Sunday, November 21, 2004


She used to listen to him with a patience that he had never seen before. Viren remembers those months with such sharp clarity that sometimes, when he is remembering, he almost feels like he is reliving the past and watching himself in an out of body experience. She listened to him talk about work, she listened to him talk about his artist’s block – he always thought it very unfair how only the writers are allowed to have a block – and she listened to him unflinchingly as he raved and ranted about the unfairness of the world that refused to recognise him. Then she would softly assure and reassure him that he would one day be recognised, that all this would fall into the past one day when the two of them would laugh about it with misty nostalgia when they remembered their past days of struggle. This was why he loved Sitara. It was this that made him determined to claim her as his own. He had not ever known this kind of intense warmth and once he had found it, he knew he could not bear to let it slip out of his hands and balm another man’s life. Sitara was his. He would not, he could not let her be anyone else’s because if that happened, then he would be broken utterly. She was his opium and she kept all the pain away from him. He saw the tenderness in her eyes and knew that she would never break his heart. He believed her heart was large enough to hold his sadness and all of him. Anything he needed, everything he wanted, she would give him with open arms.

Like that evening when the sun had set but the neon lights of this garden had not yet been turned on. He was pouring out from deep inside him the stories of how his father treated him like dirt because he was an artist and not a respectable professional like a lawyer or doctor or banker who earned pots and pots of money. He told her about his mother with her narcissism and weaknesses that made her completely oblivious of the fact that she did indeed have a child to nurture. He told her about the times he had sat and waited in school for his mother to take him home until the school had been forced to call his father at work. It turned out that his mother had forgotten she had to pick him up. That was when it was decided he would take the school bus which would, halting at house after house after house, bring him home in one hour even though he lived just fifteen minutes from school. In winters it wasn’t so bad but in the summers, the heat seemed to attack him like a plague of locusts. It choked him. So he scrambled for a window seat but from the open window, along with the hot air came dust and grime. The dust swept into him and rushed out as well, but only after scooping out every part of him and leaving his insides feeling raw and scraped. It also meant that by the time he reached home, his mother was deep in the middle of her siesta because if she didn’t sleep in the day she felt weary by early evening. So Viren would come home and heat his lunch, lay the table and then wolf down his meal. They kept a tool in the kitchen for him to stand on after he dropped the hot dal on his hand. He wasn’t tall enough to comfortably reach the stove back then. Sitara listened to him with shock and disapproval in her eyes. He finished his story and then shrugged. They sat silently on one of the benches, watching darkness settle. There were couples sitting on all of benches. The most discreet of them were holding hands, sitting skin to skin and, when they thought no one was looking, they stole furtive kisses. But of course everyone was always looking. Viren felt a kick in his blood when he saw one girl bite her lip and start. Her boyfriend’s head was innocently tucked in the crook of her neck. The stone slab that made the back of the bench made it impossible to figure out what he had done.
“Viren?” Sitara said softly. “Come out of it.”
Viren nodded absently, his eyes looking ahead at the girl with the bitten lip. He felt Sitara’s hand on his knee. He turned to her. There was almost no space between them.
“Don’t lose yourself in the past, Viren,” she said again. “It isn’t your fault that they were like that.” Her hand was warm on his knee. He realised she thought he had been thinking about that incident. She had never sat so close to him before. He remembered her shrinking back when he had wanted to hold her hand in public a few days back but now she was near enough for him to see each of the fine hairs on her upper lip.
“I know,” he had replied, lowering his eyes from hers. Her lips were wet. She must have licked them while he had been watching the girl. He imagined biting the fatness of the lower lip. “I know I didn’t ask for it but it isn’t their fault either. They wanted to have a better son. Who can blame anyone for wanting something better?”
“That’s not true!” she protested.
He shook his head. “That’s just what it is, Sitara. They didn’t want me. I was never good enough for them.” He laughed shortly. “Look at me now – I can’t even blame them for not wanting me. I can barely stand myself.” He lifted a hand to her face. She stiffened but she didn’t move away. “I don’t know how someone as special as you lets someone as ordinary as me around her,” he said quietly. It had the effect he wanted. She said, “But you’re not ordinary, Viren. You have so much in you that is wonderful.”
“Do you really think so?”
She nodded her head eagerly with the naïve intensity of a sixteen year-old. It was dark. He could barely tell her black hair in the darkness. But her face was light and her lips glinted in the twilight.
“I think you’re the only person in the world who actually believes that,” he said.
She bit her lip. He leaned forward and kissed her. For a moment she felt like cardboard. Her hand lifted as though to push him away but then, an agonising moment later it fell back. He felt his blood sing loudly while he kissed her deeper.
She gently moved her head away and said, “Viren, there are so many people…”
“I’m sorry,” he said immediately and shrank back so that they were far from touching. “I’m sorry he said again.”
He didn’t look at her but he knew she was aghast because she thought he had taken her reaction as a rejection. He also knew he now had the key to Sitara’s heart.

Viren sighs as he ambles along the paved path along the sea. There is a storm brewing somewhere which is swelling the grey waves. Each wave is crowned with white foam and the waves come together, like frolicking fairy princesses. The palm and coconut trees in this manicured garden bend over like they are dancing some exotic Latin dance with their invisible dance partner, the wind. It is twilight and all the houses on the other side of the road are beginning to switch on their electric lights. Viren loves this time of the day when it isn’t dark enough for the streets to be lit up but the homes have turned on the warm, yellow lighting. There are too many clouds to tell what kind of a moon there is. He imagines the clouds thinning so that they are only a sheer black veil over the moon’s white beauty. Sitara’s house is just a few buildings away. He can see the balcony of the house from where he is standing now. No lights have been switched on yet. They haven’t brought her home yet. He wonders whether the doctors will keep her overnight but he doubts it. From that balcony of theirs, this sea with his imagined moon would look magical. His breath catches at the mere thought of such a sight. He sits down on the nearby bench and takes out of his bag a small drawing pad and some charcoal. His lines are black and bold. The drawing flows easily from his fingers. It is beautiful and he knows it. He shades and he contours lovingly each thing so that it begins to feel like a real world. Each detail gets his complete attention: the small tufts of grass, the roots of the bushes and the clotted earth at the base. He draws the details of the chips that mosaic the bench. He makes them a delicate grey against which the black chips are pronounced. They almost gleam. He draws the unmoving, straight-spined lamps that have not been lit in his drawing but are flickering on as he draws. He draws lines that are soft but speak of the density of the leaves of the trees. The trees themselves are in the throes of the erotic dance they are enacting with the storm. Clouds darken and layer the sky, making it hang and sink towards the rippled sea. The sea is dark with its unfathomable depths but there are ripples that goosebump its skin. And just one section of the sea is distinctly lighter. It is luminous with the reflected light of the semi-obscured moon. The real wind swells around him, shrieking from time to time but to him, the wind is coming out of his drawing and kissing his face. The page tries to writhe and flutter. He weighs it down with his arm while the other hand continues to draw frenetically. Then suddenly his perfectly-shadowed, bent coconut tree smears. The blackness turns to a murky grey that spills messily out of the boundary lines. Irate, Viren looks up. It is raining. A cold drop, sharp as a needle, falls at the corner of his eye. He flinches.

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