A Lover’s Discourse

nighthawks_by_edward_hopper_1942

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942. Public Domain

The bartender was a bald man in his early 40’s. His ears were pointy and seemed to take away all the attention from his round face. He wore a white cap. He eased the drinks into people’s hands just as easily as they welcomed him into their conversations. He was just the right kind of friendly for a bartender. He wouldn’t pry, he pretended not to see tears when there were tears and he smiled. A lot. I kept watching him over my copy of the Dorian Gray every now and then. I watched him serve drinks to a couple, a gang of noisy boys and a middle aged woman sitting alone. He chatted with them all. When he wasn’t serving, his eyes were fixed on the game and the clock. Was he waiting too?

I was just nervous and he was my distraction. I didn’t want her to know I was nervous. I didn’t want her to know I almost broke my ankle trying to get here in a hurry even though there was plenty of time. To calm myself down, I had downed a bottle of wine at home and read Barthes’ ‘A lover’s discourse’, the chapter on waiting, especially, over and over again.

“There is a scenography of waiting: I organize it, manipulate it, cut out a portion of time in which I shall mime the loss of the loved object and provoke all the effects of a minor mourning. This is then acted out as a play”

The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits

I would have been calmer had I dragged the book along to the bar. But I didn’t want her to think I had been obsessing over love for months now so I picked something neutral. Dorian gray seemed neutral. I have no idea what Dorian gray was about. Midway between waiting and assuming she is going to look at what I was reading, I wondered if The picture of Dorian Gray was the story of some painter named Dorian who is miserable because his lover married some rich guy. I freaked out because my hypothesis seemed believable. Under these tiring circumstances, I did what anybody sane with a smartphone would do. I looked up the Wikipedia entry for the goddamn book. It was a long entry so I skipped to the end. Some kind of tragedy it seemed like but I would do anything to not get caught reading ‘Lover’s Discourse’ today.

I waited. And I waited. We had agreed to meet at this bar, the very one that we frequented a lot as lovers in the months of May, June and July. After she left, I just couldn’t come here anymore. The last time we were here, we sat in the booth and drank all evening. She was wearing a white blouse and an olive green skirt. Whenever I sketch this, I never change the colors.

I looked at the clock again. It was 2:00. A full hour had passed after the agreed time. My restlessness was growing so I walked towards the entrance and turned. This was where she would see me from soon as she entered. I went back to my seat and positioned an angle that wouldn’t let her see my face. I rehearsed everything, even the way she would walk up to me, put her hand on my shoulder and the way my face would look, having been caught unaware because I was so absorbed in my book.

2:15: She hadn’t come yet. I went back to the telephone call she had made earlier in the day. I tried to recollect if she had really said 1:00 at the bar. It seemed natural not to ask which bar. I had started to rearrange my miseries when from the corner of my eye, I saw a blotch of red take a seat by the bartender. It was her. And she wasn’t alone. She was with a man and it didn’t look like a formal meeting. We looked at each other for 5 seconds and unknowingly I had pushed my gaze towards the man she was with, as if to ask ‘Who the hell is that’?

She didn’t say. And I could never find out. After 30 minutes of waiting a different kind of wait, one that was new in both measure and pain, they left.

Find a Muse in the Masters

The Museum of Innocence

I woke up at 6:30 today, 3 minutes before my alarm made its rude interruption on my morning self pity session. I turned it off and decided to sleep instead of pity. I had been in a rut all of last night because I was over thinking. I suddenly realized I was 25 and too young. I have wasted my life chasing after things just to see if they will turn out they way it did in my head. Right from all the loves and friendships. I don’t know if it’s stupid but I think it’s all worth it only if I can write about it. I was 5 pages away from finishing The Museum of Innocence when it hit me. My existential crisis, I mean. That I am worthless and a few 100 steps from becoming Kemal Bey. I hoard. That’s all there is to it. I hate saying this but the book is a tale of caution. It’s like missing the point, I know. But I am so much in love with the idea of love that this had to happen. I woke up a distraught woman because ‘nobody likes me ya’. I spent 2 hours after that moping around in my room. Finally when I picked up the book to finish those last 5 pages, I want to believe I changed. I am now cynical about love. I have decided I want to be a cat when it comes to love. I was looking at the museum of innocence website when I had stopped pitying myself.

I still want to hoard and everything but I am going to hoard things about me for me.

Cuticura and Shadows

Every day after lunch they would huddle up under the big window to chat. The afternoon sun thrown on the floor around the window, mouths smelling of pan and the shadows on the walls imitating their gestures in happy animation. Lunch was a big plate of Rice and Dal. The yellow in the ghee floating like poison in my Dal. I would be sleepy and Aumu’s mom would pull me to her lap by the window to check my hair for lice. Her hands moved briskly on my hair at first and then when the gossip became more interesting, she would slow down, her hands forgotten between layers of my thin hair. I didn’t appreciate the lice removal because it meant time away from my cousins and having to sit in one position for the longest time. As long as it took for another story to be remembered, another running cousin to be caught and dragged to one or more of the empty laps. They were 4 sisters and their mother- my grandmother, mouma. They were an excited bunch. Always full of stories and laugh, always full of drama and cries, always full of lesson and well meaning advice. They were a combination of a Sooraj Barjatya and Priyadarshan movie.

I wouldn’t understand their stories. They talked fast in a Konkani I would hear only during the vacations. It was comforting because it wasn’t Kannada. Kannada was what dad spoke when he was mad at me and when he would teach me math. It was a language that I dreaded hearing and talking in because it reminded me of math and school and discipline. Konkani was gossip and laughter and summer.

Their stories were all larger than life, Aumu’s mother – the story teller would add detail after embellished detail to her already dramatized and well rehearsed version before mouma would cut in and present an alteration, sometimes more exaggerated, sometimes mellowed down if she liked the people in the story. Even before I had the chance to ask who someone was or if I had ever seen them, they would have erupted into a volcano of noise – disagreement, surprise and laugh. Occasionally, there would be tears – stories recollected under disapproving nods and shared sighs of bad and beating husbands, of the son that threw his old and aging parents away, of the daughter in law that wore the same sari to two different functions.

I was fascinated by the people in these stories. They were always bad, like the people in movies. They said the meanest things in the most casual of ways. It is here, this moment that I keep going back to when I think of speech and judgment. In my head, I was asking, what if he didn’t mean it like that? Would he know that the women here in my world had written off his character certificate? Would he ever know that the thing he said became a caricature here, between these walls? And all for not realizing what he was saying. It could be here that I became an over thinker, making decisions about what words would never leave my mouth, wondering if they did without my noticing it.

Money talk was rare and if heard, would always be inspired by mouma – the bra thief. Every time one of my aunts’ left a room, they would look knowingly at the other and hide their suitcases. Somebody would complain about a lost bra last seen in the bathroom. The aunt that I don’t know well asks me if I have seen it. Behind me, I can hear my mother’s voice breaking into a laugh. I will buy you one, she says. They all know their mother took it.

There would be jewelry and house conversations, some uninteresting bank talk, at which point I would drift off and sleep. My head would be warm and now and then I could feel the sun on my hair, slightly burning the exposed scalp, now I would feel it on my cheek, the red in my closed eyes imitating the warmth behind my ears. I could hear the blood, I could see the red.

I would shut my eyes unusually tight if I heard a name that I recognized. In my head, I was begging them to go on, hoping nobody would notice I was awake. When this wouldn’t happen, I would look at the shadows their hands were making and sleep.

Back home, I would wonder what mouma stole that day. It is only later that I learnt how to remember her by the things she stole. Before that I remembered her by the smells she left behind. She smelled of Vibhooti and Cuticura. Two of my favourite things today. I loved looking into her bags. I would always find a packet of Vibhooti there, and a bra that wasn’t hers.

Fusun

Orhan Pamuk has been giving me mild orgasms all evening. I am only half way through the book and I have wept twice already. Kemal Bey, is a hoarder like I am. And so, as I unashamedly encouraged him and smiled many a haughty smiles every time he sneaked and hid in his pockets, something Fusun had touched, held or seen, I remembered all the receipts stashed away fondly in secret cupboards, from ‘seminar’ related outings I had managed getting away to. Mother’s breakdown following the discovery of one such receipt is something I would like to dedicate a whole post to.

I like how he thinks of time and events as means of recording how and when he was happy. I died of envy when he managed to write why and how the air and objects around Fusun eventually become his only saviors from escalating into a whole another kind of madness. He isn’t at all curious to know if he is putting either his readers or Fusun’s parents to an irritated slumber as he goes on to dine with them for 8 years. Frankly, it gave me hope and denied me guilt when I now look back upon the people and homes I have imposed my company on.

His narrative of the mad pursuit of simpler times he spent with Fusun are shamelessly generous with the information they give. And I basked in his shamelessness. Overjoyed, as I was, knowing I wasn’t the only hopeless hoarder there ever was. I sighed whenever he felt seized by relief after obtaining these objects. I smiled at the little discoveries he makes on this mad journey. ‘Happiness’, he says, ‘means being close to the one you love’. Has there been a simpler truth? And this is none of the parents are important bullshit. It’s more real because this is love the way one feels, at least the way I feel, back here, outside ‘The Museum of Innocence’. It’s how the air around them becomes desirable simply because they are breathing it. It’s how you begin to feel that the objects that they hold are capable of bringing you the same warmth.

I went back to all the ticket stubs I had collected over the years, all the perfect rocks on the beach I struggled to look for, 2 straws from a drink shared, boarding passes, tissue papers all currently at display on the shelf in my museum.

I haven’t said this about a book in a long time but I really wish I don’t finish reading this soon.

Dear Diary – II

On 17 October, 2001, Silva wrote in his diary:

She didn’t tell me about Anaaz. She talked about her cat after we made love on the balcony and then she slept. I waited for an hour, her head on my chest, her hand on my right nipple. As I listened to her slow breathing, I lay awake thinking of all the ways I could broach this subject. What unsuspecting ankle related question could I have asked? Do you like silver anklets? Too unlike me. She knows I don’t do gifts. At least that’s what I told her. She told me when we met first at Saibaa’s coffee shop that she doesn’t like gifts – something about accepted forms of bribery, to which I had to shrug and say that I don’t do gifts.

I feel screwed. I don’t want to lose this woman to some goatee – tattoo bastard. He’s a chuth. I can say he doesn’t respect her enough. I tried hacking into her FB account to see if they’ve been chatting. She seems to have changed her password. It is not fairypumpkins anymore. And then I made mistake # 1 of the evening. Under the pretext of drinking water, I left her covered on the balcony, sneaked into her bag, found her phone and locked myself in the bathroom. As I went through all her Whats app conversations, I saw that she had deleted her chat with Anaaz. I couldn’t even locate the pictures. I was struggling on many levels. All these years I thought I was the cool one in relationships. I was never jealous with other women. They were. Always. Now along with having to deal with the fact that I am a jealous person, I also had to face the possibility of losing her.

Mistake # 2 was not putting the phone on silent. When it started ringing, I heard a loud banging on the bathroom door. She wanted to know what I was doing with her phone in the bathroom. I opened Plants vs Zombies and told her that I only took her phone to play something while on the toilet. She just smiled and wrenched her phone back.

I have gone from being cool to very uncool. I don’t think she’s going to call me anymore. She hurried through dinner and left early.

I need a better plan.

Dear Diary

On 16 October, 2001, Silva wrote in his diary:

“I’m tired today. I must give up on love altogether. Every time I fall in love, I go a little mad. This time I have nothing left to give. I don’t have the energy to be jealous anymore. At least I wish I didn’t, but I do. I have a lot of energy for jealousy and none for love. It’s as if somebody left a cold dagger in my ankle and it is wrenching itself out, bit by bit. I feel the jealousy from my neck and I feel it more as it travels down to my ankle. I checked her phone today. She had sent a picture of her bare ankle to Anaaz. Another picture of her bare thighs and another with a red shawl partly revealing her bare brown shoulders. I died a million times with each picture I saw, while I measured the amount of nakedness he was devouring, his evil tongue smacking his lips, I felt a surge of madness taking over me.

Until that moment, I thought I had full authority over her nakedness. I didn’t care much about how she chose to cover it or uncover it. But he had seen now the tenderness in those arms that I slept on. He was probably jerking off to her shoulders right now. I wondered if they had done it yet. I wondered if she was going to tell me. I wondered how I was going to react when she told me for I was sure she would tell me. She wasn’t one to hide. We had agreed that this was going to be an open relationship. Now I was only thinking of my face and what it should look like when she told me. I punched my pillow and saw Anaaz’ horny bastard face in it. I went up to the mirror and started to practice my fake smile. She would know, the bitch. I still had to try. I decided to disarm her first with a low pitched, measured laugh, I narrowed my eyes as I looked into the brown buttons in the mirror and mimicked ‘ha ha ha ha’. I was overdoing it. Maybe if I cut back on one ha. Three ha’s should suffice. Three is always a good number. It suggests a laidbackness that can only come after making love.

Should I broach the topic after making love, when her head is on my chest and her hand on my right nipple? I rehearsed my laugh for 10 minutes and then looked into my face for signs of dishonesty. I was afraid of getting caught. I may have enjoyed the rehearsals a bit too much, like the smell of my fart.

Creme brûlée

He stopped being he yesterday. He had stopped a long while ago, but yesterday I saw that my him was not the him talking. I looked into his eyes. They looked different than they did 9 years ago, when things were small and dreams were a home, a cot, two windows, and the two of us. I know this dream to its dusty little details. I know which my favourite window is, I know who our neighbors are, I know the door makes a creaky noise every time it closes behind us, I know I clean up, I know we don’t have enough money because you know, kids who run away from home to be with each other never have any money, I know the phone never rings because we are so away from everybody. That was the dream for a long time before I saw life closely and narrowed the details down to where? when? and how? He had no answers and clearly neither did I.

And so over a yummy bowl of Creme brûlée yesterday, he and I stopped being us. It’s not over, yet. But it is on its way. I can see it coming and I don’t know if I’ll ever be prepared because I was never the villain in my imagined break up stories. It was always him, in my head, it is always them for some reason. They mess up, they go away, they stop loving me. I am too weak to look at myself, far too perfect in my head to go astray. Then how did I become the villain here in my story? Why didn’t I think about the people he does not want to leave behind when we go live in our small home? Why didn’t I see that the silence between us may grow louder than our laughs and our stories? Why didn’t I see that the lack of real conversations may bother me?

It is like undoing a puzzle, bit by bit at first and then hurriedly. I watched as it all came crumbling down to my feet, a tiny spoon cracking open the yellow mound of Creme brûlée. There was no crack. I lifted my head up, disappointed, to see the creases around the corners of his eyes, shining the way they always did. He wore a big smile. I smiled too. These are the few moments that tell me it can work out between us. I wish he would stop looking happy so we could both move on. Now, he makes me laugh, now he sings, now he isn’t listening to me anymore because we are passing by a mirror and the curves on his biceps are calling out to him.

And then there’s my writing which he only knows of, on account of all the journals I filled with our stories – his and mine – ones that he has never read. Ones that I continue to pore over, looking for some knowledge that I might have had, 9 years ago about this. This silence around Creme brûlée.

To the woman I don’t know

I wish I knew her as well as I know her in photos. We look very close in all our pictures together, the kind of closeness that is brought together by a hundred unspoken arguments, two pauses and a dot of red silence – the red round on her forehead. These silences are in the thinnest gaps between us that the photos don’t see. It is the tiny strip of white light between our closely hugging bodies that quietly fades away into the distance behind us when I see how her hands lie unforgotten and clasped around me.

We hug a lot. On birthdays and anniversaries and for photos taken on top of hills, clouds all white and happy, a room with fading walls and big windows. We look happy in each of these. But I don’t know if we ever talked. I don’t remember the last time we talked just to talk, no lame necessary exchange of dialogues concerning bills or time or food. We have had arguments, sure, a measured distance that multiplies with every nod she didn’t give me when he was around, every misunderstanding I wanted her to have handled better and every value of tradition that I wanted her to dismiss.

Even so, I cannot think of anybody else who could have done a better job. After years of trying to mold me into the shape that he wanted of me, after all the sleeveless kurtas she returned to the tailor to get them sown into sleeves that don’t expose armpits, the way he wanted, after all the battles I  thought I fought, there is now, between us only a wall that separates our rooms, our lives and our growing distance from each other. On either sides of the wall there are all the things I don’t remember to tell her. Like how sometimes, when I think of her outside the crowd of family and expectations, I see her as a person. Like how she looks lovely in red, blue and yellow. Like how it took me really long to find out what my favourite picture of us is.

The walls in this room are white. There is a plastic cover next to the cot, perched the way I am on her lap. She is holding me tight, like she does in all our photos, clinging to me, knowing that this is the only moment that will unashamedly allow this closeness, this intimacy of unsecret smiles. Her face is young and more oval than it is now. Her big red bindi is not angry as it always is, in my memory. She looks happy and I can tell it’s a happy that is not just for the camera that he is holding. She is smiling broadly, showing most of her teeth.

Twenty four and a half years later there is an occasional silence in the car when we sit next to each other. There’s noise outside and, inside, there are long breaths deeply taken in and thrown out, hiding all signs of accidental sighs.

I wish we were closer, the way she and my sister are, I wish there were more than grunts in our conversations, I wish I knew her better. Now and then when she is not here, I don’t look for her voice the way I think I should when I miss her. I don’t know her smell. I don’t know her at all and I cannot blame her. She’s always been here, and there, on the cot that she sits on everyday. I see her as I make my way up the staircase and into the guilt free space that is my room. I am not too fond of this journey because it makes me guilty to not want to go there, to her room and sit and talk to her, the way my sister does so effortlessly. It’s almost as if my sister were not her child, they are that close.

I wish I could wholeheartedly blame him for all the things that my mother and I can’t have. The shaky, more angry folds in my memory bring me back another woman who isn’t anything like the pretty lady in the yellow nightie from the photo. She is not smiling, she is angry that I went to my cousin’s home a few blocks away. She is angrier because I went with boys, my cousins, brothers, but ‘boys’ in her head. She is angry because I couldn’t be more grown up when I was 14.

I can forgive this. I know that, but I want it to happen sooner. I don’t want to feel her smell on my body after she’s left us. I want to find out what her smell is, now, here when she’s with me.

Amma and I

Amma and I

To Pamuk & the window by my Desk

I finished reading Captain Pantoja today. What a nasty little delight the book is. As I hurried through the last few pages, I kept cursing and rereading because I didn’t want to miss what I seemed to have missed throughout the beginning of the novel. The little bits of information that he wrapped in between dialogues. Like bacon wrapped sausages. I will return to the book soon when I have recovered and have something honest to say about it. Now, I’m still trying to make sense of the narrative burst that Llosa has left me with.

I have now made my jump to Orhan Pamuk. The Museum of Innocence. It took me sometime to actually start reading the book because soon after I picked it up, I started smelling the pages like a woman possessed. It smelled of book, dust, naphthalene balls, and of having fraternized with other books. Strangely, I am beginning to associate the smell of dusty old books with the smell of memory. I remember the smell. Like it is in my head all the time and the whiff of dust just goes and rattles the smell. Just to tell you how much I love the book already, once I started reading it, I didn’t stop, not even to smell the pages. I am through with the first 5 pages, looks like I may fall in love with Pamuk now. Or maybe it’s too soon to tell.

I had to take Pantoja to the lab to finish with him. It had begun to get noisy in the department. When I returned to my place for lunch, the mad child and I talked for sometime and then, as I was preparing to leave with Pamuk, I decided to stay. I shifted my chair, turned it towards the wall so now on my right, the window opens to my face. There’s noise inside but it is easier to ignore it. Either it’s because Pamuk’s sex descriptions are that good or the slow, drilling machine sound outside is soothing enough to drown out the melodrama inside. Either ways I am not complaining.

Now and then, that bird I keep listening to when I am reading, chirps. It is how I will remember afternoons here. It is how I remember Finding Fanny.

To get back to my new sitting position, I love it. My day just got better. I was in a rut all morning because my faith in humanity had died last night, following a terrible argument with my engineer cousin who stated that rapes are like small cuts that need to be ignored to be able to focus on priorities. When I told this to my sister she said that this cousin and everybody else are on their ‘journeys’ and that I cannot change it. I cannot decide which conversation left me more bruised.

But Pamuk and my window have managed to suck me out of these journeys. I badly want to get back to my book now and to the birds outside my window.