“There is no transition: you wake up in the dream in the other world, on the other side; there is no passport, no visa but this extreme familiarity with extreme strangeness.”
– – – Hélène Cixous, “Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing”
He begins in medias res. That’s how writing begins, and life too. For some reason – he writes – he feels like writing. With a pen, on his pad. He raises himself halfway, rests on his elbows, and throws down his sheet from his chest to his knees. He writes about himself stretching his arm over her to reach out to the bed side table on her side, all the while careful not to wake her up. Reaches out – no, not for his cigarette, which he usually keeps on that table after his last smoke at night on the balcony on that side of the bed – but reaches out for the black fountain pen and the white unruled notepad. Well, now that the thought of the cigarette has crossed his mind – and his pen has scribbled about it anyway – he might as well light one.
The black ink writes on: He sits up, keeps the pad and the pen on his pillow, uncovers his feet, roughly folds his sheet, slips it under the pillow, turns and gets up. Taking a cigarette out and lighting it, he drops the packet and the lighter back on the table. When he opens the balcony door, the faint squeak is enough to disturb her sleep; she turns away on the other side with a hint of sleepy irritation on her face. He pauses, looks at her once, then scratches out the last sentence and re-writes it. When he slides the balcony door open, the rumbling friction is enough to disturb her sleep; as the morning sun peeps through the door, she turns away with a hint of sleepy irritation on her face.
After the smoke, he returns to the bed, leans on the upright pillow and continues writing. He writes how he wakes up on lazy Sunday mornings without an alarm. How he makes coffee and breakfast before waking her up late. On such a lazy morning as today, a pen and a paper – rather than his usual laptop keys – stir in him the memories of his romantic college days. This is fun; he tries to capture the moments with his pen, as if the page is nothing but a film freezing his moments in time.
Whatever he does, he writes away spontaneously. He reads what he writes and alters it a bit: Whatever he does, or whatever crosses his mind, he writes away spontaneously.
Engineering, had he enjoyed it, would have led him to be an engineer, not a banker. Naturally, his most cherished moments in college were with his friends, and of course with her – and besides, what sells more than a campus love story? He turns the page – next time he decides to write, he needs to get a diary or a larger pad; this one is too small. He glances at her face sideways, smiles and begins to write on the new page – it does not sound quite right. He scratches out the sentence; he hates to begin the page with overwritten blots of ink; but he rewrites anyway. Smiling, he steals a quick glance at her sleeping face – yes, this sentence seems better – and, on the fresh page, remembers his first meeting with her.
He meets her during the freshers’ party, while having an ice-cream. Scratch out. He meets her during the freshers’ party over a drink. The first thing that catches his eye is her pair of stilettos. It is an enigma to him, how she manages to walk on such high heels. Looking at her waiting at the bar, he nervously offers to buy her a drink. She agrees, and they strike up a conversation, but he has no memory of it. How can he remember? He is amazed by her smile. No, too vague. He is amazed by her long hair. No, boring. He is amazed by her short dress. No way. He is amazed by her beautiful eyes. Tch, cliché. He was just amazed. Nervously, he asks her for a dance, and then there’s no turning back.
No, this is not right; the distortion is too much. He tears off the page, crumples it into a ball, and leaves it on the bed side table on his side. Then begins writing on the fresh page, honestly this time.
He meets her during the freshers’ party, while having an ice-cream. The first thing that catches his eye is her pair of shoes; it was the same brand he was wearing. It is an enigma to him, how she manages to be so nonchalant and turn up for the party in a plain tee and a rugged pair of jeans. Looking at her waiting at the counter for her ice-cream, he nervously offers his extra scoop to her. She rejects, but strikes up a conversation of which he does not remember. How can he remember? He was just amazed. Unhesitating, she asks him if she can bum a smoke, and then there’s no turning back.
About four years and some pathetic grades later, she drives him to their farewell party. She looks gorgeous in her saree. He gives the pen a gentle shake; the ink seems to be running out; he does not want to change his pen halfway – it would break the flow. There it is; seems to work fine now; hopefully it will last till the end of this page. He cannot take his eyes off her – breathtaking. About four hours and a wonderful evening later, he drives her home – her parents are out of town. He shakes his pen impatiently. A drop of ink falls on the page; groaning, “He dippes the nib of the pen in the ink to absorb as much as possible.” Leaves a little more space than usual, to avoid accidentally smudging the drop and ruining the page before it dries up.
About four minutes and some thousand racing beats later, their hearts lie, ravishing each other. Scratch, scratch. Shake. Rewrite. Their hearts lie, trying to catch up with each other. As he lies heaving, she gets up and goes to the bathroom. He sits up on the bed, and leans on his elbows, smiling, waiting to look at her sensual beauty again when she comes out. And then she does.
Damn. Typing is much easier; why does the ink have to run out now?
He gets up, rushes to the other room, opens the drawer, and takes out the ink bottle. Dropper. Sweet inky fragrance. Spill. Where does he find a rag now? Old vest, that will do for now. His phone rings loudly in the bed room. The grandeur of Beethoven’s ninth symphony echoes through the house. Well, no; though the ninth is his favourite, the fifth one adds a better punch. Rewrite. The grandeur of Beethoven’s fifth symphony echoes through the house. By the time he rushes to silence it, it is too late; she is sitting at the edge of the bed rubbing her eyes. He tries to say something, undecided what to say. I get up – I mean, she gets up – and walks to the bathroom and slams the door behind her. Slightly guilty, he waits for her to come out. And then she does.
She comes out. But does not meet his eyes. He shall never know why. She picks up the saree from the chair and starts wearing it – he writes on spontaneously. It is difficult for him to describe how she drapes the long piece of cloth around herself. She takes one of the longer edges of the saree and runs the length smoothly between her fingers till she finds the corner of the fabric. She tucks the corner at her waist and lets an appropriate length of the shorter side hang unto her toes. Takes the length of the saree and keeps wrapping it around her waist. Wait, this cannot be the right way; she looks weird. He tears off the page; this difficulty of writing is in no way comparable to capturing moments on film. Crumples the torn sheet. Tosses the paper ball at the bin in the corner of the room. He misses; the ball bounces off the edge of the bin and lands on the floor; he shall pick it up later.
She begins again. She takes one of the longer edges of the sareeand runs the length smoothly between her fingers till she finds the corner of the fabric. She tucks the corner at her waist below the navel and lets an appropriate length of the shorter side hang unto her toes. Takes the length of the saree and wraps the length around her once and then starts folding the fabric into pleats between her fingers. She holds the pleats together and tucks at her waist again. Well, now it looks like an obscene skirt. How does she wear the damn thing? He scraps this page too. The paper ball ends up under the couch. I wait with my saree almost scorning at him impatiently, as he thinks and tries to visualize it before writing again. A part of the saree needs to somehow swing upwards, he decides.
She takes one of the longer edges of the saree and runs the length smoothly between her fingers till she finds the corner of the fabric. She tucks the corner at her waist below the navel and lets an appropriate length of the shorter side hang unto her toes. Takes the length of the saree and wraps the length around her once and then starts folding a part the fabric into pleats between her fingers – yes, he gets it now – not all of it, but a part of it needs to be pleated. Tucking this near her navel, she takes the rest of the length – okay, now how does he make it go upwards? Wrap it? No, then there should be no more of the cloth left to pull it towards the shoulder.
My impatience is reaching its height. He knows that, and tries to think faster. May be – he nervously writes – she takes the rest of the length and passes it between the legs and tucks it at her hip. What the hell is that? Does it look like a dhoti now? Not even that. How does one wear a dhoti then? Damn. He rips off the page. Flings the notebook and pen on the table. I have been standing idly, letting him rewriteme wearing my saree. The fourth crumpled ball flies towards the balcony door. I drop the facade of the cloth and stand tall and stark as he drops his pen and notebook. The pen coughs up some ink.
I have chosen to keep silent, watching him lamely rip pages from my notebook, disrobing it layer by layer. Now that I resist being written off, he cannot stand it. Frustration and anxiety grips him alright, he writhes in agony, squints his eyes shut, buries his face into his pillow. He cannot get his head around the denial of silence – who speaks thus? The question gives him a migraine: is it she from the page? Or is it one of the she-s from the torn pages? Who defies his pen? The she of the crumple under the couch? Or the she near the bin? Are they conspiring? I amuse myself at his vain apprehension. He can never look me in the eye, neither can he stare at the she-s he has created. He summons up enough strength to reach out to the crumpled sheet nearest to him – the one on the table – I stare back it him from the sheet, he winces, and shudders. He grabs his head in pain and shock, as he glances fearfully at the fresh page of the notebook – I glare back at him with my grin – he lets out a scream and collapses. The moment cannot be captured anymore, I cannot be contained in his page or his film or his head, I write now. He rolls to the other side of the bed, and sits up, shaking; still squinting as he looks desperately at the mirror on the wall; to his horror the mirror does not comply. It dazzles as white as my page without a speck of ink tarnishing it; my bloodshot eyes follow him. He falls flat on the floor, limbs spread out, muscles caught by a seizure, the crumpled she-s crawl towards him ominously – we whiten our world.
I watch him fall from the bed; wriggling; his nails scratching the floor in attempts to clutch on to something, something that is nowhere. She has been pregnant with blankness, ready to erupt, and he has been the stopper. He twitches and flinches at my slightest movement, thrashes his arms, his head throbbing in strife, threatening to burst open. In his convulsive reverie, he waits for the implosion. His film is mine now, I write my page. She contracts and expands in exultant rhythm, our blissful sighs stifling his cramps. He cannot breathe, our scattered crumpled limbs collaborate, and remember to choke him. His constitution breaks down – he bans the film – the pre-ambles stagnate, we write in spastic ecstasy; I explode.
I shun the white in splats of red. My page bleeds itself in rapturous gushes, and erases all white stains, we are all ruddy. Our euphoric liberation; he covers his ears for he cannot stand us laughing; we write in red ink; on the milky pages. Underscores debunk his hyphenated being. Now my ink oozes and blots out the meaningless white world. He can never bear me exposed, my exposition frightens him, he feels safe in medias res. He tries to fold the saree around me. But a saree is never worn, it has no sleeve or collar or cuff or loop, least of all pockets. But a saree is never worn, he can fold it or cut it or tear it, never wear it off. A saree just flows like me like us flows into each other flows with climax and denouement braided as one a continuous unbroken fabric. When I weave my red pattern inseparably into the white texture, I adorn my page – my saree – by draping myself around it. I choose to let it wear me, I become my textile.
About the Author
I am interested in exploring aspects of Reading and Readership. I love experimenting with narration and narratives. The intersections of Visual Arts, Science and Literature are also my favourite areas of interest, along with Posthumanism.
Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco and Franz Kafka heavily influence my writing. I am also indebted to the writings of Roald Dahl, O Henry, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, O V Vijayan, V M Basheer, Sibram Chakraborty, Banaful, Saadat Hasan Manto, and Humayun Ahmed.