Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Untitled - 2

You always know when it happens.

That morning had a greater need for sacrifice than most others in his life. Mornings always blaze into life, he felt. Ebullient, aggressive, purposeful. But today, as he stood looking from the balcony out onto the park, the light seemed to hesitate as it found its way through the trees. Slowing down before it fell on earth, pondering before it lay itself on wet grass.

There are times when you find you have no room. You look hard, but no, there's not an extra inch of space. Not on that sagging bookshelf for your dog-eared comics. Not on the swanky mobile phone for saving any more smses. Maybe you're keeping something you don't want but can't bring yourself to throw it away. Everything comes with a pre-defined size.

He threw his scarf around his shoulders and strode out into the morning, the hard heels of his boots crunching on the sidewalk. He liked walks. They gave his imagination the respite of motion.

You always know when you hit rock-bottom. You're plunging and suddenly there's this distinctive shudder while everything around you goes still. You open your eyes and find yourself at the bottom of this huge ocean, finding it difficult to breathe. You wonder how you got here, but then vaguely remember how you'd tied the lead-weight around your legs and thrown yourself into the water. You struggle to move, thrashing about in the water, entangled in the weeds. And as it gets more and more difficult to breathe, you realize you really should take that key from your pocket, unlock the weight, and swim up for air.

He waited for his turn at the ticket counter. He liked the patience of queues, the quiet shuffling of feet towards a common destiny, the empty acknowledging stares and the discipline in waiting. A ticket in his pocket, he planted himself on a vacant bench under a bare tree. He liked autumn. If you listen carefully, you will hear the leaves whisper tales as they fall, his grandmother had once told him. He believed her.

There are times when you can't look in the mirror. What for? becomes difficult to answer. Why not? tempts you with its truth. Understanding becomes betrayal. Promises become compromises.

He checked his step as he climbed into the compartment. He always did that. He found seat 31. As he unfurled the morning paper, his thoughts turned towards her involuntarily, wondering if she had found his note.

Sometimes, there simply is no room in the heart. And you always know when that happens.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Late afternoon. An unforgiving sun, oppressive heat and a salty breeze. Crabs lie frying on the sand.

He's sweating - around his neck, under his armpits and at the waist, where the elastic bites into tender skin. His languid body lies writhing on the beach-towel with the peculiar discomfort of those half asleep.

Waking up is always a compromise, he thinks, rolling his eyeballs underneath his eyelids. A compromise between freedom and choice. A choice made is a freedom relinquished.

He opens his eyes.

Sky. Bare, brilliant, blue and overwhelming. A compromise between space and light, between emptiness and enlightenment, between the physical and the surreal.

He removes his tongue from where it's wedged in a corner of his mouth. Rolls it about. Swallows hard, letting the bitterness of his sleep permeate his insides. He blinks into the distance. The light hurts. His eyes crinkle up. So does his nose. The sky breaks into fragments.

He can sense that something is wrong.

He rolls onto his side and rests himself on an elbow. The beach is empty. Not a soul around. The sand is a funny colour, he notices, black at certain places, a grainy brown at others, sheer white otherwise. A crow flies from atop a palm on the shore, swoops down to the foam and picks something up. He can't see what. Probably a dead fish. Or a snail. Or something which caught its eye.

The feeling builds inside him slowly. Like mercury inside a thermometer on a hot day. He falls back. Looks at the sky again. Where is this ...

He sits up abruptly.

Where is this place?

He laughs. The very thought preposterous and amusing at the same time. He shakes his head, clearing his mind. And thinks.

He can't remember. Tries again. No. Not working.

He looks around in panic. There's a bottle of beer lying nearby, in a stubby with pictures of naked women on it. The stubby is familiar. He remembers buying it. Buying it - somewhere, for someone ... Where? For whom? And why is it with him if he bought it for someone else? He strains his memory, staring hard at the crimson stripes running along the length of the towel. Where? For whom? He notices that the stripes have smaller white stripes running inside them. Who ...

Who was he?

There's sweat in his eyes, his breathing a combination of heaves and spasms.

There's something wrong here. He looks around again. He can see a woman far off, walking along the shore, towards him. From where he sits, he can see she's tall, and pretty in her fluttering frock and coolers. She's carrying a bag. He wonders what she's doing here. Maybe he should ask her about himself.

For chrissakes ... get a grip, he curses silently. Think. Focus, he orders himself. Or maybe you shouldn't focus, he reconsiders. Maybe you shouldn't think. Maybe you should let your consciousness wander. Yes, he agrees. Falling back, he closes his eyes.

There's nothing on his mind. He can feel the threads in the towel eating into his sweaty back. There's a sharp pain in his wrist. He then realizes it's been there all along, ever since he woke up. There, he kids himself, there's a memory for you. A painful memory, he laughs at his own joke. He rotates the wrist masochistically, relishing the pain, clinging onto it like one would cling onto a ledge when pushed over a cliff. He then starts moving each of his joints, searching for pain ... somewhere, some memory, some trigger. It's a bizarre sight. There? He feels his knee-cap. Wasn't that pain? He rubs it vigorously, almost sadistically, wishing there was pain. But no, he moves on. The ankles, the shoulders ...

And then, like fireworks on a night sky, an image bursts inside his head, like ink splashed violently on paper.

The fireworks die. The ink clears. And he sees an old woman, wrapped in a shawl, with graying hair tied in a knot. She's buying fish. There's a small kid standing beside her, holding her hand, pestering her. He concentrates on her face. And the old woman disappears, dissolving inside his mind. But the kid is still there, looking up at the old woman who's no longer there. The kid's now crying. He focusses on the kid's face. And presently, the kid disappears too.

The ink draws in quickly and clears away. Another scene. This time he sees a boy swimming in the sea. The boy looks like him. He wakes up. The boy looks like him! He closes his eyes quickly, and the image forms again. The boy's swimming. Eager for a clue, he looks into the vision. It's a race. There are other boys swimming besides the boy who looks like him, but they are ahead of the boy who looks like him. There's an island a few hundred metres ahead, with yellow breakers and red buoys and people cheering. The boy who looks like him is striving, stretching every muscle, but with every stroke, the others seem to surge ahead. He finds himself urging the boy ahead, exhorting him to swim faster. He looks up into the vision and sees the island nearing. He looks down and the boy is no longer there. He focusses into the sea, scanning the waves. And the vision breaks.

He opens his eyes again. Frustrated. His back is itching, and the pain in his wrist is irritating. But he knows he must try again. And he closes his eyes.

He sees a man and a woman making love. He looks around them, and all he sees is darkness. He realizes that the darkness is not in his vision of them, but around them in the dream. The woman is pretty. Not beautiful. Just pretty. He looks at the man, but the man's back is turned towards him. He realizes he can't see who the man is. He tries rotating the vision. But no. It's stuck in his head. It doesn't change any more. The couple is frozen. Suspended in his imagination. Locked in an eternal embrace. And he keeps looking at the woman, expecting her to disappear. But no, she stays there, her face serene and divine. And just as it seems as if she's going to smile at him, the vision breaks into a million little pieces, and the ink draws across. He waits for it to clear, but it stays that way.

He opens his eyes. Waking up is such a compromise. It's like you know where you are and where you want to end up, but you still have to look up the map and make the journey. It's like building a bridge just for the sake of it.

He turns over on his back, thinking. Of the old woman. Of that boy who looked like him. And of that couple locked together.

Who are these people? Do I know them? Or are these just images from some B-grade movie I might have seen recently? Like yesterday? Oh damn ...

He sits up, looking at the sea in front of him. The waves break, advance and retreat, break, advance and retreat.

What have I got now? A beach-towel. A half-drunk bottle of beer. Do I drink beer? I don't know. Hell, I don't remember! Add to that a few stupid images stuck inside my head. Where do I go from here? I don't know where I am, don't know where I want to go, rather I don't have a clue where to go, and what's worse, I don't have a map. Big journey!

He spits into the sand. The spittle rolls into a ball, gathering some grains before it stops.

Maybe it's all for the good, he rationalizes. Who knows what I was? And why should I take the trouble to find out? Maybe this is a chance to start all over again. I just have to decide not to choose. Choose not to remember. Choose not to be what I was. Choose not to go where I should go. Choose to see everything in a new light. Make new memories, start a new life. He feels his thoughts fleeing.

Maybe I'll go work in a restaurant, save money, travel around the world. Or maybe I should make a movie. Or, or, maybe I'll go live in a faraway island, and fall in love with a native girl. He catches himself fantasizing. Rubbish. Need to remember, need to get my bearings, he reminds himself. He feels tired all of a sudden. He plops back on the towel, and closes his eyes.

And almost immediately, the couple reappears. Almost as if they were waiting for some imaginary curtain to part.

The woman is smiling at him now. Again, he's curious about the man. This time, however, the image yields as he tries to rotate it. Slowly, the man's face emerges. The jaw, the straight, long nose ...


Someone's tugging at his shoulder. He wakes up.

"Ajjjjjaaaaaay ... wake up. Let's go. It's getting late"

It's her.

The pretty woman from his vision.

The tall woman in a frock. A pair of coolers on her head, and a bag of shells in her hands.

"Ajay, what's wrong?"


He feels like a man who fell off a cliff and discovers he has wings.


Images whiz in front of his eyes. ID cards, driving licenses, mark-sheets, people, places, a beer stubby bought for a friend who died, badminton and an overused wrist, voices calling out - AJ, Ajjie, coffee machines, credit card bills, mobile phone numbers, parties at work ... and amidst all these there are other images and thoughts. Images of an old woman buying fish, of a boy swimming, of a couple making love. And thoughts of a faraway island and a native girl.

"Nothing Anjali," he says, smiling at her, "Let me go get the car," and reaches under a corner of the towel for the keys.

Waking up is a compromise.

A compromise between freedom and choice.

The choice to dream.

And the freedom to live.