☛ Submission for October, 2024 issue (Vol. 5, No. 2) is going on. The last date for submission is 30 September, 2024.



-          P C K Prem (India)

A long narrative, he wants to share and it is impossible to agree. Apparently, Raja proximity looks disgusting and an oblique staleness quite often holds back some truths he never wishes to reveal. Some kind of passivity creates an aura of dullness and the consequent ambiance draws clear lines of separation I avoid to go across, for fears of interfering in privacy. Raja wields an archetypal authority even to correct deformities in feelings and thoughts. A strange feature he possesses, which certainly discourages any man of reasons so he resists the temptation to offer suggestion. He is intriguingly complex but it gives an identity to him.

“I feel lost when I see crowds of men before the eyes. It is a mass of laughing, joyful and boisterous men. I am mystified. Next minute, I see, it is nothing but a thought and I am alone.”

            I simply look at him.

“It is an intellectual disease of a modern man, who visits past and lives in future uncertain. He creates a world where he is listened and obeyed, or at least, what he says, gains value.”

After a pause, he says, “I think it is an effort to find justification for whatever nonsense this man carries on his head.”  He tries to recollect what he feels does not exist even in memories. Somewhere within, a feeling takes birth that I must run away, for he is becoming difficult for me. However, next moment I think I should stay on to hear what he wants to tell.

“Do not struggle within…” He laughs. I feel small. He comes near me, “Never forget that man refuses to accept truth of life.  You enjoy warmth of someone and then, you just disappear. You cherish momentary pleasure and then, an obscure and indolent awareness fills you. It fills you with loathing and strain, I often think.” He is silent but facial expressions speak of an inner chaos he wishes to control. He goes to the other room and I hear some humming tunes of an old Hindi song. I fail to make out what it is. I sit on the chair and notice everything in the room. Very well furnished and walls are nicely painted, simple and fresh as if and a two water paintings decorate the empty walls. I know he is rich. He tells me he belongs to an old family of the state and so at times, looks a feudal lord. However, I feel sorry. He is not so.

            He returns after five minutes with a cigarette in hand. He is relaxed and normal and the earlier seriousness is nowhere.

“I hate present. Many may not love present for it engages you, pressurizes and loads you and you feel, people try to suppress you. You are free but sill you say, people restrict you, imprison you in norms society or the system makes for you. You obey because you are weak. You follow, for you do not have the courage to fight against a rotten attitude and so you think it is injustice. Is it so?”

            He hurls a question I am not prepared to accept. He throws clusters of smoke and it looks ridiculous rather preposterous. He hurts me I realize, “Do not mind it. I do not mean you nurse bitterness or say, you are not of this world.” An uncanny proposition he throws at me and I try to lap it up as if and so I say, “I want to live in the world, here and now without disturbing anyone if you understand me rightly.”

            I stand firm and pierce into the eyes of man, who challenges everything that exists and refuses to live in the present but prefers to derecognize it. He takes out a cigarette and almost pushes the white stick into the lips. He does not offend. I take it. He hands over the lighter to me, laughs and sits on the easy chair, stretches legs on to the table and bends rearward and smokes as a thick grey sheet rises up to the roof. 

“You know wife Sony is not here. You will spend time here. After dinner you can go. If you cannot drive, the driver will drop you at your home.”

“…” I look at the door and try to understand. He understands and before I ask anything, he tells, “She is not here. Do not worry. Gone…” He tries to wet dry lips with the tongue and then takes out another cigarette.

“During the last three days, I do not know why I burnt cigarettes …or perhaps, cigarettes burnt me. Either way, it is a fact.” It is an unemotional expression. He reads questions on my changing facial contours and movement of eyeballs as I continue to smoke.

 “Everyone wants death for…you do not love relations. You say you love, but it is incorrect. A standardized form of looking a decent man it is. You may not agree. You may say you are not selfish, and that you love graciousness and virtues and that you are honest and love culture and heritage…that man can become god or …such funny ideas come to mind. I hear these words outside. On the platform leaders, teachers, wise men and priests of the temples, speak. Yes, I also do it without a break but I feel I am insincere, almost an animal. But you know even animals keep some …”

“You did not tell me…” I try to structure a sentence but fail.

“Just imagine a situation where patients hold a dialogue in the dark when doctors play with nurses and talk of medicines. You know abortive efforts in fulfillment exasperate when someone disturbs and you feel guilty. It happens with the man whose woman just walks out and tells you are a dunce. It is an honest acceptance that has no questions.”

            He calls a servant and asks for coffee.

“What would you have in the dinner…?” 

            Raja moves about in the room and I find he is restive, indecisive and nervous. I can understand he wants to say something very personal but does hold the willpower to say truth and therefore, indulges in certain philosophic ponderings quite irrelevant and out of context I feel and still he tries to connect whatever happens to his existing life. It is clear his wife goes out without revealing the intent.  “I hope she has not…” Unhealthy and bizarre thoughts frighten me.

“I cannot believe.”

“That puzzles me. It is more disturbing. You know you love, and she understands that you love her and if some distance takes roots, it needs quick remedy. It terrifies you…the very thought of separation or a feeling that the woman you chose for life dumps you with reason or without just to find happy times elsewhere. It asks you many questions and you recall joint transaction of love-feelings and collective dreams to make life full. It is about children, a house and happy shared moments of love, a few quarrels and conciliation in a spirit of surrender. You reinvent love, warmth and then, restate definition of love or at times, rewrite tales of mutual joy. This paraphrasing of relations and love fulfills you. I wanted to do this…but failed.”

            He looks vacantly, sips coffee, puffs off, and stands firm, still and expressionless as flatness overcomes. I hear noise of traffic, horns and screeching sounds. In spite of the loudness and strident voices, Raja’s words create dreadful echo.

“It is good coffee.” He holds my shoulders tightly, gives off pale smile and says drearily, “Man in noise and chaotic jarring sounds feels tiresome quietness within, a desolate situation it is where you are alone and still you feel, it is a huge mass of people pushing you around and you are trying to find your existence and identity.” He crushes the cigarette in the ashtray, “She left me only a day ago, and I feel she has derecognized me, and killed my individuality. A woman does not enter man’s life just to share some remarkable experiences in love but it is an effort to provide eternity…a thought of permanence to love, warmth and family, a relation that makes you a real man and if it is woman she reflects culture and …”

            I can understand the intensity of Raja’s agony and probably his fears of public ignominy and disgrace. A feudal man celebrates non-existent instinctive glory that he proclaims but he knows he has none. He loves to live in this falsity and illusion.

            He bursts into long-drawn-out laughter and finishes cup of coffee, and looks up towards the huge crystal chandelier, bright and dazzling. I do not know if he wishes me to remind me of his dead glory and splendeur. Maybe, this thought arises out of my own smallness before the man, who can boast of his past. His sudden laugh stuns me. I recall the face of his beautiful and charming wife Sony, who holds unique womanly elegance. I cannot easily pin point flaws or irritations in relationship.

“I understand your pain. How it happened? I do not know the exact cause of argument. She often avoided conflicts and …” I fix eyes on the vacant wall away from the wonderful painting. I do not know if it is a deliberate act.

“I know you admired. It is my fault.” He is frank, “…that I just did not care for exclusively private moments, a man and woman ought to have. I know her classiness and refinement.”  Raja vacantly looks out at the blue sky in the frame of window. He loves to avoid an immediate confrontation.

            He turns to me and says, “I did not know what she had in mind. I am not sure. I always thought I knew her. She smiled, talked and argued well and valued the sanctity of relations. I loved the way she reasoned out and at times, overawed me in style and expression. I did not know that reasons and smiles were clear signs of an imminent break. Was she struggling to come out of the boredom of relation? Did she think, it was tiresomeness or aversion she had for me. She was more interested in the baby when I was around. When she went out, she appeared fantastic…loveliness and glow enchanted. I just thought and sat on the working desk. Before she went with baby she often hugged me warmly and said, “I love you”, kissed me and went out. I can visualize each smile, laugh, silent moving in the house, vibrations still echo…”

            Raja is silent. Now, he looks sad. He goes out to the other room, brings another packet, takes out a cigarette and says, “I am weak. I cannot share …because it will humiliate me I know. You know many a time, big houses…impressive and glorified contain certain secrets that remain buried for generations. I will bury the relation in some corner of the…even servant will not know. You kill a relation and still it lives before you.” He tries to control tears perhaps and so, softly walks up to the window and looks out again. I do not want to embarrass.

“She was in search of a better relation. You live in illusion that someone loves, but it is just a feeling, a thought sans roots. She lived but did not know that she really…the baby and the cheers she spread around in the house! What it was?” He says and throws many inscrutable questions. I know he finds it difficult to face truth.

“Today, you are dumb…what it is?” He asks me gently and gives a laugh and very soon, a sad layer appears to shadow.

“…” I hold Raja’s shoulders strongly and after a few warm pats, I say, “I do not probe into what you do not want to tell. Yes, I respect and recognize privacy.” We do not know that even after three hours, it seems much is unstated and unshared.

“…” He takes a cigarette again.

“I think it is enough.” I say reluctantly.

            He takes a few steps in the room, stands before me and says, “Yes, too much. Let us have the last one.” He gives one to me, ignites it up for me, and says, “It is better …” He does not say and goes out and I simply go after him. For a few minutes, we walk in the lawn and leisurely take puffs. It is invigorating.

“Would you have a drink?” He is serious, “After many days, I feel the itch. It is good to sit and share…” He does not say further and I do not want to intrude into privacy. We come to the verandah and sit on the cane chairs.

“I know you have a right to …just wait.” He gets up and goes upstairs.

            Time does not mean anything in hours of inner crisis. He is distressed and wants emotional shelter. I know I cannot compel him to tell what he hides. I cannot do anything at this moment, I understand. I do not want to doubt him. I foresee an unhappy future ahead. It is hurt-feelings. It is darkness, it is ruin and it is emptiness in plenty. Reality challenges, it irritates and you want some practical way out. I am lost in deep contemplation but reach nowhere. It is a journey from lack of trust to more distrust.  I cannot injure Raja’s sentiments. I close eyes and stretch legs on to a cane table. I do not know why I feel worn-out and languid. I go to the main drawing room and look at the impressive display of precious painting, baby large size photo, some family photographs of poster size and a few antiques. I think of colonial rule, feudal mindset and of bourgeoisie psyche.

            Baby Angel’s smiles cast a magic spell. I hear slow steps but I do not want to become part of what goes on outside. “It is for you…it is after many days.” The words awaken me, and he hands over a glass of whiskey. He lovingly looks at baby’s photo, raises hand as if blessing the child and looks at me. We come out to the verandah and sit. His lone servant brings dry fruit, fried peanuts and cubes of cheese and a bottle of soda and a jug of water. I feel uneasy. Nobody speaks for a few minutes. In the meantime, a few sips go down the throat.

            After five minutes, he says, “It is not easy to…” He reads my facial expressions. I look straight and cheer him up. He finishes his glass. I get up and fill his glass as usual. He, with a soaked throat tells, “I miss…yes, I still find she is moving about in the house and caring so much. I imagine the little baby talking so much about friends of the nursery, of toys and of…she looked after the baby and…you know one cannot forget.” He gets up, “I feel…” He goes inside, opens the door of the washroom, sprinkles water on his face, comes back, sits before me and takes some sips. I realize what gives him pain. I understand the suffering but I cannot do anything.

“Between trust and faith and pretense and infidelity, you live.”

“…”  I am blank and stupefied.

“It is good to survive in persistent betrayal because you cannot confront the final argument. I knew Sony was in love with Aditya, a business magnet. You know him well. He is already married…two daughters, aged parents, three sisters and two brothers…and here I sit alone before you. I want to speak out.  What should I speak? It is a misfortune… a disaster. I unwrap and fail. That little baby Angel…she sits in the heart, provokes my mind and loneliness crushes me.”

            I sit still. Brain refuses to help.

            Abruptly, he gets up, strikes the wall the glass and then with the bottle and breaks it. Aghast I see at the scattered pieces. I do not know what happens. It shocks and stuns. Liquor spills all over the verandah with splinters of glass and bottle. Next moment, he begins to cry. Tears flow incessantly and I just hold him in arms but cannot ask to stop. I want he should weep, cry and lighten the burden. After ten minutes, he is calm and serene, goes inside and spends some time in the washroom. I just stand out and wait for him.

“I hope you are…” I give a warm embrace and tell, “Just relax. Everything is safe…” I do not know what I say. It appears meaningless and stupid.

            After half an hour, he is normal. I gather words to comfort him but before I say anything, Raja speaks up slowly and in low voice, “That day, Sony sits on the bed and speaks to me, ‘I want to tell you something…’ Angel was sleeping quietly. I look at Sony. Sony says with a kind of nervousness, ‘I love Aditya. I am going to him.’ I look at her blankly without expression and say, ‘Sony, I know it.’ She sits totally fatigued and collapsed as if. I admire her. She does not stop here.” Raja looks at me and speaks again, “Sony tells me that Angel is not my child…Aditya is and now, I carry his seed in the womb.’ I stared at Sony as darkness swallowed up and I was almost dead. Even now…and so, she took Angel left me...” I saw a few tears rolling down the cheeks. Raja calls up the servant and asks for dinner.

            He sits and buries grief in faded smiles as I stretch lips to frame words…