There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kolkata: Half Baked Dreams

By Aritro Bhattacharya
Kolkata, India

Opposite Caffeine, Gol Park

It rained. Hard and blinding and brief. Unusual squall for a mid-May urban day. As the drops pelted down upon the rickety tin buses and the squabbling auto-rickshaws and the archaic cabs of the yore and the adolescent motorcycles, I patiently waited. As the hydrants spewed tarry sewage and the associated paraphernalia of glistening gutkha wrappers, stubs of unfiltered, carcinogenic, uncouth, cheap Charminars pulverized by the gurgling muck, a couple of earthen bhaands in aimless ying-yan swirl, and a lonely used condom sticking out like the spent phalanx of a phantasmal lovemaking, I waited. As truant love-birds, sidewalk bastards, academic discards mayhemmed, launched paper fleets, danced topless, intertwined furtive fingers which occasionally touched fiery, taboo flesh, I waited. As the feuding mini-buses, the marauding 407s, the medieval hand-pulled rickshaws writhed, squirmed and wriggled through the orgies of existence and the pot-holes and first rains and earth smells and death-raced each other to respective destinations, I waited. As Ayudh’s ashes still floated down the polluted Buriganga, cosying against drained bottles of hooch, broken kolkes, dog carcasses and the rotting tuberose wreaths of the dead, I waited. In his city which was once mine. For a girl who was once his.

I wouldn’t have recognized Saanjh if not for her characteristic Madhu Sapresque sashay which she picked up God-only-knows-how from the grainy, flickering fashion shows of 21” B-W Keltron which occupied about 1/7 of the 6 * 8 room in Chetla which she shared with her parents and a scoundrel brother. Saanjh Mitra was born out of a failed contraceptive measure, as she loved to say. She was a girl, which translated into ‘one more idle mouth to feed and get married off to someone not a pimp or a rapist’ in her environs. More so because her father, a Communist by ideal and an accountant at a local grocer’s by practice, swore upon Sukanta’s promise of making this world more habitable for the kids and decided to practice celibacy till that happened. It never happened, her wife bore his fruit twice, and he had to work his ass out to provide for them. He silently brooded over his twin failures of a broken promise and his withering utopia. He never complained though, and instead supplemented the lack of dietary proteins with mouthfuls of poetry- from Whitman to Jibanananada, his trips were eclectic. And so, born into a smoggy Kolkata twilight, into a prosaic locality of long queues at the communal tube-well, starving, littering dogs, and domestic violence and crackling radios and rowdy Kalipuja and Durgapuja and Vishwakarmapuja carousels, Saanjh was christened so by her father, who brushed aside the traditional Annapurna, Protima or Karabi.

And, as good genes and bad luck would have it, much to her mother’s consternations Saanjh loved mathematics, poetry and the colour Red. She gave two hoots to mastering the business of stitching together petticoats for a local hosiery brand that her mother dabbled in to add to her father’s infinitisemal salary, shunned the company of the soap-opera ogling girls of her colony who sighed over the chest hairs of Chiranjeet and Prasenjit and the nasal soprano of Kishor Kumar clones, never leafed through Prasad, Nabakallol or any damndest Bengali magazines if not for poetries, summarily ignored the cat-calls, whistles and sexual and romantic innuendos of drain-pipe-trousered, fish-net-vested, wiry-biceped, grease-slickened matinee Bhola, Pocha or the slightly chic Rocky of her paara.

Going much against the run of the domestic sewing-machines, she aced her class in the municipal high school where the teachers were more interested in bunking classes than the students, and gate crashed into the hallowed porticos of Presidency. On a full tuition waiver. To study Mathematics. Good she did. Where else would she have met Ayudh?

Campus folklore has it that Ayudh Sen Chowdhury, the bespectacled (the best pair of frames from G K Opticals, Ballygunge), fair-skinned, pink-lipped, guitar-strumming, Dylan-humming, Lake Place resident fell in love with Saanjh over her colourful orations in the Canteen where she borrowed liberally from her list of after-dusk expletives which would put any guy to shame, and also from nondescript little magazine ideas. However, going by his hyperactive hormones and her lithe dusk-skinned, pout-lipped, kohl-eyed, perfect-breasted figure, both of which have hordes of students vouching for, it was lust that rather paved the way for this alliance. Add to it Saanjh’s natural inclination towards numbers and Ayudh’s innate nonchalance towards anything distantly curricular, and no wonder Ayudh clung on so dearly to his lady love or lust, whatever you may term it.

“Kire Neel? Ki khobor? What’s cooking”? The reverie was broken. I could just make out a whiff of Chanel. Oh yes, Saanjh had come a long way. But more of that later.

People say grief can turn you into idiots. Standing in the rain I thought the theory was totally retro. Or perhaps it was not. We really were playing the parts of idiots. It was barely a couple of days since Ayudh had died. Yes he did. He was all of 26. More of that later.

And here was Saanjh, his muse and I, his accomplice in numerous escapades, walking in the rain towards the Caffeine nestled in between Grub Club and Amber take-away.

His favourite haunt. Across His zebra-crossings and His traffic lights. His paper-mâché coasters. His ceramic mugs. His framed Garfield strips. His Café Negro. His Cappuccino Grande. His greasy chicken nuggets. His loosely-strung guitar. His stunned hearts. His dried tears. His starched, Chanel-ed, vermillioned, impregnated ex-girlfriend. His irritated best mate. His breathing poetries. His Dylan Thomas. His Sreejato. His Saanjhbaati. His Akashneel. His broken links. He was this close to playing God. He so is not here.

“Saanjh, you should have made it to his house before they took him away. Kakima was asking for you”.

“Saanjh, you should meet at least meet with Kakima once, she needs that.”

“Saanjh, do you miss Che? Motorcycle Diaries? Boolean Algebra? Marijuana swigs? The day we decided to launch a radio station for the insomniac, suicidal and the prostitute?”

“Saanjh, will you name your unborn foetus Ayudh? Even if for a second? So that he is born into poetry?”

“Saanjh, Ayudh died. I am scared. This city is no longer mine. Shred it into pieces. Distribute the pieces among the leper, the love-child and the love-lorn.”

“Saanjh, shed a tear. For God’s sake. Ayudh is dead.”

No quivering lips. No trembling hands. No choked larynxes. No nauseating longings.

The unsaid words crawled all over the place. Traipsed over the acrid coffee smell. Into the manicured nails manoeuvring the mobile phone. Whirring it, buzzing it, typing texts. The syllables animated the weary fingers rubbing the bloodshot eyes and porcupine stubble and acetic eyelids. Two mannequins, layered in Levis, Fabindia, Ray Ban, dog-eared Nike, Dr Scholl’s’ pumps. Enacting the charade of familiarity. And grief and conversation in a faux-pas bistro in a faux-pas cosmopolis. Nothing is said. Nothing is asked. The blowing AC circulates no apparent torment. Perfect harmony.

The last sip trickles down the gullet. Tasted like gasoline. Pity Ayudh can’t taste this. Would have puked. Would have been fun. Madhu Sapre in Chanel next to me stirs. Swift flick of wrists. Pays check. Tips. Plumbs deep down into the Gucci bag. God, isn’t she RICH nowadays!!! Fishes out a papyrus from the forgotten times. When Ayudh was alive.

“Neel, Ayudh wanted you to have this. I’ve been carrying this albatross for many lives now, it seems.”

“What is this”? Even though I know it in my bones.

“No idea, a letter perhaps. He wanted me to give you this if he died before you. I don’t think he meant so soon. You know, how humongous an emotional bastard he was. And how he loved writing……”

“Yes, he wanted to get published”.

“You bet. And now he’s gone! I believe his ‘omnibus’ is still hidden somewhere. For posterity. But for whom?”

Sepulchral silence. The first quiver. The first sting. The first acid rain.

We step out.

A pair of leaden Kolkata skies implode into a zillion Ayudh droplets.