Long lost. Long lost.
On the matter of peace-
Befooled in the arms of the beloved-
If she were so.
Dusting the rib cage-
Pitily wheezing again.
Breath is body.
Haste is body.
Sex is body.
What is love?
the soul. Life,
Armoried, with eternal worries-
Relief is coming in death.
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.
Fatly fatly hippo,
Fatly fatly does-
Acerb was Mr. Eliot-
Acerbic Mr. Eliot was.
The house of god was gleaming-
He wrote instead of a Savannah marsh-
Why, Mr. Eliot? Trouncing-
The true church in quatrain verse-
God is in men, and fruits
and sex, and hunting,
But never in lying domes-
Holy brazenness, holy bulky gaits,
Not in stately,
Nor in ornate homes-
It’s strange that
Lying amidst the mudslinging stain
Blessed by coarse oddities of fart,
And ravenously fleshy flippants.
Could you not, huh, Mr. Eliot,
Not not leave us in the lurch?
Two fifty ticket, where to go-
The central zoo or church?
Sing, hippo hymn- the hope is dim.
Where is God? Nigh.
Wings borrowed from an old virgin’s kist
T S Eliot glides.
Go away girl
There is no love
A meaningless meanness may be
A lowman’s hate
Cold, damp mud
The clasped throat
Will know again breath
Will know salt
Will know failure,
Grotesque vicious ends.
Silly, you’ll live and laugh.
O’ buoyant girl
Your saw dust soul
Will spatter the earth with dreams
Of another love
O’ puffed up face
O’ smudgy muddy boots-
No lover’s girl.
It was a Diwali evening when he rolled down his window and peeked outside. He found himself among the buses, scooters, auto rickshaws, cars, street hawkers, people, smoke, children. He saw them waiting, passing, cursing, coughing, honking, crying, floating. In a maze. Orbiting. Whining. Disbelieving. Without a rest. The busy bees were jumping signal. It was their everyday adventure. Addicted that they were.
Beside the street crowded stood the lamp stalls. Hung shoddily, slyly the fire crackers. Hung there those that were famously called: Atom Bombs. Nobler in life, docile than their namesake, expensive, noisy attention seekers. Would terribly make the babies wake up during the night. In time, those babies would grow up igniting the Atom Bombs, startling everyone in the colony and loving every moment of it.
The beggar girls were jumping like calves, knocking on every window. Knock, knock, knock. Open up. Open up. Coming. Singing. Mostly to themselves.
The peeking man took out a ‘chikki’ box that he had been saving for home to give it to a girl. Another girl appeared. Without thinking he picked up the second box and gave it to her. The third one came rushing. Now he had none. As he was feeling inadequate and angry, a hasty escape plan was hatched inside his mind. Hurriedly he rolled up the window glass and hid behind the tint of it.
My city is a place where kindness is stretched and stretched till it closes the window of my heart and makes me hide in coldness again.
The girl with ‘chikki’ was waving her prize in front of the empty handed girl, in glee. It was not her fault that there was scarcity in the world. The gleeful girl’s other hand was still waving at the window, where there was a repentant man cowering. Her right foot was striking the tar road in a thak-thak Kathak dance. She was shouting, “Hap-hap, hop-hop-hop, happ-py Diwal-eee.”
“Ripped my foot, ripped jeans my foot,’ Madhumita pounced. In a second she was upon Krishna, tickling, giggling, scratching his blue jeans with her vinyl nails, the manner of a slithery cat etched on her body. Ajay stood watching, laughing, gurgling, not even two feet away; his cheerful eyes unknowingly measuring the emotions between the colliding two. Best friends. We are best friends. He thought as he began to feel jealous.
The mock fight ended in minutes, leaving Krishna flabbergasted and Madhumita thereafter chose to go to the bathroom. That was the only time alone between those two men.
“What is the meaning of this?” Krishna asked.
“She loves you.” Ajay said.
“Really?” Krishna asked.
“Um-hum” Ajay nodded his head, rued.
“I don’t love her.” Krishna declared.
“I know.” Ajay said.
Probably Krishna didn’t hear him or didn’t care to stop.
“I just need some fashion tips, that’s all.” he said.
“I know.” Ajay said that again.
“I will go for Garima, you know. Any day. That’s decided.”
“I know. I know.” Ajay kept nodding.
“You know everything, wise man!” Krishna left the room making an ugly face and without waiting for any of them.
The memory of two female hands was still feeling up his legs; wiggling around and warmly coaxing his newly bought jeans.
Forty years later, as an old man, lying alone, Krishna would imagine and reimagine the scene again and again. He wore a lungi now, but in his old soul fancy he would imagine a shy tigress on heat had crawled upon his legs, her face glowing and keen in expectation. Before, of course, he would put his forbidding palm on her forehead stopping her sly advance- commandingly- and forcing her on his crotch in an uninhibited spectacle of dominance.
Penis in his hand, not horny yet, not hopeless yet, this thought would suddenly hit Krishna like an unknown trepidation. The almost forgotten memory of Garima was the witness- she died young; married but without children- that he couldn’t love her. But she was never spurned while wanting sex per se.
But an unattractive woman, restricted further in the garb of a friend if ever wished sex and was refused summarily by a man where would she hide her face?
There was no hope he would come today- Krishna thought to himself before rising up in the bed- yawning and stretching and resigning to another dull lonely day- while wishing for a moment to think something more extravagant to lift himself. Lifting his lungi around his saggy, hopeless legs he chose to visit the bathroom again.
Tell, tell me now
Is that a storm
Will it so gale?
Picking dust on a trail-
Will it so leave me-
If all I pray-
Throughout the night-
If I say her
Name, say, in vain-
Tell, tell me now
Will it tonight,
Will she tonight-