Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Poetic End

My friend Ashok used to have this habit of conversing in such a way that the most important point enters in a parenthesis, like an afterthought, without emphasis and most susceptible to be ignored.
When he shifted from the house next to mine, he told me:
‘It is an unlucky house. I realized it when my dog ran away, a few days before my father died in that house, and when I sprained my back couple of months later my fears were confirmed.’
 His habit prevailed when he invited me for his wedding. On a rainy evening couple of years back we were into the third or fourth pitcher of beer in a pub. I remember that we had a heated argument about George Bush Jr. (after one of us had mentioned some redeeming feature, I suppose) and then we had discussed at length about the similar state of affairs in our respective offices in Academia and the financial industry. Somewhere in between, he slipped it in:
‘I am getting married next Friday…come if you can…it is at the Club Hall, I think…’
If I had caught it then and there, rather than recollecting it vaguely on the morning of the wedding, I would have told Ashok:
‘I don’t think you should marry.’
If asked why I said so, I would have replied:
‘You are too fair.’
I guess that is supposed to mean:
‘Ashok, you are not assertive or submissive; you believe in a mature and understanding relationship between two equals; you are actually willing to accept tantrums and frenzied fits even though you will not exhibit the same…’
Anyway, none of the above was said and I did attend his wedding.
Of his friends, I turned out to be the only one who had not missed his ‘concealed’ invitation. And, since I was the only friend introduced to her, his wife Rachna assumed that I must be a bosom buddy. Ashok introduced her to me as:
‘She is a poet.’
I nearly groaned loudly. From experience I know that creative artists and scientists are tolerable only if they are truly great. Of the mediocre lot, the males are fine when they are very young and their enthusiasm could be blamed on excessive testosterones. With age and wisdom, the males usually end up looking like toads with an air of profound latent intelligence waiting to croak the usual rhyme, rhythm and substance. Meanwhile, the females of that species are typically unaffected by age. I have noticed that they can be classified into three categories. The best try to be another Sylvia Plath forever searching for an appropriate gas stove to air their dainty head. The majority act like dopey-eyed minstrels without even being doped. And, those in the third category exhibit multiple personalities raising plaintive but obscure cries through their writing for a true lover or a better world. But during a break from writing, these behave like well-adjusted partners in humdrum suburbia totally oblivious of their most recent actions and thoughts while writing.
I do not think Rachna noticed my apprehension while I tried to place her in one of these three categories. But I could not concentrate on that task while she smiled sweetly and talked affectionately to her husband’s one and only friend. I was so distracted by her charming behavior that I ended up inviting Ashok and Rachna for a lunch in a posh restaurant and we planned to meet after a fortnight.
Thirteen days after the wedding, I phoned their residence to confirm the lunch appointment on the next day. Rachna picked up the call. She told me that Ashok had gone out shopping and that they looked forward to our meeting. She sounded distraught and, acting against my better instinct, I asked:
‘Are you fine?’
‘Yes,’ she replied rather hesitantly. Then without any prompt from me, she added, ‘He still sleeps on a separate bed.’
‘Ah!’ I managed that profound non-poetic exclamation.
‘He wants me to kiss him there,’ she continued.
‘Oh!’ I was at my wits’ end.
Fortunately, she had to end the session to attend to some urgent business in the kitchen.
For the next few hours, I thought deeply about my plan of action.
I pictured myself confronting Ashok in the toilet of the posh restaurant.
‘Did you ask your wife to kiss you there?’ I would ask.
‘Where…?’ He would ask.
I tried out more sensible questions in my head. Finally, I decided that my advice, if any, should be extempore rather than prepared.
The next day, we met at the posh restaurant. The food was good and the service was impeccable but of the three participants, only one seemed to be enjoying the lunch.
Rachna was her usual self, smiling sweetly and talking affectionately to Ashok and myself. Ashok seemed distraught throughout the meal. I also noticed that he had dropped his old habit while conversing. Habits wilt under duress, I remembered from an old text. Anyway, I was also in a confused state during the meal. My state was the result of the brief tête-à-tête with Ashok in the gents’ toilet before we sat for lunch. There, I had asked him:
‘So, how’s life, man?’
‘Good,’ he replied unconvincingly.
‘Ah!’ my familiar prompt.
‘Actually not good,’ he continued more convincingly.
‘Oh!’ I had reached the limit of my extempore speech.
‘She still sleeps on a separate bed.’ The fact that they admitted the same sounded comforting but then came the twist:
‘She wants me to kiss her there.’
‘Where…?’ I nearly blurted out.
That lunch got over blandly without any other notable incident. I decided to keep my distance from that couple.
We still met each other twice or thrice a year and in every such meeting, the situation was roughly the same. Though the accusation changed with each meeting, both confided to me the same accusation against each other.
Two days back, the play reached its climax. I received a call from Rachna with the succinct message:
‘He is trying to kill me.’
I thought of minding my own business. But curiosity, if not concern, made me meet Ashok that day.
‘So, how’s life, man?’
‘Good,’ the familiar lines from the script. ‘Actually, it is not good.’
 ‘She is trying to kill me.’
Last night, Ashok called me from a police station.
‘Rachna jumped to her death from the balcony,’ he said.
‘She left a note for the police.’ I could imagine what she had to say in her note.
I could not think of a way to help him evade her grave accusation. I nearly missed the last bit of information from Ashok,
‘She wrote it as a poem. The police are trying to understand it.’
‘Ah!’ I sighed with relief.