Thursday, December 23, 2010

The man with many pasts

I stared at his chest for long time. Waiting to trace the rhythm of slow heaves and sighs. The soft hum of breathing. A conformation that behind those closed eyes he is asleep, but alive. A relief. I know it’s childish but for 87 years old I guess possibility is no more a question.

My grandfather lay on his rusted armchair that makes squeaking sound every time he tries to make a slightest of movement. He was lulled into his late morning nap. The sports page of the newspaper acted as a warm cover. The sun was making the shadow of the window grill patterns on the verandah over the canvas of his chest. The strands of his silver chest hair always strangely reminded me of the coir pushing out of the mattress hole in our guest room. The dentures less hollow of his cheeks were hanging loose. When I was kid, he always let me touch the shiny baldness that graced his head. It was an excitement; the warm soft skin on a bony underlay gave me creeps. Today they looked dull in the morning glory.

I instinctively walked up to him and sat beside him on a small bamboo stool served as his breakfast table in morning. Slowly I tugged on the newspaper carefully tucked under his hand. He woke up with a hustle and then subdued, gave me an ample smile, ample toothless smile that always radiated a strange warmth.

"It’s a very bad habit, sleeping till almost afternoon" he said as he always did seeing the cup of morning tea in my hand, and as always I smiled the shy smile of a kid caught dismantling his new toy car.

He slowly glanced at the paper and with a sad melancholy looked at me.

"This city has changed. It’s not dying anymore, it is long dead. I wonder how you people survive in this swelling filth." He said with a fake disgust but genuine intention.

"Janish, once from here you could see the Howrah Bridge and I still remember it being constructed. Year after year the steel bars taking shape, connecting each other, and reaching out to the other end. That was the Calcutta I grew up in."

"But dadu, there must be lots of Englishmen that time, with all etiquettes and rules. Weren’t you banned from big places being brown and all”, I conjured a bit of fake amusement and some real inquisitiveness.

He always loved to tell stories about his youth, always with a tinge of nostalgia and a dollop of excitement. It was like an early black and white movie scene without the background buzz playing silently in back of your head. His words gave them the meaning, the direction and understanding.

"Those were just stories to glorify the agony. Ingrez always minded their own business; they did not go around beating every other man on street. You should have seen those lonely officers’s kid begging to let them play football with us on the cantonment dump ground after school"

"Dadu, you are just coming of in front of me as a big fat bully. Not advisable", I grinned.

"bah!! Bully we were. But yes there was always an arrogance of the white skin that we could never match, and tell you what, they never sweat. I remember how jealous we used to be when after the game we are dog tired and they just pounding on. Kochuris ruined us Bengalis”, he said with an amused smile staring at the left over oil stains of the Kochuris on the empty breakfast plate.

"Ahh!! That explains the reason of being bully isn’t it? Jealousy", I mocked him.

"Haha, call me whatever you want but friendship with those white kids were our only way to meet bideshi women whom they were acquainted with. It’s all give and take", he chuckled.

"Nah dadu, not interested in listening to your love story. No way could you have known English girls."

He gazed silently for long to the newspaper, as if lost in the array of the black and white ink, or maybe just lost in his mental photo album of past.

"Amelia, her name was Amelia", he smiled to himself rather to me.

"Dadu, I am not going to believe that you were in love with your "my fair lady" and survived", I grinned amused.

"My dark lady, you can say. She was dark skinned, worked as a housemaid for boro babu, my boss"

Behind the bifocal lens showing his obscenely magnified eyes there was a twinkle of solace, a comfort in the warmth of past.

"She was an african-american?” I blurted with startle with the inability to come up with anything more appropriate.

"No, I guess neither African nor American, just her, big eyed shining brightly and lush of black hair. At least that’s what I remember of her."

"Tell me more, promise I won’t tell grandma" I smiled trying to cover that strange feeling of excitement rising through by belly.

"That you have to promise, I can’t risk a divorce at this age, can I?” His said choking on his laughter

"She used to come daily evening to sit by the playground, to watch us boys play in the evening setting sun. Daily I used to watch her from distant end. Occasionally she stared at me and gazed intently and did not removed her eyes when I stared back" he voice was distant as if flowing through decades

"Don’t know when I it all started, and when I started getting jealous when she stared at other boys instead of me. I once kicked my own teammate to make her look at me" he told as he gazed intently at me for a reaction.

Smiling I said, "And I guess u did?"

"I did and she did. And I was suddenly sure about something, I don’t know what, but I could feel the surety inside me", he exclaimed with a glitter.

"Then...then what dadu?” I don’t know when an unintended smile filled my face.

"Few days passed, one day coming back from office, I saw her there, sitting all by herself, and suddenly without myself, I walked up to her and sat a few feet away from her. She stared back at me. Not with love, nor with curiosity, but with a strange sadness, sadness that you feel when while watching a movie that you suddenly realize it’s going to end badly, inevitably.", he said with a finality.

"And you just sat there, staring at her. Oh dadu you are spoilsport."

"I did not; I went up to her and tried to say something to her in English. But neither did I understand what I said, nor did she. We just stood there smiling at each other in a desperate way to express ourselves."

"When was the first time you formally talked with her?"

"Never, 2 years later I married Asheema. And somewhere in between Amelia stopped coming to park. I searched for her, but somehow I always wanted to not find her. I told my mother about her the night before of my marriage. And her hysterical laughter still rings in my ears. Leaving my room she said you could have told me earlier, I uselessly wasted so many times to find you a milky fair wife. And she left."

I was quiet for long and for some reason even he was, I could see him loosing the sudden sparkle from eyes and clouds of uncertainty covering him all over again.

The silence was broken when my grandmother, Asheema shouted from her room,

"Won’t you go for your bath today, or are you waiting for the sun to set. I am not going to take care of you if you catch cold this time. It’s just this bad habit of yours, uff baba..."

He smiled at me but a kind of smile that lost the personal feeling it had few minutes ago. Hopping on one leg he went on his way to bathroom.

I could hear him cursing under his breath, "This arthritis will kill me someday"

My grandfather is a schizophrenic patient for the past 10 years.

The truth is he was a small time clerk at an English Oil Mill. He could never look into the eye of his English boss. He always hid himself in the crowd. He never owned a motorcycle or a car. And courage always failed him. He married the only woman he knew in his life, his childhood playmate and his only love Asheema. If anyone asks me to say something significant about him, I will be at loss of words. He always has been that unknown face that makes the crowd, nothing more, and nothing less.

But is it really the truth, because last time I checked truth is what I or we conceive to be true and for my grandfather there are many truths and all of them are true on a particular day and false on other days. And with help of this array of truths he can live so many lives that most successful people cannot dream of.

Given a choice, what would I choose a constant realization of what I could not become or an alternate reality where all my whims and fancies are real to me? I don’t know, but the possibility is surely exciting.

I glanced at the back page of the newspaper lying on the armchair. HBO is screening a new movie on their Friday Premiere at 9, "Amelia"

"As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin' "

-Times they are a-changin', Bob Dylan

P.S: Finally I finished a post successfully... :) laziness and winter are bad combination i tell you.

About the story, it is a pure work of fiction and has nothing to do with any real person. But I imagined my grandfather while writing this post so in a way its a dedication to him, the bravest man I have known. Again the conversations did not had the eloquence I intended, so critical opinions are wholeheartedly invited.

Also I like to point out the constantly changing timeline spanning over adolescence and youth alternately of the flashback was intentional because schizophrenic patients cant follow a fixed timeline in their imaginations.

Hopefully I can do justice to my blog more in the coming Happy New Year to all of you!! :D


bliss said...

thats a new style u tried there, even with your usual care to details, the little things that go around and seem unimportant, the things that truly set your stories apart.
it had everything of your usual style and yet it was different. i loved the conversation, the way 'daddu' described the girl he never really met. and the fact that he is one of those blessed souls who can wake up every day to hae lived a different life makes me sigh with a hint of jealous...
like it like it :)

Anonymous said...

That was one of the best reads in a long long time. Very well done. Taking the liberty of adding you to my reader, despite being put-off by your blog name lol ;-)

Bikramjit said...

WOW grandpa in love hmmmm :) and what a story I loved it ...

Beautiful i jsut wonder how many lovestories did not reach an end in those days of the RAJ, all the problems a couple might have faced espeially if indian-white ..

Loved it ... well done and yeh would be nice to see you more often :)


The West Wind said...

Great post.. totally got lost in it.. reminded me of my Grandfather... Past and present, fact and fiction are all relative.. it all depends on what we believe.. Really good thought :P

suruchi said...

Hi Bucking,
I saw an update a couple of days back n since then have been aching to come here n read.
after all, it is not everyday that Mr BF writes n obliges us lesser mortals.

now about my comment...I often wonder if i really like your story because of the story or because it is YOUR story.
you have set such a standard with your narration that it makes me wonder coz i don't remember ever not like any.

this one also is brilliant.
it has your flavour of creating mind pictures.
it has your intensity of keeping the involvement of the reader alive with simple yet superb details.
it is sweet n yet ironic n the end always feels like the brake pulled to a screeching halt that leaves you kinda overwhelmed.
well...before i stop making sense...
i loved it...
thunderous applause:-)
plsssssssssssss write more in 2011...n have a rocking new year:-)

Raghav said...

just beautifully written

Mani Lalwani said...

Excellent narration,
loved going thru ur blog !
Frm the "Hostel aka Jail plight" to "The Man with many pasts" have read it all yesterday night.
and, "death and all his friends" has to be the post of the blog 4 me..
Loved it :)
Keep writing...
Wishing lots of happiness and success ur way in the coming year !

Mani Lalwani said...

Abt this post,
You make me connect with the story so well.
Such are the minute details.
Excellent way of putting forward a story.
I got so much to learn :)

bondgal_rulz said...

Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it, LOVED it!!

Saying once didn't seem enough, so I said it like 5 times. :P

Sheer brilliance! :)

Btw, tumi bengali?

buckingfastard said...

@blissfull: i was especially concerned about the proper blend of the conversations, coz its still an untried water for me...glad it wasnt dat bad....and guess wat...everyone regrets their dadu

buckingfastard said...

@writerblockz: wow!! dat compliment means a will be an honour to be on ur reading list :)

and quite intriguingly i never understand...why unfailingly all the guys who come to my blog gets amused by my blog name and all females gets puts me in a fix :P

glad u overcome ur initial fear of the blog name to land up here

buckingfastard said...

@bikramjit: well if i come across a grandpa who ever fell in love during the raj wud surely help me in checking the validity of my imaginations...

it wud also be nice if i get to write more often...but i m such a lazy ass!!!

buckingfastard said...

@westwind: well u summarized my whole intention quite beautifully in one line...its all relative...u just need the power to conceive!!

u being a great blogger urself...getting u engrossed and over that reminding u of ur grandpa is over the top compliment for me already :D

buckingfastard said...

@suruchi: ahh its like if u dont comment section does not look bhara bhara!!! now it feels satisfying :D

now abt the comment...well no idea wat kind of standards i have set but one sure thing is one day ur praises are going to get me airy head...trying to keep myself grounded till then :)

and as the flavor and intensity seems to have appealed u...i m sure i have cooked one good story...

btw reminds has been the problem wid my driving instructors also...."why do u hit the brake at it gently!!" but i seems to love the jerk

happy new year :)

buckingfastard said...

@raghav: thank u...especially coming from my fav dark blogger :)

@mani lalwani: u sir, went through whole of my blog??!! guessing this is ur first visit...welcome to my blog...and frankly i m flattered!!!

ur the first one to comment on my blog this new i m guessing we will get u know each other well this year!! :)

thank u soo much for liking my stories and even this one...i m sure we can learn stuff from each other...that i think is the main idea behind blogging :)

happy new year

buckingfastard said...

@bondgal: haha...thank u a lot...dat means a lot...kind of redemption for the effort put in the story...1 wud have been enuf...but i can deal with 5 :P

and....wid my obsession wid kolkata...ami bangali chara aar ki hote pari... :)

and lemme take a wild gues...

tumio bengali??? :)

Arnav said...

Beautiful. I just liked the way you narrate, simple yet one can visualize the scene...

The last question you ask , about what we would chose - the reality or the dream which is as per our wish ..

I would chose the reality as I know that would stay and would not vanish the moment I wake up . Though an occasional fancy dream does bring a smile :)

Dee said...

Beautiful visualization, buckingfastard! The lure of living in multiple realities is so alluring, until you realize that all these alternate figments will vanish into thin air, and all that is left is a confused mess of nothingness.

Mani Lalwani said...

Me being a certified Vella these days with the semester vacations going on, yup I read it all.. And I loved every second of it :)

And, Ya I would be around..
Write more :)

manisha said...

As i am posting this i have read almost all of ur stories and needless this has by far been the the way u narrate the details...and i have to say this again ur narration makes me love kolkata all the more

buckingfastard said...

@arnav: thank u....yes i always keep the description in simple words...i dont feel the need to use ornamental words to make a mental picture in the reader's mind wich i think is the ultimate goal...

reality is surely the ground truth...but dreams hold a lot of excitement...isnt it :)

buckingfastard said...

@dee: hey thanks a lot....i can only imagine how flimsy one's existence might feel, if u blur the line between reality and fantasy...and how does it feels to be thoughtless in the point of choking i guess

buckingfastard said...

@mani: haha...i can understand the vacation vella-ness factor :) so i m grateful my blog cud help u out..

will surely write more...take care

buckingfastard said...

@manisha: well in the due course u will come to know i am a kolkata fanatic... wen i m in kolkata...i spend hours roaming around the city...

so beware i will force u to love kolkata :)

blunt edges said...

I have said time and again how much I like your writing. And this is no exception. And there's something unreally romantic about flashbacks, whether true or otherwise. It does bring about a nostalgic melancholy :)

buckingfastard said...

@bluntu: hey isnt nostalgia and flashback super romantic...kinda sepia :D thanks a lot

TurbulentMind said...

I am glad I decided to do something other than facebook today and read your blog. Glad. Thanks.