Monthly Archives: January 2015

“Sweet Cakes and Milkshakes”

Never write about classical things like love. They have been there for ages and everything worthwhile about them has already been written and used up by people who are more accomplished than you are, at this moment, Rilke had cautioned an young poet. The poet had written to him a series of letters seeking advice how to write, what to write. Rilke had rather told him when to write. Write when you can’t help it, write when not writing makes you writhe in pain, write when writing acts as the drug. Whether the young poet had followed the great master’s advice we do not know. If the name is tucked somewhere in that ever-growing mountainous pile of literature, we failed to find out. May be his writings failed him ,may be he failed his writings.Or may be, someone beloved is still clinging to those yellow sheaves of pages that have already been digested by termites. Painful that termites can chew the papers but not the memories. His failed venture is probably a story handed down to generations. Some stern parents probably use it to chide the not so material ambitions of their children, more romantic ones probably use this as a talisman against the many disappointments that are hurled to them, not all family has the honour to be written to by Rilke. But then how does it matter to the poet who is already dead, so dead that perhaps his bones have already been mixed in dust and it isn’t a theoretical improbability that a particle of those bone dust has just brushed past me as I stand on the hilltop on a chilly morning, thinking gibberish. No, not complete gibberish. I teach in a small school where my job is to talk about poets and authors to reluctant students. Every week, when I painstakingly read the pages I had prepared, I do hear muffled laughs. I am shortsighted and it saves me the embarrassment of looking to the mocking faces. No I am not supposed to teach Rilke today. Students in a desolate hill station do not read Rilke in their high school. A bit of Frost, a piece of Keats ,a poem or two by Shelly or Yeats is all that needed to have their literature education complete. Love for poetry? That phrase belongs to some other generation. A generation, kids of today look at with pity mixed with a tinge of affection. Then why Rilke? I try to rid my head of the thoughts and strain my eyes to look in front. I am waiting for a taxi in the deserted road bends. The winter has a tooth here. Not many people are out. Only a few. The overcast sky easily misleads us to think it was early morn, though the clock arms have reached the ninety degree shape. I pull the shawl tight as a saw a yellow-black something approaching, can be a taxi. “thirty and without heart-ache and spondylitis, she did not know how rare she was”, the lines from last week’s discussion rushed to my mind, accompanied with the sound of wheels screeching to halt. Finally a taxi, end of a long wait. The walk to the school isn’t long, but with forty and spondylitis, I prefer not taxing my limbs. The window lever was broken. I wish I could roll it up. The frosty wind gashes the face. The face is already ravaged, with years. Also with pretentiousness, croaks a small voice from nowhere. I try not the admit it. Rilke’s theories in life, I tell myself, fall in love when you cannot help it. And all these years I could, so I didn’t. Moreover Doris Lessing sounded great to say that 30s and without heart aches and spondylitis are rare. But what she forgot to tell me was that life does not end at 30. And the prides of 30s tend to become exhaustions at 40s and pities at 50s. But why on this morning, these ‘typical teenage nonsense’ is rippling me? I have a job to do in the day, a dinner to host in the evening. A neighbor of mine got married, a sweet young couple, educated and polished, both of them. A small detour to the market to pick up fresh pastries, the young man likes it and my baking skills are riddiculus,I scribble in my mind. Chocolate or blueberry or whatever is the best today. I woke up, looked around. The familiar setting of the room was not there anymore. The room was strewn with bags and suitcases. It took me a while to realize what had happened. I got married, three days ago. A deep breath. The feeling hasn’t yet sunk in. The bangle imprints on cheeks (I had the habit of sleeping with my hand as pillow), the vermillion dust lacing the nails(the parting of the hair itched) tried to flag the change in life, a change to bear throughout now, happily, I hoped as I saw Amit walking in with two paper cups of tea. “The kitchen is yet to be stocked. So I decided to get it for us”. I knew how he detested the over boiled slurry that shops sell in the name of tea. “You could have woken me up, I mouthed as the steam from the cups fogged our faces. He looked handsome, much more than he looked in the photo that was shown to me when a distant relative brought this proposal. My family couldn’t help accepting it and so it did I. In today’s misty morning, with tea cups in our hands, I have no reason to regret, yet. He sat in the bean-bag kept in the verandah. I knew it was his favorite; he had showed it to me once when we were having customary chats over skype. He pulled me and started pointing out the houses of different neighbours.The hilly terrain was new to me. The houses looked as though they were carefully placed so that almost all of them can be seen clearly from where we stood. Mr.  Sen’s house right in front of us. Ms. Gupta’s on the left to it, Lyngdohs’ further uphill and so on. He continued to point them out like an excited kid. May be I will grow to love him, I told myself, like most people do. “And that bright green house with brown wooden eaves, the closest one to us, that is”, “I know. Remember she came to meet us last evening.” I chipped in, feeling good to have met with a part of his life here. “She is sweet in an old fashioned way. It was nice to be invited today to dinner. We can put off going shopping for another day”, he smiled in a mischievous way. So many new things to get used to. Did I really want it, sometimes, I cannot help wondering. Specially at times like this, when the wooden planks of the ceiling loom large. Outside, the morning mist was gradually giving way to afternoon gloom. I walked to the window, huge and lovely. The land here has a dull slope. It was dotted with some stunted plants with purple bloom. ‘Rhododendrons’, I placed a finger on a day from the past. Hardly a year,  but feels like ages. A college trip in the final year of graduation, clamorous preparations, squabbles, everything seemed far removed from my life, this life,a conscious choice. I knew that I couldn’t plunge into insecurity, I am selfish. People would laugh at me for sure, besides I never wanted us to turn to those bitter couples who fight over daily rations. Yes, I was certain he wanted the same,which was odd.I always thought he was the bohemian storm of my life. Natural, unreasonable, illogical. But There wasn’t a line of sadness etched into his face when he came on the wedding day, with a Rilke.Why a Rilke, I still wondered.I never read poetry, he knew it.Was it because I had offered to buy him that?It was quite costly, I remembered.He had an edge in his voice when he cut me short telling that one shouldn’t waste money on things one doesn’t care for. Bitterness was his shield .I left the copy somewhere while moving here. It pained me to see him smile to spontaneously, a little pain would have perhaps polished my ego. I wanted to think that I was the one who refused him, or was I? I cannot be so sure now. Infact, I shouldn’t be thinking about all these, I chided myself. Such reminiscences seem like a poorly written movie script. It will definitely be more interesting to know a new person, I tell myself. Secure too, squeaks another small voice. Yes, that’s what I told him. That no matter what the poets say, and no matter how I could not help falling in love with him, I was not secured with him. He had laughed! As if to mock my impunity. As if to make me feel how much hatred we all hide in our folds of love. I was angry. And I thought he was being a cynic. Had he asked me not to leave, had he cried, would leaving had turned easier? Maybe not! I hated weakness. Then? What did I want him to do? What would have I done, if I were him? I do not know! And now, it doesn’t matter anymore. “The weather here is unpredictable, just like women”, Amit’s attempt at joke hung limp in midair. A distaste welled up inside me. I tried to laugh, or even smile. The winter seemed to have cramped my face. “You look strange. You should be more careful about cold.It is bad”, he shut the window with a thud. There was a power cut when we came out of the house. It was a short walk through the winding lanes. I clutched his fingers; the high heels make me unsteady. Amit looked smart and dependable. I liked the way he looks at me and smiles. “Look she’s standing there, with a lamp”, he points out the silhouette at the porch. “Power cut is a constant problem in such places. Don’t worry, it will be back in an hour”, she assured them as her guests went inside. The room was bathed in a pale glow of lamps. Not much of furnishing, utilitarian mostly. Lots of books, Mita thought. Mostly old. She perhaps doesn’t read as much as she used to earlier. Amit had already started his trove of stories. He was quite regular here. He loved her cooking, he told so many times. She was enjoying the chat. It felt refreshing to have guests. Otherwise, she could actually count the words she spoke outside her school. With time, number of people to talk to reduces. Most of her friends were busy and settled in their own lives. She looked at the young couple. It has been years since she attended a marriage. She suddenly wished that she hadn’t ignored all those invitations. What made her did that, anger or sadness, she wondered. “Let’s have a cup of your great tea”, Amit’s request made a smile leap to her face. “She is lovable”, Amit whispered to Mita. “But you know, people say so many things about her. It is said she had a strange affair. Some say the man cheated her, some say she refused him and never found another. None can say anything for sure. And here she is, inviting people over, talking and counting her days. What a terrible way to grow old”. “Indeed!” Mita rounded it up with a timely sigh. She suddenly felt thankful for her decision. Or was it simply dejection building into her? Already! Three days into the marriage In the darkness, none noticed steps that went still outside the door, sadness hiding into the conjured smile, as she decided to enter, tea and muffins poised perfectly in the tray. “  My story gets told in various ways: a romance, a dirty joke, a war, a vacancy.”  —Rumi

—- with Ananya Duttaroy

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