Sunday, October 05, 2008
The power went off early in the evening as I tried to put myself to sleep for a while. Droplets of sweat traversed like Morph Codes across my body, and I lay awake over the check bedsheet, hoping that a thunderstorm would saunter over.
Last night I felt so dead and rotten inside that I suspected maggots might come crawling out of my nostrils. With trembling hands then I took out that old cassette from its jacket scratched so badly as if mauled by a leopard, and put it inside the tape recorder.
It was noisy in the beginning, and from that cacophony emerged my own voice, trotting over the chocolate-coloured magnetic tape. In the autumn of 1995, I was reciting lines from A Moveable Feast:
For luck you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit’s foot in your right pocket. The fur had been worn off the rabit’s foot long ago and the bones and the sinews were polished by wear. The claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there.
I am nineteen, and, as boys of my age buy greeting cards to woo girls, I am hoping that one day I could visit Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, Idaho. Every day, I go to the Central Library, behind Chandigarh’s main market square, and get new books issued: Tolstoy. Chekhov. Turgenev. Flaubert. Marquez. Homer. Naipaul. Fitzgerald. Dickens. Neruda. Then, along a shop which has a round-the-year sale, I sit on a bench, holding a Nescafe coffee, and dream of having a café-au-lait with Hemingway.
I watch people pass by: chubby housewives buying cutlery, boys checking out new music albums, old men buying cheap literature on religion, prospectives brides getting their photographs clicked, and hungry workers eating from grimy plates. Then I leave and back at the hostel, I start reading.
By the time it is midnight, I am hungry. So, Gaurav Sharma and I go to Ranjan, who has a parantha stall next to General Hospital. We eat egg paranthas and two glasses each of strong tea. He lights up a cigarette and I also take a few puffs. We chat for a while and go back. He returns to his Statistics and Shiv Kumar Batalvi. I stay for a while, listening to Jagjit Singh pouring out Batalvi’s pain, and then I am reading again till the first light breaks.
That has been my life for many years. And now, thirteen years later, I long for those days. I long for companionship. I long for love.
And I long to leave a flask at Hemingway’s grave, as is the custom.
(Pic courtesy: Erik Hanberg)