Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Legend of the Big Fish

I caught the big fish when I was twenty six. I would have liked to do it on my own but luck and fate conspired against me. I had to rely on others, to bait the trap and help me capture before it escaped.
He was thirty and in his prime. For the young, he was a role-model; for the old, his genes mattered; and, the public like doting parents loved him for doing all that they would have loved to do themselves.
When I expressed my desire to snare him, my folks’ response was, ‘You…?!’
But I, or whatever it took, managed to do so. He was undemanding but receptive in those negotiations.
Twenty odd years of education, from an abridged Lorna Doone to the E.L. James trilogy, made me anticipate an erotic and rather selfish romantic conquest of my senses and my body.
In those nervous days before the wedding, I also pictured him on his knees, holding my hands gently and with a sensitive voice telling me truthfully that I am his first and all that he wanted in his life, leaving nearly all of my dreams shattered with that facile victory. The pages of my diary were ready even for such a cruel twist in a wife’s tale.
Contrary to all expectations, reality just chugged along well-used tracks. I can read my future on a page from a discarded unused diary. The days are pleasant and on many a moonlit night, I lie next to my trophy with a bored snore. Some legends are such.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recovering Memory

He looked tired - hands lying listless on the table, body inert and sagging. Except for his eyes where blankness gave way to amusement off and on, recollecting some whimsical memory probably.  I leaned forward, pushing the pack of cigarettes towards him. He looked at it, unsure, and then declined with a shake of his head.
‘I can’t even remember if I enjoyed smoking,’ he said, ‘maybe, I did.’
‘Don’t think too much about it,’ I said.
‘What I can think about does not seem to be the stuff I should think about.’
‘It will all come back.’
‘It… all…? It… wouldn’t be so frustrating if I forgot… all…’
He scratched his unshaven face, pressed his eyes with his thumbs, ‘I can’t sleep. Just before you came in, I was remembering the two American ladies we met on the train. The younger one looked a lot like that girl in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, right?’
I shrugged.
‘Not exactly, I know, but her eyes or maybe the face, something feral, something similar.’ He paused before continuing, ‘I can remember that the older lady was the attractive one… and that I talked to her more… but I can’t remember her at all… how she looked or what we talked… total blank.’ He rested his head on the table. ‘It’s maddening.’
We talked for half an hour or so in that small dank room.  Yes, he remembered me as an old friend. Maybe, if I was important to him, he would have forgotten me as well. We even talked about our old school days. He remembered most of it.
Later, outside that room, I narrated our discussion to the man who had called me to the police station.
‘Inspector, he remembers a lot. Even our school days, the girls I used to chase around and such,’ I paused, ‘but he has no memory of stuff that really mattered to him, like his girlfriend in school, and those two were really close, unlike my time-pass flings.’
‘Not the same girl, I suppose…’ the Inspector asked, leaning against the wall, looking bored.
‘You two were not chasing the same girl, were you?’
‘Oh, no… his type was the silent serious one… too heavy for me… I just went for the popular…’ I laughed, realizing too late that I could be misconstrued, especially there with that crowd. The Inspector still looked bored. I knew that it was just a show. He looked the type who could stalk endlessly and tire out a suspect, waiting for the submission and the confession. Oh yes, he looked that kind.
‘So, your friend there can’t remember anything, huh?’ the Inspector asked.
‘Only the important parts seem to be missing… erased…’ I tried to explain.
‘How convenient…’ he muttered.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, he remembers his wife,’ the Inspector paused, ‘but he can’t recollect anything that happened yesterday. Nothing… not how he found his wife dead late evening, not where he was most of the day, not what she was up to that morning, not even who could have attacked her at this resort mid-afternoon … nothing…’
‘But there was some intruder, right? The newspapers mentioned some eye-witness…’
‘Ah! People always see lots of things…’ he seemed to dismiss that line of enquiry. He kept staring at me, thoughtful, and I felt uncomfortable with his close scrutiny.
I offered, ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Try to make him remember…’
‘He is my friend… she was, too… don’t you think someone else would be suitable for that…?’ I asked.
‘Conflict of interests, huh?’ he kept staring.
‘Well, if he is not a good suspect,’ he stressed on the ‘good’ making it sound real bad, ‘you might become our next best one.’
‘You were at the resort with them… you, a single guy, and them, a nice couple, together - it sounds strange, doesn’t it?’
‘We are… were… good friends, that’s all… I suggested the trip and they came along. What’s so strange about that?’
‘You were a friend of hers, you say. And you go for the popular girls… other guys’ girls?’
‘Don’t twist my words.’
‘I might not… but the media might. Do you know how uncomfortable public scrutiny can be… guilty or innocent?’
‘That’s blackmail,’ I whined.
He shrugged.
‘Don’t you people have your ways… for such things…?’ I asked hopefully.
‘Oh yes, we have our ways… but, why don’t we start with your friendly ways? Just make him remember. If he is bluffing, his best friend might be the best one to catch him unawares. Your conflict of interests might be helpful in ferreting out the truth.’  
I could guess the part he left unsaid. Or, if he is not bluffing, he might think that I did it… and… he might try to catch me. It was apparent that the Inspector had set his sights on my friend… and me.


The first message came three weeks back, on a busy Monday. The subject was “URGENT”. The sender’s address seemed to be that of an old schoolteacher.  I could not be sure because I had not saved our e-mail correspondence.  The main message was, ‘…in Bangkok. Last night, I was attacked. I suffered minor injuries and lost my money, bag and other possessions. I urgently need fifty thousand rupees. Kindly help me by sending the money via bank transfer to…’ It sounded so believable. But, what was my old schoolteacher doing in Bangkok? And, he would have called me and not e-mailed. I have heard of spam where hackers adopt identities from e-mail correspondence.
I had nearly forgotten that message when I got the second nine days back, on a Saturday. The subject was the same. The sender’s name and address matched that of my ex-wife. Once again, ‘…raped… hostage… in Vancouver…’ The give-away was the last line, the same barring the account details. Anyway, she is in California, I think, not Canada. Who gets raped in Vancouver?
The third, I got last night. The gist was the same. The sender was an old girlfriend. It was weird getting an e-mail from her. I knew her when there were no e-mails. The last time we were together, I was drunk and had no business driving. I thought she was dead and I barely managed to escape from that crash site without being noticed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sharing Solitude



I knew then that this trip would be different. It was my fifth trip to Goa in ten years and in the last four trips, the common factor had been a bewildering and stifling sense of desolate despondency...

‘We seem to be in the only place in Goa without a beach or shack or shop or bar or house or restaurant...’ she said...

That morning, all that I wanted was the bliss of solitude; and by night, I had no bed, no room, no toilet and I stood accused of being a rapist.

n.b. Any resemblance to real people, places, events and customs might be a coincidence.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Looking At You

All I can do is just watch as she breathes, each slow peaceful breath like a gentle wave erasing careless nothings on a sandy beach clearing the slate for new. Unable to touch or talk, I track the show of her cleavage following the opening and closing of her blouse with each breath, feeling the pressure of her unfettered breasts against my side. Her head rests on my chest, her long fine hair like weed or tentacles a blanket over me and stray strands fly with each pass of the overhead fan tickling and lashing my inert face. Her eyes remain closed except when it opens to stare deep into mine, as she traces on my chest hair with some elaborate calligraphy, mouthing the words ‘I love you’ silently. All I can do is watch and listen, and remember. I remember the day it started, I remember the day I met Anjali and the days after.
I remember November 6. It is the birthday of my first love. It is also the day I met Anjali at an inter-departmental conference. In bad times, like now, that coincidence seems strange but not then when life was full of promise and success. It was just a special day for me to make things happen rather than wait for fate to stroll by and cast her fickle glance towards me.
Anjali was the prettiest in the room and my department boasted the best minds and largest bonuses. She was interested in a vacancy and I promised to consider her application. It might seem like barter but such trivial give and take is of little importance. If not that, there would have been other ways. We talked briefly during lunch but otherwise maintained our distance and enacted the formal charade of mere colleagues.
I met her for lunch the following weekend at a discreet Italian restaurant in the city far from our suburban homes. Later, we kissed and fondled in a secluded underground car park. At forty, the adrenalin rush of fourteen felt strange and exhilarating. Weekdays passed slowly with blank faces and formal greetings. Each weekend, an hour or two at the Club or with friends were swapped for life, for time with her, for passion, for a type of love I had never felt or even thought possible.
When did I first feel that something was wrong - maybe, in late winter or early spring? I had a problem with my personal e-mails. I thought I had sent an e-mail to Anjali about a date but she never got it. I could not trace it in my drafts or sent items either. I brushed it aside, even doubting whether I had sent it. Then, I felt as if I was being followed. On weekends, two uncouth guys appeared at every corner I walked and a white car with dark tinted glasses seemed to tail my car. When I shared my fear with Anjali, she said I was just being paranoid. She did ask if we should take a break and cool off a little. I told her that I could not do without her.
In early May, on my way back home on a Sunday night, I was mugged by a bunch of hoodlums. They came in two motorcycles and a car. On a lonely stretch of the expressway, they blocked my car and made me stop. I offered money but all they wanted was to give me a sound thrashing. Nothing on the face but my sides were punched and beaten like burger patty. I had to tell Anjali about it when she touched the blue black marks on our next weekend tryst. She looked at me with fear in her lovely expressive eyes. I lay down on the bed gingerly and asked her to get on top. I was addicted to her and I didn’t care, about anything.
Two weeks back, we met at a friend’s vacant flat in the city. After spending the afternoon together, we left at six. I dropped Anjali at a taxi-stand. On my way back, I kept looking in the rear-view mirror and I was glad not to find the white car tailing me. Two blocks from my house, I parked the car by the roadside and crossed the road to get a bouquet of flowers at a florist. After the purchase, with a bouquet in hand, I had just stepped out to cross the road when I got hit by a speeding car. I hardly felt anything when the car rammed into me. I can’t remember the pain that must have followed. But I remember flying like a tossed rag-doll, looking foolish never letting go of that bouquet of flowers for my wife. I remember seeing a satisfied look on the driver’s face as the hit-and-run car smashed into my side. My wife looked very satisfied, I remember, and I think she even gave me a cold half-smile.
The doctors say that I am lucky. I am not paralyzed but I have enough nuts, bolts, plates and screws within me beneath the plaster and the bandages to make a metal detector on this mummy go wild and do a hopping jig to some merry tune. The doctors tell me that the rest depends on slow faithful healing time and the loving touch of God and my wife. My wife rarely leaves my side. When she is not scribbling little love notes on the plaster, she tells me about how she caught me and how she has warned off ‘that silly girl’ Anjali. All I can do is watch and listen, and remember, looking at her.