Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rite


My son would have been twenty five today. His mother has arranged a fourth anniversary prayer service. I am not invited.
She found his body, the note too. It did not say much, my life is over.
We managed to keep it off the papers. The police helped with their disinterest. They took him to the morgue, filed his note. They knew about the hushed-up incident in college. They must have hoped that it would not snowball into a controversy. His friends created a scene in college. The Principal asked me to talk to them, and I did. His mother said that I did not care enough.
A week earlier, he was busy with the cultural festival in college. The main show, the rock festival, was on the penultimate night. Every generation has its Woodstock before ending up like their parents. Every year they try to be the wildest. His friends told me that he had been busy backstage. And, that they had seen her stoned or drunk or both, straddling and necking some out-of-towner. They did not get a chance to talk to the disciplinary committee, they told me. The morning after the rock show, she had reported to a Dean that my son had raped her. The college called her parents, not us. They decided to keep it a college matter. My son was expelled. Two days later, he killed himself.
His mother wanted his room to be left as it was. I agreed. She must be keeping it like that even now.
His friends used to drop by in the first few weeks. They told me that the girl had stopped attending classes. But, not for long, she returned after a month. They reported that she was shunned by all.
I wanted to meet her. One of the lecturers who had remained neutral during the in-house disciplinary meeting helped me out.
I met her at the lecturer’s house. At first, the lecturer refused to leave the room; finally, agreed to be in the next room, with the door left open.
The girl stared at me defiantly. She smoked without asking for permission. I took a seat, not opposite, to her side.
I did not know what to say to her.
I know he did it, I told her.
My son kept diaries. He wrote about his dreams, his experiences, just short notes, but long enough. Just fun, that was his point of view: the prankster, the voyeur, the bottom-pinching, the carefree grope. He did not write after the rock show. There was no time, I suppose. I removed those diaries before his mother discovered them. I promised myself that I would cremate that too. I still have those notebooks. He was my son.  
She kept on staring at me. What did I expect: a good cry, a switch-like moment, darkness to light, a break?
I did not tell her about the diaries. I could have asked her if I should reveal what’s in those diaries. That would kill his mother, I could have argued.
The lecturer came back and told me to leave.
His mother got to know that I met her. She asked me why. I shrugged. Even otherwise, we would have separated, I think.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Kiss


We went past the Greek and Latin churches, the whitewashed houses emptied of locals for tourists, and reached the cliff. The cool evening summer air, blue-green Mediterranean, allure of distant hills behind light misty veils, birds’ cries, the steep fall to jagged rocks, waves crashing relentlessly – if she had not beat me to it, I would have exclaimed, ‘Romantic!’ I thought of reminding her of our discussion, on a New Year’s Eve, about romance and the romantic.
We sat on the ground, close to the edge. There was just one other couple there, lying on the ground, in an amorous embrace.
‘Is that what the English call a bit of a snog?’ she observed.
‘Not sure if that’s with or without dribble,’ I whispered.
‘Call me old-fashioned… but isn’t that better done indoors?’
‘Prude…’
‘Have you tried it outdoors?’
‘No…’
‘Thought so…’
I thought for a while.
‘Did you think so when you saw Rodin’s The Kiss?’ I asked.
‘But, that’s different… that’s art… sublime art. Instead of seeing London, I stood in front of that for half a day.’
‘Why is it different?’
‘It is different.’
‘Think about it… don’t you feel the same… admiration, envy, curiosity, tension, structure, freedom… even comparison, I guess…’
‘I get your point. But, somehow…’
We slipped into a comfortable silence.
I thought again about that New Year’s Eve, my third at the Institute, her first. I was depressed and lonely; I usually am on that day. She was between affairs. We got crisps, Coke and fried chicken nuggets. Must have seemed snobby to the other revellers we ignored. We escaped to the balcony of my hostel room. It overlooked a large plot being readied for concrete, empty but for a shanty or two. It was a chilly Bangalore night. We sat on a rug, wrapped in separate blankets, candles lit for ambiance. Django Reinhardt played on my ancient stereo, she had wanted instrumental. We had talked, snacked, wished each other at midnight, and continued talking till three before calling it a night. We had flitted from one topic to the other, some loose thread joining the pieces. There was psychosexuality in Silence of the Lambs; did that come before or after the session on romance and the romantic; how did that lead to Fibonacci numbers and quasi-crystals; the rest temporarily hidden in memory. Without that free-flow of ideas, we would have been strangers. We talked about personal stuff less often; tough to avoid that since she was involved with three of my friends. The first one hurt her. I did warn her that he was immature. The second she barely noticed, he was not in the same league. The third she married. When I left for Berlin, there was a break in our communication. After she shifted to Paris two years later, we talked on the phone when our lonely weekends matched. Her husband had a research position that allowed him to shuttle between India and France. We talked about meeting at some midway point, but never did. It was quite a surprise when we met at Carg├Ęse, in Corsica, attending the same Summer School.
So, there we were on that cliff, possibly thinking about the last thread of discussion. We turned to each other at the same time. Thinking back, was I presumptuous; but then, there must have been some sign of mutual consent. What the hell, I would have ended at the bottom of the cliff otherwise. Where was I… yes, I leaned towards her, our heads tilted to the right.
I heard her say, ‘65% of people do that.’
‘Do what?’ I asked.
‘Turn head to right,’ she said.
‘I thought it was 100%,’ I said and kissed her.
I guess that would have been prematurely terminated if that had started with a thin-lipped frosty approach rather than the relaxed, soft touch. Connoisseurs tell me that kissing, making love too, is a lot like dancing. I wouldn’t know. I have never tried dancing with my two left feet. It is possible to have only upper or lower lips, the experts say, and make no headway. Our dance turned out to be decent. We took our time, treading carefully, leading one another without too many stumbles, exploring and covering that dance floor. I wondered briefly if she would rank me at the top, feeling guilty immediately for degrading the act. But then was she wondering about my grading, whether my thoughts were elsewhere, maybe with the one I sorely missed. Other thoughts intruded; for instance, whether I was plagiarizing subconsciously the Rodin we talked about, or the extended act of Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious. It is possible she was wondering about similar issues; how about the texts wherein people lose themselves in such actions; or whether it is ethically wrong to have parallel thoughts in such moments. It is not that we were not losing ourselves. We had moved closer. I held her head, and my fingers got entangled in her hair. She had one arm around my shoulder and another tightly around my back. I could feel her breasts against me. I caressed her neck and face. I wanted to go lower but decided not to, ever mindful of the jagged rocks beneath. The lips got through with the first act, my tongue entered the scene and hers followed soon. Our mouths opened. I probed, she reciprocated. We did not go overboard with the tongues, sticking to a pleasurable tempo. Thinking back, is it possible that love or deep affection would have made it any different. Some men think it is a lot tastier if the woman has cooked a succulent roast for him. There must be the stereotypical woman who finds it more pleasurable when the man engages in monetary foreplay with a diamond or two. Or, to be politically correct, reverse those roles. I am not sure. I like cooking for myself and I hate jewellery. Quite sure she felt the same. I know that she hates cooking. It is best to assume that she would frown at any mercenary thought from my end. 
The end of our dance was as abrupt as the start. The other couple was still there, lying flat, holding hands and gazing at the azure top. We separated, sat close but without touching. We gazed at a lone speed boat racing.
‘Notice the bow waves of the boat,’ I said.
‘Uh…huh, remember the relationship between angle of the bow waves and speed of the boat?’ she asked.
‘Relative speed of the boat with respect to the waves….’
‘Hmm…’
We stood up, left that space for the other couple and walked back. We came across an old Japanese lady photographing every angle of the churches, with a soft toy in the foreground.
‘I hate tourists,’ I said.
She laughed and said, ‘Come on, let’s have dinner. Paella or gnocchi and goulash…’
‘That’s not Corsican stuff.’
‘Anything Corsican here…?’
‘Fine, something that will sound good in our tourist notes.’
We talked about fish and meat, mercury poisoning, deaths in the coal-mining industry.