Monday, May 16, 2011

The suite

He switched on the hot water knob and let the warmth of the water soak his tired legs. Ah, bliss! In a few hours, he would address a press conference with the Greek Prime Minister on the bailout package that the IMF had decided for the debt-ridden country. And he would have to spend long agonising hours with the Finance Minister deliberating over the details, the intricate, mindnumbing details. Oh, it was killing. He poured some liquid soap into the water and rubbed his hands to make foam. This was the only time in the last two days that he had found for himself. Cath was going to attend Cambridge and he had had no time to congratulate her. Why is the Greek economy more important than my daughter's graduation, he asked himself, and surprisingly, did not arrive at an answer.

There was a noise outside. He started. He thought he had closed the door but maybe not. The drinks at the state dinner last night had left him groggy and he had not been up to speed since morning. He pushed himself out of the tub and peered from the door. A slim lady, not over 30, was bent over the table, accumulating stuff on a tray. She wore the sort of costume that he had observed a cosply actress wear at a members-only club in Japan, frilly skirt and satin top, something that reminded him of an air doll. Oh yes, he had tried one of those. Before meeting Anne, he had passed months without meeting any woman. Koizumi had suggested to him to try one. The Japanese, he sighed!

She was petite, this woman, who was now dusting the mantelpiece with a tiny brush. Its light brown bristles made a soft movement that made a mockery of the act. He was standing in the most exclusive suite known to man, and here was this lady, dusting and cleaning, when she could just as soon walk into his arms and allow him to show how decisive he could be in bed.

He walked towards her. Her hair was tied in a tight bun and the skin at the nape of her neck glowed with a fragrance that he could not have smelled at this distance but was sure was emanating from her. She turned around and gave him a shocked look. "Oh I am terribly sorry sir," she said, "I thought you weren't here." She looked here and there and began collecting her stuff to leave.

"Oh no please, don't leave, it's all right, " he said, and walked towards her. She looked at him with horror and a look passed in her eyes, a look that mixed recognition with utter surprise. Suddenly he realised he was naked, and thought, Thank God, now there is no going back. Now I cannot douse it in error.

She started walking towards the door really fast. He lunged for her. She gave out a cry, but he was grateful they were the only ones on the floor. He held her from behind and whispered sexily into her ears: "Listen, listen dear, I don't mean to hurt. Just calm down, ok? Please come here and sit."

He was reminded of the island he had visited with Anne on the invitation of Papadopulos, and the hotel room, just like this one--only smaller--where they had made love. That had followed a failed meeting with the leaders of the G8 in London where every one of his goddamn proposals was shot down by one party or the other. He had had to come out at the end of it looking like a tame rabbit who had to sugarcoat his words to the press. Bloody heads of state!

But she was still struggling, shouting now, asking to be let off. "I am the chief of the IMF darling," he told her, "and I will show you a good time." The sound of these words made him feel robust and vigorous, and for a moment, his mind actually believed them. If now, only this intransigent woman would agree!

He lifted her and the feeling of her writhing body and fighting legs soothed his tense nerves. He felt a certain pleasing heaviness enter his soul. Its imprint was similar to how he felt around Anne. They hadn't made love in a long time. There was also this irritant of her profession. As a journalist, she knew too much, she knew how powerless he really was in his job. Whenever they were together, and he was moving inside her, he imagined a dent in his pleasure because of her knowledge and his knowledge of her knowledge.

Ah, but this woman. Couldn't she just stop screaming? "I am not going to force myself, you silly goat, I promise," he said, but it didn't seem to matter. He took her inside the bedroom, threw her on the bed and latched the door. The fucking hi-tech latch. He could never wrap his head around using them. He and she might be stuck here forever. He giggled.

She was sobbing now. The anger had dissipated. He felt sorry for her. But he could not allow regret or guilt. He had to have something to pass the day. Anything, but now it was this. Oh, just managing, what-was-his-name, Dappiano, sapped the life out of him. The discussions and the boring, boring conference calls. She should understand that. "Why don't you understand," he said to her, but she kept sobbing. "Just spend some time with me, is all," he said, "and then we can go our own way."

She looked up at him now, and her eyes gleamed with the freshness of tears. "Ok," she mumbled. He thought he didn't hear her right. "Yes?" he asked her, and she nodded. He was very happy. As he walked towards her, he thought: Now I can do it, now I can do it. But he was not sure what he meant to do. Fuck her? Live the day? Locate meaning?

He took her in his arms and kissed her hair. She embraced him haltingly. He kissed her on the chin and took her hand to between his thighs. He saw himself all suited up, speaking to the press in that sophisticated voice of his, and the memory of this moment pressing him on. He took out his tongue and reached for her mouth. She turned away her face. He smiled. He liked this woman. Maybe he would check up on her later. She looked Oriental, but he could not place her. For all he knew, he may have signed a deal that affected her and her family. Yes, he was quite certain she had personally benefitted from his largesse. And here she was now, in the arms of her benefactor. He was satisfied she was thanking him in this special way.

He was big now and wanted her to take him in her mouth. "Go down," he said softly, and held her head to direct it. "I need a minute," she said. "Sure," he replied, a tad too formally, but the world knew he was a stickler for day-to-day decencies. She lingered, then got up, and left the room. He stretched himself and brought his arms behind his head as he rested against the too-large pillow. Dreams of the day floated before his eyes.

A minute passed, maybe two. She did not return. He decided to go call her. He came out of the room and checked the bathroom. The suds in the tub were now floating like less sticky versions of themselves. But there was no sign of her. "Oh," it occurred to him suddenly. "Oh that bitch," he muttered, and checked out the vast suite with shocked eyes. It was beautiful. A bunch of fresh tulips, their slender stalks hidden in the depths of a rotund Japanese vase, made an offering of peace. He was almost ready to accept it, but how? How could he? She was gone and he was left to face the day alone. He massaged his forehead, benign with the loss of lasciviousness. He heard hurried footsteps. There was commotion. A small crowd gathered at the door. Everyone stared at him. She was there too. She was there, pointing a finger at him, a small, culpable finger, her face devoid of emotion. Oh no, he thought. They started moving towards him and there was only so much time to absorb this. But at least, he said to himself, there would be a different texture to the day. At least he would be in the dock for pressing his imprint. He tried to mind the fracas, tried terribly to mind it, but could not bring himself to.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I have to be there...

He boarded the Metro at the Rajiv Chowk Metro Station. He was retuning home after seeing a friend. He felt not himself. A cloud of expectation hung above him. It was about her. With every passing day, he felt the absence of her presence from his moments more and more keenly. He saw a bunch of young boys board the train. They were very young, about 21 or so, and looked like any other Delhi youngster. Their hair rose in the middle in a symmetrical nod to anti-gravity that paid obeisance to some obscure god of fashion. Their hands were ringed by black beads that were dying to appear goth but were merely faux-religious. The boys had beads of perspiration lining their foreheads. They smelled of energy and looked restless in an appealing way. He found himself thinking of them as his children, their future, how lovely this age is, one discovering new ways of being. He wished she was by his side. He wanted to whisper in her ears the joys of raising a child who looks for you in a crowd, and then grows up to be an adolescent who runs away from you at all times. The joys of parenting. It was both wonderful and different to be thinking this. Just a few weeks ago, he would have eyed the same bunch and reminisced about his own adolescence. People and places took him back, until some time ago. Now he imagined them partaking in his life and settling into the home that he and she would build. Now it was all about the future.

He rested his head against the glass and closed his eyes. The train whizzed past the urban sprawl of Delhi with the sophisticated lady on auto-record asking you every five minutes to "mind the gap". Such politeness, he thought to himself. Men and women of all hues entered and left this space, and he would likely not see any of them again. It was strange. One passed moments of closeness for but a few minutes and then went ahead not just on his way but with his life. And all this was all right. It was how things were. The train halted at Mayur Vihar Extension and he saw a woman enter the compartment, jostling for space. "There is no space. My God! See," she said to her husband. She looked around for what he imagined was solace and when her eyes met his, he smiled at her broadly. She took a moment to register that he was not an acquaintance and then smiled back, in a way that was both unsure and grateful. He looked away for a bit, feeling the splendour of relief he imagined he had brought her. It was very subtle. The flyover outside rose and dropped in his gleaming eyes. He looked back at her. She was talking to her husband. I will not have this moment again with her, he told himself. Should I be grateful this instance for giving me this joy, or should I seek more, something similar with others? He was bounded by a rationality he sometimes found prohibiting, and wanted to touch some chord of human interaction that was both deep and flighty, so that it could form a casket of experience that would last him for some time. He waited.

The train reached Noida Sector 15 station. The compartment grew empty. People who had been standing found seats. Nearly everyone was listening to music. Some were resting with eyes closed. People all, he thought to himself. There was a watchman who carried a notebook that looked like it contained the entries of those who had visited the premises he guarded. There was a lady in a FabIndia dress who looked like she was waiting for a call that would define her tasks for the day. There was a salesman who wore a worried brow and sent frantic messages on his mobile. All strangers. Yet all vessels of moments that he could generate with them. He found himself strange. He was not like this earlier. He was not hungry. Now he was. He felt the need to define himself not in terms of one love, or one connection. He saw himself as a bunker where people's angst could be released. He was so hungry it showed in his eyes.

His thoughts returned to her. He did not want to possess her emotionally. He felt a gap in his love when he compared it with the received wisdom on love. He could be the perfect partner, for all purposes, he could be the perfect partner, yet he had a commitment to others. A baby on the opposite bench looked at him and chuckled. I have to be there for him, he told himself, and smiled. The baby looked elsewhere. I can love her, I can be with her, but I have to be around, he told himself. He was not sure who he wanted to be around for, but just at this moment, with the train reaching Noida City Centre, he knew he had to be around for the people in this compartment, on the station, in the lift, at the food counter below, those exiting the station, and the rest of them, the vast, unnumbered rest of them. I have to be there, he told himself, as he pointed to a woman whose dupatta was grazing the floor. She set it right but ignored him.

He heaved a sigh of weightiness and left the compartment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The possibility

There were parts of him that were so used to being by himself that this new feeling could be no less than unsettling. He was very happy around her, especially in the way he portrayed a particular prototype of the relationship that he had always hoped for himself. He called her “sweetie” and “hon”, and whenever he did so, he felt a frisson that was laced with love but had edgier contours. When they exchanged messages, he felt masculine and exhibited himself in a way that played to conventional notions of chivalry. He was happy.

But he was also vulnerable. With friends, he felt the loss of a spontaneity. He attributed this to a general awareness and carefulness with everything. He could no longer be cavalier, he had a stake in things. Earlier, he saw himself as a benevolent patriarch who could dish out advice to all and sundry. The fact that he had never walked these roads provided his views a clear-eyed objectivity. Now he watched his step. He came to the realisation that people grow special in the course of things. Equations change, and so must the dynamics.

They met often. They made plans to meet out for dinner but invariably she would leave office early and he would find her waiting for him when he returned from office. It was a strange encounter. When he saw her cooped up in the watchman's chair, his first reaction would be surprise, maybe even distaste. Hadn't they spent all afternoon texting each other the elaborate plans for the evening? Hadn't he imagined to death what perfume to wear and what look to, when he met her? But there she was, awaiting him, as he walked in all tired and wilted from the day.

He would take her to his apartment and replay the act. Again, he felt the sudden onset of a gravitas that made him a little selfish for life. He could not be as giving with his friends anymore, because he had to reserve a part of himself for her. There were limits to his personality and he had to make sure he allocated enough to take care of everyone. Especially her.

He held her at the waist as she rolled her arms around his neck. They kissed. Sex was not part of today's programme. But around her, sex lost the connotations it held when he was by himself, acquiring simpler, more innocent meanings. When he softly bit her ear, it followed in the natural order of things, not something that acquires a life of its own. Their lovemaking was interspersed with moments of real tenderness, and when he kissed her forehead, he looked at her with such love she was overcome with emotion. The tears stayed in her eyes since he cupped them with his hands and kissed them.

Afterwards, they went to McDonalds, and ordered combo meals. She ate from his plate with an abandon that made him feel wanted. When he was about to put a sliver of French Fries in his mouth, she made a small noise and when he looked up, he saw her mouth open and eyes closed in the expectation of feeding her. He laughed a tiny laugh. She thought he was laughing at her childishness, and smiled. He knew he was laughing at how this person was beginning to take him out of himself in a matter of days. There is God, he told himself. Things have a logic to them that is best described as random.

With every meeting, he was growing surer of himself. He was investing more and more of himself in her. He knew he intellectualised everything to make sense of things. But within him existed a template that welcomed hurrahs of joy at the slightest instance, a template that was gravid with immense love. She made him acknowledge these with a certainty that he had lacked so far. He could shut his mind around her and believe in the randomness of things. It was possible. It was possible to live like the others.

A life-altering experience

He had hoped it would be a life-altering experience. All this time, he had expected a love so wholesome it would sweep him off his feet. Every day, he eyed girls longingly and often imagined them imbued with characteristics greater than they actually possessed. He would see a woman enter the lift at office and her cool femininity would be an almost physical presence that held the stultified air inside the elevator together.

When they finally met, it had been after weeks of online interaction. He had located her on a site that offered "stable connections in an age of instant gratification". Her profile was called hafnium and she defined herself as "malleable and ductile, like the metal". He thought and hoped that she meant this in an intellectual way, and was relieved to realise, on chatting with her, that she did.

At first, she was cagey, not willing to reveal her real self and making up all manner of excuses to avoid speaking to him. She asked him for his mobile number but did not reveal hers. One time, she logged off abruptly at a point in the conversation that was serious and well-going, so that he seethed, and wrote her a scathing mail, calling her names and debunking her profile as fake.

But every time, she returned and was apologetic. And he, who had waited too long for a connection, and was no paragon of stability himself, understood her behaviour and attributed it to latent anxieties. Perhaps it was this lack of propriety, a sense that they were buddies who could give each other shit and live to give some more, that cemented their bond. Their conversations became more relaxed, and finally, they decided to meet.

She lived in a posh locality in the city's south. He worked in the suburb. They decided to meet after office hours at a CCD in Westside Park, a hip place frequented by youngsters. When he reached the place, she was already there, dressed in a red halter neck that she had indicated would be her identification mark. He looked at her. The first thing that crossed his mind was how different she looked from the photograph she had sent him. That girl was skinny with a look that betrayed not a care in the world. This one looked like she had spent a few years running after an irate boss.

They ordered coffee. Every time they did anything that involved interaction with someone beyond the two of them, he felt different, more ponderous. With her, he felt a lightness that smacked of a lack of responsibility for anything. She was sweet, talking to him with childlike enthusiasm. It seemed to him that she trusted him and that he could trust her too. It was about nothing more than how forward she was in her ability to make him feel comfortable around her.

He knew her, he felt he had known her a long time and this was merely a formality that they had decided to follow through with. He asked her to come to his house, an apartment in the city's suburb, close to his office. She agreed and in the auto, held his arm with a firmness that made him feel special and protective towards her. When they reached his house, she kissed him with a sweetness that was more tender than sexual. This made him bold and he kissed her back, and they lay in each other's arms in silence for some time on the sofa in the drawing room, with the tubelight illuminating everything in a soft white hue.

He nudged himself within the folds of her neck and she sat on his chest. They giggled in a way he had not giggled in a long time and he was surprised to rediscover this side of himself. She unbuttoned him and kissed him softly. He smiled, and his smile was a mix of pleasure and tenderness -- a sensation he could not quite place, and which was slightly unsettling. She took him in her mouth and he could not decide if this was great or some sort of a climb down from a lofty ideal in his head. He had come to love her, he suddenly realised, in the course of the evening, and was not sure if this act was cementing or diluting that. He felt he ought to be true to himself and tell her to stop but that prospect opened the gulf of some unknowable fears within himself and he decided to let her go ahead with it.

Afterwards, she was as sweet as before but he felt the collapse of something fragile. He was the same with her, but the glorious white of the room had taken on menacing undertones. He was not sure why. He had read too may stories that played to this stereotype of the male reverting to himself after sex, thus proving the worst apprehensions of women. But what he felt was not that. What had transpired was love at first and something animal-like later, and he could not quite place the two together. He was happy and relieved and spent, yet his heart felt light in a way that he was not used to with her. He felt the burden of sexual encounter clouding their subsequent meetings and an unwritten contract calling for a certain ...what was it? seriosuness? joylessness? answerability? between them because of what had happened. He questioned that. He was no chauvinist. He just preferred how things were up to now, even if that was not sustainable.

The thing was running according to script, but all along he had expected the numinosity of his expectation to meet with reality. Perhaps it was all just in his mind. But he had such notions of things that it was difficult to transact reality. He was such a romantic. He had hoped it would be a life-altering experience.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The joy and the terror

He walked inside the office with trepidation. It was the first day of his internship. Though he had worked as a journalist earlier, the last year had dulled his working senses since all he had to do was wake up in the morning and dress up for the classes which were conducted a half mile from where he slept. It was one extended event, from sleep to study to lunch to back to room and there was no scope for gravitas, the kind that could easily envelop a situation such as this. He watched his movement. There was a gleaming edge to everything. Even the washroom was all five-star with self-working taps and elaborate flower arrangements. He seemed to have walked right into some Hollywood production. There was a studied silence to the place with people propped on their chairs, very serious-looking, and going about their work with what looked like calm precision but could as well be confused firefighting. He was smiling throughout. He wanted to charm but did not want to do so with his typical glibness. Better to let it spring from some deep certainty than smooth, on-the-spot delivery, he told himself. It was important to settle down. The tendency to rush -- in which he hoped that he would learn and absorb in spite of himself, not because -- would not work over the long term. Two months was sufficiently long term to try new mindsets and yet not long enough to drown in the misery of expectation. He was asked to deal with a young woman in HR and she guided him though the steps. Most of the day would pass in getting things to speed, a login id, an access card, the nick-nacks of modern office life. There was nothing special about anything yet the very sentiment that nestled at the heart of this edifice drove one to overtly practical, but also at some level meaningful, purpose. Books lined every desk since this was a publishing house. He picked up one as he walked around, waiting to be hand-held to the next step. It was “Engineering Mathematics-II” and contained lovable examples of differential equations. Those examples seemed to emanate from a more complete frame of life. When his eyes ran over the formulas of integration, they emerged from the book and settled into a sediment in his brain where the template for them was set in some joyous love for their existence. It was a joy no smaller than any he recognized. And it was there, inside him, rekindled at the sight of dy over dx. Books always made him happy, but this latest feeling was not one he had experienced in some time. Too much love for the arty, or artsy, as he liked to see it. Even this moment might get trapped in sentimentality if he was not careful. He focused on what Hardy meant when he defined his love for pure maths as something that may not be “useful”. An end in itself, it speaks, it does speak to one. But even as this was happening, he was contemplating wrapping this experience with the gift of foreknowledge that comes both before and after an event has brought its fruits. Expectation is an awesome emotion. He could sense the moment in its entirety, in its thoughtful intermingling of his desires for the day. As if to say, this stays and returns from time to time. But its return is written in its last act and each such moment, as will happen and has happened, will bring its own memory along. He turned the book’s pages. Example 1.8 prompted him to open his notebook and solve it. There was a dreamlike quality to the way his hand moved and he arrived at the answer as if by magic. There was no will or force. It was guided by what, he wondered. There was a curious coming together of the past, one’s love for it, respect, the notion that things are purer in hindsight and the rest of it. Sedimentation of knowledge, and the school building. Mrs Sood (she didn’t even teach him math) and her smiling face, the saree, and the trees, the water cooler, the staircase. Everything came together and settled on the curvy integral sign. He looked up and the room, bathed in yellow light from the lamps in the ceiling, was empty as it waited for its occupants to return from lunch. Suddenly he felt a rush of terror, a streak of white hot joy at how everything stays. Today and tomorrow. Now and for all time. Across space and time. He wanted to stop. He did not want to stop.

Friday, April 08, 2011

He and she

They had been married seven years. The promise of their lives had been a mutual interest developed in business school. The love for entrepreneurship, she called it. They had both specialized in strategy in their second years and decided to launch their own startup in the IT space. For her the seven years since their marriage had been a blissful time whose memory was now an essential part of her. For him it had been a time of newness, of new challenges as one went about setting up the business and making a life for oneself. She defined herself in terms of their life together. For him, she made up one part--a very important part--but one part of their life together. She was his wife. He was her world.

And then he stopped working. He grew tired of all the running around and the hassles. He thought it better to go back to working at a regular IT company. She supported him. It made no difference to her. She saw their life as a beauteous extension of those heady initial days and nothing in their marriage had prompted her to question that. Oh, the seven years! She took more interest in the arts than he did. She read the papers with more vigour than he did. Her literary self grew in leaps and bounds and acquired a muscle she cherished knowingly. She was riding the back of a very powerful animal and the leash of that animal was in her husband’s hands.

For her life was all peaches. She was very generous. For him life could be compartmentalized. It was important to do so, he felt. It was in his nature but it was not in hers. They each had their own selves which they believed to be complementary to the other, but were really not.

So he stopped working at being an entrepreneur. She saw the reasons. They made perfect sense. He had been at it for seven years. But she felt a void suddenly. She felt the animal unleashed. She was dependent on him, his emphasis on work, his running around, to give meaning to her own varied interests. They were now orphaned. He had accepted an alternate view of the world, a world where the promise of things (entrepreneurship really, but she liked to think of it as wider and broader) could be frittered away and yet life carried on. She felt the loss of an anchor.

Suddenly she began living from day to day. She started finding reasons to be happy and acquired a glossary of words that she could throw around to sound intelligent in any conversation. She started developing her life around a mental standard that she was working on on the go. It was not as charming as earlier, not as spontaneous, but she was more stable, she felt safer. Only, she looked back with fondness for a more innocent time.

Their love grew different. It made little difference to him but for her it acquired a measuredness that she both admired and resented. She was now responsible for their happiness, she feared. She feared the complete loss of spontaneity. She wondered if she would be happier with another man, someone with whom she could go back to being her old self. But she loved him, and she also loved her new self.

Years later, she asked herself, would I revert to that original feeling? It mattered a great deal to her. She asked herself if she was selfish. But it was not that. She wanted her old life back, is all. Maybe all she wanted was the old feeling back. She was not sure, and she kept slipping between periods of painful certainty and an anodyne silence that didn’t last long because she was, she felt, in some state of shock.

She started to think of herself as separate from him but it did not work because they lived together. She thought she would be calmer if she stayed away but an experiment to do so at her mother’s filled her with life-sapping dullness and dread. She was in love with him, yet she was not. She could be perfectly happy if she rejigged her brain but it was beyond her. They still lived as a couple, doing things for one another, but she was not herself anymore. She was not herself in the way that she had come to define herself. If only she could find a way to live with the new her that she was discovering on the go, day to day.

She had her flaws. She felt she should do something constructive but always wanted spontaneity and a “love for things” to guide her decisions. That was erratic. And now she felt responsible. She resented that. She was selfish, she felt at times. But I only want “us” back, she said, and passed the blame. She liked her original self, but she also liked her new self, and wanted that the transition should have come at an opportune time and with smoothness. She cherished smoothness in all things. She wanted life to go swimmingly.

It was really about her, she thought. Her husband was only a conduit for her own persona, and he shouldn’t have to bear the burden. But she could not wrap her head around the new state of affairs. She also felt the rush to provide for them, if it came to that (she felt the need to reciprocate his efforts at running the house), would further dilute that old time, her former pristine self. She was fucked up, she told herself. But it had been wonderful.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The coffee shop

He went to the Nescafe at the corner every day at six. This was the time when there was a lull in the office, with the edits yet to arrive and the other parts of the edit page formatted and subbed and more or less done. Sometimes he was accompanied by Anil, who was a friend. But some days, Anil was too busy to accompany him and he went alone.
It was a small cosy place, with a few tables and light air-conditioning. Blown-up posters saying "Relaxation sold here" with white men and women laughing their hearts out dotted the walls so that one got the feeling that there were more people in the room than there really were.
He liked to go there by himself and order a muffin and a classic, short form for a basic, no-frills coffee. The guy at the serving counter went about serving quietly, taking orders and taking out coffees and teas and making burgers with calm precision. He really liked the serving guy, and wished they were friends.
It was on one such day, a non-descript, ordinary day really, when he went by himself, that he spotted her. She was there with a bunch of her friends, all of them whispering conspiratorially and laughing uproariously, huddled together. He always found this charming -- when girls did their girlie things and boys stood at the side watching them. It just seemed like how things ought to be.
He sat down at a table with a classic and opened the day's Indian Express. He always brought along the newspaper with him because he was wary of sitting by himself, doing nothing but observing the others. He felt he was being watched and maybe even pitied, and he hated that. He did not want people to think he was friendless, which he wasn't -- not really -- and read the paper to be occupied and also to be seen to be so.
He looked up and noticed that she was looking at him. He realised he was looking at her with that mix of curiosity and disinterest that one harbours when looking at oneself in the mirror. There was nothing penetrating in his stare, just surprise and wonder at watching someone who could be so different yet so similar to oneself. He stared at her eyes, her lips, her cheeks. Almost on cue, he tilted his head and ran his fingers on his face to remember the sensation of being himself. He imagined he was two people, both himself and herself, and seeing her comforted him. He imagined that he could live with himself, that the warmth of this new feeling would keep him in good stead. This girl, this someone who was really another him, would be his friend and help him in a crisis. These images, for no real reason he could fathom, brought him calm. She was standing there throughout, chatting up her friends and basically doing little.
It was not just this girl. People’s faces brought him to the verge of extreme emotion. He fell in irreversible expectation of how they would react when they got to know him. Would they like him? Would they love him? He wanted everybody to love him. He wondered if he didn’t have enough self-respect. But no, it was not that. If anything, he thought he possessed a very strong ego. He was also extremely sensitive and wanted lots and lots of unbridled love. A curious combination, he thought. His eyes found her again. She was leaving the coffee shop.
I can love anyone, he thought, as he saw her go away in the glass window. She was very regal, walking with a hint of a smile that carried the memory of some glorious moment. But, he wondered, as he eyed her almost-liquid frame, will my love for her, for anyone, ever match up to my love for mother? He was too attached to her -- it seemed he would not be able to survive another day if she wasn't around. She was there. Right now, she was a presence. Even though she was in another city, she was always a presence. She lived on the leaves that he touched before leaving the gates of his society in the morning. She existed in the draft of air that made its way through the grime and heat of a packed DTC bus. She sat upon the knobs that rested on the doors of the office’s washroom, and it was she who made the opening of the door an act of supreme dignity, so that at such a moment, he felt he was staring life in the face with a resolve that welcomed anything, nearly expected it. With her around, he felt the strength to live life from one moment to the next, and this knowledge imparted a bearable benevolence to the whole enterprise. The colours were brighter and the entire edifice of place and time was constructed for his exquisite pleasure. That was the knowledge that he sought in love, that was the knowledge that ma’s presence provided him.
He knew of a person who was so traumatized by his mother’s death that he had sought a medium to get in touch with her. But it had come to nothing. His thoughts turned to death. Where would Ma go when she died? He wondered if he would be reborn as her son in another life and know this love again. But he couldn't say for sure. Nobody really knew. And it scared him and also hurt him. He wished he could do something about how cruel things could be, but he did not know anyone who had outsmarted death. Perhaps he would have another mama in another life but what was the guarantee that that mama and he would share a love as powerful as this mama and he do? There was no such guarantee, and one could not but wait for one to learn. But wait for what? He had read as a child that when people died, they were reborn and when they died again, they were reborn again, and the cycle continued until one's actions had all been accounted for -- one's good deeds and sins -- and then one became a star, hanging for all time in the sky. When he had read this, he had hoped that his star should hang next to Ma’s. But all these were mere hopes and there was no way to know how things happened after one really died. He thought all this and wondered why must we be given this love, such strength of emotion, and then know it will go away. He could not imagine surviving the passing of that love, that bond.
Life is too much, he thought, as he saw a bunch of youngsters stream inside the coffee shop. He thought he ought to capture all this in a story. It was time. He had been expecting a push towards writing. When he read that people started writing at, say, 30, he felt a change must have come into their lives, a break from the past---a passing into full adulthood with not just the realisation of, but full experimentation with pain, fragility, longing… He had been waiting for some such experience himself, but in his mind it had eluded him. He expected too much from the scheme of things. It was pockets of experience he sought. But he had been denied them, he felt. He felt if he had to write, he might as well start, however haltingly, and not wait to be pushed into it by some personal earth-shattering event. Such an event may not come by.
But he feared he ought not to write. To play with characters' lives took upon a reality he was uncomfortable with. He was anyway too given to modifying his own actions to suit what he thought was appropriate. He feared that if he let go and played with his characters freely he would not be able to rein in his tendency to closely monitor his own conduct.
It was getting dark outside and it was time to return to his desk at the office and work on the letters that would be published in next day’s edition. He folded the Indian Express, crushed his coffee cup, nodded at the serving guy and broke out into the world. A world where simply the action of stepping on the pavement was an act of will that he found pleasingly definite against the now burdensome, now fleeting weight of life.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blue Valentine

In Blue Valentine, there is a scene where Cindy has invited Dean over to her house to make him meet her parents as the two are planning marriage. Cindy’s father quizzes Dean on his education. Dean hasn’t passed high school while Cindy is studying to be a doctor. When the parents bring this up, Dean says the following: “I know, she is about the smartest person I know. I would want to have a doctor like her. I would trust myself with her, my kids with her”. He says all this with the langorous pace that comes with speaking on the spot and that arises from genuine love. It is a masterful scene.

The movie is about a couple who, a few years into their marriage, are not on the same page anymore. Dean, played by Ryan Gosling, paints people’s homes for a living, while Cindy, Michelle Williams, is a nurse. Cindy expects Dean to realize his true potential, but Dean is quite happy with the life that he has. He loves his wife and daughter and does not understand why this much is not enough for them as a family. In another scene that burns on the memory, Dean wants to get intimate with Cindy who instead offers herself to him for fucking. Dean pleads: “Be good to me, I am good to you.” Cindy walks away and locks herself in the bathroom, weeping. She cannot locate the love anymore, while he is bursting to share it.

Watch it!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Long due second post on the ethics workshop

Let me start by saying that the ethics workshop is nearing its end, with just one more session remaining. I attended a session yesterday with Prof Garg which focussed on Corporate Governance. It was a very useful session, we discussed corporate governance norms in India and the whole exercise never dipped into idealism. Prof was practical, calling a spade a spade and introduced us to the corporate governance closets of a number of Indian companies. Whoa, what skeletons!

Therefore I take back my reservations about the workshop. I think it has served a purpose, at least in sensitising us to certain important issues. And on that note, I put below the mail By Prof Kumar that he wrote me in reply to my mail expressing doubts about the sessions. Very decent mail, gives enough space for a healthy debate while also sends out the right signals to student to keep baser, publicity-seeking emotions in check :)

Dear Vikram:

Thanks for the email as well as the genuine concerns raised by you. I sincerely appreciate the concerns but have my own reservations about the way you are raising these. Number one, I don’t think you ought to be taking a position on behalf of the whole student community. You have the right to express your views but then each one of us has got that right. You may agree or disagree with someone’s viewpoints – that’s entirely your choice. Secondly, whether the attendance should be compulsory or not, I am no one to decide on that. You are most welcome to approach the right authorities – PGP office/ the Director - for this. However, I would certainly like you not to mark copies of your communication to your peer group.

And, you are most welcome to come to my office and we can discuss the things in detail in person rather than communicating through emails.



Friday, March 18, 2011

An evening

The first thing she noticed when she entered the office was him, everyday. She felt protective towards him. There was a sadness in him that she couldn't quite place. He was very intelligent, writing about books in a weekly column, that went from Roman History to Megasthenes to the other great rulers of the past. She found it terribly enlightening and also a little scary, to hold all the information inside one's head. She wondered about the thoughts in his mind when he was by himself. He sat directly opposite her and only a partition separated them. When he got up to go to the loo, she could see him from the corner of her eye and wondered if he was looking at her. She forced herself not to look up at him because then he would know that she was checking him out. So she waited to look at him as he walked away, when she was out of his sight but he was not yet out of hers.

They talked sometimes and her words seemed to spring from a part that was not her, that was more intelligent and more perceptive than she believed herself capable of. The other day, she saw him get up and arrange his things because he was getting ready to go home. He stared at his computer for a second and then, looking very serious, he switched off his computer and turned to leave. Just then, she asked him, "What do you ponder so hard, standing there, before going home every day?"

He stopped, startled, and turned: "Me?"

"Ah-huh! You stand there and look at the computer."

He laughed. He found it very funny, her observing him like that, when he was just waiting for the computer to shut down.

"Oh, I think about the untrustworthiness of womankind," he said and smiled.

"I wouldn't know about that," she said. "I have never been with a woman."

And they both laughed. And she was certain a gap had opened where none existed before.

The next day, he said hi to her and she waved back. She had taken special care to dress up that morning. Her skin was smooth and she felt light. She wished she would be held by him and their lips would meet. Sometimes she dreamt about that. Their lips meeting and he pressing down on her softly, his weight a sensation of such serene pleasure, she would wake up with a grimness she knew would last through the day.

She wondered what she should do to approach him. She felt it was for the guy to initiate the matter. But what did he feel for her, she wondered. Was he being flirtatious when he said he found women untrustworthy, challenging her to prove him wrong? She doubted he would say all that for any such reason. He was just being glib.

She told Naina, her childhood friend, about him, and Naina laughed at her shyness. "Just go and tell him, you fool," she admonished.

So, on the second Monday after she last spoke to him, she went up to him after the office had cleared and said, "I like you." All evening the weight of expectation had disoriented her and she felt she was floating above everyone else. It was an unpleasant sensation and she wondered if she should call the whole thing off. But she had pined too long and that other pain, slow and not sharp, was no less exasperating.

He looked at her, his eyes wide, and said softly: "What?"

"Well, I like you," she answered. "I have liked you for some time." She suddenly felt very brave as though she could accept anything at all. Everything that she had ever suppressed could come tumbling out, propriety be damned. If I was gay, I would accept that now too, she thought to herself and laughed at how weird that sounded.

"That's strange," he said. "I would have never guessed."


"And nothing. I don't know what to say. I guess I like you too."

She felt suddenly deflated, as though some dynamic energy was being sapped out of her. Is that all you can manage, she wondered, and it struck her that maybe he had never looked at her like that. Yes, that's possible, she thought and felt tired, and also a little ashamed.

"I guess I will go now," she said, and he nodded, and his nod was a gesture of such lovable simplicity that she wanted to move over and kiss him. Perhaps her eyes conveyed her wish and he looked down.

She turned and walked towards the cafeteria. She filled her glass with chilled water from the cooler and sat down at one of the tables. She tried hard to feel bad for herself, but she only felt stunned. How can such a connection be one-sided, she wondered, and downed the water in one large gulp.

She watched him walk to the loo and he was looking down, as he always did while walking. Often a light smile played on his lips but today he was withdrawn. Am I really in love with him, she asked herself, or merely with his face, his smile? He was not handsome, but there was a spark to him that she attributed to his quiet masculinity.

She came out of the cafeteria and walked out of the office. Her heart felt heavy and she did not know how to deal with that. She thought life was worth living and dealing with, but this new sensation was weighing down on her in a way she thought would change her outlook. She may begin to have her doubts about life, she thought.

She walked up to her car in the parking and eyed with longing his car that was parked some distance away. She heard footsteps behind her but decided to ignore them. She didn't feel like doing much and wondered if she should go back and get herself a cigarette. Absent-mindedly, she searched for her car keys in her purse.

"Hello again," he said.

She turned around and found him beaming at her.

"I just wanted to say sorry for behaving like a jerk inside. Thank you for saying what you said inside. But I have a girlfriend."

She heard his words as though from very far, and she took her time registering them. He is not declining me, she told herself, there is someone else.

"Oh, how nice," she said. "Whats' her name?"

"Geetika," he said. "She works at India Week."

She thought she had heard that name, but wasn't sure. "Ok," she said, and didn't know what more to say.

"I am sorry," he said, "but..."

"Oh that's fine, fine," she said emphatically and surprised herself. I must defend this, she told herself.

"I guess I will see you tomorrow."

"Yes, yes and have a good," she stopped herself.

He smiled that heartbreaking smile of his and turned around. And then again she found herself standing in the darkness, cold and bereft.

She got inside the car and put the keys inside the ignition.