The front wall painted red. Pebbles of various shapes and sizes put in a ceramic basket. A sofa set in one corner. Not the Godzillas put on sale in imported furniture showrooms, but medium sized with striped upholstery. An orange rug beneath a mahogany table. A laughing Buddha on the side table. A bunch of Narcissus in a transparent vase. ‘Potato Eaters’ on the wall. Floor cushions scattered here and there. Coffee table books on the shelf. Black and white photographs, framed, placed under the hanging light. Two goldfishes in a glass bowl; ones which would live till he did. A Thai mask, smiling at him, from above his bottles. And then he pours himself one, swirls it in his mouth for a while and gulps it down without making noise. Abida Parveen’s voice wafts through the house. The house which is his home.
A study in the remotest corner of the house. Books on shelves, with a delicate layer of dust on them. But not on ‘Lust for Life’. How could it be? He reads it daily, taking inferences from it to conduct his own life. There is a Van Gogh’s Self Portrait on the wall. A table lamp – 70’s model. A rock picked up from the Dead Sea. Fountain pens and sharpened pencils in a holder. Few read and unread mails. A paper cutter. Some white, neat paper. A few lines scribbled on the topmost paper. A mattress thrown in one corner. Cushions of various hues. Thick curtains to darken the room or let in streams of sunshine once lifted. A DVD player to watch ‘Pyaasa’.
And then the bathroom. Dry, first of all. With water coming in taps, whenever needed. A shower. Clean hand towels on the shelf along with a bamboo shoot. One single stick of Gladiola in a sleek bottle. A quote or a thought on a stick pad, pasted on the wall. A mirror with electric blue frame.
And finally a terrace. Flowers in pots. A reclining chair in one corner. Terracotta pots and figures in one corner. A rug to sit on the floor. Petals floating in water in a rectangular earthen basin. A water lily, may be. Overlooking a park or a monument.
Honkkkkkkk… he woke up startled. Dam’n these cabs which come to pick up call-centre executives. Naipaul’s ‘A house for Mr Biswas’ fell from his chest. He was reading Page 329, where Mr Biswas writes a report for his newspaper Sentinel. One of the lines in his report read: “It was midnight and I was alone”. He looked around. A dog was barking incessantly in the street. Tunes of Jagraata, based on popular Hindi songs also reached his ears. In the night, trucks came along with drillers for illegal boring of water. There was everything illegal in the colony he lived.
For years, they had lived in rented rooms, he and his family. One room – where they lived, cooked, ate, slept, studied, received guests. Then a room and a kitchen, but the bathroom had no door. So once inside, you turned into a singer. He still sang pretty well. May be he needed more practise. But by that time the landlord had turned hostile. So the singing stopped. Then they shifted to another room. And then another. And then another.
Once he shifted to Delhi and his parents came to stay with him, he wanted to put an end to all this. In his own little way. Four years ago, he finally managed to buy a 2- bedroom flat in the illegal colony. “The colony will be regularised in no time by the Government and then you will see the rates sky-rocketing,” the builder had told him.
His father followed the Hindustan Times everyday. “Oh, that colony has been regularised. Our colony will also be, in no time”. Yes, the colony was regularised, but nothing changed really. The water remained scarce. Power cuts were a reality that downed upon them, a dozen times a day. There was no place to park the car. There was no pucca road. After every rain, the road became a swamp. There was noise everywhere. Of children wailing on the road. Of cabs coming to pick up call-centre executives. Of loud music being played on local-made speakers. Of dogs barking in the night. Of drunkards creating a brawl in the back street. Things turned from bad to worse in four years.
Then his father banked his hopes upon house loans. Every week, he would study Property Times, as if he was preparing for an entrance exam. “We will sell this house and take a bank loan. We will shift to Gurgaon from Delhi,” this became his new mantra. But his horoscope dashed his father’s hope. Every astrologer who studied his horoscope would prophesise that he would turn into an ascetic one day and run away. That is why his father always grew wary when he chucked his jobs like diapers. He feared that now, now he will run away. Whenever he chucked his job, he would not wake up in the morning at his usual time. For two days, his father would watch patiently and pray that what he thought was not true. But when the same thing got repeated on the third day, his father would understand. Then he would talk to himself for some time which sounded like, “God knows what he keeps on doing! I don’t know what he is up to! Bad luck, nothing else. Unlucky stars.” And then he would throw away the Property Times and immerse himself in the almanac. Study his son’s planetary position. But nothing would help. One day he would run away. One day.
He was not meant for these regular jobs. He wanted to write. He had all his hopes on Yimberzal. The novel which he claimed to work on. Yimberzal would bail him out or so he thought. And then there would be a red wall. Pebbles. Paper cutter. Mask. Narcissus. Water lily. And a dry bathroom.
He put the book back in the shelf and began to write: It was midnight and I was alone…