Chapter 5 : Pawar Guest House
Though I don't know it, what I hear today is going to shake me to the core. It starts off normally enough, with me walking to the Guest House and seeing her on the balcony; her seeing me and escorting me upstairs as usual. It is later than the other times; the huts on the grounds are closed and dark by the time I arrive, and hardly any vehicles ply the roads as we talk. The radio is playing Bela ke Phool instead of Hawa Mahal; but she's still there listening to it, as if expecting me to arrive today.
We talk a bit, about the weather, about some new guests here at the guest house, about how quiet it seems now that it is so late. All along, simmering on both our minds, are the stories, waiting to be told. I wanted to try something different today, and inwardly I'm itching to get on with it. Finally, the topic veers around to the story.
I say,” I don't really have a story to tell today. I do have something else, though. This was an evening I spent in Pune, a long time ago…”
- - -
I couldn't do any more work. The significance of the deadlines, of the work that had to be finished that day, had paled before the fact that Ila wasn't there. The fact of her absence sapped all my will, left me idling for hours before I realized that there was no point in staying in the office.
Mumbling my goodbyes, I left the office. Down in the parking lot, I was about the start up my motorcycle when I realized that there was no reason to go to my room. It was too early for dinner; besides, Ila's memory would be overpowering if I went home.
I drove around aimlessly for a while. I thought about that day – Was it only a few days back? - When Ila had left. Her train was at six in the evening… I'd told her I would try to make it there to see her off. But I hadn't any hopes myself, there was too much work. I'd fought through all of that day, tearing through documents and rushing meetings. There had been still more work left then (just as it'd been, today) but I'd somehow managed to break free. Driving down, I'd felt like a prisoner who'd escaped and was now greedily enjoying his precious few moments of freedom.
I'd reached the station just a few minutes before six. Her brother had left already… she'd probably assured him she would be fine and he needn't stay till the end. She had taken a seat by the window, and she brightened when she saw me coming down the stairs of the station. Her face was the brightest of all, and her smile made me forget I had just a temporary reprieve. I reached her and just looked at her. “Its only for a few days,” she’d said. “I'll be back before you know it.”
“Take care of yourself,” I'd whispered, as I stood by her window. The whistle blew just then, and the train had begun to pull away from the platform. My hand had been on the window sill, just an inch from hers. As the train began to move she'd shifted her hand ever so slightly, still looking at me, so that it touched mine. It said more than any words could have. Even today, if I think about it, I can feel the tingle on my hand, where she'd touched it.
I kept waving for as long as I could see the train. Only for a few days, she’d said, and yet…
And today, again, I was thinking of her. If she had come back she would have told me so. But somehow, I hoped she'd returned and forgotten to call, or was too busy, maybe. That would mean she was here, somewhere in Pune, and I might bump into her anywhere.
I suddenly realized I was crossing the Balgandharv Theatre. I turned the bike around and drove into the parking lot. Parked in the far corner (just like I had the other day), and walked to the entrance to the stairwell. There was a sign about a new exhibition of sculpture on at the multipurpose hall on the first floor of the theatre. We'd argued that day, right here. I'd wanted to eat first, she was afraid the exhibition would be closed for the night by the time we got back. She'd won, of course.
I went up.
Wandered through the exhibits… looked less at them, more at the people seeing the exhibition. Once I saw her favorite orange jacket in a crowd…but it turned out to be someone else. She wouldn't have liked these new sculptures - they were too small and besides she liked those black metal types better, forgot what she called them.
I walked down and went to the ticket window of the theatre. They had a comedy playing. Laxmikant Berde was in it. I'd probably have persuaded her into seeing this one.
I left my bike in the lot and walked down Jangli Maharaj Road. I didn't stop at the pavement booksellers even though Ila wasn't there to pull me away.
Dusk. The street lights were on but as yet not doing anything. A lot of people walked along this road in the evenings. Most of them weren't alone. A light breeze ruffled shop awnings and brought forth whispers from the trees.
I found myself falling into a trance, walking on the orange and brown tiles of the pavement, looking down to make sure my feet were stepping two files forward at a time. I stopped once to look at the crowd around a flower seller, who'd set up his rack of bouquets under a big old mango tree. Most of his customers were young college-age boys. He was advising those who asked about good bouquets for birthdays, parties, 'just-like-that's, and marriages. As usual, he was out of deep red roses early.
Reaching the next junction, I decided on having dinner at the Chinese food vendors who'd set up their little stalls along the road. Each had their few tables and chairs in front, on the pavement, with customers' favourites painted on little tin circles festooning the stalls. “Chow Mein”, “Hakka Noodles”, “Chiken Manchurien”, “Sweet Corn Soup”, they all advertised in English and Marathi.
I ordered Sweet corn soup, Noodles, and Vegetable Manchurien at the first stall that had seating space free. Idly I watched the vendor make my dinner… The familiar smells were comforting. I wondered if he would ask me why I was alone today. He wouldn't, probably; couples were transitory here, on this road next to Fergusson College.
I ate quickly, while deciding what to do next. M. G. Road would be a good place to go to now.
It was dark by the time I walked back to where my bike was parked. The lot was crowded, the show with Laxmikant Berde seemed to be doing well.
I parked in front of Manney's Book Shop. I could see very few people in there; the stores were all about to close anyway. The crowds on the street were at their peak, though.
There was hardly any traffic on M.G. Road, the whole road was full of groups of people walking. Balloon vendors were selling heart-shaped balloons and doing brisk business. The couple in front of me was walking hand in hand, and swinging their hands in time to the music playing loudly from various shops.
I looked around for a place to sit as I walked. The steps in front of most shops were occupied already. Groups of people perched here and there on the two-wheelers parked along the road. I passed one such group playing at Dumb Charades. “Govinda? A Govinda Movie? SCS? Haseena Maan Jayegi? Oh, an older one… Dariya Dil?…”
There was a huge crowd in front of Marz-O-Rin. I walked into there, hoping their Softy hadn't sold out. I was just in time. I got the Chocolate, and walked upstairs to where they had just added more tables. It was strange – there was enough space to sit upstairs, but people insisted on standing outside on the sidewalk to eat and drink. Upstairs, Marz-O-Rin had a long balcony with little tables set up all along it. I walked along to the last-but-one table. We'd wanted to sit at the last table, but that had been occupied that day. Ila had finished her Pineapple Juice quickly and I’d gotten her a pastry… We'd looked at the two girls at the last table, they'd moved their chairs right up to the railings in the balcony… The one with her back to us was mostly quiet, if anything, she seemed to be consoling the other. It was noisy that day, too. We couldn't make out the words they spoke. But I remember the face of the girl who sat facing us… She was haunted, by I don’t know what. Her hairstyle was kind of like Alisha Chinai's; she wore a denim jacket and jeans. She would have been in her early teens. I noticed her first when I saw something glittering, out of the corner of my eye. It was a tear, sliding down her cheek. She hadn't noticed it, apparently. Her companion spoke after a moment. The girl started, nodded, and passed a brusque hand over her cheek. She shifted position, tilted her head and rested it on the parapet. The two were still sitting there when we left about an hour later.
Today there was a middle-aged couple sitting at the last table. I was probably the only one here sitting by himself.
From up here, the yellow light of the streetlamps imparted a nostalgic feel to the whole scene below. The crowd and the noise reminded one of a college carnival.
- - -
I am silent. Then I say,”I cant really go on with this. There’s no way to tell what it felt like, back there. How can you express what it feels like to long for someone, to know that you're truly, madly in love with her? What they talk about in the movies, in songs, that's just the surface of what it feels like. You're almost paralysed with happiness, you can feel something huge inside that really fills you up. You close your eyes for a moment and it's like her face, as it looked in the train window just before it left, is clear in your mind - clear as if you're seeing it now. And the fact that she's possibly thinking about you makes the feeling even stronger.
“Oh, there isn't any way to express it. Unless you've actually felt it.”
- - -
What else? I sat there and finished my ice cream. After a while I walked back to my bike and drove home.
I did say that this isn't a story, it's just an evening I spent. I don’t think I managed to express exactly what I wanted to. But… there it is. One evening I'll remember for a long time.
- - -
She is listening intently, eyes focused on something far away. When I stop she stays that way for a while, then abruptly seems to realize that I'm done. It seems my story went down well.
She says, “You know, that reminds me of something. Especially that last part, when you were having trouble expressing yourself. Sooner or later everyone hits that wall, and everyone deals with it in his own way. Hmm… wait here a minute. I want to show you something.”
She gets up and walks off into the corridor behind us. I sit back and listen to the radio. She's gone for a while, about two or three songs have gone by on the radio in the meantime.
When she comes back, she's dusting off an old rexine-bound diary. Sitting down, she explains, “ Hadn't thought about this one in a long time. A boy who stayed here a long time ago left this when he left. He left really suddenly, actually. Was there one evening, gone in the morning. Left most of his luggage behind. Always was a sensitive sort, he was. Anyway, what I want you to look at is… let's see, where is it…” She flips through the book… “There isn't enough light here to read this thing. Can you reach up and turn on that switch over there?” The switch in question is an old fashioned, black plastic knob set in a round case. I pull it down, weak, incandescent light washes over us. It is barely better than a candle; but she seems to have no trouble now. She's looking through the diary, stopping every now and then to read a few lines. “It was nearly at the end of what he wrote… The entries after that are really simple, appointments and accounts, mostly…ah, here we are!”
She hands me the diary, open to a page that’s torn off a little at one corner. “Read it aloud, if you want.” Her movement of leaning forward is duplicated in her huge shadow from the bulb moving down on the sidewalk. Ours seems to be the only light on the road now, apart from the streetlights.
Though the diary looks really old, it reads a date from not too long ago.
- - -
I've never kept a diary before. Never had the patience. So all I'm going to do is to write what I feel about Laxmi today, before the memory I have fades away. Later ( I hope) she'll be closer to me and may not look so magical. This is for me to remember her as she looked today when we talked for the first time.
Her eyes are this deep 'surprise brown’, which look black until you look closely. When she's looking at you, you feel she's actually seeing you as you are - not as you appear. And her smile is knowing yet playful. When she talks, you can tell she is glad to do so - otherwise you'd just be another piece of scenery to her. Unlike some girls I know, she doesnt wave her hands around or shift her feet while talking. All her attention, her whole body, is intent on speaking and listening to you. Sometimes there's that sharp twinkle in her eyes that tells you that a sudden thought, which she probably wont tell you, has occurred to her. And what thoughts! To talk to her and understand what she's saying you need to be really well read. I mean, I thought I was well-read, but when was the last time you talked to someone who's understood both Kautilya and Sartre? I'm going to need to learn a lot more just to keep up with her. Not to mention understanding atleast something about Bharatnatyam - she's learning that too. And the Harmonium. And computers.
I really shouldn't be leaving this book around for idle friends to read. Praveen reads through that page I wrote yesterday and goes," Who’s this girl? Uske chasmey ke number kya hai? Sounds like a South Indian to me. Knowing you, any fat black philosophy student would fascinate you...Arrey yaar, atleast if you want to remember her, write what she looks like, not this vague 'twinkle-in-eye' stuff!"
Praveen is one of these idiots who'd fall in love with any girl who laughs at their jokes and stays fashionable.
2 June (later)
I looked through that first entry again - without thinking about Laxmi at the time. I mean, as someone who only reads the words. In fact, as anyone else but me would. They do sound vague and zabardasti ka highfunda. I guess I could have another try. Hmmm.
Laxmi is not very tall, maybe about 5'3", but looks perfectly made. Her smallish round face really sets off her curly hair. Her fingers are rather long and delicate, though her figure is
What the heck is this? Hurray, I've just begun a Mills and Boon novel starring Laxmi Pandya. I'm sure Praveen would love this sort of description, if I could ever bring myself to show it to him. Whereas this description is actually worse than the earlier one.
The first one is better, if I don't read only the words. If I remember the feelings I had while writing those words, I really love the description.
So my words are just placeholders for the feelings I have in me? They don't really express what I'm feeling?
Funny how vague ideas stick to you. I couldnt help thinking about the 'words as placeholders' thing all today. I thought about how I liked so many books I read...If those words were just placeholders for the feelings which the writers had, what am I feeling?
Obvious hai. It's like the shayari stuff which I could never understand, even when Ashish explained the meaning of the words. Never could understand all that 'dard' and 'mohabbat' stuff, until Aditi went away...suddenly I found I liked them. When I had some feelings to put in the placeholders, I understood them...
All these feelings I had while reading, they were in me already...So me finding the book good just meant I was able to put really powerful experiences in the 'placeholders' the writer put.
4 June (later)
But that just means, if I remember my experiences while reading books, others must be remembering their own experiences.
You mean everyone sees something different when reading? Everyone has different experiences in life...
So is that why Praveen didnt like my description? OK - He has no idea of what I mean by saying 'Surprise Brown'. It would help if I told him that its a colour of the eye which looks black from afar and brown only when you look into her eyes close up.
No, it probably wouldn't. Unless he's actually had the experience of seeing a girl's eyes change like that (Aditi's eyes did). He wouldnt appreciate it.
So if I write something like "her lips were as delicately coloured as a shoeflower".., only someone who knows what a shoeflower is would understand...the others would think of vague things like, say, shoes!
Felt rather depressed today. Started out feeling great about the great insight I had into writing. But I tried explaining it to Praveen and Sandhya, and they didnt get it. I mean, they got what I was saying, but it didnt seem to affect them. They couldnt feel the enormity of the idea. Funny, that. They themselves hadn't come up against a block like this, so they couldnt put their experiences into the words I was saying. Their not understanding proved what I was saying, but it didnt make me feel any better.
Reminded me of asking my mom what a backache felt like. She'd answered, "Tu jab bada hoga tab tujhe maloom padega".
More and more of this sort of thing came to me all of today. "Ek baar awashya taste kijiye." "Maa Bahen nahi hai kya?" "Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad?" "Bhagwan ki bhakti bataayi nahi jaa sakti, sirf mahsoos kar sakte hai." "No one can explain to you what the Matrix is."
Isnt there any way of conveying a new experience to someone? All that words can do is to either try to break it up into prior experience or tell you how to experience it yourself.
I'm trapped. Trapped. Heh. This wouldnt mean anyting to someone who's never been trapped before, never felt like this. I tried telling Laxmi what I felt about her today. Couldnt. Every word I spoke sounded like some sort of compromise. I couldnt help stripping it of the meaning, the experience I attached to it and looking at it naked. Alone it seemed so pitiful, so inadequate. 'Pitiful'. What does that mean to someone who hasnt felt pity, hasnt been pitied?
It isnt just words. It's pictures, drawings, music, dance, facial expressions, whatever silly ways we've devised to try to express ourselves. Placeholders all of them, meaning nothing by themselves. Tell me frankly, ever understood what they mean when they say there's something odd about the Mona Lisa's smile? Not unless you've seen someone else smile like that, whom you knew more about. Try showing the photographs of the beach you took, to someone who's never been to the beach. He'll ask you why you all look so happy just splashing about - The photos cant show the joy of being there.
This past week was horrible. I felt totally inadequate in expressing myself. Praveen asked me why I was so down. I'd told him before, so there was no point in explaining. I sent my diary so far, as a story, to some friends, and it came back with comments like "Amazing story!", and "It was cute", and "I laughed at the funny parts". (that was the worst...WHAT FUNNY PARTS?) I'd asked for suggestions for completing the story. No one had anything reasonable.
So it's up to me - I opened up this can of worms and I must deal with it. No one else can see the trouble. Even if they could, no one else could solve it for me. instead of letting the thing pull me under, I need to name it, file the problem neatly away under all my other big problems like "Not having musical talent", and "unable to help the starving people of Orissa". Most of all, I need some plan of action.
So what is the problem, as such? Basically, I've discovered that my words, my representation of my experiences, cannot replicate my experiences for other people. Nor can their words replicate their experiences to me. Put that way, it sounds reasonable. Silly, even.
The implications are the bad part - that everyone's experiences will always be their own, cannot be shared or explained.
A solution occurred to me today. Try to live your life as full as you can, so as to have common experiences with many people. Then with these people you will have that common ground to communicate. Of course, the problem with that stupid solution is that you will also have even more of life that you dont share with each other person. The proportion of common to unshared remains the same.
Why do I want to be able to share all my life and thoughts with everyone in the world, anyway?