Monday, September 19, 2011

Story by Piku?

Another unknown genius. Please own up.It's official: this one is Anushka

It’s a question interesting enough to think about- well, at least for a little while. What kind of relationship has the most scope for pain? I’m not trivialising it by calling it interesting. It’s just that it’s difficult to defend tags like profundity whereas ‘interesting’ will always find takers. So yeah. I’d come down to two options. Parent-child is one. There’s too much emotional investment there, too much history, too acute an instinct for anticipation  and attack. You know just where to hit and it almost always hurts. And of course, man-woman. That one has a remarkable range of death-bound routes to choose from. The pair I’m going to talk about in a moment is just one of the ways it can get crazy.

So let’s begin with the girl- Sameera. She didn’t seem to be particularly exceptional in any way, except that most people who met her thought she was. And though naturally they didn’t think about why, chances are they couldn’t really offer an explanation for it. In fact to be honest, she was really, well... moderate. Patient without the halo of a martyr. Passionate without the zest of one who changes things. Acutely logical and perceptive, but always tempered by a distaste for harsh criticism and a fear of misplaced praise. Never really straining against the borders though she appeared so very close. Yet, with her, one was always moved. She moved people in the sudden, half-conscious way that an empty street at dawn, or a new bloom on a dying plant, or the soft sigh of an animal might move you. It didn’t have to be full of grace or subtlety, but it was real, it was alive, it was coursing through your veins and you couldn’t dismiss it. Long after the thrill of a first encounter with her had faded, the depth of emotion she had once evoked would persist and call for love, even if she had been intellectualised and dissected and scaled down to average size in the meantime.

Now that’s a lot of words and concepts. But if we want movement, we need a few more rounds of them. We need to introduce the man. Because till Sameera met him, there wasn’t much that was dramatic in her life. Family played a big role, and it was an affectionate, close knit family of four- well off, not highly cerebral but educated and in love with the idea of education. They had a very healthy respect for each other, and an equally healthy difference of opinions. There were frequent, pleasant little vacations. There was a lot of talk. Friendly repartee and fiery (but sometimes pointless) debates, the usual quarrels and some solid advice– this formed the stuff of Sameera’s home-and conclusively-early life. Sure, her thoughts were largely beautiful and her appearance entirely so. Her growth from infant to young woman was full of exquisite little details; but with the world so full of grand, explosive things, we need more than that. We need something big, something we need to grapple with before we can name it. And that only happened once she met Prakash.

It was in college, he was in her class, they were both studying English. There was however a distinct difference in the way they responded to literature. Sameera’s first instinct was to celebrate what she loved. She knew what to say and look for as a student, a budding critic, but above all she loved to pay tribute to a work that affected her deeply. She spoke of these books on very personal terms, pointed out little nuances for having struck her instead of working them into an argument; and often went about in a glorious haze of recalling and reliving the reading experience instead of following it up with a flurry of research. Prakash had no patience for celebration. It came too close to religion for him, and he despised religion, though that didn’t stop from knowing an awful lot about it. That was the thing with him, really. He knew about things and had a hell lot of opinions too but they hardly had anything to do with sentiment. As for ‘intuition’, ‘instinct’, ‘spontaneous perception’, they were dirty words. He believed they were convenient abstractions, maliciously created to place ideas out of intellect’s reach. And he believed they were degraded even further by romantic simpletons who pounced upon these concepts as a means of worshipping the artist, and taking some warped pleasure in widening the rift between the ‘intuitive genius’ and themselves. Was he a cynic? To say that would be the easy way out. Rather, he was full of anger and that anger worked at many levels. Often it was quiet like a snake in the sun, at other times bristling and restless, or at still others- just a resentful fatigue. Interestingly, his background was almost the same as Sameera’s, except that his family was more old-fashioned, milder, their tastes more at odds with his. And that little inclination towards the slower side was all it needed for him to reject them. Not through confrontation, no point there; but in his mind and heart. So he lived apart from them, in a mess near college, hardly ever got in touch with them, and earned money by working part-time; so that his scorn wasn’t dismantled by a parasitic existence.
Now from the above it would seem impossible for Sameera and Prakash to achieve anything close to intimacy. But that wasn’t how things happened. Prakash, for all his anger wasn’t cold and he wasn’t overtly hostile. He had a way of being friendly and full of laughs even when he didn’t really care for the person opposite. Sameera found something oddly appealing in him- the presence of an energy and ideology, even if it wasn’t very cohesive. She knew she herself would never achieve a concrete ideology- there were too many voices in and outside her head, too many things to make excuses for, bring in the ‘yet I can see why’, or the ‘even so, one might be justified in...’. Prakash’s ability to feel things definitely, to voice them in his inimitably crude but right on point, and often uproariously funny way- these were things that attracted and disconcerted (even annoyed) her in the same breath. An added factor was his face, endearingly nondescript when it wasn’t animated by declamations. As for her effect on Prakash- it wasn’t overwhelming, but the very fact that he couldn’t dislike despite her wispiness got him thinking. He could chart out a whole list of things he thought was wrong with her, were absolutely small and degrading. And yet, yet he responded to her physically, even emotionally. There was in her a generosity, a startling lack of ego, something which thrived on affection.  It was impossible not to meet that with pleasure.

They began seeking out each other’s company. It was easy and unobtrusive because they both wanted it. They never seemed to run out of things to say to each other- if opinions became too hard to handle, there was always an anecdote, or a fresh in-house joke to take off from. Perhaps Sameera was the only girl around who was as lovely as she was genuine. The rest seemed to be divided between glitz and dowdiness- the former was repellant to Prakash and the other not arresting enough. Perhaps Prakash was the only guy who was as stimulating without being frighteningly academic. But whether it was for lack of options, or sheer circumstances or a natural attraction between them, Prakash and Sameera were drawn closer to each other every day. Soon enough, the inevitable happened- a day when everything came together- good weather, unity of thought, a well-timed kiss. And they were, without a doubt, romantically involved.

At first, things weren’t too different. There was the same friendly banter, the exchange of stories. Their lovemaking didn’t seem to add much their non-physical relationship. But few things remain static. Prakash and Sameera were definitely heading along a trajectory and it was one that found most transparent manifestation in Sameera. You see, she was a girl who was unnaturally sensitive to opinion. Every little thing one said to her, unless she thought the person was a real idiot- mattered. And if she liked the person a great deal and had discovered the joy, thrill almost, of agreement, it mattered a hell of a lot. It’s not as though they made her change her mind every minute, but they put her through moments of torturous reflection and vacillation during which she’d find herself putting forward passionate defences of contrasting opinons to differing groups. And the conclusion she’d come to would be positively quivering with vulnerability, where the only certainty was an overriding sympathy with the simple, the ignorant, the pained and the conflict-ridden. Prakash listened to what others had to say, listened carefully, but unless it was ostensibly earth-shaking, irrefutably wise, his attention rarely seemed to serve a purpose other than inducing a sharp reaffirmation of his thoughts. He would acknowledge that compassion had its place in the larger scheme of things but it could never tweak his beliefs. So it was natural that of the two, Sameera would be disturbed by the other whereas Prakash would merely be annoyed as one might be with a child’s naivety.

---You’re too middle path. Middle path never goes anywhere.
--Never? That’s way too simplistic.
--That’s a common misconception. Extreme isn’t necessarily simplistic. It can be complex enough. And actually achieve more.
--What if I don’t want to achieve the same things as you do?
--Naturally, we’re different people. But it wouldn’t stop me from scoffing at diluted philosophy. Like, like private good, that’s another thing that really gets to me these days. People who have more patience for a friend’s sob story than, I don’t know- a classroom of poor children. I don’t know when we’re ever going to break out of the I-love-my-mother mode.
--You’re so bloody opinionated.
--Since when was that a bad thing?

These glib assertions on his path would trouble her more than one would expect. The worst part was, she couldn’t be sure if he was serious because he’d even be known to say things like -Oh I speak a lot of cock. Why was she so damn self-conscious?

But it was worse when they spoke of concrete things. Like poverty and government and war. The cover of reality that these subjects assume generate more memories, more tangible images than theory so that superficiality is often hard to detect, and jargon becomes inevitable. Sameera began to hate words like ‘fascist’, ‘tradition’, ‘neo-liberal’, ‘natural’. Every thing that tried to say something definite seemed suffocatingly smug to her. But she couldn’t shut tear herself away from them. They seemed too real, to urgent to shrug off. Retreat to the havens of art was impossible now. Art became too firmly affiliated with society, and none of the thinkers who she could respect without misgivings ever severed this connection.

She began using Prakash’s terminology with surprising ease. She would defend his ideas in his absence when she sensed them to be under a mere impersonal attack. And all the while she grew increasingly resentful towards him, for not realising that she wasn’t a ray of sunshine who’d never met a cloud. She wasn’t a fairytale princess obsessed with crowns and rose gardens. She was scared and confused, she always had been and the only thing she knew how to do was love. She, who would always give more time to the individual over a group, simply because the sight of one sad face sucked her in before a mass echo of depression could knock her out completely. It was survival, in a way. A loving heart has a lower threshold for sorrow than a harsher one. But he never felt pity for her, only indulgence and affection.

Prakash sensed the change in Sameera. More than anything, he sensed a core growing bitterness and anger within her. And it thrilled him. All along, he had questioned himself on his choice of lover. He had wondered whether it wasn’t mere lust, or surrender to fresh, feminine charm. He had even suspected with a shudder that he might’ve been pampering his pride with the tolerance and tenderness he knew he’d get from her. But now, he felt there was substance to it. She was allowing ugliness to breed inside her. She had opened her arms to anger. She could share his pain, even if she didn’t quite understand it yet. Now, when they had sex, there was a violence in it which gratified him.

With time, Sameera’s actions and words became more and more erratic. She would just not turn up at college on certain days, and refuse to explain why. She got a tattoo and then got it removed in the next three days. To compensate for the waste of money, she refused to buy herself lunch for a week and then gave up, though it hardly covered half the expense. She would stare at the raw, red patch of skin on her forearm with a menacing glare while it lasted. One day she woke up at dawn and walked over 5 kilometers to college, arriving flushed and jubilant. But soon she was bleary-eyed and slept through lessons, and when she went home it was like a dog with its tail between its legs- humiliated. Even while these changes were taking place, she initially retained the sweetness and vibrance of her disposition in direct conversation with friends. But gradually it wore off. She became increasingly argumentative and she would often just stop short in the middle of what she was saying and drum restlessly with her fingers on some nearby surface, staring into space. They found it tremendously strange and exhausting too but they couldn’t hate her. A few were genuinely troubled but at large they grew more wary than anything, backed off and hoped it was just a passing  phase. If anyone was really hurt by this change though, it was her family. They just couldn’t fathom it and they watched and acted and watched more with growing desperation and weariness.

 She still got into debates with Prakash but now she had had stopped being pacifiying and accommodating. Moreover, there was no consistency in what she was saying. Her views jumped from more radical than Prakash’s to indifferent or spiritual within moments. Prakash never bothered playing the role of quiet listener, but he found a peculiar sense of fulfillment in these outbursts. He looked upon Sameera’s whole change as a transitory phase- a necessary period of turbulence before something hard and profound set in. Even regressive views didn’t bother him as they would have coming from other people, because they were provoked by momentary madness. The madness would be self-redeeming. From the chaos would emerge truth.

One day they had a particularly violent argument. Prakash was somewhat restless that day; Sameera’s venom and hysterics were getting a bit taxing. The last words she said to him were-

You, and everyone like you. You’re just so fucking arrogant. And limited. In this world, how can you believe in anything? Anything at all? How can you even speak with a free conscience? I don’t want your ideas, I don’t want your pretty little guide-books telling me how to change the world. I want- I want to see pain. I want to walk into a room and see a crowd of miserable people, wasting away, not knowing what to say to each other, to themselves, to god or the sky or anything. That’s the only way to be.

In a few days, news emerged that Sameera had disappeared without a trace. Her family was frantic, her friends concerned but not entirely surprised. They all waited long enough till they stopped expecting a dramatic return from a whimsical absence. No news. The moment Prakash finally accepted her disappearance as final, he said to himself-

She’s free she’s finally free. She’s even free of me, she doesn’t need me or any of us anymore.

He kept muttering these words to himself, faster and hoarser. Then he went into his room, locked the door and wept for a while. 


RBC said...

This is an amazing story, sad, funny and perceptive. It's beautifully plotted, paced and told. Please tell me who wrote it!

Anushka said...

Me, me! Anushka, i.e. unless my name doesn't show up. Or did you figure it out before grading me?

Anushka said...

in case* my name doesn't show up. Also, I'm just curious- where did the 'Piku' come from? Piku is my brother's nickname but surely that didn't feature in my mail!

Vikrant Dadawala said...

Alison's revenge! Ta-da-da-da!