I think I am a cat
I love sardine
and fish in general
I am aloof
I love boxes too
and single ladies
love me too
I think I am a cat
I love sardine
and fish in general
I am aloof
I love boxes too
and single ladies
love me too
Druggies have dreams
and lovers are alone
we all are mourning
what we never had
what we never will
My veins silently carry
a slag of broken
the residue of highs
into the throbbing void
for a refill of forgiveness
cast into forgotten pits
That is the stuff
you and I are made of
the lies we project
This is the story of a boy named Po
And how he was born and how he did grow.
I will not tell you how he fell
Into the land of stink and swell
Po never cries,
Po dances with delight,
Po is caged in his might.
Po plays with the wind, with the sea
Po goes out to the shallowest creek.
Never know the great falls,
Never know the trees tall,
Never knows Po
Where Po is coming from,
Where Po is headed to.
The music that lived in everyone,
Belongs to none.
How I got to writing captions to earn myself a living is another story in itself. During college, the time when I wasted myself on drugs and ensured that my future would not be what those oblivious of my present thought it would be like, I used to scribble funky lines for the college magazine, the deterioration of my grey cells prevents me from remembering the name of which, initially and later smeared the walls of the college with, though the authorities did not see them as such, very cool graffiti. I was expelled from college for the later act.
My parents, and consequently me, are Kashmiris and they belong to the “Holocaust generation” as they put it. The ghosts of the exodus still haunt them and so they live under clouds of paranoia, fearing death, of anyone they give two hoots about, lurking at every corner. The second generation, to which I belong, is what they pin their hopes of a stable life on and as far as they knew it till the time I was expelled, I was headed for one- brilliant at studies, clearing top exams, and landing and going well at the best college in the country. What they were oblivious of was what was going wrong: happenings inside the college hostel walls and my journey towards disillusionment.
Though I consciously avoided the bad things, I guess there was always in me a predilection to fall for the evil side of things, the alluring evils at least. I remember having forced tears into my eyes to avoid drinking beer during ragging and then, three months and a paradigm shift later, buying my first can. I still can’t hide a proud grin when I’m reminded of the fact that I took cannabis before alcohol. So, even though the overuse of drugs has made my past hazy and anachronistic, I know that it was not more than two months since I’d been granted freedom from my overprotective parentage that I first took marijuana, in the form of a ‘bhang ka laddu’ (I didn’t smoke then). The rest of the evils followed.
For the first two semesters, I wrote for the college magazine the naïve but funny stuff that a stoned philosopher would write. After a banal summer at home I decided to make the next year count- I was out to have fun. My hedonism reached heights- I gave up academics, I gave up all organized activity, I started spending day after day, week after week, simply getting high in my room, which had a bed, a computer that played the usual songs to create a psychedelic atmosphere other than Pink Floyd which I hated then, an almirah which had not a single piece of fabric for all my clothes were strewn on the floor and the bed, and a table in the drawer of which lay my new staple diet- pot.
I found friends, like moths find near light-bulbs, and we smoked together, caring not for the light of the sun, caring not for the light of the moon, nor for our grades, nor for, I think the treacherous smoke of the holy grass must’ve blinded us for we could not see it, our future. Admonitory letters from the professors changed into official letters of warning and finally, an academic probation. That was at the end of my second year and it was that time that I found an unguarded box full of spray cans at the Fine Arts Club.
Rahul Roy, son of a Punjabi father and a Bengali mother who insisted that they adopt her surname for the child to which the acquiescent father agreed, was one of my fellow hedonists who believed that Deep Thought should have said POT instead of 42. He and I decided to use that box of colours to create ‘real art’, not the fake outside-art the Fine Arts Club was so fond of creating, by colouring the grey, depressive walls of the institute with the colours of truth. And colour them one night we did!
When your heart is full of rebellion, your head full of alcohol, freedom, the euphemism for Satan, finds a way into your mind. Though we’d initially decided to not write any obscenities, but truth was free that night, no censor could stand in its way, and naked truth (like truth, our graffiti hardly made any sense) rained on the walls. We exhausted nearly twenty cans of spray paint among us two that night, coloured the academic buildings, hostels, roads, roadsides, water tanks, and whatever we could find, and exhausted we slept on the roof of the Dean’s Office, sore-thumbed, bare-chested and blue-nippled. With dawn revealing the extent of our carnage a gloomy premonition dawned on us: we were going to get expelled.
We’d definitely changed the institute, but what we’d actually done was to disturb a sleeping demon. We were both going to get expelled, confirmed the rumours that were running amok about the punks who’d coloured the lair of the dragon. The rumours found feet a week later when the fact-finding committee asked me and Roy for our names and roll numbers. I was squarely in danger, following a not-so-brilliant academic record, and now the act, which I regretted as one regrets having sex with a school-girl. I decided to save Roy’s degree, and claimed sole responsibility for the act. The authorities accepted my confession, lauded me for saving Roy’s ass, and kicked me out.
I will avoid the details of what happened next, for time will not allow me to. In short, I did not, for I could not, break the news of my expulsion to my parents. I stayed in Roy’s room, he owed me this bit, looking for options. I submitted my resume to various sites that promised me some future: as a freelancer, website designer, call-centre operator, etc. I had to support myself now, I was in dire need of employment somewhere away from home- I’d already decided to never go back there. The expulsion had already shaken me out of my pot-heady haze and cured my myopia as far as my future was concerned: I was going to be a writer, for stories to fill books I had enough.
During the immortally long summer holidays, which I was going to survive in Roy’s room, and on mess food, (the mess workers still considered me a brilliant student of the institute) I started reading newspapers looking for some opportunities in the vicinity. And it was then that I first saw the picture that was going to change my life.
Under the big bold letters saying CAPTAIN COOK CAPTION CONTEST, the unique name because it was sponsored by Captain Cook table salt, was a picture of a leaky, rusty tap and drops falling off it onto a rupee coin on the ground. It was a beautiful picture: the wet edges of the rusty tap, the dusty brown background, two drops caught in mid-air, one crashing on the shiny rupee coin- a circle of silver in a bad red and brown world- all that remained was a name for it. Fortunately, you could e-mail them your caption, so I was not prevented by laziness from sending an entry. The contest was a daily contest, with a first prize of five hundred rupees. On the right side of the picture was a column carrying the name of yesterday’s contest winners with the thumbnail of that picture on top.
The next day’s newspaper carried in the same corner another picture to the right of which was a column with yesterday’s picture and the winning captions below it. The first prize had gone to Rohit Bhat, for the caption ‘The Penny Drops’. I had won.
The other captions lacked imagination, and I pitied the poor souls with average IQ, for I now knew that I was going to win every contest from then on- I hadn’t been expelled for nothing. I mentally calculated my monthly income, assuming correctly, that I’d win every day, and it was a sum enough for a lone hoodlum like me to live off on. I began sending entries regularly, winning as regularly, though I was disappointed that the Sunday newspaper didn’t carry the contest. By the end of the three-month long summer vacations, I’d earned myself money enough to move out of Roy’s room into a rented accommodation in the city. I looked for similar contests in other newspapers, and now had myself earning a decent income, saving some, spending some. I took Sundays off.
It was now three months that I’d left Roy’s room, and the picture that had changed my life once was going to change my life once again.
I was bouncing between random web-pages when I stumbled upon a familiar picture of a leaky rusty tap and a penny wet from the leak. It was titled, suitably enough, The Penny Drops. This was the icing on the cake. The cake was that it had won the Picture of the Year contest, in the ‘A Message to Deliver’ category. The prize amount was a hundred thousand US dollars, the amount of money that if translated into rupees could fill my bureau, requiring, possibly, another one. I wanted a piece of the cake, the piece that was rightfully mine, the piece with the cherry that you get because you’ve named the picture. I decided to sue the winner, a man that went by the name of Lucky Pant.
The legalities were not easy, and if I had to have a decent chance of winning the case I needed to have a lawyer. With the money that I’d saved for the past half year, I hired a man to be my voice in the court of law. The wily resourceful man named Laxman persuaded me to write a speech to be said in the court showing the importance of a title. He asked the court for a whopping twenty percent of the prize money, and was very sure that I’ll get it and kept on chaffing me with irritating names like kismatwala, chaapu, Lucky Singh (he was no poet, he didn’t even notice the pun the name was carrying) et al. I wrote my best essay, on my most favourite part in any essay, all the while going unabashedly against Shakespeare crying out ‘what’s in a name’.
Now that I am down to doing all this stuff, I’ve lost track of the caption-writing contests that are going on, and thus, my income has dropped drastically. My savings are almost exhausted by now, and the case has been running for six months. The next hearing is scheduled for the next month. Laxman assures me that he can pull off a result (‘It will be a win, sirji, definitely,’ he says) at the next hearing, but that he needs his fee. So, I’m in a desperate need of money, and since I’m emancipated from my family I cannot ask them for it.
This memoir, other than acting as a remedy for the imminent depression, is written with a hope that it’ll earn me some money quickly, by selling it to some magazine. Yeah! you’re right, it’s as inane an idea as my idea of colouring the walls, but writing is the only thing I’m good at, or even if I’m not good (some humility would not be inappropriate for someone who is literally begging) at it, it’s the only thing I can do.
Treat it with an indifferent derision if you want, but on the kinder, more humane side, if you liked this piece and happen to know a publisher, and perhaps be credited as the discoverer of the Tobias Wolff of India, I advise you help this text go into print, and help me with some money for it.
Sometimes I wonder if you’re a mere figment of my imagination, for only beauty imagined can be so perfect, so uncompromising. I have been a dreamer, an actor in those dreams, a self-conceived hero of extraordinary comedies, but I had to yield to your magnificence, I could not help but dream of you, you who made me a dreamer in my dreams. I would be lying if I said I’m going to accept your frailties. No, I’m not. Yet I’m going to accept you, oh Abishag, my perfect queen.
For centuries I have been cold, the loveless winter refusing to relent, my world a foggy morning and my heart a drumbeat, waiting, ticking, for your warmth. You are the moon of my night, the wings of my flight.
You make me a fool, you make my past a careless indulgence, but for the dreams of a future with you I will kill the soul of my past. I have no cushions to rest my head upon, no bed of roses, no past so sanguine, but I sleep now in the sky upon the clouds of your breath. You have made me immortal.
Lie next to me, let me praise your beauty, awful, distant.
Let me drown in the sea of your hair, each thread worthy of my life. Let me live in the shadow of your eyes, cool and moist as a pacific breeze, protect me from the cruel harsh sun. Let me breathe in your breaths, and make me yours to the bone. I tremble to think of your lips, concealing a voice so criminal, breaking hearts as you break a tone. The light of your eyes petrifies me, my sight a slave to your wishes.
Why, my queen, can I not see anything but your face? I will not defile you, not even in thought, you who I enshrine.
Oh my king, your orders my fate-line, I protect you from the devil, from the stygian cravings of lust.
No, Abishag, I dare not the fire of your beauty, give me back my freedom, it is my humble demand.
You had to but think of it, my lord, here are your eyes, your thoughts no longer mine; but I warn you again, the flesh is a well full of waters of crime.
I dare not look into your eyes again, but my world is you, you are my vision, you are my choice. I choose to die in the desert of your body, drink myself to life at the oases that are your breasts. Marry me, queen, I beseech, I beg.
Oh king, against your blaze I cannot stand, but I cannot bear the wrath of the Gods, the scorn of the eighteen to whom you have been sworn.
Let them marry the blade of my sword, mightier than the bolt of Zeus. Between your thighs lies my salvation, and I won’t spare the Gods that come between us. Come Abishag, resurrect my desires!
Order of the lord I cannot contravene, but the fires of consummation are the fires of hell, they will engulf you, they will cauterize your soul, brand you a sinner, and repent you will alone.
I care not, I wish to live the future that killed the soul of my past. Come to my embrace, these ephemeral pleasures are the reasons of my life, of a game well played, of an end that breezes into a new start… Alas! The sting was too harsh, the heat of lust a heat too hot. I’m not immortal, but the seeds of life I have cast.
Oh my king, lured and lost, fated to the same end, chasing a foolish cause. But the seeds will live, and the throne will be mine, my son a weapon of vengeance, a slave forever, performing a pantomime. Just like his father.
Years I have spent with you,
yet I was alone,
you soaked all the pity,
dried all my tears too.
Choice I was left with none,
donned a mask of smiles,
songs of hope I sung,
drummed my hollowness for beats.
It was you who echoed within me
absorbing all the light,
leaving me lonelier than before,
leaving me darker than the night.
I sang to you songs of love
but you didn’t answer,
I sang to myself the songs of love
and heard you laughing at me.
Now you ask for my life,
to spend my life with you,
but your abject intensity
you won’t let me die too.
I surrendered my energy to you,
who grew more powerful
grew darker than before
and swallowed me whole.
My tragedy is your comedy,
oh villain of my life
smile now that I have survived
only to be eaten again by you.
Part-II: She retorts
Oh lover of mine,
how dull and blind you are,
stop wearing these glasses,
look how bright it is outside.
I was always there with you,
was I not? when you needed me,
did I ever leave you?
how selflessly I stood by your bedside.
I hummed when you sang to me,
I was the resonance in your beats,
I was never the hollow,
I was your character’s depth.
I doffed my hat always to you
I was the audience you performed to,
how true your characters were then,
how pure your acting!
I have a name very silly,
for I am the eternal companion,
yet you curse me-
call me by my name.
I was what you dreamed of,
I was your imagination,
bleeding, red as blood,
I have never complained
but you have been inadequate,
seeking treasures of dust
when you had all the stones.
Complain again my dear,
complain as much you want,
but I am merely the shadow
that confirms the light.
In my forgetfulness I sing
songs full of sadness
oblivious of the source
of the sound of the song:
Put on a mask
to hide your decadence,
contort your sadness
into a smile.
Find a suitable drug
dissolve your fears
and your hopes,
drink them till you piss them out.
For these are the things I do
when I look around me and at
all the passions that flow through men
but have deserted me.
Hard it is to be loveless
no blood now in my veins,
I sit here dissecting myself
to find and fill the holes.
The heart inside me wrenched
by an imploring invisible hand
leaves me bleeding
my memories to death.
One day I will cut my head
to find inside a carcass of longings,
once killed by the cruel laziness
tasting like sugar, smelling like love.
Eyes lulled by the mist
of imbecile longings:
I thought I had her,
oblivious of the million miles
hidden under a veneer of lies
separating her and me.
For in that moment of delusion
she was mine, for that moment
of delusion, I’d give my eyes.
A smile is a spark that can light
the wildfire of fantasies
I was tricked so.
The fire burned and burned
me with it. Eternally swirling
on a wheel of fire screaming
words of hate that tip off
their brims and intertwine,
leaving me meaningless.
I picked up the soap from the stand, with a book tucked in my chest, went to the toilet. There is a leaky flush in our row of toilets that reverberates with an irritating and persistent drone: I decided to take a crap in that toilet. What looked irritating from the outside was strangely redeeming on the inside. The numbing drone didn’t allow me to read my book, didn’t allow me to think, and for a while there, I felt blissfully asleep.
With a tremble and a sigh of exhaustion the sound started to recede. It turned into a complaint, the water whined for a while and eventually ceased to talk. In the silence that ensued, I heard the drops I’d ignored, felt the book close to my chest, and looked down to trace the path of my shit. I suddenly felt my nose-buds tingle with the smell of my crap now- how could I not smell it before?
The smell, the clip-clap of the leaks taps, and all my thoughts were suddenly downed in another noise: of a nearby tap gushed open. It wasn’t a drone, it was very much unlike the earlier sound of the whistling flush, but again, for a while, I felt blissfully asleep.
The sound ceased soon. I washed the dirt off my ass, rose up with the book still tucked under my chest, flushed my crap down the toilet (the drone resumed, but it was no longer of any use) and came back to my room.
While the clouds played with the sun in the infinitely blue sky above, Billy chased the dog, mouth wide open, innocuous happiness flowing in his veins as freely as the wind in his hair. It wouldn’t be right to call it a dog: it was more of a pup, with eyes that had only recently learnt distinguishing between edges and corners. Nature allows the stupider a firmer innate sense of the environment and a sharper instinct, while their physical adeptness cannot be questioned. Thus, the pup stretched his legs and in a flourish was running the padded green ground he felt so comfortable on. Billy, however, having recently learned how to stand erect, chased the spotted pup awkwardly, unable to control his movements, but somehow managing to stay in the fray.
Billy wanted to catch the pup, as if it were the solution to the problem of his being born. He had to adjust his eyes as he went through patches of sun and shadow, but didn’t give up the chase. The pup never balked against the chase, so Billy went on believing in his infantile innocence that the dog was getting from him what he was getting from the dog, and consequently, went on chasing the dog. What goes on in the mind of the pup no one knows.
There were times when Billy wanted to and did stop. The pup, on these occasions, behaved oddly: it stopped in its tracks, gaping at Billy: maybe curious, maybe tired, maybe inviting, no one knew, least of all Billy, who, encouraged by this subtle hint at his importance to the dog, resumed his chase. Unsure of where his next foot may land, but sure of what he had to get, Billy ran after the dog.
Any passer-by could notice that they were going in circles, and by the way they were gasping for breath, both of them, that they had been doing it for a long time.