Thursday, October 18, 2007

To Each His Own

Scene : High Speed Aerodynamics Laboratory, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India
Players : Saumya Jain and Ashish Vashishtha
Mood : SLEEPY!!!

Saumya is working on the computer, fiddling with the Quotations page. Apparently a day to think up something profound. Picks up a Shakespeare quote and puts it across on the blog. It goes something like this...
"It is not important to know who you are, than to have faith in what you can become."
Thus satisfied, he is about to fall asleep on the keyboard when Ashish returns from MT. With an eclectic, jovial and recently-had-something-to-eat mood, Ashish comes and sits next to Saumya. Saumya, beaming from inside at his recently plagiarised quote, points out the verse to his mate.

Ashish looks at it, grows serious, and remarks with a straight face...
"A call-girl is better than a girlfriend."
Silence. Ashish looks at Saumya; Saumya looks at Ashish. They laugh. Period.

P.S : What an anti-climax!

In The Arithmetic of Love ...

Henry and Melinda - Prologue

"... one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing."

This is a quote by Mignon McLaughlin, and this is the pure essence of Henry and Melinda. More chapters to come along!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Walk

HENRY AND MELINDA - Chapter (Minus) Five

The market in old town was an old one, as anyone would guess. It had huge, Roman pillars and a covered space in front of the shops, much akin to Victorian architecture. Legend has it that the town designer had a inclination to include elements of architecture from major world cities in our town, and the municipal corporation five years back had gone on a record digging spree to identify these and utilise this information in adding to the town’s tourist value. As we had entered the central sidewalk of the market, a sign read, in Municipal-speak, “Welcome to Connaught Place, New Delhi, India.” I could not hold a smile back every time I saw one of these boards. It was like travelling to a new city every time I went out to town. We had a Times Square, a Colloseum and even a Sydney Harbour amongst so many others, all in this sleepy town in the middle of nowhere. However, that was beyond the point. We were here, now, going around in circles of the Connaught Circus, the three of us, while the whole world seemed to be moving against us, and she was angry. Yes, we were literally going around in circles for the past half an hour now, without ever reaching an end, or a beginning.

* * * * *

“Don’t you use that tone with me!” she hissed as we walked on. I kept up pace, trying to avoid bumping into someone, “What tone? WHAT TONE?! I am just talking to you. Where did you hear a tone? Oh and by the way, did you listen to what I was saying, or were you just too much worried about the tone?” She was getting angry by the minute, and I couldn’t make out if it was the quick walk or her anger that was making her breath so short. Her anger was still short on the fuse though, “Yeah yeah, I did listen to all that crap. You are an idiot Henry Paige. Billy, tell him he is an idiot and I don’t wanna talk to him.” Billy looked at me, gave me a smirk and said, “Henry, you are an idiot. She aint talking to you. You get that?” “Yea,” I smiled a wry one, just avoiding a protrusion jutting out from the railing along the sidewalk on which all three of us were, umm, walking. Well, no, you couldn’t call it walking; it was more like rushing, although we did not know to where or why. “Tell her I aint wanna talk to her either!” Billy found it very amusing, “Oh you guys! What am I doing here? Don’t drag me into this.” And then Billy saw me winking at him to keep playing on for her sake, so he said in a mechanical tone, “Okay Mel, he doesn’t wanna talk to you either.” He grazed past a burly man who gave him the eye and Billy was like “Oops, sorry!” I thought it was meant for the fatso, but it could also have been for Melinda who was eyeing him with equally bloodshot eyes. She was really angry, and only the Gods above know what I had done to earn that ire from her.

* * * * *

When I had woken up that morning, she was angry, and after a not-so-lovely Sunday breakfast she had called up Billy to “help us out”, and an hour later here we were, in a busy market in a crazy city of this screwball world, walking-on along the sidewalk, at the peak of Sunday, out in the sun, hustling and bustling across this sea of humanity which comes out on a holiday to do exactly the same thing. Walking, frantically trying to keep pace with each other, talking to each other and jostling with the crowd coming from upfront, avoiding as well as revelling in the sights and sounds of this world, and at the same time, discussing something which was so personal to just the two of us. The irony of it all was just too much to come to terms with all of a sudden. But yes, there I was, in the rush of things, sorting out a domestic problem in a place where I could least expect to walk straight, leave alone thinking likewise. My life couldn’t have been more dramatic or more extreme.

And this entire time one thing seemed peculiar. We were walking and it suddenly occurred to me as though all the people were only coming from the front, and it seemed odd. It was as if the three of us had been the only people headed in our direction, with the whole wide world walking to an entirely another tune. Moreover, this sea of humanity that was headed in our direction for the entire last half an hour we had been walking seemed to be surging and fading with time. It had a character of its own, the human wave I mean. It had its heaves and its bows, just like the emotional ups and downs, the pitches of her voice, the gyrations of Billy’s lanky figure to avoid bumping someone and the pace of my crazy walk. There seemed to be some sort of a synchronised dance of nature going on, and the three of us, our emotional states, even the proverbial sea of humanity all seemed to be dancing to it.

* * * * *

Why and how would Billy “help us out” I could not figure that. Billy was “my” friend and as he met Mel and time passed, he became “her” best friend. So much so, that sometimes I felt that she could keep things from me and tell him. Did this disturb me? I would honestly say yes. I am a man, programmed on an 8052 processor or its equivalent, which basically means I am very primitive and laidback. To have someone who is like your soul mate, to confide in your friend rather than yourself is a hard fact to accept. Women call it jealousy. I call it insecurity. Plain, simple and dead honest. It’s insecurity. It tells me, “Dude, she cannot tell you everything. She would choose someone else to open up to.” It makes me feel insecure, and I don’t like it. It doesn’t matter for me whom she chooses, but as long as it is not me, I am worried. Sometimes, I would wonder, how something like this could be explained, but I suppose I had attributed this to the enigmatic nature of ‘woman’kind and the old-fashioned attitude of ‘man’kind, and let that be that. (For women, I believe, have been the products of a CRAY or its computer sibling) So, Mel told me she wanted Billy to come and sort it out for us. Although outlandish the idea seemed to me, I humoured her, knowing perfectly well that Billy knew Mel enough to play on with her little game. And Billy and I knew each other too well. Nothing could disrupt that understanding between me and him.

Billy came and Mel prepared some coffee for him. I was in the other room watching a stand-up comedy show while they chatted in the kitchen. Sometimes, over the sounds of the television I could hear something from her, like a rise of her voice as Mel generally does when she gets too excited, or too angry about something, but I figured that as long as Billy is there, I don’t need to worry about my Mel. If there was anything troubling her, I had gotten her “her best friend” to sort it out for her. I needn’t do anything more. She did not tell me whatever was troubling her anyways. So the only thing I could do to help her out was to give her some space and put Billy on the job. I could watch my TV and forget about the whole episode. She had her medicine, I had mine, I figured. Then a few minutes later Billy came upto me and winked, “Let’s go out Hen'y. We are goin' shoppin'.” Without thinking twice, I put in my overcoat and walked out the door. Mel emerged a little short of two minutes after I had come out, escorted by Billy. I saw her and I lost my heart for the millionth time to the same woman. Oh my, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever known, even when she was in her worst mood. Something told me she was extremely sad, but I did not know what or why. I chose to play the game as she wanted, give her the time she needed, the stuff she needed, and keep a distance from her, near enough to make her feel safe and far enough to have her own space.

* * * * *

Soon, it had started raining, we were still pacing around the merry-go-round of life, with my better half been literally steaming now that she was wet too, and Billy and me keeping pace and shouting at top of our voices to make her hear. But no, Melinda Parker wouldn’t listen. She wasn’t one to listen. She kept ranting on, “Billy he is this …”, “Billy, he is that …”, “Billy, he doesn’t …” and “Billy, he always …”. Billy was as sympathetic as a friend would be, he kept comforting her all along, but no, she did not need comforting. Finally, I could handle it no more. I still don’t know if it was because I was hearing so much of “Billy”, or that I was tired of this game, or that I just had been fed up with all the idioticity, but something tugged at my spine and I spoke up. I spoke up, with such a start that I surprised even myself, while Billy just had to stop a minute and gave me a look of extreme puzzlement. He was like, “No! Henry! Don’t!” But it was too late. My gates had been opened, and they weren’t going to close till I had let it out. A lot of it had been stored away for long and over time it had coagulated and gotten thick. Today it had to come out.

“Billy, am I the only one who is wrong every time? Yes, I am the man around here, and so everything is my responsibility, and I take responsibility for everything Billy, but in the same breath I would daresay that that does not mean it is my fault Billy, let Her Highness know this.” Ah! The irony of Love. I knew perfectly well, and so did she, that we were both comfortably hearing each other, yet neither of us had any reservations about pulling poor Billy in. But I guess, he is her best friend, and if it is her who wants to involve him in this, then I have no qualms about it. I am speaking my mind out, and an audience of two makes no more difference to me than an audience of one. Moreover, a best friend is supposed to help her out, ain’t it so? Billy, heh heh, no running away from it now, I thought.

“Yes, Billy it is indeed his fault. He is such an idiot. God knows what he keeps thinking! He just thinks something up and sticks to it like an adamant kid.” At this, I smiled, and said, “Yes Billy, you see, I am the one being adamant here, and I am the one not letting go of weird notions. I am the one who is being close minded and all that. I am the one who is running around the market seething at Henry Paige for the last forty five minutes without even telling him what my problem is! Yes Billy I am the one who is an idiot!”

Mel's pace quickened, as though she wanted to get away from it all now. The crowd was relentless though. I still had to look over a couple of heads to locate where she was. I caught a glimpse of my angry angel’s face. Her cheeks were wet. It could have been due to the rain. It could have been due to the crying. The sight, and before that, thought that she was crying, stung me out of my anger. I felt an intense hate for myself. No matter what happened, no matter WHATEVER happened, I had told myself long back, those eyes will never cry. They were crying now, and it was my fault, this much I knew. The why hardly mattered over the what. I will not speak any more now, I had decided.

The rain was coming down heavily now and she had lowered her head a bit. I pushed across a few people to be walking just to the left of her as she came out with one final backlash. “Billy,” she continued, “he wouldn’t listen to me even after I have told him the same thing over and over. It’s for his own good, but he doesn’t understand, Billy.” Yes, I knew now what she was talking about. She was worried about me! All along! And yet it had been left up to me to figure this out all along! My, my, my, strange is the logic of Love. Mel’s been furious with me, for me, and it’s me who is the last person to figure it out. Beautiful. “He doesn’t work Billy. He doesn’t work to realise his potential. He gets into needless arguments, weird explanations and funny stories, but doesn’t ever work.” She was so emotional and worked up right now that she did not even realise that Billy wasn’t here with us anymore. He had long been swept away by the crowd. Must have ‘bumped into’ one of his former girlfriends I suppose, heh heh, but yeah it was just me and her and the crowd now.

She went on talking to Billy nevertheless, as I could only feel emotion welling up in me, “Billy why doesn’t he understand, he’s got to work, he’s got to succeed, he means so much to me and still he can’t do that one thing that would make him happy.” I just kept listening and walking along with her. Slowly the thick crowd seemed to dissolve. It was getting thinner and thinner as she poured her heart out. Her volume had gone down, maybe talking so much had tired her out, or maybe she had gotten more relaxed just by letting those emotions out in the open. I kept walking, listening and taking in this beautiful sight of her. Only I knew right now that there was no Billy there, and no crowd left between us. We were alone in the market. The shops were closing early because of the heavy downpour and the marketplace visitors were going back to their homes.

And then, I realised how strangely parallel it was to what we had been experiencing. After all, it was just me and her. No one else mattered. Just me, and her. Billy could only have gone a few hours with us, but after that it was me, and her. The crowd was totally external to the both of us, just me and her. No crowd, no Billy. Me and Her. And she was still walking, talking and I was still walking alongside, looking at the only woman I had ever loved and the only woman I would ever love. She was there, and she was sad, and she was slowing down, and she stopped. All that I had just realised was probably dawning in on her too. She turned around and looked at me. I was right beside her shoulder, the two of us alone, in the market, the rain coming down on us. There was no world to find fault in, no Billy to be used as a stupid excuse to talk to each other. It was just me and her in our silence, and the pitter-patter of the raindrops.

I opened my overcoat. “Melinda, you are soaking, come here.” She looked at me. I was standing there like a lovesick idiot, totally drenched myself, calling out to my beloved, the lapels of my coat opened up for her, just as my heart was at that exact moment. I was looking at her lovely face. No sight of heaven could have been more comforting than what my eyes beheld that moment in the old market of the old town we lived in. “Come, honey, let’s just go home. I am sorry.” At that, Melinda Parker, the love of my life, silently came into my overcoat and took me in an embrace. Her wet cheek touched my collar, a little to the left, and I could feel its warmth reach deep up to my heart.

* * * * *