painting: from The Works of Mark and Beth
painting: from The Works of Mark and Beth
There are times when the air is so thick and unmoving, the land dry and barren that I can only describe it in a colour: brown. Brown like the ruggedness of a tree trunk, its bark peeling off the way skin does when burnt. Brown like the Catholic school girl’s skirt that remains resolutely in place. Brown, the brown that isn’t rich like coffee or deep like chocolate. A brown that cannot find an adjective other than…brown. Brown is also sturdy, like planks of wood that becomes a bridge. The furniture at home unchanging and unbroken. The heavy temple doors. The old ceiling fans- the new ones are a forcefully cheerful dull-white. Brown like makeshift cardboard boxes, full with nothing, nothing without anything. Brown of the paper that covered notebooks of math, science and every other dreadful nightmare that made school. Brown of the hair of the servants gone brown from black from working in the sun- crying out for coconut oil. Brown of the coconut when it’s not tender anymore. Brown of the skin of my hand which still escapes from being too dark. Brown that is not the skin of crispy chicken and all things fried, because that is golden. Brown not of whiskey or the hint of red in rum. Brown that has a smell that can also be described as…brown. Brown of eyes that never look as attractive as hazel that is called brown. Brown that is not dry sand or wet earth. Brown that is the brown under your feet on white sheets. Brown of those lines of sweat and dirt that form on your already brown neck. Brown that is never altogether too brown or too pale to be brown, but is just brown. The colour pencil that isn’t quite your skin colour and not the additional dark brown. The missing brown in WhatsApp emoticons next to the yellow and white. The brown almost like the colour of roots when a giant tree is uprooted- one that is old, almost ancient and had a sudden death. Brown like the mud vessel used for orange-red fish curry with a dash of coconut milk. Brown that doesn’t quite sound brown with a capital B. Brown which needs just a little something after it to be as brown as it can be. A hyphen to separate, a comma to explain, a semi-colon with more to come, a colon to summarise, even an ellipses with more brown to come.
Brown with a rounded sound and a texture almost too rough. Brown that comes like an afterthought, like umami. brown…
Kathakali- traditional dance-drama, Kerala,India
pacha- colour green or noble/good characters in Kathakali
kari- colour black or the villains(female) in Kathakali
kathi- villainous character(male) in Kathakali
minukku- noble/good women in Kathakali
lalita- demoness transformed into a noble woman in Kathakali
chenda- percussion instrument
Nila- river, Kerala
Poothana- demoness,Hindu mythology
Simhika- demoness, appears in a Kathakali padam as part of Hindu myth
Draupadi- wife of the five Pandavas, Hindu mythology
Kalamandalam- Kerala Kalamandalam, university for performance arts,Kerala
There are quite a few trees around my house. A raintree with its roots in the defense enclosure nearby spreads itself over my roof. Its shade covers one third of the naked roof. In summers, the bedroom remains cool; the hall, the kitchen, the bathroom, hot. Perhaps the insects come because there are trees, and grass, and moisture that hangs in the air longer than usual. I know jack shit about insects. This is pure speculation.
The window in my bedroom has four rectangular panels. Each panel has a small wooden door. The intervals between the iron bars on each panel are wide enough for a curious hand or a stray insect to slide in. So the owner has wisely decided to seal the panels with mesh frames. Now two weeks ago, one of the frames fell off. Without warning and with a rather soft thud. Almost matter of factly. It’s summer, and without the frame, the night time breeze sails in more confidently. I haven’t fixed the frame back since. And I keep the small wooden door open. Sleep if not always peaceful, is at least temperate.
Insects are a nuisance though. Several different kinds, I know not their names, only shapes, and sizes, and colours and the sounds that they make when the lights go off. I am not sure I can tell the difference among some species. I haven’t paid enough attention, so all the sounds in the dark sound the same.
When it’s dark and I can listen to them, inside my room, I imagine them doing evil things. Evil things to me of course. Like an insect wriggling into my ear while I am fast asleep (google images of “dead insect inside ear”) and dying there. Another one skating under the blanket, reaching the inside of my thighs and crawling slowly, intently. Or just a regular bite in the neck.
My mother was talking on the phone one afternoon and telling her friend, how the brother-in-law of a common friend who had been at the Chennai airport to receive his niece returning from US died on the way to his sister’s place. A Japanese mosquito bit him on the neck. He had an instant bout of inexorable fever and died.
For a while imagination is great. Exciting, dark, colourful, amusing, unexpected. Then you want her to shut up. You want to sleep. Because you have to get to work in the morning. But she won’t shut up until the voices in the dark are at it. So you decide to put an end to that.
It has become an unintended ritual. I forget they are there when all the lights are on. I don’t even see them. I put out the lights and there they are. I create situations in my head for a while. Then I switch the light back on. And kill every single one I can find.
Bang one against the wall with a hardcover copy of Anna Karenina Volume 2. Suffocate a bunch of them under the pillow. Flick one hard enough so that it hits itself against the almirah and loses its head and its limbs. Or sometimes, crush the slow ones studiously between the thumb and the forefinger.
Then I switch off the lights, and slip into sleep in no time.
I have been intending to fix the frame back for a few days now, but I keep putting it away. The summer is still on.
It’s raining by the time I reach the bridge. Under me is the Nila. On both sides. On my right is the broken bridge. I wonder if someone fell through it when it broke. It’s raining heavily, each drop heavy and full. I look at her, she’s barely there. It’s the first rains I think, she will emerge soon enough.
I don’t step out today. I didn’t yesterday, or the day before. And maybe the day before that. I don’t know why I’m not going back. Maybe I will tomorrow. It’s what I said yesterday. It rains everyday, every few hours. Sometimes a drizzle, sometimes with thunder and lightening. The mango has fallen. I stare at the empty branch and will another one to grow. It hasn’t yet, so I continue staring.
A dog dashed onto the main road and i almost killed it. It decided to freeze in the middle of its frantic run and look straight into the beam of the bike’s headlight. It stood there glaring at me till I braked, and then darted across the road. I could look into its eyes. You think it could look into my eyes too? This happened right outside the gate of that inscrutable defense colony. I’m not very good with names and breeds of dogs, but it was tall, black, and handsome with a fierce look in its eyes. The kind that sniffs evidence and hounds enemies. I am certain it was running away from that colony.
Didn’t you say you saw a street dog inside that colony the other day? We were peeping out of our window, into the barbed enclosure and sighing over the magnanimous shade of the rain-tree.
“how do you think that street dog manage to get in?”
“where? i don’t see any street dog.”
“it was there.”
“wish we could also take a walk on that lane”
“that guard there will shoot the dog.”
do you think these two dogs exchanged lives?
i ran today. legs ached a lot more than yesterday. yesterday was the first day of running. legs were caught unawares i guess. they obviously didn’t expect that i’d wake up one day and start running. today they reacted temperamentally – lazy and tired. yesterday, i wore my brother’s track pants that accidentally slipped into my the bag last time i went home, and traveled all the way here. my brother is into sports, plays a lot. i don’t like the synthetic texture of the tracks. i wore them for the first time yesterday. people usually wear track pants while running.
i have a pair of sport shoes. not sure if they are running shoes, but they don’t look odd. thankfully i have a pair of ankle socks. if i were to run with my regular mid-calf length socks, i’d look odd. the shoes’ll look odd too. yesterday, the socks would have been invisible – the pants were long. today, i wore shorts instead of track-pants. these shorts are odd. they definitely don’t look like shorts for running. but i like the morning breeze against my legs.
the last leg of the run was especially straining. i had decided that i won’t stop till i reach home. the pace was visibly slower. i could see my house. on the first floor i could see a woman pacing on the veranda. i don’t see my neighbors much. i live on the second floor. a barsati. i don’t see them much, my neighbors. they look like newlyweds. as i reached closer, i could see that she was talking on the phone. i think she too saw me as she sat on the steps that led to my floor and continued talking, while looking. i imagined that i when i reach the steps, i’ll have to stop momentarily and she’ll have to move aside. my pace quickened and i ran rather deftly till i reached the gate. i took the first flight of stairs anticipating the scene that had played in my head. but she wasn’t there. as i climbed up the second flight of stairs, i could hear her talking on the phone from inside the house. the doors and windows were wide open. i should open them too, to let the little air and sun in. i did. i could sense a bihari twang in the hindi of the woman. sound travels very easily here. my girlfriend is sure that the couple downstairs is scandalised by us. at night i can hear their washing machine grumbling. sometimes their words float up to my room like apparitions.
i sat for while, calmed my breath, drank some water, slipped out of my shoes and slipped into my flip flops. i didn’t need to wear shoes to go have breakfast at a nearby joint. i had pooris, which were a bit too oily. this joint is new. a family that runs a general store next to it, started it recently. one of the brothers oversees the joint. all the brothers look strikingly alike. you can tell they are brothers. this guy is fatter than the rest and balding. there were some women standing at the threshold of the shop getting parcels. one looked different from the rest. younger, dressed in jeans and a shirt. she asked about something, came in, and took a seat at the far end of the small room. there are usually only men here. she was curious looking. perhaps because of her glasses which looked old, of another time. the kind that have been refashioned today into the trendy nerd glasses. i wanted to wear my grandfather’s glasses, before it became a fashion, or so i think. but my teary grandmother burned them in his pyre as he was so attached to them. perhaps more than he was attached to her.
we paid the bill at the same time, that girl with glasses and i. she paid at the counter and left and the owner’s eyes traveled with her for some time before he realised that i am waiting to pay. he was lost even when he took the cash from my hand. i turned around and my eyes fell directly on her ass. i looked away.
while walking back, i took the turn into my neighborhood. a young girl was walking ahead of me. she had a heavy back pack, i presume she had books. she looked like someone who has just joined college. she half turned and saw me. i guess she realised a man was walking behind her. her pace quickened and mine slowed down. she seemed to be watching me cautiously from the corner of her eye and walking anxiously. i felt mighty uncomfortable. she more so, or so i think. i thought of speeding up and overtaking her. then i’d be in the front. but then i decided against it. might look too dramatic. i just hoped that she’d take one of the other turns and leave that street. she took the last of turns and till then i kept feeling her eyes on me – or was i feeling my eyes on her?
all this happened yesterday. i didn’t think much about today. my legs kept me more occupied. oh and i forgot to mention, the mornings these days are beautiful. the early morning sun falls warmly on the body and gently on the leaves. the raintrees of this neighborhood stretch languorously against the clear blue sky and you are often greeted by a cuckoo or two. the abandoned railway track round the corner and the unruly growth of grass around gives the landscape a quaint feel. for a few moments it feels like the city has escaped you, or you the city. it’s only towards the end of the run, that you realise, in your exhaustion, that the city has gone nowhere. it was sleeping and is stirring out of it, into a hot summer wakefulness.