Friday, November 12, 2010

Final Story: Sanyasi

I am stranger, a ghost, a drifting shadow. Nameless I float through the crowd, the throng in every shopping mall, village bazaar or seedy bar; I haunt the empty dancing hall, and night-deserted playing ground; hear all and never make a sound, unwatched I watch the world. Indeed I am a mendicant, a vagabond, a bum; indeed I am an only child, indeed I’m on the run. Four years I’ve roved both far and wide, through city and through countryside, unheard, invisible, absurd, four years I have not said a word, have perfected my surreptitious stare, four years I have not had a care.

I have sought oblivion, chased it into the sunset, into the night, chased it over the horizon, over mountains and oceans and deserts of sand and ice. Stripped of identity, shorn from home, I seek my anonymous divinity, seek my right to roam naked through the streets of life an alien, or expatriate at least.

Why do I wish to leave off life, and why have I left home?

Why do I seek to seek alone, and how should I presume?

The truth – I’m on a noble quest, to find a damsel in distress, and find a corner with a view, record, re-order and review the facts and add some jingle jangle, a fight scene or a love triangle, perhaps an ancient gypsy curse, perhaps I’ll write it all in verse.

I am the after-showtime stage, the back of messy notebook page, stalker, stranger, shadow, ghost, the unstamped, misdelivered post; I’m blank as I must need to be, show only half of what I see, indeed I am a raconteur, a poet and a thief.

I’ll steal your face to put in words, I’ll trap your soul to make it heard, I’ll read your stories through your eyes, then mix them up, then throw in lies, then shape and structure and then honour the story with a worthy genre.

I catch a train upon a whim; I do this quite a lot. People in transit are people standing still, existing temporarily in limbo, between worlds, their daily lives suspended or their holiday not begun. For a while they are a bit like me, at least not who they used to be. For a while they can be strange, or still, or stranger still be friends. I like to watch the people waiting for the train to start to stop, at stations like to watch them drop back into the sea of life, of lost humanity.

In the compartment with me are two middle income families, which may as well be one. Father works his government job, sleeps and files, collects his pay, and takes his two week holiday once a year with wife and kids to the same spot as the year before, the year before and the year before. Mother stays at home and cooks, cribs and quarrels and cares, takes an active interest in the personal affairs of neighbours and celebrities, and ancient family recipes. Chintu goes to school but likes to play cricket in corridors and passageways, his sister Sita gets good grades, and wears red ribbons on oily braids.

And then an army of maidservants and migrant labour whirlpooling into the anus big city, sucked in and spat out periodically, sometimes just sucked in.

And then the hawkers and tradesmen of various denominations, wearing their occupations around their necks or carrying them in boxes that became beds and jute bags that doubled as pillows on long journeys. Shoe-shine boys, muriwallahs, sellers of cigarettes, magazines, repackaged drinking water and dubious crisps, perhaps people with stories of their own to tell, who had become instead replaceable types, faceless, nameless, generic.

In that crowd I spot an interesting face. It bears the creases and wrinkles of a lifetime’s hard work, two oddly twinkling eyes and a luxuriant white handlebar moustache that twitched over a somewhat impish half-smile. The man wearing it stands out as one not bearing the mark of any trade. Dressed in a clean but slightly worn dhoti and a faded blue and white checked shirt, he would fit into any one of a hundred different roles.

I begin to ascribe him a background story. He is a farmer. Or perhaps the owner of a small grocery shop. He is travelling from his home in the village (small town?) to arrange the particulars of his daughter’s marriage. Or to procure a job for his eldest son. Or to beg a loan or pay a bribe, mortgage land or ask for a waiver of interest. Perhaps he is a proud, independent patriarch paying a visit to one of many children, or on his way to resolve a family dispute.

I notice that he carries nothing with himself, not even a small bag, and guess that his journey is perhaps not a significant one, but rather one that he undertakes regularly, perhaps every day, probably to work.

Or maybe nothing’s all he owns, or maybe he’s like me, itinerant and gypsy soul, a noble sanyasi. Or maybe even something more, or maybe he’s like me.

He sits by the open door, lights a biri and watches the countryside stream past. He puffs leisurely, stretching out and savouring each drag, blowing majestic jets of smoke through his nostrils. He seems lost in the moment, seems to be living it out of context, moulding it into its perfect place in his own mind.

The train moves fast on sea legs, wobbling but rattling out a steady rhythm over the tracks. The tracks seem to grow out of each other and melt into each other, seem to dance in frenzied grace beneath us. He stares, appears to contemplate them deeply.

He stubs his biri butt end and throws it out the door. Then he stands up, looks directly at me, winks, and jumps out after it.


Note: Any and all grammatical, syntactical or other miscellaneous errors were made on purpose and may be written off to artistic license.


Arijit Sett