I lay on my bed, eyes transfixed towards the ceiling. There was nothing particular to concentrate on, although a bit of scraped paint like the small end of a paper suspending from gauzy cobwebs vied for attention. It swayed rhythmically to the breath of the fan, precariously, as if holding on to its dear life, and afraid that it might unhinge and fall off any minute. The fan churned differently than it usually did. Maybe it had something to do with the pace, for it sounded uncommonly like the final beats of the dhaak one hears by the canal every year on the evening of the immersion on Bijoya Dashami. The sliver of paint seemingly waltzed to its tune. We are all loose pieces of scraped paint – waltzing to different tunes – dangling one moment, staggering on the other and eventually giving up when the wind rages callously. The ceiling had damp patches all over from the previous rains, which made it appear like a vast stretch of fresco from one end to the other. On closer inspection and with the help of a prolific imagination, one could actually behold extensive lands, valleys and gorges with rivers meandering slovenly past the jutting rocks, all in different shades of black. Like a faded illustration with Chinese ink on an uneven canvas. As for the cracks, fissures and thick layers of plaster, they only added a three dimensional effect to the otherwise two dimensional artistry.
There is nothing romantic about living alone in a sparsely furnished room that smells of moss during the monsoons and a queer synthesis of cheap whitewash and mosquito repellent throughout the other months of the year. In the mornings however, I could choose to keep the windows open to ward off the officious smell that often breeds inside closed quarters. But the next door neighbour, who seemingly heated milk throughout the day made it quite impossible. I could not stand the lactic odor; it seemed oppressive to the point of nauseous. I tried room fresheners, but the perfume drifted out of the windows no sooner than they were opened. Few days back, a man selling odds and ends arrived at my doorsteps when the sun is at its peak in the afternoon sky. I was not keen on buying anything although he kept on wheedling and displaying his wares. Amidst the lot, I noticed a few packets of sandalwood joss sticks. The man seemed glad at my unusual interest, and cheerfully harped on their excellent quality. After much debating I decided to buy one packet, much to his consternation, for he was hoping to pile me with a couple more. Next morning, I lit a bunch of those and unfastening the windows wide, placed them on the sill. A little later, I heard the woman next door grumbling loudly about the strong fragrance which made me smirk privately at the revenge taken.
Of crimson – resembling the
First light of dawn,
With delicate veins for sunrays.
I purloined in a bough –
So dawn was immortalized
On my table,
Twilight had long since
A stunted bougainvillea tree stood just outside my window which remained covered with the flimsy tissue like flowers on all days of the year. Yesterday while sweeping the floor I discovered a piece of paper behind the bureau drawer, covered under layers and layers of grime. My room being by the side of a busy road had its share of the road as well. Ordinarily, I would have swept the piece of paper along with everything else, but my recently acquired absent-mindedness gave me the benefit of doubt as I picked it up with the tips of my thumb and index finger. It was a napkin with a few words scribbled and crossed out on it. On going through it carefully, I recalled it was something I had written days back when suddenly seized with a poetic fervor. This tended to happen a lot of times, and was also the reason why I had lost many fine poems in the past. They had either floated down the drains or flown out of the windows. The most absurd part was that I did not even seem to recall the circumstances under which I had lost them.
The glasses on the windows were dissimilar pieces of different colours and textures. One was fine grained, another had vertical designs, and yet another had a broken edge so a piece of cardboard had to be fixed there with thick tapes. They looked as if they had been picked up at random and placed, just for the sake of giving those frames something to hold on to. It was in fact, a shabbier cousin to the stained glass windows of the abandoned synagogue at the end of the market road. On windy evenings prior to an evident thunderstorm as I lay in the quiet of the room on my bed, with the windows fastened carefully, I could hear and vaguely see the dry leaves and clusters of bougainvilleas twirling in midair. They did a foxtrot here, a jive or a jazz there, and crunched like something being fried in hot oil before dropping delicately on the canopied floor. The bougainvilleas changed colour and form as I watched them slump alongside the coloured glass. The red turned into an orange blob as I viewed them through the yellow glass or into a purple dewdrop, when seen through the blue one. It was like an interesting palette and brush, the glass windows, with each sheet of glass being like a tray of colour as well as a different type of paintbrush, creating something ingenious just by changing focus. Then the rains would come, first in sprinkles and then in showers, accompanied by thunders which seemed to reverberate from under the bed rather than beyond the ceiling above my head. Maybe the bed quivered little; I’m most certain it did. Or probably something within me stirred a little which caused that fleeting sensation to pass through my body right up to the tip of the smallest toe of my left foot. The scent of the wet soil would creep in through the niches of the windows, insanely tantalizing and beckoning me to come over and drench my soul.
I had a very disturbed sleep last night. I saw a man materialize from the closets of darkness, mumbling something. I could not hear him speak, so I tried to read his lips instead. They were uncommonly thick and chapped, bloated purple on the left end. I could glimpse briefly at his teeth – jagged, uneven and coloured like limestone. I had been inside a limestone cave once, and found it very suffocating. Being a tourist spot, they had installed artificial lighting inside. The lemon hue made the cave look like the insides of an orange peel. At least what I thought it would look like, sitting inside an orange peel with small bulbs hanging from its walls. I tried to imagine what the insides of the man’s mouth might be like. Did the teeth within feel the same way like I imagined myself feeling sitting inside an orange peel? Or like how I felt inside the limestone cave? The darkness around seemed to be fading away a little and I could now make out the outline of a woman as well. The man seemed to be conversing to her. I could but hear half words, broken like rays of the sun on the surface of a restless stream.
“The line between reality and illusion has faded for her…”
“What does that mean?” the disembodied voice of the woman seemed terrified. I could almost picture her staring vacantly into the vicinity, although I did not know why I associated such an image with the voice.
“Her dreams are her reality, whereas reality is actually like a hallucination,” the grave voice addressed in a droning baritone.
“Is there…no way…?” a dry sob escaped the strangulated female voice.
“I’m afraid not. There isn’t any way out of a mind that has been taken…”
I did not like whatever was happening around me. Who were these people? And what were they talking about? Was I asleep or awake and if I was awake, why was everything around me in such a state of turmoil? I tried to run away from that place, wherever it was that I had ended up. But I could not see anything around me. There was not a single stray beam of light that would help me find my way out of the shadows. The voices were becoming discordant and the language sounded unintelligible. After a while, they transmuted into noise, jarring noise which made my head tear apart and split open with pain. I screamed out loud, but no noise escaped me. I realized I could not open my mouth; I was screaming inside my head. There was a burst of light after which everything around me began to melt away like wax dripping from a candle, and like a candle, the light went out after a while.
I woke up in a half-conscious daze, still perplexed about my surroundings. No, this was reality, where I was. My single-roomed quarters, the bougainvillea trees, and my solitary life here, away from everyone else. This was reality. I tried recollecting my dream, and then my past. I could remember neither… Where did I belong to? The clock was ticking away time meticulously. Through the crack in the window, I could see the day breaking. Or was it the bougainvilleas imitating dawn once again?
That conflicting moment –
Between the creation
Of the dew drop
And it’s bidding adieu
To the leaf –
I paused, as did the world.
No magic created;
Illusions were shattered.
26 March 2014