Friday, March 09, 2007

Rite of passage

Years vanish down the drain without as much as a blip on the memory. And then one night, or one day, can hold enough memories for a lifetime, memories which mould your identity in ways you don’t understand. After all we are not the day-jobs we hold, the clothes, the electronic cards and the annual vacations; defined by all those places inside our minds we secretly visit, shaped by all that we feel but can’t articulate, we are ultimately a zero-sum of our days and thoughts and actions. And, of course, our memories.

The TV plays in the otherwise dark room, casting flashes of uncertain light. A commercial break. A little girl appears, all milk teeth and pony-tail, dressed in a doctor’s coat. Her father smiles at her. Insurance policies. For children.

He reaches across the divan for the remote control, his thumb already on the mute button before his mind can record the need for silence. It’s like that sometimes. You know what you want before you can think it through.

There are times when I have no questions, times when I seek no answers. These are times when there is no trepidation, when peace stretches every second into a tranquil eternity, when life is a maze without walls, holding no more mysteries, when I am the tongue that speaks every language, the hands that reincarnate, the eyes that see everything.

She lies silently beside him, her round face looking – and not looking – at him. The TV lights one half of her face, the other half in the shadows equally delicate and beautiful. His fingers trace the ridges of her cheeks, the bridge of her nose, the symmetry of her lips, engraving on his memory the geography of her face, the contours of her body. He ventures north – to the arrows of her eyebrows - and then south – to the cleft in her chin, to the undulation of her throat - and then back up into the soft mess of her hair. He kisses her eyelids, her neck, her shoulders … she pulls him up towards her.

Every now and then, a story settles in the corners of your mind,
In the corners of your mind like cosmic dust caught in a cobweb.
And then you have to write,
Write about eagles and hunters and deserts and gypsies,
About old men and young women, about love in the afternoon sun …
And when you’re done writing,
Done writing the story, you don’t know.
Don’t know if you lived and wrote,
Or wrote and lived…

She breaks away, a little breathless, her lips a little softer now. The game-show is back on. She turns away from him, pulling the woolen blanket up to her chin, and reaches for the remote.

“Shall I lock it?”

The host’s voice booms into the room, the glassy silence shatters into a thousand tiny slivers, retreating to the four corners of the room. Reality intrudes into the privacy of their physicality, pounding at the tenuous link between their heartbeats.

She looks at the screen without registering, without acknowledging the truth of the past few minutes. She ignores the warmth she can feel rising inside her. She had been there, had had the choice and she had made it. Made a choice she thought she wouldn’t choose. Now she had another choice to make.

The audience laughs; another contestant done away with. The host simpers, and ushers in another commercial break. She switches off the TV, turns, and looks at him.

There are times when questions plague my heart, when the answers ravage my carefully developed certainty, when the rat race becomes a refuge. These are times of anxiety and anticipation, a period of doubt waiting for my faiths to turn into my future, when life lies thrown open riddled with choices, when my courage seeks companionship, when I am the sheep that could so easily get lost, when I am the shepherdess who doesn’t know if she wants to be one.

She can see him in the dark, smiling at her, his eyes all crinkled up. It gave his face an odd mixture of youth and experience, an attractive blend of the sanguine and the sad. She lies on her side, facing him, feeling him under his shirt, running her hand along the side of his face, playing with his hair. She is amused by how familiar their bodies have become to each other, how some places are visited as a matter of routine, how certain touches are expected and received, amused by how natural it is to want without knowing.

He caresses her body under the blanket. They kiss again, eagerly, tongues and lips, hands and fingers, legs and thighs, teeth and nails, exploring, engaging, exhuming long-dead emotions. The clothes come off quickly. And they make love. Man and woman.

There is time, I tell him,
To ponder theory and technique and perfection,
To discuss postmodernism and Neruda and evolution.
But hurry now, for it will soon dawn,
And the night, quickly gone.

Tell me a story, sing me a song,
Make it haunting, make it long,
And wait for me to sing along.

Tell me how the earth smells where you come from,
How it rains, how the roads lead up into the hills.
Tell me about forest fires and famine and fever,
About your lovers and the temperature of your evenings,
Tell me about old men and young women,
About wine in the afternoon and lazy love under the sun …


He stops. They are making too much noise, he realizes; the landlord might wake up. He reaches urgently under the pillow for the remote, switches on the TV, turns the volume up, watching the green counter on the screen increment from right to left. 30 … 42 … 58 … he turns towards her.

Kaise Bataaoon Kis Kis Tarah Se Pal Pal Mujhe Tu Sataati …

Kishore Kumar sings. Dev Anand. Waheeda Rehman. Prem Pujari. She giggles, breathing under his weight, shifting to help him settle comfortably on her. He grins at her, at the ridiculousness of the moment.

Tere Hi Sapne Lekar Ke Soya Teri Hi Yaadon Mein Jaaga … he whispers into her ears, singing softly, tickling her ear-lobes ... Lena Hoga Janam Hameh Kayi Kayi Baar

The TV goes off the blink -- power-cut. The fan grinds to a halt. They giggle, unmindful of the interruption and return to their love-making, oblivious to their noise.

Be patient, my dear.
Did I tell you I once was a sailor? A voyager
Into the vocabulary of the heart,
Dropping anchor in time-trapped islands;
Islands populated by mermaids with long green hair
And unblinking eyes.
Mermaids who looked inside you and sang in a strange tongue,
Bewitching sailors
Who lost their way and never returned home.*

Be patient, dearest,
While I say my story and sing you a song.
I’ll make it enchanting, I’ll make it long.
I’ll wait for you to sing along.

Let me tell you
About boats and broken nets, about storms and sticky seaweed,
About men trapped
In the nobility of their ambitions.
Let me explain my secrets, my promises,
The bargains I struck with my dreams.
And then let me tell you
About wheat fields in the wind and rain-rusted ploughs,
About forgiveness in the dusty shade of a church,
About the flame in the villages that never dies,
About the songs of old men and young women,
Who sip wine in the afternoon and make love under the sun …

They lie on the mattress, a mass of naked skin, sweat and urgent breathing, engulfed in the quiet afterglow of their union, sated, spent, speechless, love-bites all over their bodies.

She lies on top of him, her hair sprawled across his face and chest. She tells him she thinks their bodies fit well. Like always. And he, like always, laughs at her.

He lifts her gently from him, sits up and reaches for the alarm clock. She reaches out swiftly, grabs his wrist and pulls him down. He looks at her quizzically.

“What is it?” he whispers.

“Happy Birthday,” she says, and smiling weakly, plants a kiss on his forehead.

***

* - The Mermaid reference influenced by Ulysses, with all due respect to Homer.

14 comments:

Arundhathi said...

A beautifully packaged gift is even better unwrapped ...

musafir said...

arundhathi

Cheeky. Very cheeky.

But then, spot on too.

But then again, the thrill of the gift is in the unwrapping. Or so they say.

Arundhathi said...

The minute a gift is unwrapped is a minute in which the sharp contrast of a wish and a brush of reality is either shown or hid ....

musafir said...

arundhathi

But then we end up in the land of cups and lips and slips {no pun intended whatsoever; sheesh, I'm stopping right here}.

Enough hide-and-seek, do you have a blog as well?

Karthik said...

Ok - i saw the labels this time, so wont make any inane comments :D
Sooper da - it was really really good !! Can i find you a publisher someday ?

Stallion said...

I think u have ' Kalyaana aasai ' in ur mind now da.

musafir said...

karthik

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

another well crafted piece...i like the effort that goes into ur creations ...unlike some other blogs i read... Ks frnd again!

musafir said...

K's friend

Thanks! "crafted" and "effort" are the words -- took some time over this, yes. I'm glad that you could appreciate it.

Arundhathi said...

'Had'

musafir said...

arundhathi

Hmmm ... no two words when one will do eh?

arundhathi said...

At times it helps to be miserly where words are concerned (more than 10 words here!!) ;-)

musafir said...

arundhathi

:-)

Anonymous said...

musafir......beautiful journeys with words.....