Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Missing Man (Parts 2 & 3)

Part 1
He woke up from his alcohol-induced sleep. He looked at the watch. It was 7.39 am. A straight line of sunlight sieved through two folds of curtains. On the floor lay a heap of books. A book mark peeped from a Bulgarian novel. He suddenly had this urge to disappear.

When he was a child, Srikant would lay hiding amid the bushes behind his house, deriving pleasure from controlling his bowels. He would imagine to have in his possession an invisible space ship that would carry him wherever he wanted. The ship could even enter a room through its keyhole.

When he grew up he wished he were an orphan. He wished that he were brought up by an old man who would have died later, leaving him alone in this world, bereft of any relation. Then he would live life as he wanted to. Imagine what fun it would be to live a life where you had no duty towards anyone including yourself. One day, you would just not want to go back to where you lived. You would not have to call anyone and offer an explanation. You could aimlessly sit in a bus that took you anywhere. You could come back after a week or a month or a year and decide to make love to a young prostitute. You could choose to stay naked inside your house and not venture out for, say, ten days. You could just shut yourself up in your bathroom and not come out till evening. You could decide to eat nothing for two days. Then eat only a banana for two days. And then eat platefuls of rice and chicken curry for two days. And then lift a flower vase and break it against a wall. And then dance over the glass shreds, leaving blood imprints all over the house. And then go and watch a burning pyre on the banks of the river Yamuna. And then put a Nirgun Bhajan sung by Kumar Gandharva on your player and lie on the cold marble floor. And sing aloud with him. And then cry like he did once, in the middle of a busy street, while thinking about the despondency of art. And futility of life.

There was a loud thud. The newspaper had landed in the balcony. But Srikant had no desire to get up. He wanted to disappear. This was a week before he went missing.

The diesel fumes of the bus woke him up. His head had been banging subtly with the glass pane of the window but he had managed to keep his eyes shut. A folk song played, probably on a radio set, in the rear of the bus. Srikant looked at his watch. He was a few hundred miles away from his home now. They must be looking for him – his family members – Srikant thought. But inside the State Roadways bus, no one recognised him.

The bus negotiated a curve and Srikant imagined it to skid off the narrow road into the overwhelming river below. All the passengers would die and their bloated corpses would be found miles down, playing footsie with the iron gates of a dam built over the river. No one would come to claim his body and it would lay, for roughly a week, in the freezing drawer of a mortuary. Then he would be cremated (cremated because they would see that his penis was not circumcised and they always assumed such unclaimed body, as per their convenience, to be of a Hindu). Moreover, they would find no identification papers on his body.

Someone snored beside him. Srikant looked at the old man. His head dangled as if he was replying in affirmation to a question. But even in his sleep, the old man was clutching hard a gunny bag. After some time, his head came sideways to rest over Srikant’s shoulder. Srikant could feel the man’s breath making a warm contact with his neck. He looked outside from the window.

The night had taken over from the evening and countless bulbs shone like fireflies in the valley below. Srikant concentrated on one bulb and imagined what could be happening inside the house in its light. May be a young couple was copulating. Or may be a drunkard was beating his wife. Or may be a mother was singing a lullaby to her sleepy child. Or may be a restless man was writing poetry. Or may be someone cried behind that light.

Srikant didn’t know why, but he remembered a few verses of an Urdu poet:

Ghar ki tameer chahe jaisi ho
Isme rone ki kucch jagah rakhna
Jism mein phelne laga hai shehr

Apni tanhaiyan bacha rakhna

(No matter how you construct a home
Make sure you leave some space for crying
The city is spreading in the body
Make sure you save your solitude)

What did a man seek ultimately, Srikant thought. Was it not that some unknown happiness remained, like residue, while one was unhappy? And what of the unhappiness, that invisible ounce, pervading like the smell of damp moisture, during moments of joy? And what about the point when a man felt neither joy nor sorrow? Did he seek something beyond that point? If yes, what?

If Sneha was around, Srikant thought, she would have loved to gather answers for these questions as one gathered berries. But was she not doing that already? May be, one of those lights in the valley below was actually shining over her, as she lay on a bed, feeling the cut on her arm. And may be she had found some answers.