Saturday, January 28, 2012

Alone At The Meeting Place


Each time I stand on this balcony, it feels like that first time twenty six years back. The details are different, I know. Today, my folks have chosen to stay at the posh hotel near the lake rather than at this Government guest house on the cliff. The man at the front desk says that this suite is never let out. ‘It is not right,’ he tells any listener. That suits me fine. I am a bit possessive about this room. Within, the air is musty and reeks of decay. But here, on the balcony, it is still the same. Clouds hang below, masking the depths and the valley. Then, we had stood together facing that void, hand in hand. She is not here now. But I can still feel her hand in mine.
I was fourteen. It was a tough year for my father and for months there was talk of canceling our annual vacation. But we managed this modest trip – to get away from home, to forget that place and the people there for a few days. The Guest House was run-down even then, with ageing staff, rickety furniture and chipped cutlery. We got this suite which has two bedrooms (for my parents and two sisters) and I got a camp-bed in the drawing-room. I was left on my own a lot. I did not fancy following my folks to the shops or to inane tourist grounds. I walked around town with the energy of the young that expects life to change with every step or scribbled honest doggerel in a notebook under the shade of trees or stood on this balcony with romantic daydreams of being a hero faced with the simple dilemma, to live or to die for love.
I saw her on the first day itself but that mature young woman in her late twenties on the balcony next to ours hardly caught my attention. I was busy with other characters in my head, enacting weird and complex drama, and she did not suit any of those roles. On the second day, I was lying on the rattan armchair when I saw her again. She had climbed onto the railing at the edge of her balcony and one of her legs was stretched out into the vast void. I looked at her expressionless face and it appeared as if it mattered little to her whichever way she stepped out.
‘Excuse me,’ I said without budging from my reclined position.
She turned around a bit startled and looked at me.
‘You are not thinking of anything silly, are you?’ I asked her.
She stepped down from the railing and I let out a sigh of relief. She raised an eyebrow at me.
‘That’s better. It would have been troublesome for me, otherwise…’ I offered an explanation with a shrug.
‘A bit too mature for your age, aren’t you?’
‘A bit lazy, I admit…why, what did you expect from my age?’
‘Romantic chivalry should not die so young…’ she said with a smile.
‘Ah yes, I have been thinking about that…’
‘It rarely goes well with thought…’
That’s how we met and the nature of our conversation hardly changed in the days that followed. I might have fantasized about having a torrid affair with this older mature woman but I can’t recall much of that. It must have paled into insignificance compared with the rest that followed. We talked about books, our folks, the people that mattered to us and the places we have seen or wished to see. I can’t remember any of that either. But I remember the discussion about the banshee on the rock in the river.
That place is roughly half-way down the hills to the plains. Two branches of the river meet at a large rock in the river and from there the rapids churn and merge before spending its fury in a short but broad waterfall. Tourists and locals throng the picturesque waterfall but give a wide berth to the upstream area near the rock. In those parts one can hear the wailing of a banshee, says folklore. There are tales of young men who have met a watery end out there, lured by a bewitching beautiful woman.  
When I told my new companion about the tales I had heard, she asked me,
‘Don’t you know the original tale?’
She told me that the beautiful woman on that rock lures men to fall in love with her rather than leads them to the watery end. The men are then totally besotted with this bewitching ghost and try to be with her forever by ending their lives, hoping to return as ghosts. That ghostly loving beauty begs them not to enter those treacherous waters. It is her cry of sorrow that people mistake as the wailing of a banshee.
‘Are they joined with her as ghosts?’ I asked.
‘No, those true ones can never be ghosts. Only the ones that listen to her and stay away from those waters…they remain as ghosts…’
‘With her…?’
‘No…how can they be with her once they let her down…when they do not do enough for their love?’
‘Geez…that’s crazy…then, nobody can be with her…if they listen, they become ghosts who gave up on their love and if they don’t listen, they are separated forever…’
‘Hmm…that’s the curse she carries with her…’
I remember that I had her hand in mine then, standing on adjacent balconies, sharing that moment together before we let go. Since then, I have been here year after year but I have never seen her again.
My folks will make a trip to that rock today. They wanted to do it last year, on the twenty-fifth anniversary, but it was another bad year and they had postponed the trip. There, they will place a few flowers and probably say a prayer. I guess they won’t cry now about what I did out there twenty six years back.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Drunk At The Get-Together


DRUNK AT THE GET-TOGETHER



CHARACTERS

Lawyer
Doctor
Banker
Drunkard on the sofa
Waiter
Manager



[A luxury cottage at a resort – the type you find on a hill-station. Four inebriated men are in the room. Three men (the lawyer, the doctor and the banker) lie sprawled on the rug around the fire-place, rising only to refill glasses or to reach for nuts and crisps. Their movement is unsteady but the three seem to talk with intact senses even though their speech is loud, thick and slurred. The fourth is lying on the sofa and seems to be in a more inebriated condition.]


DRUNKARD ON THE SOFA
[He turns sideways with a lot of effort, and addresses the three on the floor.]

I have been thinking…counting…do you know how many people would like to kill me now?

[As if exhausted with the effort, he collapses onto his back and slips into a drunken stupor. He can be heard off and on muttering, snoring or shouting numbers. It sounds as if he is counting the number of people out to kill him. The three men on the floor stare at him from various reclined positions. An eerie silence follows for a while.]

BANKER
[Addressing the other two on the floor.]
Doesn’t he have anything better to think about?

DOCTOR
Hmmm…what a pity…I don’t think anyone would bother with me…

BANKER
What are you talking about?

DOCTOR
His question…

BANKER
[Groans.]
God!

DOCTOR
My kids might…

BANKER
With Dads like us, good kids shouldwhen was the last time you saw them?

LAWYER
But…seriously…my rivals might, you know…or their clients, at least…Come to think of it, even some of my clients might want to kill me (smirks)

DOCTOR
You lawyers! Do you think anyone would really want to kill a doctor like me?

LAWYER
Let’s see…how many patients have you let down…or…is it put down? Honest mistake or gross negligence…or…just not worth the effort or resources…?

DOCTOR
Come on, it is not like that…sure it happens…but we are not God, right? We can’t save everyone…but…we are not the Devil either…

BANKER
Geez! Stop it, you guys…

DOCTOR
How about you finance lot? Anything you do not worth a kill? (laughs)

LAWYER
Investors, certainly…for wasting their money…

DOCTOR
Tax-payers too, probably…for killing their jobs and then, wasting their money…

BANKER
Yeah, yeah…as long as we loan money, everyone’s happy…right?

DOCTOR
And all those products you sell? What’s the fine print: heads you win, tails I lose…right?

BANKER
Caveat emptor…

LAWYER
Listen to him! I feel like killing him now! And, the irony…you used to be a commie!

DOCTOR
Yeah, what happened to that act…in college, weren’t you with that militant Dam Bachao lot?

LAWYER
That must have ended when he got his militant wife…

BANKER
Any wife should do, I would assume…

[The three men laugh together. There is a knock at the door. One of them shouts ‘Come in’. A waiter enters.]

WAITER
Sir, the kitchen is about to close…can I get you anything?

BANKER
Bring a tandoori platter…

DOCTOR
At this time of the night…? Yuck! I think I will have some cheese cucumber sandwiches…

LAWYER
Just crisps for me…and a bottle of the same…

WAITER
Sir, the bar is closed…

LAWYER
Damn!

WAITER
Sir, I told you last time…

DOCTOR
Hey, no problem…I think I have a bottle of Glenfiddich with me…that should last us…

[The waiter exits after confirming their order.]
BANKER
From where did you get that Glenfiddich?

DOCTOR
London conference last week…brought back two bottles…
[Indicating the drunkard on the sofa…]
I met him at the airport...he was there to receive or send someone. He begged for a bottle…gave him one. That’s when we thought of contacting you two for this get-together…

BANKER
For auld lang syne…

LAWYER
How does he manage it every time?

BANKER
What?

LAWYER
Every time we meet, he passes out drunk…but before that, he sets the theme for the night…like his question tonight…

DOCTOR
Do you remember the first time? Just out of school…right…?

LAWYER
God, yes…I was drinking for the first time…he told me to keep on pinching my nose…to gauge my drunkenness (laughs)…

BANKER
And we had a copy of the Satanic Verses…man, he was crazy about Rushdie…O boy, the protest we planned against the fatwa…he wanted a fatwa on The Suitable Boy instead…how could Seth produce that after The Golden Gate…definitely deserved a fatwa (laughs)…Sethanic Verses…isn’t that what he called that monster-book…

DOCTOR
We were so green then…

BANKER
Embarrassingly fresh!

LAWYER
And then the last time we met…? Remember…?

DOCTOR
The only time I saw him without liquor…sipping juice…the last time he must have had a healthy drink (laughs)…and he brought his girlfriend…lovely girl…he kept on drooling over her…

BANKER
Come on, she was a whore…

LAWYER
Who cares which…I remember that day…won my first big battle in court…

BANKER
Isn’t that the one your client was sentenced to death?

LAWYER
The first case my senior allowed me to handle…heady stuff, man…deals with the prosecution and all that…agreed to suppress some evidence…man, there were wheels within wheels…that poor sod never stood a chance…too many bigwigs involved…

DOCTOR
Has he been hanged?

LAWYER
Who knows…must be rotting in some death row?

DOCTOR
That was my final year of post-graduation in Medical College…

BANKER
Yeah, yeah…walking around with Rohypnol…God! On how many did you use that date-rape drug?

DOCTOR
Well, that night, who hit first base with the help of that?

BANKER
I was second…you went first…

LAWYER
And, she was hardly usable after you…what a mess you left (laughs)

DOCTOR
And he slept through it all…as doped as his girl…

[The three men laugh together. The doctor rises and searches in his suitcase.]

DOCTOR
Oh shit! Where is that bottle? I am sure I had it with me…or did my wife confiscate it while packing? Oh shit!

LAWYER
Damn! Where do we get a bottle now?

BANKER
Hey, check his bag (indicating the drunkard on the sofa)…he rarely goes around without a bottle…though it might be rum or something cheap…

[The doctor searches in the drunkard’s old backpack. He finds a bottle of Glenfiddich.]

 DOCTOR
Did he filch mine or is this his? It’s open. He’s had a peg or two…

LAWYER
Anyway…pour it, man…

[The doctor refills each glass, adds ice and hands over their glasses to his friends. The three men raise a toast, and we can hear them say ‘Cheers’, ‘Bottoms Up’, ‘Up Yours’, laugh together and then drink. For a while, there is a silence. Then we hear strangled hoarse cries from the three as we see them in the throes of a convulsive death. The eerie silence continues interrupted only by the muttering or snoring of the drunkard on the sofa. Then, we hear a persistent knocking on the door. The waiter enters the room. He sees the dead men, drops the tray he is carrying, looks shocked and then runs out. He returns soon with the Manager. The latter surveys the scene.]

MANAGER
Looks like they had a poisoned drink…is that bottle from our bar?

WAITER
No, sir...that is the doctor’s bottle…I heard him say that he has a bottle.

MANAGER
Thank God, it is not from our bar! Let me call the police from the office…you stay here and guard the place. Don’t let anyone in. What a mess!

WAITER
[Pointing at the drunkard on the sofa.]
Sir...what about him?

MANAGER
Let the police come and wake him up. Poor chap…three friends…dead…

WAITER
Why did the doctor poison those two…and himself…?

MANAGER
Who knows what goes on with this type…!

[The manager exits. The waiter guards the three dead men. The drunkard on the sofa continues to mutter and snore. As the lights fade, he gives an exultant shout as if he has found an answer to a long-standing problem ‘Three! Three! Three!’]

Marveled At The Inconsequence


I am in the mood to write about a matter of no consequence. Do you know that there is a difference between that and the ordinary?
One remembers the ordinary for being a reassuring boredom or a melancholic treat of self-pity or even a flight of fantasy, like meeting with friends or a gossip session or reading novels. Even the searching look of males that nearly strips me naked is ordinary though I am amazed at times that a flick of my hair is enough to trigger the lascivious and a dress of daring d├ęcolletage is superfluous. My laughter at lunchtime is definitely ordinary. It is just a trick to stay on top of men with a feint of reduced resistance. They usually associate laughter and friendship with submission and abysmal intellect. But, all that is ordinary. I do it every day (nearly) and it is just for sweet survival. That is not the stuff I want to think about right now.
I want to think about a matter of no consequence. Let me define it as something which needs a bloody effort to be remembered. [In my diary, why can’t I call it bloody though it seems to have troubling connotations with rape and male domination over the centuries?]
I have been in the department for a week. I happen to be the only ‘gal’ around. Even the stuck-ups wallowing in self-importance have noticed my existence. I go to the Canteen with the group and the conversation usually centers round me. It helps to be a social animal – to take in that mixture of false laughter, condescending agreement and uninvited criticism. There are a few in the department who go for lunch separately. They look like misfits. One of them seems ideal as a matter of no consequence.
I had a brief one-to-one meeting with him during my first round of interviews. He had done his homework, probably to look a bit smart. It was quite apparent even then that he likes my company because I am a woman, quite typical, I know. I have talked to him once or twice since I joined. He is hoping to be a friend, at the least, I am sure. [His exuberance or attention reminds me of a manic cousin that I had. That cousin was always excessive in whatever he did – letters, plans for the future, affection, dejection or abuse, anything and everything. It was not at all surprising when he jumped in front of an express train. A manic mess, he was. Ah, I am digressing…]
I suspect that he knows his own limitations. He is not attractive. He does not speak well. He is not charming. He does not even have a smile worth noticing. And the worst part is that he doesn’t seem to have qualities to dislike him either. I can never remember his name. He never introduces himself. I wonder how it is like to be somebody worse than ordinary, someone nearly invisible, a matter of no consequence whatsoever…

Note: This was written long back. A few months after I wrote it, a good friend and colleague happened to read this. She confronted me with, ‘Is this what you think of me?’ ‘Of course not,’ I replied. It is just fiction, my reply and the rest.