Sunday, December 4, 2016

Summit meeting

He, the greatest of them all, grunted in apprehension. There was an aura about him matched by none. He was not the eldest, but they all went quiet when he spoke, for he was the greatest of the siblings.

No, there was no doubt regarding the superiority of Mount Everest.

Of course, there was a group of left-wingers who swore by Mauna Kea, but they were generally dismissed, more so after Hillary and Norgay had immortalized Everest.

Godwin-Austen never had that glamour. Worse, they referred to him as K2, merely one of two peaks marked by Thomas Montgomerie. As is often the case, Montgomerie had referred to the other peak as K1.

When they found out that K1 had a name (Masherbrum) they stuck to it, but K2 never had an indigenous name. He was named after a man with a double-barrelled surname, something K2 was never happy about.

K2 wanted to become the tallest. Had that wretched Everest not been there, or even he had lost a couple of hundreds of metres worth of snow caps (which did not seem likely), K2 would have snatched the glory. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

Kanchenjunga was perfectly fine with the situation. The girl was happy with the third place. She knew her X-factor lay in her exquisite beauty, and not her height. While they associated Everest with rigour, Kanchenjunga has forever been synonymous to beauty and glamour.

K2, on the other hand, reminded nobody of anything. K2’s life was full of an infinite flow of nothingness. People never acknowledged his existence. Even Kilimanjaro or Matterhorn or Elbrus or Aconcagua was more famous.

No, something had to be done. This was getting out of hand. This was really getting out of hand.

K2 cleared his throat. Everest, as proud as a peacock, looked at him with disdain, but K2 did not bother: “Brothers and sisters…”

“Dude, we don’t have all day. Cut to the point. God isn’t going to hang around all day.”

“Fine, but I get to place the first prayer. I had lodged a request ages back before anyone else had logged in.”

Everest was feeling annoyed. These summit meetings (Everest laughed at his pathetic pun) with God typically involved some lowly peak whining about lack of snow or too many people. There was once a delegation from Antarctica. The volcanic mountains kept complaining of stomach pain. Popocatepetl had insisted on a more user-friendly name.

But K2 looked like he meant business. Must be the sort of stuff losers crave for; maybe another two hundred metres or something. This God dude has never entertained those height-enhancing requests.

“Lord Almighty, I ask of thee…”

Everest was bored, more bored than he ever was of thousands of years worth of retaining the title. The title came with glory; this was going to be sheer torture.

“Dude, K2, come to the point. Shakespeare was dead long ago.”

K2 frowned. Everest might be the coolest, but the world could do with niceties, he thought, as Kanchenjunga looked at a mirror. She had to be at her gorgeous best. They had predicted a cloudless morning. Even Mauna Kea had a peak peek from his massive bathtub.

Fine, I will come to the point.

“Dear Lord, I, am tired of being bullied by Everest. Why should the world judge us only on height? Why should that be the only parameter while deciding the champion?”

God was confused. What on earth was going on?

“I feel I am at par with Everest in every other aspect, if not better,” K2 droned on. “I can take him on in any other contest. In fact, I want to challenge him right away.”

Nobody looked bored anymore. Everyone, including Kanchenjunga, had their eyes on the second-highest peak on the third planet of the solar system.

“I want to challenge Everest in a contest where height will not be a parameter. Take altitude out of the equation. Take this one advantage away. I can assure you that he won’t stand a chance.”

God felt awkward. Everest was his favourite, for sure. He had backed Everest for millennia without protest of any kind from anyone. K2 had never looked happy, but the donkey’s back had probably snapped this time.

“What exactly are you talking about, K2?” God sounded curious.

“It’s simple, provided you want to listen carefully. I simply want another parameter in which I could be pitted against Everest. You cannot declare him winner just like that, year after year, just because he is taller.”

“What do you propose?” boomed the voice of Everest.

K2 turned towards Everest. The effort pushed a glacier by about a micrometre. “Let us explore the plains, Everest. Let The Almighty reduce our heights to nothingness.”

“Start from ground zero, eh?”

K2 ignored the obnoxious pun. “If you have the guts…”

“I have already won it, you know, dude. They’ve already named a brand of spice after me. Are you aware of all this?” Everest smirked.

K2 looked furious. “You can get away with the branding gimmick, Everest, but when it comes to substance you do not stand a chance.”

“Are you willing to take the challenge, Everest?” God interrupted. He had to address Nanga Parbat’s request of a change of name. A disgruntled Makalu II wanted an identity of his own. The Pyramids wanted a quota in these summit meetings. And so on.

“Of course. I want to teach Kate a lesson.”

K2 turned red, almost Vesuvius-red: he hated being called K2. It must be that Kanchenjunga, who knew this, who always took Everest’s side…

“Fine. I give you two twenty-five years each on the plains. I will level both of you to ground-level. You will have to start from scratch. Do you have a parameter in mind?”

“Let Kate choose,” Everest guffawed.

Nanda Devi interrupted as one of K2’s lesser peaks exploded, sending little hillocks scurrying for cover as snowflakes fell on them.

“What about the people?”

“What about them?” God echoed.

“I mean, the world will take notice if two major peaks vanish overnight, won’t they?”

“You have a point, as always. I guess I will have to create three-dimensional photocopies to replace them for a quarter of a century. They will be destroyed automatically.”

***

Summit. 2016 AD.

The Pyramids had had their say, which had not gone down well with The Sphinx and the temple of Angkor Vat. Makalu II and Popocatepetl had kept on appealing, but in vain. Most things remained the same.

They all waited with bated breath. Everest looked as regal as ever. K2 was grumpy yet defiant. Fuji burped lava and went quiet. Kilimanjaro mentioned something about trekking routes for no reason.

“Well?”

K2 stood still, his magnificent head nodding in acknowledgement, even appreciation, as his face curled into a wry smile. “I concede.”

That is it?

“Yes. I concede. I tried my best, but I was simply not good enough. I agree that Big E here is the best.”

That is it?

There was a general murmur across the enormous hallway. “Tell us about it! We don’t know anything! We have been standing here for twenty-five years while you were having all the fun! This is not fair!”

K2 sighed. Living it was bad enough. Having to re-live it was exactly the kind of thing he did not need…

“Fine,” he sighed. “We went to Calcutta. They changed the name to Kolkata somewhere down the track, but that did not matter. We tried a lot of things, but he came out on top every single time.”

Even God paused now.

“Then we decided to pick something and call it the decider. In other words, whoever would win that final battle would seal the tie. But he won again…”

Even Nanda Devi was curious now. “What did you do? What was the decider about?”

Everest responded. “Since K2 has been gracious in defeat, I guess it is my turn as well. Though I kept winning, I think he came a very close second every time, and pushed me to remain at my toes all along. I had to be at my absolute best day in and day out. He gave me a fight as tough as I could ever imagine.”

K2 smiled. “Well, I tried. Especially on the last occasion.”

Everest acknowledged. “Yes. In that final encounter, the battle to end all battles, there were moments I thought you would run away with the title. But I kept edging past you, just about managing to keep my nose ahead…”

“But I never won…”


“I know,” God interrupted. He had no plan to let this go on for an eternity. “I hereby announce Everest aka Arsalan the champion, albeit a decimal point ahead of K2 aka India Restaurant…”

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tendulkar, teenage, etc

I would have remembered Sachin Tendulkar’s debut vividly had Doordarshan telecast it live. They caught up from the third Test, but no one in India got to see the debut live.

Tendulkar had fans from the very beginning. Unlike Gavaskar and Kapil, among whom the fans were divided, Tendulkar was universally loved. Men, women, boys, girls, rich, middle-class, poor.

Tendulkar was India's first universally accepted cricket hero.

Tendulkar became a household name, and more importantly, a household face, in the early 1990s, an era that matched with my teens.

The adulation was fine with me, but for one section of them: the mothers.

The mothers had a curious attitude towards Tendulkar. They often expressed themselves in baby-talk when it came to Tendulkar. There were some who did not, but the affection, the concern was there in most.

They wanted him to be well-fed. They wanted him to be safe on tours. He was suddenly the son of thousands of mothers. You would have thought he was a little boy (of course, that boyish look sans facial hair helped).

This baffled me, for Tendulkar is older to me.

My mother, for example, always thought Tendulkar was a boy who needed to be taken care of while I was the "when will you act your age?" one.

I should ideally have felt jealous. I would have, had I understood what was going on. I was baffled.

And all that vanished around the mid-1990s, when he was, well, a "grown-up"; I am not sure when, but that was the approximate era.

Trust me, this had happened across households, across the nation, to boys of my age.

I never got the reason. I still do not get it. Why would one be concerned about someone who is taken care of, efficient, and successful?

While I admired Tendulkar as much as any boy of my age did, this kept bugging in my mind.

I had vowed to myself that *I* would confuse my daughter the same way when she is in her teens.

I sincerely hope she makes the same vow when she understands my feelings for Kohli.

Happy birthday, little Virat. Happy birthday, captain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Homecoming

As evening became night and the world turned its back on me, I was suddenly reminded of home, of her. I staggered on the street, intoxicated; where was that road that would lead me home?

I had trouble recalling when I had left home. Was it four in the afternoon? Yes, that must have been it.

I reeked of alcohol. Or probably I did not. There was, of course, no lipstick stain, for I was too clever for all that nonsense.

But she knew the moment she opened the door. She could tell. She could always tell from the way I looked back at her. She could read the exhaustion in my eyes.

It was my first night home after a fortnight. Was I too harsh on her? Was having an affair that bad? Do people not have relationships?

Of course, she had crossed my mind over these two weeks. There had been moments when I had wanted to call home, call her. I did check my cell-phone for text messages.

But she never texted or called me when I was away for a night. She knew better than that. She settled for the fact that I returned home every morning and slept for hours. She never complained when I left again in the afternoon without taking the slightest notice of her.

Most women would have left me by now. But she understood. That was why I keep coming back.

That was why I took advantage of her, night after night, being completely aware of exactly what I was doing and precisely what was going through her mind.

I did not feel guilty for a minute over the past fortnight. The other woman had been lustful, hungry, demanding, addictive. She was a storm that turned you inside out every time you went to bed, those insatiably ravenous curves demanding more, more...

Even during those nights I always knew I would return home, to her.

Even she knew.

Despite that, you could not miss the sadness in her eyes when you left her for the night. Or return in the morning after hours of frenzied passion with another. She always knew.

She always welcomed me back with a smile, but there was sadness in her eyes, sadness I was selfish enough to ignore.

Today was no different. The relationship, stormy and turbulent, had ended the same way every one of my numerous flings had.

There was warmth in that hug. She knew I was done with the other woman. She has lived it too frequently to not know. I was hers, again, till someone else crossed my way.

“I love you,” she whispered in my ear, still engulfing me in that hug that had was erotic yet tranquil, passionate yet peaceful.


“I love you too, cricket,” I responded gratefully.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Cursed Child, er, Book: SPOILERS

HUGE, HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I knew this was not a novel. This was a script where JK Rowling contributed towards the story idea. That usually means disaster, as we have seen eight times in the past, thanks to eight disasters from Warner Bros.

I was prepared for that, for I knew JKR could never go wrong with the storyline. What the heck, she gave me a world I have sought solace in for over a decade now. I know I am not the only one.

I also knew that since this was a script, the book will be shorter than the behemoths that happened towards the end of the series. There would be no narration (which, as I have mentioned a gazillion times before, is something nobody does better than JKR).

But there would be dialogues, and JKR is a champion when it comes to telling a story through dialogues. If you are not convinced, revisit Spinner’s End.

I had wanted the book to happen for because it has been nine years, despite “at the Solstice will come a new and none will come after,” for I knew what it was to wait for a new book in the series.

There were expectations. A lot. And they came down with a sound so earth-shattering that it is a wonder how the world stayed asleep.

***

The highs:
1. Draco Malfoy 2.0. The more I think of the transformed Malfoy I love him.
2. Scorpius Malfoy, obviously. He was the reason for the high hopes after the first few pages.
3. The concept of multiple to-and-fro time travel. Yes, it got a bit tedious after a while, but the alternate universe was a novelty.

The lows:
Everything else.

The serious lows:
1. Ron, one of my favourite characters from the series, is portrayed as a brainless buffoon. Not only did he have some of the finest lines in the series, he was one of the most likable and human characters. Agreed, he had a few lines in the play, but he was not the Ron from the books. People do change with time, but not to this extent.
2. Hermione. Perhaps it was this extremely drab Hermione that changed Ron. “I’ll hug you” was probably the breaking point.
3. Ginny. Nobody told me that Ginny would be little more than furniture.
4. Harry and McGonagall. Forget everything else, Harry was the one who used Cruciatus on Amycus Carrow when he had spat on McGonagall. Despite his rank, power, designation, whatever, Harry would not have bullied McGonagall, or worse, address her as Minerva. Never. Ever. Never. Ever.
5. Rose. I have no clue why she got screen presence that reeked of uselessness. More importantly, despite the friendly bromance, Albus and Scorpius were very, very clearly attracted to each other, so why involve Rose at all? Why not give her the Hugo treatment?
6. Ludo Bagman and his WTF announcements (a friend mentioned the eerie similarity with Indigo Airlines announcements...)
6. Er, should Teddy Lupin and Victoire Weasley not have made an appearance? What about Neville, despite multiple mentions? But fine, that was acceptable, given the above points.

The WTF lows:
1. The name Panju Weasley. I repeat, PANJU Weasley. Why, JKR, why?
2. Ron gifting a love potion to a teenager as a joke. Ron. RON. RON. Who had once almost died after during a love potion aftermath, also as a teenager. RON.
3. The WTF Trolley Witch.
4. Albus kissing Hermione.
5. VOLDEMORT slept with BELLATRIX?
More specifically, VOLDEMORT slept with ANYONE?
I mean, VOLDEMORT had sex?
The words VOLDEMORT and sex cannot exist in the same sentence. But perhaps he wanted an heir...
But how does sex work when you have Horcruxes? Does the answer change if one or more of them has been destroyed?
Most importantly, can you unsee Voldemort having sex? Can you? Can you?

The unforgivable low:
When does a sequel or prequel become unforgivable? When it clashes with canon.
1. James and Lily were supposed to stay inside. There was a reason the Fidelius Charm was used.
2. Sirius, not Hagrid, was the first to reach the Potters after James and Lily died, and yet...

***

But let me finish this on a high. For the theory lovers and timeline-mappers, that is. Keep this excellent map handy, meanwhile.

Delphini (Riddle?) was born “in Malfoy Manor before the Battle of Hogwarts”, which narrows it down to either Half-Blood Prince or Deathly Hallows. Bellatrix was noticeably absent during the attack on Hogwarts (The Lightning-Struck Tower), so she might have been pregnant at that point of time.

There was no indication that Bellatrix was pregnant with Delphini when the trio was at Malfoy Manor in Deathly Hallows (there was no evidence that she was not pregnant, either).

But let us think about this: did this happen much, much earlier? Let us go back to Spinner’s End...
“She crumpled, falling at his feet, sobbing and moaning on the floor.
“’My only son... my only son...’
“’You should be proud!’ said Bellatrix ruthlessly. ‘If I had sons, I would be glad to give them up to the service of the Dark Lord!’”

We know that OWL results had arrived in July. We know that Spinner’s End had taken place before that.

Let us assume that the Narcissa-Bellatrix-Snape rendezvous happened in June (the last month of the semester).

We know Dumbledore died the June after.

Do the arithmetic. I will leave you at that.

***

PS: I just realised that this was the first time I reviewed a Harry Potter book, for Deathly Hallows had come out before I had created my blog.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

অন্য পুরুষ

'বর্ণদূত', দ্বিতীয় বর্ষ, দ্বিতীয় সংখ্যা (১২ই আষাঢ় ১৪২৩)
অমাবস্যার রাত। শীতের রাত। হিমালয়ের ফাঁকফোকর দিয়ে আসা হাড়কাঁপানো হাওয়ার হাত থেকে মুক্তি পাওয়া দায়।

যুদ্ধক্ষেত্রে দৈনিক বরাদ্দ দু’মুঠো আটা; তাতে পেট ভরলেও মন ভরে না। কোনও কোনও রাত্রে পেটও ভরে না। কোনওমতে চারটে রুটি সেঁকে যেটুকু পেট ভরানো যায় আর কী।

তবে ঐ... গনগনে আগুনের আঁচে ঝলসানো রুটি... ভোরের আগে নিভন্ত আগুনের ওমের আরাম... আর ক্লান্ত মুখগুলোয় আগুনের লালচে ছায়া... সব মিলে কোথাও একটা ভাল লাগা লুকিয়ে থাকে।

নীলচে আগুনের শিখায় সেনজিৎ রোজ রাতে বেদবতীর মুখ দেখতে পায়।

বেদবতীর চোখের আগুন আছে, আছে বিদ্যুৎ। আর চোখের পাতায় আছে ঘুম। বেদবতীর চোখ সহ্য করতে পারে না সেনজিৎ, খড়কুটো যা পায় আগুনে ছুঁড়ে দেয়, যাতে আরও দাউদাউ করে জ্বলে ওঠে, বেদবতীর চোখ গিলে নেয় চিরতরে

একাকিনী গৃহবধূর বিষণ্ণ চোখ মিলিয়ে যায় ঘুমের দেশে। মিলিয়ে যায় বিদ্যুৎ, মিলিয়ে যায় আশ্রয়, মিলিয়ে যায় আঁচল। পরের রাত্রে যাওয়ার আশ্বাসটুকু দেওয়ার সময় পায় না।

কিন্তু সে আসে, রোজ, ফিরে ফিরে আসে, দু’চোখের নাগপাশে আষ্টেপৃষ্টে জড়িয়ে ধরতে চায় সেনজিৎকে

মুক্তি নেই।

***

সেনজিতের দেশ নেই। রাজা বলতে প্রাগ্‌জ্যোতিষপুরের ভগদত্ত। কার ঔরসে, কার গর্ভে, কোথায় তার জন্ম, ইতিহাস সে হিসেব রাখেনি।

না, জীবন তাকে একেবারে নিঃস্ব করেনি। সব কেড়ে নিয়েও তার হাতে তুলে দিয়েছিল অসিচর্ম। মগধ কাশী কোশল চেদি কলিঙ্গে অর্থের বিনিময়ে যুদ্ধ করত সেনজিৎ

শত্রুর বুকে তলোয়ার বসিয়ে ফিনকি দিয়ে ওঠা রক্ত দেখে তার মনে জাগত পাশবিক উল্লাস।

কিশোরীর অসহায়তায় উচ্ছ্বসিত হত সেনজিৎ। চরম মুহূর্তে বারবার কোমল শরীরে ছুরি বসিয়ে ছিন্নভিন্ন করত সে

রক্তের উষ্ণতা ছাড়া পূর্ণতা পেত না তার যুদ্ধ, তার রমণ।

স্বর্ণমুদ্রার ঔদ্ধত্যে, অস্ত্রের ঝনকে তার নির্মম আত্মবিশ্বাস ছিল গগনচুম্বী।

কীসের রাগ সেনজিতের, সে নিজেও জানত না।

তারপর সে এল প্রাগ্‌জ্যোতিষপুরে। আর চিনল বেদবতীকে। চিনল তার চোখ।

জীবনে প্রথম সে নতজানু হল, আত্মসমর্পণ করল, কারণ সেই চোখে ছিল আগুন, ছিল বিদ্যুৎ, ছিল বৃষ্টি, ছিল শান্তি, ছিল আশ্রয়, ছিল জীবন, ছিল মৃত্যু।

তারপর কয়েকমাস স্বপ্ন দেখেছিল সেনজিৎ। তারপর তলব এল।

অনেক বারণ করেছিল বেদবতী। শোনেনি সেনজিৎ।

মহারাজ ভগদত্ত হয়ত কিছু বলতেন না। কিন্তু আসমুদ্রহিমাচল যখন কুরুপাণ্ডবের যুদ্ধে সাড়া দিয়েছে, সে কীভাবে রমণীর আঁচলের আড়ালে লুকিয়ে থাকবে?

চোখের আকর্ষণ যতই তীব্র হোক্‌, শতসহস্র বছরে পুরুষের শিরায়-ধমনীতে আগুন ধরিয়ে দেওয়া যুদ্ধতৃষ্ণার টানে সাড়া না দিয়ে সে থাকবে কীভাবে?

আর তাই, আজ, আগুনের লেলিহান, অবুঝ শিখায় বেদবতীর নিঃশব্দ প্রতিশোধ। প্রতিনিয়ত।

***

কুরুক্ষেত্র থেকে হস্তিনাপুরের দূরত্ব কম নয়, তবে অনতিক্রম্যও নয়। যুদ্ধক্ষেত্রের নিভন্ত আগুনের স্পর্শ নিয়ে রাজপ্রাসাদে ঢুকল ভোরের হাওয়া

রাত্রি দুই প্রহর। সজাগ প্রহরীর উদ্যত ভল্ল এড়িয়ে প্রদীপের কম্পনরত শিখায় ঠোঁট ছোঁয়ায়

ধৃতরাষ্ট্রের ঘুম আসেনি সে রাত্রে। দিনের পর দিন সঞ্জয়ের মুখে ধারাবিবরণীতে অসহায় ধৃতরাষ্ট্র আঁকড়ে ধরতে চাইছিলেন গান্ধারীকে, বা কোনও নারীদেহঅন্ততঃ আজ রাত্রে।

গান্ধারী নিদ্রিত ছিলেন। পট্টবস্ত্রে ঢাকা চোখ কখন মুদ্রিত হয়, পৃথিবী জানতে পারে না। ধৃতরাষ্ট্রও না।

স্বপ্ন দেখছিলেন গান্ধারী। যুদ্ধক্ষেত্রের স্বপ্ন। সৈন্যশিবিরের স্বপ্ন। নিষ্ঠুর রাত্রির স্বপ্ন। ক্লান্ত পুরুষদেহের স্বপ্ন।

তখনই দেখলেন সেনজিৎকে। দেখলেন চোখ, তার দৃষ্টি, অনুভব করলেন তার দু’চোখের ক্ষুধা।

পুরুষের লুব্ধ, কামাতুর দৃষ্টিতে অভ্যস্ত নন গান্ধারী। এ অনভ্যাসের সিদ্ধান্ত তাঁর নিজের।

কিন্তু স্বপ্ন না দেখার প্রতিজ্ঞা তিনি, তাঁর শরীর করেনি।

অস্বস্তি... চাপা... ছটফটানি...

কাতর, অস্ফূট, মূক শীৎকার...

কোথায় তুমি, সৈনিক? তুমি তো অন্ধ নও!

শরীর...

কোথায় তুমি, সৈনিক?

আগুন নিভে যাওয়ার সঙ্গে সঙ্গে বেদবতীর চোখও গেছে হারিয়ে

তলিয়ে যেতে থাকলেন গান্ধারী, আগুনের নিচে, একদম ভেতরে কোথাও।

তারপর দপ্‌ করে জ্বলে উঠল আবার...

উত্তাপ...

আঃ...

সেনজিৎ উঠল না। গান্ধারীর স্বপ্নে কখনও তার ঘুম ভাঙে না।

গান্ধারীর চোখে চোখ রাখতে পারে না সে। যেমন পারেননি ধৃতরাষ্ট্র। বা অন্য পুরুষ।

***


সে রাতেও গান্ধারীর চোখের পট্টবস্ত্র ভিজে গেছিল। হয়ত বা ঘামেই।

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yellow and Orange and Dhaba

He was late, as usual. She was on time, as usual. They met in front of Stop Over in Ballygunge Phnari, for he could barely afford a trip to Dhaba, not on his weekly frugal pocket-money.

It was an autumn morning. She looked different in the salwar-kameez. He could not take his eyes off her arms.

Girls should not be allowed to wear anything other than school uniforms.

It would take an abrupt movement of her arm for the dupatta to slide down, he knew. He could not help but gaze at her bare arms with a longing so intense that it could stop time.

They did not meet in front of Kwality, where the entire gang met once a year, on Shoshthi. Kwality was for the world. Stop Over was theirs. Dhaba was sacrosanct.

The kameez was orange and yellow. The salwar was redundant.

It was about her arms, arms that would last only till the dupatta slid down as soon as she would do that adjustment thing girls do.

The dupatta rested dangerously on her shoulders.

They crossed Hazra Road, past that Arnica-Plus billboard, and went over to Dhaba.

That night he learned that dreams were not monochromatic. They sometimes came in bright shades of orange and yellow.

He had walked home that day, and the day after, till he could afford another day at Dhaba.

***

Dhaba, as he knew, had two sections: the non-AC ground floor, where three students shared one ‘side-dish’ with staples; the other, the air-conditioned first floor, where couples ordered soft drinks with their meals.

He had graduated from Stop Over to Dhaba, but not from non-AC to AC.

She had not graduated from orange and yellow. She never would. She never will.

They had graduated to sitting next to each other inside Dhaba. Sometimes he wished they had not. He got to see her eyes less. But there was her perfume, the tingling of something as she reached out...

Was it for real? Or did he imagine that tingling?

***

She snuggled up to his stubble. The waiters in Dhaba did not object. They had stopped noticing them for some time now.

He knew the waiters by name. She insisted they still used ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

A rogue, he was. Orange and yellow, she was. Bright, very bright, even indoors.

***

They did not go to Dhaba that weekend. Or next weekend. Or the one after that. They had upgraded themselves.

The waiters did not notice that the weekends became less orange and less yellow.

Dhaba waited for them. Or she probably did not. She was probably too busy catering to others as one Kolkata evening followed another, as Kolkata walked by her.

They gave Dhaba a complete makeover one day. He and she did not get to know till they passed by one evening.

That Tuesday, when she did not feel like having home food, they decided to go back to Dhaba.

The waiters did not acknowledge him as when placed their order at the counter and waited outside. She did not insist they wait in the non-AC section.

I was wrong. They had gone to Dhaba. They had not gone back there.

***

He was logged on to Facebook when he noticed a share: Dhaba had closed down.

He tagged her. She tagged him back in the comments section with “memories.............,” followed by a sad-smiley.

Both of them hovered their cursors on the Like button, and clicked on the Sad icon. Then they went into a heated argument on Facebook, defending Dhabas authenticity as a dhaba furiously with lesser mortals.


And life went on. Just like that.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bed


Rimjhim was in doubt: serious doubt. Unfortunately, she did not realise she was in doubt, for she was not groomed to doubt. She was never an aspiring doubter.

Till today, that is.

It was about the bed. There was something wrong with it.

There was something terribly alluring about it.

Of course, beds are alluring by nature; it is part of their job requirement. In fact, that is precisely why they get bought.

But this was different, for Rimjhim was not lured by the bed because it was comfortable. If anything, it was the discomfort.

And it happened every night, night after night, for six months. Or maybe five.

It was the same routine every day.

***

Rimjhim had acquired the bed second-hand, from an auction in Park Street. She liked the wood. It could have been teak or mahogany; she did not care, largely because she could not tell one from the other. All she knew was that the colour was somewhere between ivory and ebony, and the wood was extremely hard.

[If the last seven words of the previous sentence made you smirk, this is not your kind of story. This one is full of innocence. I hope you have stopped counting.]

It was also about the enormity of it. Rimjhim liked space, a lot of it. She lived in a humongous apartment — big enough for a battalion of sorts — and lived alone. In fact, she chose to live in the suburbs for the same reason. Given the amount she was willing to pay, she could have acquired a two-bee-etch-kay at the heart of the city.

As was obvious, she had opted to combine two bedrooms. All she needed was a gigantic bed for no apparent reason.

This was it. It was not a king-size bed. It was almost a kingdom-sized bed.

Rimjhim often wondered what the previous owner used to do with it. Maybe have orgies, she thought. But then, this was big enough for three simultaneous orgies with no one having any clue about the other two.

Maybe he practised football on it.

But that was not her concern. She got what she had wanted to. It was time for her to acquire that dining table and the thirty-two chairs that came with it.

***

It was the same last night. It was a feeling that was too familiar to her, and yet there was a difference. She had the same dreams. She woke up at regular intervals.

She heard music, loud, eerie, ancient, wild music from a bygone era, from a place she had never been to.

She was good with music, but she could not place the instruments. She could not remember the tune, but the beats lingered with her, reverberating through her senses.

She found the rhythm disturbingly erotic. The imaginary drumbeat from instruments that were not drums. Wild. Chilling. Ripping apart. Almost forcing her to respond.

Only there was no one to respond to.

Or perhaps there was — or was there?

She must have imagined the masculine smell. That had to be a hallucination, despite its intensity.

It was irresistible at times. Rimjhim wondered where it came from. Maybe she was imagining that as well. It has been some time since she had been with someone.

Maybe she missed a male body. Maybe she needed that someone to rub her softness against, to nuzzle, to caress.

But this was not real. She could not nuzzle against nothingness.

And this continued, night after night, sucking Rimjhim into the vastness of the bed as she turned down one social obligation after another.

The rhythm and the masculinity. If only. At least one of them, if not together.

***

Rimjhim was exhausted tonight. She could not even muster the strength to order pizza. It was past midnight when she woke up with a jolt to that unmistakable virility of the smell.

Too late for pizza; or anything.

So she lay on the bed, clutching her phone, too drained for Maggi.

Minutes passed by, or maybe hours, as her insides churned with hunger.

Why was there no music tonight?

Then it happened. The aroma was unmistakable.

Spices: some familiar, others, perhaps not. But certainly spices. Cooked.

That could mean only one thing: food.

The fragrance was too close, too stark, too strong to be ignored, overpowering the smell she woke up to every night, the smell of the man that never was.

It grew stronger.

It was impossible to tell which smell was which as they wafted across the room, converging on Rimjhim from either side.

It was pleasing. It was crushing. It was oblivion.

Why are they not playing the drums? Food, music, sex...

And then she felt it. Something moving next to her, on the bed, the enormous bed, rolling, tossing...

She knew she had to leave the bed. That was the only way out. And yet she could not summon the energy.

She knew she ought not surrender, and yet she did, powerless, unable to get away from the bed that engulfed her entirety.

The bed creaked. No, it probably crunched. There was definitely something, and that something was gigantic. She wondered what it would feel like to be crushed by a human of that size...

No, no, no, that is not what you should be thinking about... you should be running away...


And then, in that darkest of nights, with a creak and a crunch, from the depths of the bed that lay in that colossal room in the remotest of suburbs, Kumbhakarna rose again.

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