Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hemlock Destiny

“Why do you say every man is a planet?” the demon asks him, licking his scalpel.

He lies on the ground, wounded, bruised, tattered, crippled, fragmented, nauseated, destroyed. He passes a faint smile at the demon. “Leave that, tell me, where does one get strength?” he asks.

“It’s too late for you. Ha ha ha,” the demon laughs. And then he stops. “But why do you ask?” he is greedily looking at his flesh, whatever is left of it.

“To listen to Rachmaninov,” he replies.

“Your mind is your boon and bane, you fool,” the demon is shaking with rage. “You want to clean your bag with soap and water. Then you look at the mirror work on your pillow and want a tear drop to fall on it. Then you wonder about the phrase ‘the fat lady has not sung.’ And then you want to wriggle out wax from your left ear. The bed sheet is not properly tucked in, and it worries you. Then you look at the idols of God. You pretend to talk to them as if they were your drinking buddies. Stop it, stop it. It is consuming you.”

“Will you let me drink some tea?” he asks feebly, feeling his lips with his tongue.

“You know when you were in your mother’s womb, she used to have a lot of watermelons,” the monster says. “Would you like some?”

“Here drink this hemlock, you fool,” he says. “Stay like this.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fever is a jilted lover

It is so tough to unsettle the haze, he thinks. The haze inside his chest. Sometimes it scares him. And then he has to close his eyes and imagine light - red light - surrounding him, like some sort of celestial shower. When there is haze, no song stirs his soul. The blue-chested bird perched on the high-tension wire evokes no feeling. A young girl in school uniform only makes him aware of lost youth - of family that could have been, of that feeling of oneness that he knows would never dwell in his heart.

Out of sheer habit he gets up, struggling on his feet, on to the kitchen, to prepare coffee. He imagines pictures on the door of refrigerator, like the ones his friends put up on theirs, stuck with magnets - pictures he associates with that oneness; portraits of time spent in quaint hill stations, or in bright-coloured rubber rafts in foaming waters, or posing in front of an antique shop in some exotic foreign land.

He comes out on the balcony, holding his cup. Amidst empty shoe cartons, beer bottles (one of them is half-filled, he notices), old newspapers, a discarded lampshade, he sits quietly and lights a cigarette. If the haze can't be unsettled, it can be thickened at least, like some story plot. The thought makes him smile.
He coughs a little.

Bright red flowers in dried milk tins, typewriter, silver paper cutter and someone complaining of knee pain - this imagery would only exist in his dreams. This is his parallel world, his live phantasmagoria. Here, on this balcony, there is only loneliness, like a vague toothache.

He remembers he had planted a few tree saplings in front of his house a few months ago. Now he realises they are gone, chewed to death by stray cows, crushed under the wheels of a car parked in hurry, or just because of his indifference. He looks at his right foot. He imagines it frowning at him, as if it had a mind of its own. It reminds him of a woman's foot - a rebel guerilla's. He had met her many years ago in a jungle of Sal trees. She had dipped it in a streamlet while she cleaned her gun. Would she be alive, he doesn't know.

The coffee is over. The cigarette as well. He feels his forehead. The fever has returned. Like a jilted lover, it too takes its revenge.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Long March

Walking with Maoist guerillas along a flooded river, somewhere along the
Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border

Among the guerillas

With Maoist guerillas somewhere on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border

The Absent State

My book, "The Absent State" (with Neelesh Misra) is out in book stores now. Hachette India has called it the non-fiction book of the year. It has already topped the non-fiction list of The Hindu.
Here are some reviews of the book:

Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra in the Hindustan Times
Ved Marwah in Tehelka
Nithin Belle in Khaleej Times
Shylashri Shankar in The Financial Express

You can buy the book online from here.