Monday, April 12, 2010

Confessions on Camera

-An Ode to Dorothy Parker

Standing at the edge; a blur of blue,
leaning over
adjusting her hair;
she is squinting at the setting sun.
One awkward hand on the railing
and a knee slightly bent
betray her purpose here.

You and me, oh Dorothy,
have been here a little too long;
you flick some ash, I look at my watch
and the camera just pans over us.

She is speaking words-
pre-rehearsed and incoherent,
alienating you and me further away.
A script lies open on the tabletop
-off focus; and a pair of eyes
contradict a moving mouth.

I want to tell you Dorothy,
that the tree behind you has new green leaves,
and then perhaps begin to speak.
But your eyes are fixed elsewhere,
on this ensemble of everyday unreality
reflecting your exasperation.
I look at my watch, you flick some ash,
and the camera just pans over us.

You make to leave- then hesitate-
and your eyes linger on me.
A stray thought erupts, teeters on speech,
but its only a moment of unbecoming,
swallowed in the crunch of a cigarette stub.

You and me, oh Dorothy,
were here far too long;
though I did want to tell you something,
before the onset of our cinematic erasure.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chaap Tilak

As all such frivolous metro chases end in tragedy and much heartache, I decided against giving in to this one. He was sitting there, in the seat opposite mine, wearing a red kurta and a grey-brown bandi with a thin shawl wrapped around his neck, reading a book whose name I was too distracted to notice. I don’t usually read in the metro. Words are often inadequate to express the intensity of the deathly pangs of boredom that one suffers in a metro ride alone. I had to consciously stop a full-scale colourful and extravagant hallucination of Khusrau and Nizaam’s love affair from playing out in the space between us. Thankfully just then a large crowd entered the train and snatched this moment away as their jostling limbs veiled him from my gaze.

Chaap tilak sab cheeni mosay naina milaikay;
Chaap tilak sab cheeni mosay naina milaikay…

Outside the cloudless windless day had changed. No nothing to do with the weather; the sun was still as bleak as ever. A certain something buckled under the guise of this ordinary day as I made my way through Mandi House. Meera bai was perhaps musing something similar, sitting under a tree outside NSD. I heard my name called out; I turned; and there she was. Cars were rushing past us and I was trying to escape. I didn’t want to be seen and there she was calling out my full three-piece name. I had come alone here because I was running away…

I was there, just as I am here now. I am here in the little crevices beneath flyovers where a pan-wallah is doubled-over in laughter. I am here waiting to cross busy roads on my endless path to nowhere. I am here underneath the leaking roof of my one room house half colonized by lizards and spiders. And I am still here, besides the fountain of wine sprouting violet ecstasy in the frenzied twilight of my youth.

It only struck me what I was escaping from over a cup of coffee half an hour later in the unremarkable cafeteria at SRC. Him that I loved this month had eyes I could drown in but he was still standing at the edge of the shallow end surrounded by toddlers, fearing death. I smiled into my coffee. She that loved me had gifted me a gift of fire that had flickered out and I was to get it repaired today.

Yeh aag ka daarya hai, so you had better get your fire-proof swimwear.

Yet another tragedy awaited the end of lunch hour at the ticket counter in NSD. Tickets for all the plays that I had wanted to watch were sold out, and others were to be issued later. Blinded by unspeakable anguish I stumbled out unto the entrance. A moth-eaten sofa sat pretty under the main portico of NSD and for a moment I considered the possibility of cheeky irony in the NSD building being an imitative miniature of the much grander Rashtrapati Bhavan. A wondrous feeling of solitary self-sufficiency was sweeping over me when I ducked under the shade of the tent and saw him again. There he was, legs crossed, elbow on knee, chin resting on a carelessly upturned hand and eyes closed in an expression of pensive calm. I just stared. That was ten minutes of my life I lost forever.

Bal bal jaaon mein toray rang rajwa;
Apni see rang deeni, mosay naina milaika...

I couldn’t take the metro again. It was just too crowded and I like my melodramatic space while travelling. The walk from Mandi House to Connaught Place was unremarkable. I tried enquiring unsuccessfully if the library at ICWF was open to everyone for membership and then took a few minutes to ponder if I would have liked studying in the ‘Modern’ school on that road. I decided it was rather vain an enquiry and I liked my own school campus much better- this one was just too green and red for me.

It was a short walk back that took a long long time. I like walking, or as I told her four years ago in an unguarded moment, “I like walking in the rain.” Rain can always be imagined, and in a place like Delhi it becomes one’s second nature to do so. But walking back to Connaught Place was wearisome in its repetitive absurdity. It seemed to me in that moment that for the past four years I had done nothing but walked back to this place. The columned corridors all around me were acquiring a fresh coat of paint and I remembered how he and I had spoken of death together under these very scaffoldings a few days ago. I felt his hand on mine; I shivered; I blushed. I turned and stooped down to pick up a book that could have been any other. A strange memory of an Israeli tourist on a bus to McLeodganj suggesting that I read Rohinton Mistry led my hands to it as I skimmed the pages. Every time I have fallen in love has become a layer over another. This book (a good bargain for 150 bucks) would be yet another on it.

Khusrau Nijaam kay bal bal jayyiye;
Mohay Suhaagan keeni mosay naina milaikay.
Chaap tilak sab cheeni mosay naina milaikay…