The Shadow of the Arms of a Tree

The shadow of the arms of a tree,
laid soft on a cornish wall-
after the moon sunk into the river,
after the wind strangled the wick.

The coldness of a silent being,
the heaviness of being when no one’s there,
as the night tiptoed into a hedonist’s den-
as the bull-cock was riding a star.

It’s the presence of a ghost in me,
who fears and is made of dark-
it’s his restlessness I carry in my limbs,
it’s his weight that tore me apart.

Living, and living is such a burdensome thing-
Oh, star! Oh, shadow! Oh, unknown!
The terror of waking up in another morning
is in my bones slowly grown-

listening to the scream of the shadow of the arms of a tree
that leapt above far the wall of stones-
to splatter against the zany tiled side walk
for an obtuse thrill and moan.

In pain who thrives and sees,
who came out at night of the desolate den-
watched the blood of the shadow of the arms of the tree,
oozing, trickling, but, then, it called out again:

“The blue star, the dark star, hope
trembling, shuddering, free-
when the bull-cock is done with you,
climb down and stay with me.”


Alone

Two magnificent stairways have hurried down from above to surround an unlit fireplace from the left and from the right in an old manor house. A man and a woman in medieval attire and another man and another woman in modern attire move around the house without colliding with each other.

 

Medieval Woman: (Whispering) Are they here yet?

Medieval Man: Why do you whisper, Martha?

Martha: (Ignores the man) They are supposed to be here, Peppy. It’s time.

Peppy: Wouldn’t we hear them if they were here?

Martha: (Relieved) You are right Peppy. May be they have not reached yet.

Peppy: (About to speak but pauses)

Martha: May be they haven’t found the way. They are late, that’s all. But they will come. God knows we are hopeful, Peppy. Aren’t we?

(They start to fuss around the house.)

 

Modern Woman: (Tentative) Are they here?

Modern Man: Who?

Modern Woman: They are supposed to be here.

Modern Man: (Incredulous) How do you know?

Modern Woman: Don’t you know?

Modern Man: I don’t care, Judith.

Judith: You do, John. It’s that you are not sure.

John: (Annoyed) Not sure of what?

Judith: Of hope, John. You are not sure of hope. Can’t you imagine how new this is?

John: I know how new this is. I just don’t believe they are there, that’s all.

(They start to search around the house.)

 

Martha: How long should we wait, Peppy?

Peppy: (Coaxing) Don’t lose hope, Martha.

Martha: It’s not that we can’t live without them, Peppy. We did, didn’t we? God knows we did. But it would have been so nice. It would have been so nice, Peppy.

Peppy: Yes, Martha.

Martha: (Imagining) They will reach the front yard, and we will hear their footsteps. You will say, “Hello! There you are. What took you so long? We were worried.” They will say, “Don’t ask. Don’t even ask’, smiling all along, ‘We lost our way. We are sorry, we are late.” I will be tickled but be good to them and say, “It’s not a bother. Not at all. We are happy that you could come.” We will hold each other’s hands and fumble and laugh. We will look into each other’s eyes and be glad. And we will say, “Finally!”

Peppy: They may not like it, Martha.

Martha: Why not Peppy, why not? Are not they like us?

Peppy: They are like us.

Martha: Don’t they speak our language?

Peppy: I think they do.

Martha: Why will not they like us then?

Peppy: I don’t know Martha, may be they are changed.

Martha: (Unwittingly) They are changed?

Peppy: I am not sure, Martha.

Martha: Then why do you say it Peppy? To make me feel bad?

Peppy: I am sorry, Martha.

Martha: If you can’t help it, at least don’t hurt me Peppy.

(They stand in silence.)

 

John: How long are we going to wait, Judith?

Judith: We will wait, John.

John: That I can see. How long, though?

Judith: I don’t know.

John: This is not the way to go about it, Judith.

Judith: You have an idea?

John: I have a premise.

Judith: And what is that?

John: That they are not there. Just not there. They were never there in the first place. We hoped and hoped and hoped. We imagined our models to fit observations. We read signs that were just our instruments talking. We heard signals that were plain noise. It’s a dead end, Judith.

Judith: I don’t know, John. What took you so long to figure out?

John: You mocking me?

Judith: The arrogance of logic is the worst form of arrogance, John. It seems so secure.

(They stand in silence.)

 

Martha: May be they are already here.

Judith: May be they are already here.

Martha: May be they can hear us, Peppy.

Judith: May be they can hear us, John.

Martha: Only if you could shout, Peppy.

Judith: Only if we could shout, John.

Martha: Oh, God’s sake, Peppy!

Judith: For my sake, please, please, John!

(They pause. Peppy and John look at their women with affection and dejection, respectively.)

 

Peppy: (Shouting) Are you there?

John: (Shouting) Are you there?

Peppy: (Shouting) We can’t hear you.

John: (Shouting) We can’t hear you.

Peppy: (Shouting) We were ready and we really wanted to meet you.

John: (Shouting) We could read the signs and we believed in you and we really wanted to meet you.

(They stop and try to hear the answer. No sound comes from anywhere.)

 

Martha & Peppy: (Shouting) We are right here!

Judith & John: (Shouting) We are waiting for you, right here!

Martha & Peppy: (Dejected) Come back!

Judith & John: (Dejected) We will come back!

(Head down, without hope, they disperse.)


Anxiety

One thing at a time.
Like love has its omen-
Kindness, its faux pas-
Patience, its sweat-
But one thing at a time.

Like anxiety and a man
Are talking.
Hope is figural.
Their limbs huddle and tremble-
One tryst at a time.

To live is to be woeful.
I am living-
Woefully- with a feral cat.
Conjuring and vanishing the beast-
One plot at a time.


A Small Boy Peeing

When a seven year old boy became afraid, while peeing on the dark leaves of Beli flower, at night, he was being afraid of a ghost. Or a tiger. The thin slippery light of the kerosene lamp notwithstanding- it offers no courage- while the door of the house was open- but the light dragged itself only to five hands- far away from the boy- away, away from the old earthen house- as there was no toilet inside and every dirt is to be thrown as far away from home- but no parents were watching over him- in fact, they were safely sleeping- as he was grown up now, and as his urge to pee was only his own- completely!- and therefore he was pretend-courageous, and he was not probably counted as precious by anyone- the boy in the darkness became thrilled hearing the mouse hurriedly trotting the straw mound and screech.

It’s the thrill, as the pee water jet hit the leaves and thereafter the ground and no one could hear anything except the sound of the water, it’s in that moment, the unbearable rush along the axis joining the head and his buttocks, that was felt- like fear, like joy- the little rhythmic throbs matching the contraction that was felt in his penis and below and behind; a sudden release, but not to be revealed its occurrence to anyone- a secret euphoria- a giving up of self and becoming no one for a moment- that feeling.

In that loveliness, that being- that he would later know as the precursor of adult ecstasy- that had begun as fear and ended as fear- he would know that he would end someday, that he would cease to exist; that helplessness would drive him back to the house, peeing not over, he would hide in the bed even before doing his buttons; and in the adulthood, when he would make love to a woman, he would slowly shiver, before and after the act, so afraid he would be of death.


A Naked Tale

One morning my grandmother made her daughters sit beside her and began to describe her last night’s dream. Her three daughters, the eldest being my mother, left their morning chores- cooking, dusting, cleaning- and instinctively gathered around the mother- knowing men were not in the house and thereby they were free; even if that was only for twenty minutes.

“Last night I dreamt I was running naked.” my grandmother began. “I don’t know why. I was jumping up the stairs, running to the rooftop, dancing around the kitchen- not a thread on my body, not a thread. Every one was begging, Nidhi, Nidhi, wear something, wear something. But I was not listening.” She heaved a sigh. Remembering. Almost happy.

The daughters flapped their eyelids and hesitated to speak, as the current topic had gone far beyond their regular conversations on intimate subjects. It was not that they didn’t speak about sex, as one of her daughters, my mother, had been six years married and had my brother and me. But the subject of sex came like a touch and go, to evoke a giggle at a silent corner of the house, or at a delicate moment, to show liveliness where there was none, as a momentary relief to the drudgery of their small town lives.

Or as a cautionary tale.

“The Banshi guy, han, the Banshi guy. Beware of him, I tell you. Beware of him. He is dangerous. I tell you. Has done some horrible things to the poor Didimoni- that poor school teacher! Horrible!” One Masi would warn another. As the protector of the chastity of her sibling. As the good deeds for her pleasant afterlife piled up for her.

“The school teacher is not that pure either.” the warned Masi would reply. In protest. It’s not that she was not fearful, but submission to her sister’s wisdom was even worse.

“That’s alright. Her problem. You beware.” the warner Masi would persist.

If I was around the conversation, it would please me a lot at the apparent predicament of a school teacher as I had begun to go to a primary school and therefore was afraid of teachers and assumed all of them were harsh.

“What happened to the teacher, Masi, what happened to her?” I would ask to relish her ill fortune.

In a moment both of them would break free of a spell that only a great but not so imminent danger casts, and forget the usual decorum of affection toward me and shout in unison, “Who allowed you here? Who? Don’t you know you shouldn’t listen to women’s conversations? Didi, Didi, take your son away from here.”

My mother who had a reputation for being an angry woman and exemplary strict to her children would come to the room stomping, pulling me by hair toward the wall and banging my head against it. Probably in an effort to make it all go away, from the head- all the nasty imaginations of the world.

***

But that morning I was there- silently sitting between the daughters; my brother was sleeping in the crib- the summer sunlight shining through the latticework of the window warmed the vegetables. And no one said a word.

“It happens sometimes,” the middle daughter finally said. She was the heartiest of them all and the most talkative. “Like sometimes I dream I am falling down. I feel I should stop- after a while. But I fall still. Till I actually sometimes fall down from the bed.”

And everyone began to laugh. When my grandfather came back home after his morning walk, everyone became responsible and fidgety again and went quietly back to work.

Only I had the leisure till the lunchtime to imagine a little girl not more than ten years old, floating around our house. Her hands waving, her fingers dancing, and her blue sari floating, before flowing away from her, mingling with the surroundings and being absorbed by the sky.

An unknown sensation that felt like happiness, and a thrill, emerged from the heart, spread across the chest and gave me goose bumps for being able to see her dance and, see her.

Even now I see her often.

When the wife looks up from the far side of the bed, waiting, for a twitch of the eyebrow, or a flicker of inattention on my face- while I read- a deep sigh, or anything that says I would now come to her- and the light from the bedside lamp warms her breasts, I often fear if I don’t hurry up and grab her she would fall down from there.

Twenty years of a marriage is a long time. It nauseates me now to reach out and touch her.

Probably why, when I look at her hesitantly she asks, “Who do you want me to be tonight?”

I tell her, “How many times should I tell you, Kuntala; on a bad day you are a strict teacher to whom I do horrible things; and on a good day, you are Nidhi, you are Nidhi, a naked girl.”


Relief is Coming

Long lost. Long lost.
On the matter of peace-
Befooled in the arms of the beloved-
If she were so.

Rankling. Rankling.
Dusting the rib cage-
Pitily wheezing again.
Probably Pain-

Breath is body.
Haste is body.
Sex is body.
What is love?

Nowhere resides
the soul. Life,
Armoried, with eternal worries-
Relief is coming in death.


137

In the bed, like every day, under an unceremonious compulsion, Mr. Biswas began to count.

It was by 137 he had to stop. Mrs. Biswas opened her eyes to see Mr. Biswas was crying.

Her husband was a sensitive fellow, she knew. Who had written a love poem on her last birthday and bought her The Selected Poems by Jibanananda Das, an old Bengali poet. She didn’t care to read the book but was thrilled to find her name on the second blank page.

In the lotus hands of darling Nirmala” handwritten in cursive by the husband and that was enough for her.

“What happened? What happened?” she asked Mr. Biswas with furrowed brows. The hollow of her eyes had sunken further in mild anxiety. The loose end of her sari was spread across the Mickey Mouse bed cover.

“I was smart once, Nirmala. My IQ was 137, once.” Mr. Biswas said, crying.

Mrs. Biswas got up in the bed, coaxed her unruly hair back with her fingers and sighed.

It was an old story fashioned by her husband, but an every day one. That when Mr. Biswas was young, he was a brilliant student; particularly good in mathematics and geography; as much as when a psychologist from Kolkata had visited the school, he had found him in possession of an abnormally high IQ, higher than everyone in the class.

That only should have settled his future, ensuring him a rewarding life. The unbridled enthusiasm in the teachers’ room at the event and the extra affection that had been showered upon him aftermath were tremendous. So much so that Mr. Biswas would end up being a private tutor of English, in this small sub-divisional town, for a small monthly sum, was nobody’s prediction.

The meanhearted among the relatives who had followed Mr. Biswas’s career path eagerly went as far as calling it a psychological disaster.

Mr. Biswas, himself, believed the psychologist though. He had believed in his lucid explanation of the esoteric theories, his seemingly strict science. Moreover, he still felt a great surge of emotion just below the rib cage that sometimes felt like a violent thud of a hammer that he fondly named inspiration that called to wake him up time to time.

Those moments were magical. The day then would suddenly seem colourful and cheery. Every town folk would seem capable and overtly friendly. The town itself would look like preparing for Diwali. Even the unkempt shrubs at the front garden would seem at ease and in wait for a benevolent sun.

Those moments didn’t last. He would wake up in the morning to hear the old mother mumbling- pungent curses- for him not buying her a tout medicine for running stomach: for receiving a son’s brazen disobedience, instead of careful service by his dead father. His friends- acquiring permanent jobs- of peonship, teachership- by bribing, political canvassing- making Mr. Biswas feel incapable and jealous. The god-fearing wife (His marriage was well below his intellectual stature and lack of faith), with a slivered face and buxom legs applying Fair & Lovely to her skin before going to bed and coaxing him to join her; not with words but with a befuddling elbow nudge. The spell of the magic long broken, Mr. Biswas found an escape from the ignominy of hopelessness, by alienating and hating the world, especially her.

He had devised, in fact, a silent but elaborate torture. He had decided he would remain aloof when he entered her. It was a difficult plan for him to execute. Thinking about other unrelated topics during the intercourse, for example, geography- all the wonderful places in the world – invariably took him to pleasure. Pondering upon art took him to the memories of his favourite actresses; those imaginary faces of the movie starlets made him hurry up. Many trials and tribulations later, his old studious pride came to his rescue. He began to count his thrusts.

As the act progressed, he became more and more engulfed in a cloud of supremacy and, with every increase of the count imperiously separated from her.

That he broke down today was surprising, even to himself. The obvious emotional surrender to his wife made him violently distraught.

Mrs. Biswas could sense her husband and begged, “You were smart. You are smart. You will always be. No one can take that from you. But enough about yourself, now that you have a daughter, think about her.”

Mr. Biswas sneered, “Don’t talk about daughter. She is only like you. An idiot. Doesn’t even know the capital of Mongolia.”

Mrs. Biswas said, “But she passes her exams.”

“Everyone passes exams!” he said, in a fury.

Mrs. Biswas was obstinate. She said, “She passes her exams and she studies everyday. She tries and tries, but never complains. Probably she will go far because she doesn’t carry any of your burdens- ”

That made Mr. Biswas calm.

Mrs. Biswas- God knows how- making sense.

He said, “We will teach her English well, Nirmala. We will send her to Kolkata and thereafter to Norway- that’s in Europe if you don’t know- for higher studies. The education is free and they speak English there.”

The mood lifted, as the moments passed, and as he became more and more satisfied with the plan, Mr. Biswas strode upon Mrs. Biswas again, and penetrated her.

This time he chose not to count the thrusts, but instead, secretly submitted himself to the pleasure.