Writer's Blog

Transient Thoughts

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I hope I have readers left after this long break.

The style of the below is probably influenced by the style of the authors I have been reading, even, I am afraid, by Dan Brown.


A Mid-Summer's Day Dream

or

I Have Started but I May Not Finish

or

Moreover, There's no Plot Yet


Chapter 1

The sultry Chennai afternoon of the first of May 2002 cannot be described. It can hardly even be imagined. What follows is non-fiction more out of necessity than out of choice.

The sparse traffic along the Adyar road is rushing at break-neck speed - metaphorically, one hopes - either crazed by the summer or quite sane and hurrying to escape from it.

There is no escape, however. The heat seeps in through the doors, the windows, the ventillators. A fixed percentage of the atmosphere as it were, along with Nitrogen and Oxygen.

Even among the moneyed, the ones with Airconditioners in their bedrooms, the brokered cool is short-lived. Today is the day of the cumpulsory power-cut.


Lying on the wing-cot in the wing's common area near the stairs, TV, Chammo and Mannu - all nicknames changed for confidentiality, here and henceforth - wonder musingly if they will make it to the evening. Could they have known better than to joke?

No one in the wing has any water left. The trudge down the three floors and the several feet to the mess hall seems almost un-do-able. What really rules out an attempt is the likelihood of having to return empty-handed.

Several kilometers away their usually jigri friend and wingmate, Dilli, is sitting in the useless shade of a platform on Chennai Central. Usually jigri. No relationships withstand such oppressing heat and humidity.

Dilli had quickly packed his bags to head home for the three day weekend. Home is the relatively paradisical Bangalore. Socially careless, he has not invited TV, Chammo and Mannu to share his respite with him.

Why, he has hardly even spared a thought for Renee, who is pretty, comes from Shimla and takes the Chennai summers really hard.

To each his own.

In the hostel kitchen yard, potatoes are being peeled, cauliflowers sliced and onions chopped - dinner preparations. Dark, rotund, hairy bodies belonging to bad-tempered mess workers glisten with sweat that refuses to evapourate.

A monkey gang drinks off a leaky pipe in the far corner - making an audacious amount of noise. Babies, old ones, females, alpha, beta, gamma males - the whole lot. They are not shoo-ed off.

In the girls hostel, the traditional khus curtains have made a comeback. Pretty - nickname - the celebrated soc-sec or social secretary - and by the way she was pretty social even before the elctions - has procured them from her home in UP. Miraculously water is not a problem in the girls hostel - Water Works never failed the ladies. The water soaked curtains have made the common room into a temporary oasis of sorts. Chilled buttermilk is being passed around.

Sipping from her glass, Renee rolls the cool drink around in her mouth. The sharp sourness is tantalizing. The proposal for Antaakshari is being voted (and vetoed) down with vehement boredom. Finally a singing session is consensus-ed. Tabbu begins singing with a soulful, nasal voice, reminiscent of Salma Aga.

Aawaz de...

Aawaz de kahan hai
Duniya meri jawan hai
Abaad mere dil mein
Ummid ka jahan hai
Duniya meri jawan hai

Aawaz de kahan hai...

Renee smiles superiorly, distantly, even condescendingly though no one is looking at her. 'Aawaz de kahan hai' she wants to join in, melodramatically of course, for she knows exactly where he is. Waiting for his stupid train on Chennai Central.

Aa raat ja rahi hai yon
jaise chandni ki baarat ja rahi hai...
Aa raat ja rahi hai yon
jaise chandni ki baarat ja rahi hai
Chalne ko ab falak se
taaron ka caravan hai
Aise mein tu kahan hai
Duniya meri jawan hai

Aawaz de kahan hai...

She has been technically been 'ditched'. But she does not think of it that way. She takes it as dispassionately as Pacino in The Godfather - business not personal. Besides, Dilli's apparent callousness is endearing to her. Everything sticks to you like a wet shirt in the Summer. It is nice to have a boyfriend that gives you space.

Kismat pe cha rahi hai kyon
Raat ki siyahi

(Tabu has deepened her voice to sing the guy's stanza)

Kismat pe chaa.a rahi hai kyon
Raat ki siyahi
Viraan hai meri neenden
Taron se le gawahi
Barbad main yahan hoon,
Aabad tu kahan hai,
Bedard Aaasaman hai,
Duniya meri Jawah hai

Aawaz de...

Sententatiously draining her glass, Renee wonders lazily why sadness and parting inspire so much more poetry than happiness and union.

------

Chapter 2


The earnest freshie mischieviously called Chutti carries his fifteen litre can of mineral water on his shoulder like a village-woman (He'll cringe if you tell him the analogy).

To get to his room he has to pass through the sixth wing-cot. Chutti's attitutde is that of the princess' caravan passing through a desert known for its dacoits.

Sure enough, on the wing cot lurk TV, Chammo and Mannu.

"Eh Freshie!" It hurts Chutti that they still called him 'Freshie'. It is almost the end of the second semester!

For more reason than one pretends not to hear, tries to slip past, scraping the wall.

They are wise to him.

"Chutti pass some water da." Mannu atleast is not un-nice. Reluctantly, Chutti sets the can on to the wing cot and looks away in an amusingly melodramatic way - I cannot look!

They bear down on the can like a pack of hungry wolves. The cover is opened. The seal broken. The can raised to the lips and drunk messily from. When they have had their fill, they carelessly put the can down with a thump.

Chutti makes a grim estimate. Two litres.

"Thanks da." Mannu again. He had drunk last.

Ensconed in his second-ac compartment, after a solid, stoic hour's wait for his train, Dilli finally feels the sweat begin to dry. Ah! AC. Now that the train is here, he does'nt really care when it leaves, or if it leaves at all.

He has a wash and then sits down to read the Fountainhead. He is not the literary type but Chammo has insisted that this book 'will change your life'.

A couple of pages and he begins asking himself, again, the question which he first asked a couple of hundred pages or so back. Nothing to do with the Ayn Rand's principal philosophy as he sees it. A question brought about by the book nevertheless.

What does Renee like about him?

He is rich, rather his father is, but it is the same thing. He is good looking. Several people have told him that - directly and through obivous hints. He plays all the games. With a steady cold-blooded effort, he is among the toppers in his class. But he is not at all like the sensitive, spirited, moody and talented Renee. He sometimes thinks of himself like an extremely efficient machine - and he likes efficient machines. He can't think of any reason why someone will be liked for meerly topping the class and being rich. Perhaps he has some endearing qualities without himself knowing so. Or perhaps, he is reminded of the sudden spurts of charming BubblyStream-iness that Renee is subject to, Opposites do Attract.

This last premise does not hold much conviction for him but with some effort he manages to drop the subject for now. He has a book to finish.

As dusk reluctantly settles, trouble is brewing in the Mess Kitchen. Selvam is livid. Someone has stolen the mess worker's share of chicken, which today, is Selvam's turn to have. Selvam has a good idea who the culprit is. Murugan - his half-brother and co-worker. Selvam looks all around, blind with rage, in the three kitchen rooms, in the kitchen yard and upstairs in the Worker's quarters. Murugan is no where to be seen. He has probaly slipped out somewhere and is enjoying Chicken and Rice. And will later, no doubt, come and burp right in Selvam's face. The other mess workers follow on Selvam's heels. If one big man finds the other there will be free bull fight to watch.

But Murugan is not to be found. Frustrated Selvam goes to talk to the Mess Manager. Selvam has always managed to get himself free chicken every week. He cannot do without Chicken on Thursdays. After 20 years of mess-service, it has become a habit. Today too, he will manage to get a piece somehow. But what is the use? The rogue Murugan has deprived him of a rare chance to give his conscience a rest.

As he walks to the Mess Manager's office he wonders if his story of pilferage by monkeys will hold water.

In the cool twilight, the music in the common room has reached its high point. The three best signers of the hostel have come together in a tacit understanding and are reeling out choice songs one after another, singing alternate songs, singing alternate verses - sadly happy songs, happily sad songs - melancholy songs.

Ek Roz main tadap kar, is dil ko thaam loonga,
Mere hasin kaatil, main tera naam loonga,
Main tera naam loonga...
Main tera naam loonga...

---

Huzuoor-e-wala jo ho ijazat
To hum yeh saare jahan se kaha dein.

Tumhari adaaon pe marate hain hum
Yeh kis ne kaha hai ke darte hain hum

Huzoor e wala....

The songs create a longing in Renee's heart. But what longing she could possibly be feeling, she cannot imagine.