Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ganesh Chathurthi and a day-dream

Yesterday evening, while I was watching TV, I heard my doorbell ring. Upon answering, I found a young boy.

He said, "Uncle, we are celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi and we will be bringing an idol and.."

"So you need a contribution ?" I interrupted him.

"Yes".

"OK, so be it." I took his notebook, and wrote Rs.50 as my contribution.

He saw that and said, "Uncle, 100 please".

I stopped for a moment, and made it Rs.100.

As I was giving the money, I asked, "So what exactly do you plan to do ?"

He said, "We will be bringing the idol and doing the decorations and.."

"Bring the idol where ? And decorate what ?" Once more I cut him short.

"The community hall."

"Alright, thanks a lot."

With that, I let him go. I had my answer. I went back inside, a little uneasy. May be, I should not have paid. Or even if I did, I should have told him what I thought. But then, he was too young to appreciate. I imagined what I would have liked to happen. Perhaps, in stead of him, his dad should have come.

After paying, I would have asked him, "So what exactly do you plan to do ?"

"We will be bringing the idol and doing the decorations and.."

"Bring the idol where ? And decorate what ?" I would have interrupted, as I did with the boy.

"The community hall."

"Alright, thanks a lot. I just wanted to make sure that I wouldn't need to do anything else."

The man would reply, "Well, you just need to come to the community hall. We have a pooja and a few cultural events. It should be a good get together."

"Well, I am afraid I won't make it. I really don't want to get involved much. Thank you very much." I say, trying to hide my irritation.

"Oh.. alright, we will have someone get the sweets from the pooja for you."

"No please. I don't quite need them." I tell him, as politely as I manage to be at that point.

"Don't worry yaar !", the man says, trying to be friendly. The `yaar' word pushes me over. I hate that word, when used by someone in the middle of a conversation in English.

I say with obvious irritation, "Well, I mean.."

"Don't worry at all. It is not difficult for us to.."

"What I mean is, it would be very difficult for me if you were to disturb me once more in the name of your festival. Quite frankly, that is what I meant."

The man is a little confused now. He gets a part of what I said though.

"In that case, we don't really need your contribution."

I reply, "That should be fine with me. But I don't really mind the contribution. That choice is yours."

"If you were not interested, why didn't you say so initially ?"

"Well, as I said, I did not mind paying, as long as that was all I needed to do. If some kid had come in your place and asked for a contribution for his cricket club, I would have still paid."

"We don't need your 100 rupees. What we need is participation of the community."

"You never asked me for any of that. You did not even bother to check if I had anything to do with your silly festival."

"Silly ? What do you mean silly ?"

"I am sorry to have used that word. I take it back. Nevertheless, I have nothing to do with the festival."

"For one, it is a national festival. And being residents of the same apartment complex, we belong to a common community."

"It's not a national festival. I agree about the community part. It's just that I regard my privacy above my community feeling. Basically, I don't want to do something for the sake of community if I don't feel like it."

"Please take your Rs.100 back. I don't want to talk to you anymore."

"Thanks. It just occurred to me; I am glad not paying. I presume you are going to immerse that idol in some lake after your pooja. Quite honestly, I am glad not to contribute to polluting the environment."

"Don't you drive a car ? Don't you use plastics ? You are being such a hypocrite."

"Call me what you want. To answer your question, I do all that, and I admit that I do pollute. I am not left with a lot of choice in those matters. But I am doing what bit I can though. And I certainly don't want to pollute the environment when I have no gains from it. Face it, I am selfish. Anyway, I don't think I owe you an explanation."

"Being so arrogant does you no good. Good bye."

"I shall try to remember that. Please understand, I have nothing against you. Good bye, and enjoy your festival."

I know I was being absurd about that pollution bit. More than that, I know I was being arrogant. But I did not mean to be. The man simply dragged me into it. I wouldn't have told him what I thought if not for his instigation. I believe my arrogance surfaced only to counter his own. Yes, I mean his own arrogance - an arrogance that was so fundamental to him - an arrogance that was so much a part of him - that it was hard to notice. I mean his arrogance in assuming that a festival important to him was going to be important to me as well; his arrogance in believing that every one of his festival was a national festival; his arrogance in believing that representing the community for collecting the contributions elevates him above my individuality; his arrogance in believing that being conscious of the community makes him holier than me, and could advise me against being arrogant to the community.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Up The Blue Mountain

The climb had become more difficult, in fact a bit more than he had expected when he decided not to follow the regular trail and take a different path. But he knew it was definitely shorter, and that was the only way he could reach the summit and climb down back before sunset. It was not only difficult, but also dangerous to remain out there after nightfall. This route he chose, he realized, hadn't perhaps been used at all. It was quite steep, and he had to use his hands many times to get a proper grip. It also had thorny creepers and loose rocks on it which made his progress even more difficult. He had already slipped twice, and had a bruise on his left elbow. But he moved up steadily, without getting too tired, for he had no backpack whatsoever. All he carried was a small water bottle, his pack of cigarettes, and his lighter. He knew the bottle of water he carried would not have lasted all the way up, but he was sure he would find at least one spring on his way, where he could refill his bottle. And so he did; in fact, he found the spring water so fresh that he poured out the water he was carrying so far and filled his bottle from the spring. As for cigarettes, he thought he might want to smoke one on the summit. He did not even carry his camera, for he didn't really need any pictures. Normally, he would have carried it. But then, someone else would have definitely been with him, whom he could shoot or who could shoot him. He was alone this time, and he just wanted to be there, on the summit, among the clouds, and get back. Perhaps he could have carried his towel, and had a refreshing bath in the spring on his way back. But then he would have had to carry the clothes to change, and it would have added quite a bit to the weight he had to carry. He didn't think it worth.

He was halfway through his short trek, of what he called the blue mountain. He called it so because he didn't know what it was really called, and as he was driving towards its foot, what struck him most was its blue summit that stood above the clouds. Also, he had always had a liking for things blue. Blue sky, blue eyes, blue clad women.

The keeper of the inn at the foot of the blue mountain, where he had kept his car, had told him it was about eight kilometres to the top. He calculated he would need about five hours to climb up and get down - three for ascent, one for descent and about one that he wanted to spend on the top. He had started climbing at half past one in the afternoon. He hadn't taken his lunch, because he was not hungry, and he knew it would only slow him down during his climb. That had been his way off late – taking food at regular times was becoming a burden, so he found it better to skip them. Now it was three in the afternoon, and he was halfway. When he saw a small clearing, he decided to stop for a while. He knew he was going to need these breaks more frequently now. He sat on a rock, and checked his shoes for leeches. The rains were over, and there wouldn't be too many of them, but one couldn't be sure. He stretched his legs, took a mouthful of water, and swallowed it little by little. He felt like smoking a cigarette. He knew that was one of the most foolish things to do when you were climbing up, but he lighted up one nevertheless. At the most, he was going to be a bit more tired by the time he reached the top. But there was no exhaustion that the fresh mountain air couldn’t relieve one from.

He watched the smoke drift away in the breeze, and thought of her, simply. He wished she was with him there. Had she been there, he might not have perhaps lighted the cigarette now. In fact, he might not have carried his cigarette pack even. He knew she didn't smoke, nor she liked it. He tried to imagine how it would have been if she were to be with him once he reached the summit. They could have celebrated the moment of achievement - though not a very big one - together. They could have congratulated each other by hugging and patting on each other's back. They could have gone to the very tip of the mountain, stood so close to heavens where clouds rubbed their cheeks against theirs, and kissed each other. He could have smoked a cigarette, watching her struggle in the breeze to keep her hair away from her face. No, he wouldn't have smoked if she were there. Then, would he have simply watched her ?

He felt stupid. He threw the cigarette butt away, and got up to leave. She wasn't there, and she was never going to be there. He was going to be without her. Nothing had ever stopped him from ridiculing himself when alone, and he called himself a moron and laughed. He thought if her being with him was ever going to be a reality, then Hugo was wrong when he wrote La Esmeralda turned her face away from Quasimodo the hunchback when he only wanted to save her life. Well, he knew he had taken it way too far, and his thought was merely a very poor joke, if it was meant to be one. That made him sort of mad at himself. He sipped some water, but that did not cool down his rage, and he deliberately brushed his forearm against a thorn. It cut and it hurt, but not too bad.

He knew he was being an idiot in loving her - for that matter, any woman. Why would a man ever fall in love ? You could never associate any rationality with falling in love. It only hurts, it only makes you passive, it only makes you useless. It slows down your thought more than alcohol does. It really is not worth anything. Yet it has been celebrated as divine. Divine - only a damned idiot could have called it - the most wretched thing he had ever known - divine. Of course, it doesn't take much grey matter to call anything divine. But still men love. In fact, many intelligent men he knew had put themselves into this predicament. They all had loved some women, felt those women loved them too, but nothing ever happened, and had spent several days of misery. At the most, they were being utilized. They spent their time and energy on those women – for no real use. But they were momentarily happy, though they knew they were wasting themselves. Much like they did on cigarettes. Only that cigarettes at least made the sacrifice of burning themselves down for their happiness. He had seen a pattern too - all those women were intelligent - perhaps a bit too intelligent for the men who loved them. It doesn't mean that those women were more intelligent than those men. Never. Just that they were smarter than most other women. These men, with their intelligence, would have required pondering for only a small while to realize this - and that they were not going to be loved in return. But what had beaten their rationality ? The answer perhaps lies in the nature. As individuals of the species, they have just one evolutionary aim - to produce the fittest offsprings they can. Therefore, they seek mates who are most capable of that. Rationality never gets into this act where all man does is to become just another animal. Perhaps the only way one might think it does is that rational men seek the most rational women around them, which is rational. It indeed is, if they should really seek. But that search itself is not a necessary thing, which makes the whole thing irrational. And that leads you to the rather comical conclusion that nature makes a man, however intelligent, behave like a moron. Aristotle might have perhaps said, "It is physics; it is the nature of men to act like idiots." But then, those women too should be seeking mates. Perhaps they indeed were, and they were playing a waiting game ? He didn't bother to think too much about it, for he had no real knowledge about women, and feminine logic, if there ever was a thing like that, was unknown to him. He knew his theory was, in all likelihood, far from perfect, and whether he was stupid or not, he still would have loved it if she were to be there with him.

His thoughts were broken when his legs had started aching from fatigue. It was only half an hour more to the top, and there still was enough day light. He decided to take another break. He sat down, but didn't smoke this time. He was nearly out of breath, and if it were cigarette smoke instead of fresh air that went to his lungs, he would have collapsed right there. He decided to simply rest for a while. He loved that silence in the wilderness. It was so silent that he could hear his own breathing. He listened to it. Was he breathing a bit too loud ? No, it wasn't him. Perhaps, he wasn't alone, as he had thought. He listened to it. This time he heard it alright. The unmistakable hiss. He turned to his left, and saw that shining black little head. The remaining was hidden among leaves; perhaps on a branch. It was so close to his left ear, a slightest move would have provoked it. But he had to move; he couldn’t sit there forever. He thought for a moment, and hit that head with his water bottle as fast and as hard as he could, hoping to scare it away. He had hit it perfect, perhaps a bit too perfect, that instead of retreating into the leaves, it lost its grip on the branch and fell on the ground. Now he saw it fully - it was a big snake, well over ten feet long. It raised its hood and hissed. He stood there, motionless. Perhaps it would realize he wasn’t an enemy. But he sure was an intruder. The snake shot forward to strike him. He wasn't much of an athlete, but he managed to jump away from it. Now he was at a safer distance, but he didn’t have much time. He looked around, and picked a rock. He saw the snake lowering its hood, and speeding towards him. Now, now was the moment. He threw the rock, with all his might, aiming its head. Once again, he had done it perfect. The snake's head was crushed between the rock and the ground. It wriggled for a brief while, and stopped moving.

He sighed in relief. At the same time, he felt a little sorry for the snake. It was, after all, a living creature; a splendid animal. And then he saw it; from the bushes next to where he was sitting earlier, another one crept out. He was more frustrated than afraid. He didn't want to make another kill in any case. Nor was he in an urgent need to kill it, because it hadn't yet attacked him. Nor was it on his way up. Nevertheless, he hated to see it. It was somewhat smaller than the first one. Perhaps a female, he thought. He decided to ignore her. He turned around, and started to move up quietly. But he wasn’t quite sure, he felt uneasy; he thought he heard her moving. He turned back, and saw her shooting forward, towards him. Well, she had seen him, an invader of her privacy, moving. She hadn't even warned him with a hiss. He didn’t bother to think if he could outrun her, and simply ran forward as fast as he could. He wasn't very quick-footed, and he knew she was right behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see where she was. He hadn't seen the hole in his path. He stepped right into it, twisting his right ankle. He fell forward, his nose hitting the roots of some ancient tree. His nose bled, and a stabbing pain arose from his ankle. He rolled over, crawled backward towards the tree, and leant against it. He forgot his nose, and wanted to check his ankle. Leaning further back, he lifted his right foreleg with his hand, and brought it close to his face. He saw his foot hanging down freely from the ankle. He had broken it, and he wasn't going to move from there all that easily. And then, he saw her.

She was there, right in front of him, with her hood raised up to his face, displaying all her majesty. Even in that deepest pain, he couldn't help admire her beauty. She stood before him tall, slender, dark; the serpent princess of his childhood fairy tales. She was beautiful, graceful, yet vicious; he had seen her forked tongue. He stayed motionless, holding his breath. But, his hanging weak foot couldn't hold on. It trembled, and caught her attention. She hissed slightly, and struck him on his foot. Once, twice, thrice - each time pumping more venom than she did the previous time. He let his foot go. It hit the ground like a log of wood. He wanted to look at her, but his eyes could not focus. Everything looked blurred and twisted. He didn't know if she was still there or not. Nor was he worried about it. He felt for his pack of cigarettes. They were safe with him. He was glad. He liked to think that it was perhaps her mate that he killed a while ago. He realized he was sweating profusely. A bitter froth filled his mouth. He spat it out. It wouldn't stop. He spat again and again until his mouth was dry. He couldn't see anything anymore. He tried to feel around him, but his arms didn't move. His whole body had gone numb. He no longer felt any pain, and his eyes shut themselves. His back slipped off the tree against which he was leaning. He stopped thinking. And by the time the inn keeper and his men found him, with the ants making a feast of his feet and face, the venom had spread through out his body, and he was all blue.

Drive... home

Shift to reverse, gas-as-they-call-it. Turn left. The brake. Shift to drive, more gas-as-they-call-it. Sun glaring in the eyes. Never mind - the drive away loser.

A disgusting slime. Clumsy. Grotesque. Writhing.. dragging.. closer.. closer. Open sores. A mirror! The stench of aged human spit. Feminine fragrance ? Stab the twisted beast !

Stirring marrows. Open your eyes. A cement truck in the wrong lane. A wishful hallucination. Step on it more. Sixty.. seventy. Red lights. Reality. The moment of courage. Kicking instincts. Wretched hormones. The golden rules of evolution. Screech to stop. Honks. Deaf. Stares. Blind. Drive away.

It wriggles back. Destiny's misbegotten child. A stake driven through. No. The primordial rib. Mercy.. mercy. A cauldron of venom. Slain with kindness.

Home. Somewhere to snuggle. The sleeping bag. Mother's womb...