I watch Nina listening to a lecture. She looks at the lecturer, with a longing on her face, but she does well to hide it; scribbling a haiku on her notepad, she tries not to escape to the land of imagination where he’s undressing her.
Her haiku reads something like this-
Songs of the fallen leaves
Autumn’s introverted smile
The lecturer has finished, the class disbands. Nina saunters up to him, her face glowing.
He turns back to look at her. He’s much younger here; his face looked hardened in the future, in the Police Station. His face had lost its softness, its compassion while he will be looking at her through that mirror in a few years. But right now, he’s younger, happier and obviously fascinated by this young woman in front.
“Good day Sir,” Nina is all chirpy and excited. “I was just going through your essay, Dream interpretation, ancient and modern, it’s very well written and it opens a window of Jungian dream interpretation into practise.”
“Thank you, it was a study of his seminar of 1936-41; it is a must for anyone interested in dream work and the legacy of Jungian psychology.” He smiles back at her, so youthful, so peppy; he wanted to reach out and touch her, instead he nodded politely and walked off.
Nina walks in the other direction, a wicked smile plays on her lips.
What a love story this could have been, but it was not meant to! There was a vital piece to the puzzle of Nina’s life and he was in London at this time, his name was Frank.
A photographer and documentarian, Frank was at this very moment trying to get his papers in order to travel to India.
He had always wanted to visit this country; his father had driven to India in a bus during the 60’s, his parents had met there and had him in Pondicherry.
Frank had returned to England when he was three or four, his parents divorced and India was a taboo subject never to be brought up again.
Ah the beauty of Auroville, the meandering pathways as he rode on the bicycle with his dad, the plush, green foliage, the smell of incense and camphor in the air, the smiling faces- all these images haunted him. He tried to suppress these memories, those smells, those colours, but his brain stubbornly held on to them.
Now that he was a grown up, those memories began to trouble him overtime and this time there was no suppressing them. He tried very hard a few years ago; his then girlfriend Helena was all up for it, but when all things were almost arranged the H1N1 scare blew out in full force in their faces.
He would’ve still flown to India, but Helena did not want to risk her life, as she so eloquently put it. “I don’t want to go to a filthy country with Swine Flu at large, are you crazy.”
Frank had to back off and shelve his plan again for the umpteenth time. Life has one definitively quality- it goes on; and so it kept on going until one day everything between him and Helena was over. Those memories flooded his conscious ful force- Auroville! He remembered how the matrimandir glimmered in the sun, the deep silence in it. At that moment he was transported to that white marble room where his parents meditated every evening.
He moved into a studio apartment and got busy with work. During an exhibit from a fellow photographer who shot amazing portraits of holy men or sadhus in Varanasi, their long, flowing beards, hair longer than their height, the wisdom in their eyes, the unfathomable mystery surrounding them that Frank could not wait any longer. It seemed like one particular image of a sadhu, very young, athletic, golden fair skin and piercing black eyes, with cascading copper hair spoke to him. Frank did not know what he heard or rather felt as he gazed at that image, but he knew he had to have it. The deal concluded, that photograph in his hands, he made up his mind. Yes, India, I am coming, do you hear, Mom, dad, I’m going to India, he shouted standing over the Thames in the dark of the night.
He decided to immediately start the process; the paper work at least. It’s true that what you’re seeking is seeking you too.
The same photographer whose mind blowing work had inspired Frank and from whom he bought that photo which hangs over his bed, which he looks at constantly and feels this feverish longing for who knows what, invited him to the Indian Embassy for a gathering.
There he met Dalia Chakraverty from an N.G.O in India; they were doing some great work with street children in Bombay and she was here, in the U.K. to raise awareness and get some funding.
They got talking and he expressed his desire to shoot their work which can greatly aid them in their quest of looking for funding. She was thrilled to have the work of the NGO documented, and gave him an email address which said Ninaray@gmail.com.
Little did he know that this was the moment of reckoning- life as he knew it would be over? A flood of poetry would soon inundate his life.
Dalia told him to contact Nina when he visits India, no they could not pay him much, but Frank didn’t care as long as he had a tiny support system in Bombay, he could make a photo-doc on the street kids for himself; He wrote to that address as soon as he could get to a computer. Nina and Frank began to exchange emails on a regular basis.
He discovered that the NGO did some truly amazing work, they teach inside a bus. Nina is one of the programme-heads besides being a severely talented poet (he had already googled her and visited her website and Facebook page, read her poetry, saw her photos in literary festivals; she looks after a few areas and also teaches, writes dramas, holds workshops and seminars.
She sent him clips, of herself in this unique classroom.
The first time Frank saw her, he was pretty excited. He even scolded himself for feeling something in the pit of his stomach, a feeling he had had when he was twelve and had seen his first crush change in the country club. No, it felt way stronger. It hit him hard. He felt himself get enlarged and found bliss as he touched himself.
He had a stronger feeling this time of butterflies in his stomach, yes definitely much stronger than he’d ever felt before as he watched Nina intently.
Nina, dressed in a salwar kameez,(Indian traditional clothes have a certain allure, he thought) has a puppet of a crow in one hand and a puppy in another. The bus is full of children, some snotty and dirty, some cleaner, better dressed, some have smiley faces and some look like they’re out of Juvenile prison.
There are around sixty-five of them there; quite a number!
Nina performs this puppet show, she asks questions in a naive, puppy voice, questions like, why must we go to school for a math test, when we can play gilli danda? The crow scolds the puppy and replies why education is beneficial. It’s all conceptualized, written and directed by her; can this woman be more of a creative force, he thought.
Although the whole show is in Hindi, Frank understands by way of gesticulations, voice modulations, body language and expressions. He laughs heartily; here is a woman who is funny, caring and very desirable.
He forcibly tries to divert his mind from her, but it’s impossible. It’s like the blood in his veins is like the tide and she’s the full moon.
He cannot stop from watching the clip over and over, until the tune, the words and her silken voice are all embedded in his psyche, and the same with her poetry.
There was a video on her channel; it was in Sunderban, the largest Mangrove eco-systems of the world and the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. She was in this raft going over the turbulent Matla River just as the night descends. Reciting it herself, she almost takes him to that land of magic; her voice rich with emotions. Her poem is called The Magic Lantern.
The rustic landscape,
The babbling brook,
The trees of hoary antiquity shook,
The phantom shapes,
Shadows cast by the lantern on the mindscreen of my brain.
It’s better than any film in which I could escape.
The magic lantern projects my thought foolish,
My hopes futile and my dreams hollow.
The reality I cannot swallow.
I could forget everything and sway on this raft forever,
On the drunken Matla river,
Watching the films I create,
Each time it’s a dream destroyed,
Over and over again.
Her voice echoes in his mind constantly; he could listen to it for days.
He goes to sleep and dreams; once he’s in that raft with her, watching the sunset on the Matla River and then he dreams of himself as a child on that bus, she sings to him, no one else can hear obviously, they’re studying. But he can and she sings to him, and she wears only a diaphanous cloth, a wet saree? Fuck, talk about clichés. He could see her nipples, the hair in her pubic region and all he wanted to do was make love to her. He was twelve all over again and his organ was hard and stiff. He awoke groaning to see he had wet his boxers, he smiled, and it had been ages since he had a wet dream.
Formal it was between them, but gradually as time flew by, they developed a friendship. One day they would meet each other and that day is not far.
Paper work and red-tape always takes time, and Frank waited with bated breath; it would soon be time to experience India, the India of his childhood again, and this time he had made a special friend. The shoot was also exciting, how often does a photog from London gets to shoot impoverished juvenile delinquent street kids in Mumbai? A rerun of Danny Boyle, eh?
He loved the way Nina called it Bombay, just like he had heard in his childhood, Bombay, the city of dreams, Bombay, the city of tears!
Frank finds himself seated at the Heathrow airport one day, yes, the moment is finally here!
He climbs into the aircraft, sits down at the window and tries to surf through a Better Photography edition. He keeps turning the pages, not reading a line, not registering a single image, just thinking; he keeps visualizing the meeting with her. He keeps going through this meeting a thousand times in his head, with slight variations; what sounds intelligent, what could possibly attract her, all these thoughts are running through his mind, but he knows that in order to get her attention he must first be himself.
Just relax, he kept telling himself, speak to her about common interests; we’d definitely have common interests.
His stomach feels like jelly, the plane is doing some sort of freaky circular manoeuvres; they’re waiting for a signal clearance.
His head’s spinning he feels excited like a two year old; the food served had been terrible and not a morsel of it had gone into his mouth. He could hear loud rumbling from down there, yes, he was ravenous.
What did he expect? It had been years since he had waited to come to this very place. The airhostess was announcing something in Hindi and although she had huge teeth and was covered in makeup, she still looked pretty to him, adorned in a red saree.
He could figure out what was being said, but the sound of this not-so-alien language, felt oddly comforting.
He did not have any relatives here, he did not have a home here, the only person he knows here is Nina; yet, he oddly felt at home.
The aircraft landed at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal and it was some 38 degrees, translation- it was hot!
He managed to take a swig of water and disembarked from the plane. He suddenly saw himself in the mirror as he was going down. He looked silly, smiling from ear to ear. The rumbling in his stomach had settled down. Hunger? It was as if he’d never heard that word.
After picking up his luggage, he goes to grab a taxi. Now the city hits him straight in the face. It’s loud, it’s colourful and then it became really stretched and contorted, like looking through a fish-eye lens.
He tries to take in the sights and sounds, but it’s a bit too much; he’d expected something totally different.
He remembered Auroville briefly in his mind’s eye, but he was not prepared for Bombay. Yes, he’d seen pictures, he’d done all the research on Youtube, but the images, the videos, nothing could prepare him for this!!!
The whole city, he felt like he was making love to it, it’s intense, totally insane, like a forbidden tryst with someone closer than the breaths, yet, at the same time totally alien, like from some other universe!
In the creative circle in Western Europe, living and working in India has a particular kind of misplaced glamour attached to it, a special sparkle that had people crowding around Frank at parties.”You plan on living in India? You were actually born there!!! Wow, really? What’s it like?”
The closest he ever came to answering that question is that it’s like being in a very intense, extremely dysfunctional relationship and that had them in splits.
He had tried to evaluate his emotions, on one level was this immense attraction, then again somewhere there was a deep aversion; how was he going to placate this schizophrenia of his brain? How was he going to exist in this polarity? Time to drop all pre-conceived ideas and notions!
I have known Mumbai, previously called Bombay, intimately, it’s one of those cities, dark and dank, yet budding with life; I’ve seen terrible things – a child of not more than three fall under a train, sliced to pieces, little children with ears that have been chopped off and disfigured, eyes stabbed with hot coal, old, frail men sitting in the rain nursing half-limbs while they beg, infants and their filthy mothers covered in flies, caked in dust nursing on the pavement, beggars with no limbs weaving themselves through traffic on broken trolleys which did not even have all the wheels functional, sweaty men in lunghis working with their nimble hands in tiny corridors with no fans in sky-high temperatures. I’ve seen ghastly things, of gang rapes in buses and local trains, corruption in the Government, bureaucratic red-tape, environmental abuse, and bloody encounters by corrupt Police officers. Time has seen the devastation that is Bombay!
I have also seen the glitz, the glamour, the hard work of actors and artists, films being shot under much stress with sweat and blood, haunting background scores composed, marriages consummated people in love singing in the rain. I have seen life; I have seen death and lots of filmi-giri!!!
Anyway, this poor firangi hops off the taxi, and checks the address on his smartphone. Yes he’s in the right place. He sees the NGO board reading ASHA.
The time has finally come; he’s going to be face to face with her. He feels those butterflies again; he sternly chides himself, stop this shit, you’re no twelve year old, you’re a grown man for heaven’s sake.
He enters through a small gate into the NGO, it’s very noisy like an Indian bazaar, little kids, preschoolers, teenagers, are all seen hovering around. Some are in classes, some are waiting for their checkups outside a tiny door with a red cross, some are playing in a tiny courtyard, some are discussing their studies; Frank is swamped with sights and sounds.
It’s too distracting! He walks up to the tiny desk which says reception; the woman in the desk is having samosas and chai. She looks at him through her glasses, yes, what do you want?
What did he want? The image of Nina comes to his mind, which is correct on so many levels, he smiles to himself.
“I’m here to meet Ms. Nina Ray, we have an appointment.” He sounds all professional.
“Oh yes, she will be here shortly,” says the woman in between munching her samosa and sipping her tea. “Sit down.” She beckons to a wooded bench.
Sitting down, he watches the children, he should probably be checking his emails go on Facebook, but no, he watches, there’s so much life in them, dreams of tomorrow in their souls that it touches a chord in his soul. The world has not managed to crush them, that’s the beauty of children, they are the agents of tomorrow and today can never have a hold on them like it can on adults.
Out of the blue, a brilliant idea strikes him. Why not involve these kids in a photography workshop? These children can explore their creativity through photography, what better way to find some meaning in this meaningless world?
Pick a group, hand them cheap digital cameras and make them take pictures, of anything and everything, of the world around them, let them show him what the world looked like through their eyes. He was sort of visualizing this project when Nina walks in.
Nothing could’ve prepared him for the first look, kind of like Bombay. What eyes, the look in them is of so much wisdom is his first thought. Of course she looks even better in person, there’s no doubt about that. And her smile? She smiles at him and he realizes that he’s just gawking at her like an idiot.
Her smile is so radiant, so calming to his frayed nerves and the world makes such a big deal about the smile of the Mona Lisa, seriously they need to see this smile. Then he decides that not only her smile, her whole aura is so luminescent, she’s actually shining.
Smiles are exchanges and small talk begins like any other people who’ve just met; but in all this peripheral niceties, there seemed to be an odd familiarity about them. They seemed to settle into an easy going friendship soon enough, and Nina’s ecstatic to hear his photography workshop idea.
She has work to do, she tells him; can we meet later?
Oh, I thought I would just follow you through the day and observe the whole process. Shit, please let her not send me home, he thinks gloomily.
Ok if you’re not jet lagged or tired, sure come along. She replies.
I think I see a brief moment of excitement in her eyes, they light up like shooting stars for that brief second, or did I just imagine it? Is she happy to have my company? Probably not, but maybe, just maybe she likes me, a little bit, his thoughts are in overdrive.
Nina takes him to the play area, he can see little children painting the walls, some mixing paint.
They become ecstatic to see Nina. They immediately surround her and begin to drown her talking ten to a dozen.
She can barely hear anything in this torrent of words, but she’s trying to listen with a lopsided smile and at the same time, she’s trying to shhhh them. One at a time, she tells, chup hojayo.
With mischievous smiles on their faces, the kids quieten down and begin to talk to her in giggly voices. “Why are you so late miss?”
“We’re almost done”. “We waited and waited.” ‘You did not even select the colour.”
Nina smiles, ruffles some of their heads, pats them on the back, squeezes some cheeks, all these displays of affection are so effortless on her end that it endears him. It seems to Frank like she’s indeed their older sister. And the love she has for them is evident in her face, her voice and the time she dedicates here.
“Ok bacchon, now that I’m here, let’s get this thing going, shuru karein, shall we?” She rubs her hands in glee.
The children are gleefully smiling and prancing around her in animated enthusiasm.
She looks at him, “Helping out?”
He nods, it strikes him now; she’s so full of life, so full of compassion that his heart aches to hold her. Maybe some of her infectious nature would rub onto him, his bleary, dull, cold existence would be over and therein would begin a journey of colours, scents and feelings- all things missing from his life.
She’s so different from the women back home; he’d never met anyone like her before. Her compassion, her exuberance, her innocence, they are called out to special parts of his brain; not the more primitive side assocated with thirst, hunger, sleep and sex, but it quietened his right parietal lobe.
Our Angrezi babu is not one of that mumbo-jumbo metaphysician wanna-be, new agey, hippy-types, spouting OM SHANTI, wearing rudrax beads. He would’ve landed up to be one such person humming Jai Gurudeva, Lennon style if his parents wouldn’t have divorced. Where did all that spirituality lead them? To a divorce, so Frank never bought into that vibe. In fact this entire gander about spirituality with the new age movement in the West got him bored, even angry at times thinking of how he could’ve still been in Auroville if they actually understood what it all meant, but for the first time when he met Nina he understood, if only briefly what it meant to have a spiritual connection with a total stranger.
He quickly nodded yes, as these thoughts were going through his mind; she did give him an odd look as if she could read his thoughts in the bubble over his head.
Nina goes to an old iron cupboard, which had been repeatedly painted over; it houses the coats she wears while painting. She puts on one and gives him the other; it’s really tight and dabs of dried out, washed off colours still form fractals on it, it is small for his 6 two and a half, athletic frame, but he puts it on anyway amidst giggles and laughter from all present.
They begin to mix the colours; it’s all bright and shiny. Mixing colours could be so much fun was a new revelation to him; the children laughed, Nina is saying all kinds of hilarious little bits which has them rolling on the floor continuously and then she has to feign anger to get them back at doing what was assigned.
Even though the kids had put the very first coat of paint, it still needed an expert’s touch. Nina begins to apply another coat over it with straight neat strokes, she hands over a roller to Frank who begins to dip it in the paint and follows her lead. They paint the Sun, the moon, the clouds, torrents of rain and soon the room looks colourful with its bright yellow Sun, pale luminescent moon, clouds shaded grey and blue, it looks wonderful; what a joint effort!!
The air smells of plastic paint, sweat and smiles and giggles; there’s no short of excitement, especially when it’s time for a break and vada pao with tiny mud cups holding cuttings of chai is served.
They all wolf down the food, and so does Frank, who had been told repeatedly in the U.K. to never touch food from the streets, but here with Nina and the kids, he didn’t even stop to think of all the cautionary tales he had been fed.
It all seemed very natural, very organic to him; like he’s always been here, in their midst, sharing their carefree hysterics and just having fun with them, painting dilapidated walls while snacking on Indian street food. He had somehow in such a short while become a part of this, this sincere love, this camaraderie Nina shared with children who were from the streets. She was truly a special girl.
Frank remembers the camera in his bag pack, the day is over and he wishes he’d managed to get some shots of the day. His resolution to work with these kids becomes stronger, yes; they’re definitely ready for a photography workshop. Who knows, maybe he could speak to the galleries back home, if they’d be interested to host a show of photographs from these children.
It is now almost evening; Nina says her goodbyes after reading them all a story, her leaving brings tears to their eyes and she kisses and hugs each one of them and promises to be back soon.
Frank also says his goodbyes and he is sent off with hugs and smiles like he’s been coming here forever; and even he has to commit to the children to return with Nina as soon as possible. A little surprised, he notes how actually he feels like coming back soon to work and play with these children.
They climb onto an auto rickshaw from the N.G.O, and Nina asks him where he would like to be dropped. He’s a bit stunned; he’d expected a meal and some time spent together with her. He tries to politely bring it up; maybe you can show me the city a bit?
Oh, she seems surprised, you’re not flat out tired, and you still want to go somewhere. She laughs. He laughs with her, “I’m insatiable you see.”
“Ya I see that,” she’s got a wicked expression.
“Juhu beach chalo,” she tells the rickshaw driver.
They ride off into the land of dust and smoke that is Mumbai, the rickshaw stops at traffic signals where beggars and transsexuals come to beg for money.
Teri jori salamat rahe, coos a transvestite and makes strange gestures with her hands, she even reaches out and cups Nina’s face; instead of cringing Nina gives her a ten rupee note and smiles.
The transvestite blows a kiss and moves on. “What did she say?” asks the curious Frank.
“Oh nothing, it’s just an age-old strategy to get some money; she blessed us.” Nina has a lot of explaining to do.
“In this country, the blessings of a transvestite are supposed to hold good, you know, and she said that we’ll be very happy together.” Laughs Nina.
Oh, it finally sunk in. “She thought we are a couple.” Frank’s already in dreamland.
Only if that were true, he thinks. Only if he could kiss her and hold her, if only he could be a child again; a burden would be lifted off his shoulders, but could that be possible?
I’m getting ahead of myself; he scolds the excited voices in his head. Shut up and just be.
They come to this open beach, it’s Juhu Beach she tells him. After paying the rickshaw off, they walk towards the numerous shops selling pani puri, chole batura, ragda pattice; they find a vendor and she orders pani puri.
“You ate the vada pao earlier, all’s well with your system.” She asks him.
“Yeah, I think so.” He replies.
“Are you brave enough to try pani puri?” She’s simply teasing him.
He beckons to the vendor to hand him a paper plate as well. Water filled puris are served with hot ragda to them, Nina eats hers while watching Frank who puts the puri in his mouth and then almost gags as the spicy tamarind water full of green chillies is too much for him to handle.
Spit it out, she tells him, but no, he just wants a minute or two as his mouth gets used to the stinging sensation, he gobbles down the other puri which has been waiting in the vendor’s hand for some time. One after another he downs the water filled puris like he’s been doing it all his life.
They finish two plates each, their stomach’s on fire. Nina points to the Golas. “Popsicles,” she tells him.
“Let’s get one,” he nods.
They each get two golas; on her suggestion, he tries out the kalakhatta flavour.
As his tongue licks the ice and syrup, he finds the tangy taste of the gola really appealing; he tries to make sense of the taste, it kind of tastes like a version of Coca Cola with black salt and lemon she tells him, but it’s not as poisonous as a coke. The added colouring will not kill you; the water might, only if Malaria or Dengue doesn’t do the job before. They burst out laughing.
Nina wipes his mouth with a tissue and their eyes meet; although its casual, although it’s just a glance, he feels something happen between them, an eternity compressed into a moment. He’s sure she felt it too, but you could never say that from her face, she wipes her own mouth and tragic-comically points to her mouth which has turned black from the colouring. She opens her mouth and rolls her tongue out, it’s black and he just that. She nods and laughs, it’s the same.
They walk on the crowded beach, my god; he’d never seen a beach quite so crowded. The air is pregnant with the smell of salt and fried food.
The sea is a peculiar colour, neither grey, nor blue, nor green, as if on this day it has not made up its mind. The sky above is a curtain of pollution and smog and there are hardly any clouds above. The Sun is dazzling in its brilliance and getting a heat stroke seems very probable for poor Frank.
There were only domiciles and huge skyscrapers in the horizon, not much of a sea-side view, but what could you expect in the heart of Bombay suburbia. The sea is more of a hiss than a song, and it swelled silently, but the diminutive waves seemed to be juveniles, not sure of themselves as they crashed and rippled half-heartedly. Clumps of garbage are washed up on the beach, a dupatta here, a discarded shoe there, broken glass bangles, the head of a plastic doll!
The real estate here is one of the most expensive in the world, but the sea will definitely cough up garbage every now and then. The beauty of Bombay! The beach seems endless from where they stand, nestled by the shores were highly priced bungalows, mostly owned by Bollywood celebrities.
Cawing crows are scavenging and flying overhead in huge numbers, harassing the beach-goers in their search for scraps. Tongues rolling and stomachs growling, the stray dogs come wagging their tails when they see you take a bite of your food. Ah the masti of Juhu beach!
There were people strolling around eating, kids playing, shrieking their lungs out; women in bright sarees dazzled his eyes, glass bangles tinkled in their hands and they just walked up and down the beach.
Women in burquas, all covered in black also walked up and down with numerous kids of all ages. He could not imagine how they tolerated the heat under all those clothes.
“What’s this? Does no one swim?” he asks her.
Nina nods her head, nope Mister. This is not your typical Baywatch scene.
“So Indian women swim in sarees?” he’s very surprised.
“I don’t think they’d ever swim here, in front of so many people, it’s just not our culture here.” She says
“Do you swim?” he asks cautiously.
She gives him a glance, smiles mischievously and pulls him towards the sea.
“Why not? Let’s swim.” She responds
“No, no wait,” he’s shocked. “I have all my equipment.”
“Oh that’s your problem.” She’s run into the sea, fully clothed.
People are looking at her, some are pointing, youngsters are laughing; she’s managed to get everyone’s attention.
Frank was captivated by her bashful innocence; he kept his bag with the pani puri vendor and ran after her.
They swam near each other, never close enough to touch, but he felt as if her presence enveloped him and it felt wonderful.
A policeman pops up to watch what’s happening, people crowd around the beach to watch them as if they were about to perform a duet, Bollywood style in the water.
Well after a little bout of swimming, their hearts jubilant, they make their way back to the beach. People are smiling at them; some folks are obviously disapproving, especially elder women.
“Yemaya assesu, assesu Yemaya, Yemaya olodo, olodo Yemaya…
Nina hums so softly that he had to crane his neck to catch on, the background noise is no help of course. Her soft, mellifluous voice in its pure magic transports Frank to some other realm altogether.
“What was that? The song?”
A smile lit up her eyes, “Oh it’s from the Yeruba tribe in Nigeria, it’s an ode to the goddess Yemaya.”
“Yamaya?” Frank has never heard that name, but yet, he felt like he had.
“This chant celebrates the journey of the river to the Sea and the final annihilation of its personal identity to be merged with the great ocean, it’s an allegory, the journey is actually of the soul to be immersed into that one supreme truth…beautiful and so poignant…whenever I’m near the sea I sing this song, don’t know why it reminds me of my mother, although she never sang it, I don’t even know if she’d heard it, but still somehow it brings her to me, in a small part, but it does…” Such intensity in those eyes, Frank wants to kiss her, but he says or does nothing. He figures, she’s lost her mother, but somehow he could not say “sorry” the way most people do when they realize that the person in front has lost someone important to them, but in this case, the sorry would seem so superfluous, silence spoke volumes instead.
She continues, “it’s so strange, this reality, the meandering river seeks the sea as the soul seeks the truth, but in both cases, the individual ego is destroyed…the river exists no more, it is the sea, but then the sea is also the river, they’re one and the same…I long for my sea…” a sigh escapes her lips and in this dreamy state she’s oblivious to the crowds staring at them as they stroll leisurely towards the vendor’s stall.
Frank collects his equipment from the vendor, and looks at Nina for some clue as to what would be their plan of action next.
“Shall we take a small walk,” she asks smiling.
By now, there are stars in the sky; the moon is a smiley face and it’s her face he sees in it today.
They walk all wet and soggy; the wind’s quite strong and is doing a good enough job of gradually drying them.
They walk to a small restaurant and order masala chai. Nina opens her bag to take out a cigarette and out pops a book. It lands on the sand and Frank retrieves it.
He looks at the novel- THE TRIAL, by Franz Kafka.
“Are you wondering why I have that book, besides reading it of course?” She reads his mind. “Have you read it?”
“Yes, ages ago,” he replies digging into his memory.
“I love the way Kafka deals with our dual nature…our propensity towards evil and our struggle between intellectual introspective reason and self sacrifice…” her voice sounds like a lute with magical qualities to it and he feels warm in spite of being soaked like a wet umbrella; he’d never known a woman to explain Kafka to him.
She continues in her velvety voice, “Imagine to be executed in the state of ignorance.” His face is a blank, for the life of him; he cannot seem to remember a single line from any of Kafka’s work.
She knows his dilemma, “Well, The Trial is one of Kafka’s best known works, it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote inaccessible authority and the nature of his crime never revealed to him or to us, the readers.
“Oh my, so you don’t know why this bloke was incarcerated? That’s tragic aye?” He is surprised.
“Nope, I don’t and yes it is tragic but there is a dark humour to it. Imagine being put away by the Government for something you’re not even aware of, how scary is that.”
She’s toying with the book and sniffing it.
Frank watches her.
“I sniff books; they take me to different places in my mind. They remind me of different things. They memory capsules; say today page 27 may remind me of the first time Dadu( my grandfather) took me to the Kali temple at Kangra valley, then again tomorrow it might remind me of the day I submitted my paper on Cognitive dissonance. Today PAGE 49 may remind me of the Coffee House in Calcutta and tomorrow it might remind me of the shelter and the fudge we ate from Lonavala.” She smiles
To him it all seems like a film, he feels like the viewer, watching this beautiful screen siren playing her part, the intellectual and the beautifully sexy, only this time, its slightly different; he, the viewer is being allowed to participate in the film.
He is a part of the film and yet, he’s just a viewer, watching the exposition in a dark, cold theatre, it’s surreal, his very own Un Chien Andalou. The moment is so rare, the breeze, the smells in the air, the background sound of the waves crashing mingling with the excessive honking creates a kind of symphony for him, and it’s not offensive anymore. But then again, he tries to concentrate, she’s saying something, but her words are not making any sense to him. The film suddenly seems like it’s in a foreign language and there are no subtitles.
The moment is escaping, he wants to hold onto this feeling in his being, this feeling of dreaming, yet, awake, and he wants this moment to stand still. But I do not wait for anyone, I must pass I must flow like a river, you can never touch the same bit of water twice, remember the flow continues and will never remain in one place. Time and tide wait for no one!
The channel changes, suddenly it’s back to English again and this time he can participate in the film again. But what happened to all that time he was lost in this dream, looking at it through the lens of his unconscious?
“Society is capable of reducing a human into an insect and lesson number two- humans are selfish and self absorbed living in a world of give and take.” These fragmented words came to settle in his ears.
He looks astonished, so she shakes her head and asks, “Were you not listening? I was talking about the most important lessons in Kafka?”
Frank orients himself and nods.
She bursts out laughing, “I promise to stop, no more Kafka okay…”
He smiles sheepishly.
“Enough of my banter, tell me about your exciting life, anyone special back home?” so at least she’s curious about that aspect, it gave him a boyish hope.
He shakes his head, “People scare me mostly.”
“Hell is other people.” She retorts. “Sartre hit the nail on the head.”
He can certainly relate to that.
The walk on the beach with a crescent moon and twinkling stars to keep them company becomes a special memory to both the protagonists, etched into their minds forever.