A Tuesday in December

Last night, I downed half a glass of wine and watched Hannah and her Sisters. I am going through a Woody Allen phase. Waking up was hard, had to skip Yoga to beat the 9:00 am traffic. I used a new soap today. It was very soapy and not creamy at all. In college, my day got interesting. After running around a lil bit to wrap up some tax documents, I – wow. I have tax documents and all. God, I feel like such a grown-up. It’s also not that scary anymore. I just need to stop being lazy.

Back in the department, I made chai and settled with Faulkner. I had to reread those three pages again. It was difficult because of all the names. But after 30 pages, I didn’t want to do anything else but read Faulkner. It’s rattling. I made two post-it notes today. Both pink. One had a list of all the reading I have to catch up on over the weekend. The other had a list of writing projects.

On instinct, I opened the London word document again. This piece was due a week after my return from Europe. It has been seven months now. It gave me troubles and that’s why I had to put it away. I had made a habit of opening it, looking at it, feeling disgusted with the writing and going back to my sad little life. This happened everyday for two months and then I couldn’t look at it anymore.

I was thinking of a short-story to show my students. A story written in second-person narrative. I read Lorrie Moore’s How to Become a Writer and then it hit me. What I hadn’t been doing with my piece.

I sat for an hour after that and changed all the I’s to You’s. It’s more readable now and in better shape than it has been in months. But it still needs work. In class, I think they liked the Lorrie Moore story. More than their predecessors did.

After class, I wanted to write so here I am. If the other Tuesdays are like today, I will grin throughout the year. I watched Tamasha last evening. I liked the first-half of the movie. The second -half scared me. That mad storytelling  – baba is frightening. Why did he have to scream so much? The film took forever to move from screen to screen. I was perpetually worried that I was going to be stuck watching one scene for 15 minutes, which at one point did happen.

I must go to book-worm today and put my coupon to good use. I also have Marzipan to go to today. I can’t believe I am still on the lookout for my replacement Parisian. So you know what they went and did to Parisian Cafe? Turned it into some hoity-toity apartment grocery shopping dump.I am not amused.

The Parisian Cafe – III

It stands quietly at the end of a street, the way small town coffee shops sometimes do in big cities. Unafraid, yet unwelcoming because of its smallness. Everybody can see everybody and everybody seems to know everybody. You wonder how the chairs fit themselves into their tables on days that you are not here. You wonder if yellow cars parked neatly in front of apartments have that much character on days that you are not here. Who sits in your spot next to the dustbin and eavesdrops on conversations when you are not here?

A house is broken down and its ghosts collect themselves in heaps of sand and stone while behind, a building grows and how slowly. Little people move about on random floors like thin candles on three tiered cakes.

The Parisian Cafe

Yesterday at PC, an English something woman came by to meet 2 other English something old women. Something about women my grandmother’s age speaking English makes me sit up in my seat and gawk at them. So I was gawking and soon I started barfing because one of them was groping dog to make him sit next to her. She pestered him to ‘sit’ and shake hands. Poor dog later toddled its way next to me and spent the rest of the evening under the table trying to escape evil groping grandma.

This place is what helps me put my sanity back after mad days at work.  I love these initial few days when the place is beginning to open up to me but the people in it aren’t familiar yet so they won’t smile. Not even the waiter who brings me my coffee smiles. I must learn how to fucking tip properly first. I have this crazy need to make friends with the waiter just so it all fits an image in my head, for writing’s sake at least. I wish we become best friends or he becomes somebody who will miss me if I don’t turn up someday.

I see lots of stories here. There’s an 11 year old little boy who sells tea to all the watchmen and the Istri walas and the Raddi walas. Sometimes, I forget my book and listen to him glide around the neighbourhood, selling tea, striking up easy conversations with everybody. He is really sweet to you if you don’t owe him money. He won’t give you any tea if you haven’t paid him for the last two teas. How do I know this? Evil bastard will shout out to the entire neighbourhood about who owes him money and who doesn’t. A trick he’s learnt to make sure he doesn’t get blackmailed by nicely talking watchmen who sometimes catch hold of him and eventually get that cup of tea.

Cops do their regular rounds now and then, picking up cars and bikes parked in no parking areas, looking absolutely alert and waving to somebody occasionally, nodding to most others, looking carefully for signs of drug abuse in youngsters standing near pc.

A bunch of working men come by around the time I go. They chat up on a range of interesting things. They talk about all the happening places in Bangalore, why Plan B is the best option for anybody with little money to spend on Booze, on Sonia Gandhi and why she doesn’t deserve to die, on dog and how friendly he is, and on girlfriends who were supposed to have come by now.

Much as I look forward to seeing all of this, I love those other really rare days when I am getting epiphany after epiphany, when I make great, life altering plans and decisions, when I discover the bestest short story ever written, when I hit upon something to write about, when I eavesdrop on a conversation that has left me with giggles which will come bursting out only after I make a quick exit.

Then there are days when I feel betrayed because nothing any of these other people do in their lives will arouse me so I sit there cursing everybody and their uninteresting lives and mine. I am not fond of those days. They make me question everything that has kept me happy for a long time.

What day will it be at PC today?

Nabokov

And then there are days when you read a short story by Nabokov and wonder why you haven’t yet read just about everything this man has written so far. It is my lightest day at work, Wednesday. Around 9 in the morning I click open a document called ‘Signs and symbols’, I read it and suddenly it is very clear to me that my day is not going to be ordinary. I smiled sheepishly to myself after I decided to take it to class. It wasn’t an easy choice. I had to brave terrible flashbacks about taking a piece that I really liked to a class, only to have the monsters butcher it in front my eyes while I look at them with menace and helplessness.

But I took it to class and had fun talking about the piece and the man. I was pleased to see that they were just as thrilled and confused as I had been. We talked about the story, the details and the sheer pleasure that is his narrative. He takes seemingly ordinary things in the world and weaves magic around them. It is not what he writes about as much as it is about the amount of detail he gives them, like they are his to write about. By evening I was so much in love with him and the world around me that it tired me to be so happy for so long. It wasn’t familiar.

The day continued to surprise me because I was on a Nabokov spree. After crying over ‘Signs and Symbols’, I read ‘Terror’ and ‘Razor’.

Some lines from the ‘Razor’ I wish I had the head to think of and write about:

‘One very hot, bluish summer morning, taking advantage of the nearly total absence of customers during those workaday hours, both of Ivanov’s colleagues took an hour off. Their employer, dying from the heat and from long-ripening desire, had silently escorted the pale, unresisting little manicurist to a back room. Left alone in the sun-drenched shop, Ivanov glanced through one newspaper, then lit a cigarette and, all in white, stepped outside the doorway and started watching the passersby.

People flashed past, accompanied by their blue shadows, which broke over the edge of the sidewalk and glided fearlessly underneath the glittering wheels of cars that left ribbonlike imprints on the heat-softened asphalt, resembling the ornate lacework of snakes’.

I have seen shadows, I am familiar with the concept, I am quite sure. I just never would have looked at one ‘gliding fearlessly’ even though that is what shadows do all the time. It’s as though he breathes life into things that I have seen before but will only notice after he writes about it. How much must this man have truly lived his life, in moments and in details, to write about it just the way they appear to us?

Furthermore –

‘Then the following happened. The little eyes darted about, then suddenly shut tight, eyelids compressed like those of the savage who thought closing his eyes made him invisible’

Note here – he isn’t saying ‘a’ savage. He doesn’t know this savage. It’s the savage we are all only familiar with through pictures and stories. But look how Nabokov remembers the savage and does not forget the eyes and what they could mean when they are shut.

I read ‘Terror’ at The Parisian café amidst conversations about petrol prices and Sonia Gandhi and the BJP. I was amused at the spectacle that was before me but soon, I was reading these lines and Nabokov took me in his palm and placed me in front of this:

‘During the time I had been deep at work, I had grown disacquainted with myself, a sensation akin to what one may experience when meeting a close friend after years of separation: for a few empty, lucid, but numb moments you see him in an entirely different light even though you realize that the frost of this mysterious anaesthesia will presently wear off, and the person you are looking at will revive, glow with warmth, resume his old place, becoming again so familiar that no effort of the will could possibly make you recapture that fleeting sensation of estrangedness.

Yet next morning, while shaving, it would never occur to me to question the reality of my image’.

I’m not done yet.

‘I looked at houses and they had lost their usual meaning – that is, all that we think when looking at a house: a certain architectural style, the sort of rooms inside, ugly house, comfortable house- all this had evaporated, leaving nothing but an absurd shell, the same way an absurd sound is left after one has repeated sufficiently long the commonest word without heeding its meaning: house, howss, whowss. It was the same with trees, the same with people’.

Long before Ted Mosby finds the word ‘bowl’ absurd in ‘How I met your mother’, I discovered the numbness that such absurdity leaves one with long after the meaning has left the word. I did that with ‘pants’ and ‘green’. But to take a concept that is familiar to words and meaning and to be able to see the same familiarity with vision and thought is genius!

This craze for Nabokov is animated in part by my inability to write the way he does and to see the world in the way he does and also, in part, by hope that someday somebody sitting and smoking at a café will discover me the way I discovered Nabokov.

I have decided to read a bit of Nabokov everyday simply because the world seems lovable and liveable after a short story by Nabokov. And this has absolutely nothing to do with the love for humanity, which I think; fortunately, Nabokov doesn’t give a damn about. But just the exuberance of living amidst details and not noticing them until somebody holds your face gently with the roughest hands and steers it towards these details, beckoning you to look at them and listen to them and live in them.