If you look through it carefully, it is just distance. And all about distance. It is not limited to kilometers or millimeters. It is not limited to the years it would take you to reach the moon. But It is more important when you know how to conquer that distance. What it would take you to reach, there.
There. Towards the person you think you would belong
There. Towards your dreams.
There. Towards Home.
It is absolutely ridiculous to run down, two miles just to see a glimpse of a burning pile of hay, blazing back into a couple of curious eyes. The eyes, which became the sunset; the hay which became the hot Indian summer afternoon. And again it still feels absolutely ridiculous to glorify, what meager we saw. What meager, we remained.
I was a teacher with a class full of pupils of my age. A captain with a ship full of stewards who treated me as a laughter stock whenever I, in my utmost spirits, commanded them in some fancy gibberish. However, what was most important than all of us was our ship– forever anchored. It wasn’t a playhouse, it wasn’t even a house. A wasted municipality park, yes you can say.
They were the sons of washerman (Dhobi), three to be precise; where as I belonged to a middle-class family which could not afford a washing machine and thereby sent all the clothes to this very dhobi spot or adda, a minor hut adjoined to the park. Anyways, I was way too dumb to care about all of these differences. When I first became friends with Ballu, the eldest of the Dhobi gang, I merely told him that his head would grow funny if he kept carrying such heavy piles of clothes upon it. To my surprise, It wasn’t amusing to him at all and being a seven year old without any scruples, although it never made me guilty, it did annoyed me. But that was that, I learned to never comment such things from then on until a time which left me where I am today, with a fist full of distances…
One Thursday evening when I went out to gaze at birds in the municipality park while my other friends tried to convince me about playing with their defected kitchen sets, I saw Ballu’s brothers imitating his genius of creating a sanctuary out of dry leaves and worshipping little berry like looking lady bugs. I was caught in that very moment. I thought the rectangle in which he kept the bugs was better than the one in my maths book. The dried leaves had a crispy feel to them. I never touched them nor I smelled them but I could feel them in my throat. It was a strange sensation. I didn’t know how to feel that again if I wished to? And that is why I committed myself that day to be friends with him, just to retain the feeling of autumn leaves in my throat which, however, is no longer of capable of taking a refuge in me.
He was a genius. And in my stupidities, a sort of an asset with which I could cause a wave of anxiety amongst my girl friends. A child who did not only knew how to play with toys but also knew how to create them. His brothers would imitate him, but they could never be him for three of them were never the same. As I look back now, I see gods in them. Hindu gods. Passion would be: Ballu aka Bamun; Innocence was never better seen in: Samar; Aggression was in his every fiber: Shiva, his very name derived from the almighty Hindu god, the destroyer and the reaper.
“I swear to god, I would etch out every single hair from your filthy little scalp and then only you would realize how much it costs to mess with me!”
I really impressed a lot of people by imitating the hero of the movie I watched; Shiva was almost clapping, my friend Nina was, as she later told me, “horrified” and Ballu, Ballu was left open-mouthed! Oh how I wish, my parents to leave this one alone so that it could have continued to be one of my proudest memories.
Anyhow, I was thirteen, becoming a bucket full of weird and confused feelings and if these feelings managed to turn me into anything-I became a rogue. A rebel.
“Sree, God knows, what are you turning into. Stop playing with those scoundrels” My mother must have pricked my ears, a thousand times, but that day, she said I had done something more horrible.
I had nearly killed someone.
One Sunday afternoon and my play day. Everything was normal and calm until our new neighbor, Rahul came to play the spoilsport. He was everything I despised, liar, pretentious and most importantly, one pompous idiot. And we were made to forcibly accept him just because he was too majestic to beg for our friendship and was thus thrust upon us by his equally pompous mother! That day, we decided to play our engineered version of bowling game in which one team had to create an obstruction with sticks and stones and the other one had to break it with their bicycles. Undoubtedly Ballu invented this and I chose his side which he never really acknowledged and it somehow, ended up making me really angry.
As a result, I started taking this game too far. I found a boulder of an obstruction and had I been not stopped I would have made it into a skyscraper. Nonetheless, I found a fierce competitor. Given his attitude of relying on his mother, we thought he might not be the best in his parts and that is why, allotted Shiva by his side, the master of destruction as per his name.
But Rahul was way too misunderstood by ourselves. Every time.
I saw him gradually racing towards our obstruction-structure and almost felt the hilarity of the situation in which he would fall and would cry like a baby. But I was wrong as usual.
It all happened so fast. His bicycle smashed upon the structure like some chemical blast and in his victory, he ran over the vehicle on Ballu’s face. But what came next made me lost it all, perhaps the last night’s argument with father, feeling invisible in front of Ballu and now this rascal, smirking at me while he hit Ballu, as if he was aware, I loved him; as if he was aware, I would do anything to avenge him.
I launched upon him, my imagination of myself being a Kung-fu knowing ninja. I swear I believed, I could punch holes in the walls. Everybody was applauding me in the background as Rahul’s face flushed with terror and then with a malicious glint of anger which I knew, created psychopaths, he smiled at me again! When I went out for a kill then, I tried to kill this very glint of his face, somehow suffocating him red as he coughed and spitted back on my face.
My kung-fu imagination was short lived however, I was easily lifted in the air by my father who had heard all this Hulla-balloo from our balcony and had come down in order to save his nose. In that moment, I expected Rahul to pretend and cry but he did something more evil…more devilish. He said something to my father which drained all the vengeance from my body and left me weak. It made me lose my power over him.
“Uncle, your daughter was going to elope with this dhobi.”
I never saw such freckles on my father’s forehead before. I wished Rahul’s mother, Mrs Raini should have been there too so that I could have blurted out something similarly ridiculous. I fantasized tortures for Rahul, that night. But what seed had been sown in my father’s conscience was inevitable to extract. I was no longer allowed to meet Ballu and his brothers. Was slapped if I tried to retort back in my classic rogue attitude. Wasn’t even allowed to visit the park anymore. The only relief to me was watching them play in the park, which was thankfully visible from our balcony.
Rahul however came back with his pretentiousness, which I expected from him, the day I met him. He apologized and tried to be my friend which I accepted, partly because I had no friends after leaving Ballu, Shiva and Samar and mostly because I wanted to make Ballu jealous.
I would then, take Rahul to our balcony and he would laugh wickedly at my traditional role of teaching and captainship. Rahul, unlike Ballu became “Sindbadh” the lousy sailor and continued with his pompousness from which I grew unbearably frustrated and thereby, managed to do away with him in most polite gestures and signs.
I wasn’t melancholic however, I had outgrown a lot of things as I reached the age of sixteen. Rahul , fortunately, found other friends to irritate and show-off his gadgets. Ballu or I should say Bamun, was least of anyone that I saw. But somedays, my mother would become kind enough and she would let me meet Shiva and Samar, given that I shared a childhood with them. But to they all have changed, so tremendously that it was like some sorcery to my imagination. Their sculptures dripped with toil. They were much taller and much serious than before. Our ship was then, naturally abandoned with any kind of projects of inventions. More wilderness replaced our playing spots of Municipality park. Ballu had left his A B C s, long time ago and I couldn’t help but wondering how, he would never understand the world the way I do, even though once we thought our perceptions were the most alike in the whole world. We always thought we would grow up merrily and then the four of us will decide to visit some place where grown-ups can afford to go, somewhere like a beach or maybe foreign. How ridiculous, it seems now.
Shiva had grown in resentment. He was becoming an aggressive man by every passing day, mirror to his father– a merciless man, who would beat anyone up, stubborn enough to stand in his way. The idea of imagining playing with him the game of stick and stones-bowling now, utterly terrified me. But we were friends and if not to anyone, he would smile at me, I think in respect. An attitude that became the highest sought decree in my conscience.
I could not love things, the way I used to do in my childhood passionate tempers. But my lexicon did contained lyrical beauty for ‘adoring’ things. I adored the overgrown plants in the municipality park, the little stars which I never acknowledged over the moon. And I adored the flickering street lights that turned overgrown plants into a blurred imagination of golden waterfall.
It was my favorite part of routine and refreshment from studies as I would stand like a Juliet to the gentle clouds, up on my terrace, lost to the gods of some other world.
“Sree, I need to talk to you. Sree? ” He pulled at my shoulders and I realized the pronunciation of my name wasn’t hallucination.
“Samar! Yar, you scared me…What is the matter? It is late, I am sure my parents wouldn’t like us talking.”
“I am sorry Sree, I didn’t wanted to annoy you. Sorry” He had these enormous insecurities in his eyes. I wonder if I could fix them. But the society has made us this way, I guess. All I see is walls.
“Go on Samar. Tell me, is Rahul troubling you again?”
“No. I am just. Look I don’t how to explain this to you…But”
“Go on Samar…” I was growing irritated.
“Shiva and Ballu are fighting over you and our father beats me because I don’t tell him what is going on.” He blurted out and for a moment we stood still studying the designs of the floor, lost in our own worlds of refuge from awkwardness.
“I don’t think so it is the case” I finally said with a sigh “but if it is, tell them ‘love’ is a Bollywood word from which I abstain to have any relation, nor would I have ever have any relation with. Not until my parents would agree.” I actually surprised myself by this statement. I remember how I tossed in bed whole night thinking about the initiation of an inevitable psychological process…was I becoming my father?
Samar left me restless with a nod. My mind played the devil that evening . I kept wondering about things. A lot of boggling things. Was this a conspiracy to force a naive brother into tricking me into something? And what of Ballu…Bamun? Why would Bamun love me now? I could understand and pick up Shiva’s signals, but what about him? Why now? It took me two days, to finally let this drop from my mind and I had eventually started to forget about all of this until the Shaitan himself, the pompous ass, dropped by my door, three days later.
“Why Sree, I think, you should given him a chance. Now I know you can, that’s why I am asking for him.” I knew what this evil bastard was getting at.
“None of your business” I smiled sarcastically.
“I am friends with Shiva and I am friends with you. If you are worried about his..umm…Dhobi job, he said he would try and find a better job for you. Just you. Now where would you get such a caring husband these days?” He winked.
I just can’t believe he said that and added his ‘last-nail-in-the-coffin’ expression. In that moment, I regretted not killing him the first day I met him.
“That’s it. You may leave”
“Now don’t cry—”
“Leave!” I roared and he went away shrugging while I humbly prayed that nobody eavesdropped at our conversation. It was so hard to process on what he said and whatever he implied. Husband? I am sixteen and Shiva has to be insanely diseased enough to say and even think such a thing about me. Had it been Samar, who would have said that, I would have laughed my eyes out. But now it only fills me with hatred. What an utter blasphemy! One brother can’t even look me in the eyes while the other propose to marry me! Oh the ridiculousness of it all!
The days passed painfully then. My love to gods in the sky has been disrupted by the gods downstairs. I was in disbelief though, was I fought for like a possession? It fails me how our childhood, though spent together, has created such different personalities. Nonetheless, I returned to my admiration of the clouds, only to be disturbed once again. With every blood and bone, this time.
“What is that lies beyond?
A home at the bank of damp tunnels
Or the sky dripping with orange lights
Hovering over the scriptures to be chanted twice.
I am streetlight with a flickering soul
Imagining if I could go beyond
Open into the sky where the twinkling stars
become giants of abode.”
“Sree…” I knew who it was.
“You should not have come here.” I said turning at him and then looking back towards the silent street.
“If you are embarrassed that I heard your…your poem and your singing… Have you forgotten, I am but an illiterate man? I never understand what you mean. ”
“You say it as if it you are illiterate to emotions. But you said that right, you never understood and you will never understand.”
“I do not understand your wordplay, anyway. I just came here to tell you that Shiva won’t harm you now. I know he has caused you a lot of trouble but that is just because of Rahul’s devilry. I don’t know why he serves him like a tail. But one thing which I know about my brother is that he doesn’t act like this. Never.”
“Neither do you. Why have you come to talk to me now? I don’t care about your help.”
“Why are you so rude to me?” He pulled at my arm and made me look him into the eyes.
He suddenly let go “Why? Are you crying? You never…when we… you never cry! Did Shiva harm you? Tell me!” He appeared to be angry.
“Shiva! Shiva! All you got is Shiva? Huh? What about you? Samar did say that you were rooting for me! That you were fighting for ME.”
“What! He said that? You just wait… I am going to kill him for this! I never loved you, trust me! He must have been joking!”
I broke out into something which was some sort of hybrid for both laughter and crying. I was in fits of madness and in such a fit, I blurted out something that I do not regret.
“Of course, it was one-sided. You never loved me and I…I always loved you.”
“Are you out of your mind! Do you know what you are even talking about? What madness is this? huh? You’ll marry the boy to whom your mother sends for washing your clothes? I am just filth washed off you. You must be really mad to imagine anything more than that!”
It felt so comical to me. His mouth was moving but I couldn’t hear a word. I was lost in his eyes reflecting back the moon. His auburn hair shining gently. It was in this moment that I realized, although I turned to stars long ago, the moon was never lost to me. Call it the lover’s loon or general insanity, but he said he didn’t loved me because he was afraid what others would think and not because he didn’t loved me. I became God too then. The God of ecstasy.
He was speaking so vividly. His explanations as complex as Plato, logic–just gorgeous. He was engineering words which he never studied. And he was speaking for me and my life. Not a single mention or protection for himself. What is this if not love? I don’t know any other definition. O god bless this memory, I lived every man’s dream of becoming a child again. I looked at him the same way I used too. I became the little Sree again, at least for that once. I could happily beat thousands of Rahuls for him. I could elope with a washerman. If only I could. If only I had the chance.
But, one thing, I really caught him off his guard, I held his nervous shoulders to a steady place in this universe. I kissed him on his lips and he stopped shaking in that moment. He didn’t refused me or pushed me away. And for once, we accepted each other completely, forgetting the rebukes that my mother gave to him or the fact that his mother accused me of seducing her sons. We forgot that while he toil all day, I sit and write about the worlds we could be together in. We forgot tha even though, our parents and our society would probably kill us for this taboo and perhaps, they would tag us as washerman and his fish, I would gladly accept all of this if only, in the end we would be made assured with our survival with each other.
Our perceptions became one again. He never told me but I see the moon as he do. He was always capable of showing things and now, if I could become his words, wouldn’t we become poetry? But of course what would you understand of that? The realizations are always harsh indeed, for now I am incapable of loving anyone as much as I loved him and always will.
I stood back and looked at his face! O I have never seen him blushing! I swear to god I can die for living that moment again. I laughed until he awkwardly hugged me and left. He never smiled, but he hugged me. And that was all to break the blood and bone in me and then to finally expose them to the love radiation. Everyone did asked me about the glow on my face, though. What do you did to your cheeks? Why do you look so rosy? And what did I tell them? Well I just giggled and giggled.
Amidst all this I did recall plodding over the future and its perfectness and then laughed at myself for being so ironic. The best thing, however was, the irony was mutual.
The month of August was a bliss. I would find him somewhere down the streets and make faces at him while he talked and delivered clothes to the residents of the building. I would break into a suppressed laughter as he desperately tried to hide his smile and when asked about the reason of his happiness, just made some silly excuse which caused so much pain in my stomach from laughing. When it rained, I didn’t believed my courage to sneak out of the house in order to walk with an umbrella over his head while he told me about his new theories and inventions. He wasn’t rich of words but I had never met anyone with such riches of imagination. I sometimes wondered if I would ever be envious from his gorgeous good imagination? Possibly not. You cannot love someone and be envious at the same time.
I wish Shiva understood that. But we knew how Rahul entertains himself by enslaving people. He could make a legion out of a white dove, where Shiva was supposedly, the destructor of worlds. Our world, to be precise. He was a war machine who burned with unrequited love and vengeance.
One day, Barum and I were walking past the Eastman market, a place which my parents avoid because of the crowd. We were having a sort of intellectual conversation on various types of mirror and somehow, their paranormal meanings . He told me that his grandfather believed of a world inside a mirror and theatrically knocked at it, when this Shiva launched upon his back. I was terrified by the scene and was immediately ordered by Barum to run away, which I did. And never had curiosity ever haunted me ever like it did that day. I was terrified at the prospect of a fight, penitent in leaving Barum alone and at the same time confident to hit Shiva at the same time. I somehow knew they would come back to my terrace, so I went back and sat their patiently with a big iron bar in case Shiva goes off his line and Barum or Samar become incapable in taming him.
They came. Three of them. Samar being the mediator between them both.
There was blood at the tip of Barum’s lips. And this was enough for my terrified part to be invaded by the angry part but before I could do anything, I saw a warning written all over Barum’s face, I was surprised, he knew I could attack his brother right now, even though I was concealing all anger. He could just read me like an open book. It was strange.
Anyways, I offered three of them seats as I pulled some cube like red stools for them.
Shiva spoke first, making me feel as if we were soldiers negotiating a war.
“You made me a promise to leave her alone, so that you can make babies with her?”
“You…” I would have broken down into poetry of abuses, had it not been Samar to stop me.
“Please Shiva. Leave her out of it.” Samar sighed.
“Why, so that you two could have joys over her, while you deprive me of having them all along”
“I swear to god. I swear to lord Shiva, I’ll kill you! You don’t deserve any girl, let alone me. You’ll rot in hell for this. Do you understand?” I said it with clenched teeth and thankfully for my anger, I got no returns.
“Shiva, I know I am sorry. I shouldn’t love… I didn’t even want to…but I love her, I really do. I know you would say you love her too, but listen to yourself, a lover does not speak like that. Tell me, Is it love then?”
“What are you haaaan? A professor of love? Masterji let me kiss your feet. Teach me how to win sluts!”
After that what happened, even Samar couldn’t stop it. Barum lost any percentage of calm that existed in his body. This is how, I felt, he shows respect for the people he love not just because he loves them but also for the sake of a universal justice, which he was, a God of. When I saw him giving a slap to Shiva, I didn’t saw a man fighting for his woman, I saw a man fighting for the respect of all the women who become objects of lust and lost their identities.
It is a sort of blur, though. Even after five years of my life after him, I cannot really describe what ended him. A blow by iron bar. Samar and I screaming and losing all summers of innocence which were left in us. Him falling back on his legs towards his inevitable fall towards the ground. My madness to stand at the edge of the roofs. My passion to perceive what he would have perceived. A blow which could not even gift me his last words. His betrayal of falling into abyss before me. I, hitting Shiva who stood in horror and did not fight back. I failing to murder Shiva or Rahul. I dreaming idiotically that even though he was falling off a 5th storey building, he would survive, somehow. Somehow, he would, so that I could hear him again, see him again. About his inventions, his sanctuaries, love, our ship.
Tell me then dear reader how shall I conquer this distance? It is a strange thing isn’t it? The distance. Created within seconds. My mother’s hand so distant now to reach my ears. My father can’t bend enough to reach me, to carry me, anymore. My friends with all their kitchen-sets at a distance which I would never understand.
Him. And what of him? Well, He was just sitting right next to me and their he is falling…falling into a distance where I can never reach, not even when I decide to walk by the whole earth. It only ends his way. To await, a monsoon where I would fall away myself. Till then, carrying an eternal sooty face to be accused and branded as a women who came between brothers. To walk without a sympathy from vulture-like eyes accusing me, not to love , the way society has designed it. Why then? There should be a constitution for love too. Why not put me in a prison to love someone for their heart and mind and not for their riches? Make me into an island trapped by distances?
Nonetheless, my eyes are faltering now and I think I am falling. I am falling towards my supreme god. I am falling their.
Their. Towards the person I belong with.
Their. Towards my dreams.
Their. Towards Home.
“People leave strange little memories of themselves behind when they die.”
— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood