and then I can feel it. Sudden excrutiating pains bright against a dim backdrop. Like the cigarette stub burning an angry hot scar on my neck. After he has finished with me, he pulls his pants up, I can hear the zipper’s slight protest, then he picks his shirt and leaves. I lie there awhile longer staring at nothing in the black darkness. The dark comforts me, like a warm blanket it envelops me in it’s loving caress. I hesitate to get out of the bed. I feel the sheets with my palm and it’s damp; damp with blood. My blood. Thick, warm and sticky under my prodding fingers. I waddle out of the bed and drag myself sluggishly towards the bathroom; the broken tub inside it is half filled with water left over from the afternoon. That should do. I shout for a bucket of hot water to be fetched from downstairs. It costs me a few coins. That’s the cost of my new life after the break of dawn. A little girl in two long plaits brings in my hot water and pours it noisily into the tub. Water spills on the floor. I hear it splash and I stare at the ripples before putting my feet inside it, and slowly sinking in. The warmth bites into my flesh, the cigarette burn stings at the touch of hot water. But it’s nice. I close my eyes to absorb the heat with all my senses. It makes me feel alive. I breathe in the musty smell of hot water and blood while the steam rises up to meet the cloud of tobacco smoke left by the day’s visitors. The darkness is gradually dispersing, soft sunlight creeping in through the window shades. And finally, I am freefalling into the realm of sleep.