29th August, 2015
The only source of light in the room was the light coming from the screen of his laptop. There was an eerie silence as all nights brought with them. However, the commotion inside his head was not showing any sign of slowing down. It was his 23rd cigarette of the day, and every day he’d think of leaving the fags. The only bottle of his favourite Old Monk was almost empty now. He cursed the move of its dismissal with a soft murmur, while applauding his old mate for giving him company through the night. Piyush Mishra was his other companion, as always.
“Heeron ke, Raanjhon ke naghme kya ab bhi
sune jaate hain haan wahan?
Aur rota hain raaton mein Pakistan kya waise hi
Yes, hold on. It was love. It is love. Doesn’t love always end with smoke, alcohol and the night? He was trying to make sense of what little remained.
Five years ago…
When and where does a story start? More specifically, one that involves love; where does it begin? Is it at that one instance when you see her for the first time sitting on the benches outside your college canteen; or is it then, during those boring assemblies we all had in school, when you see her settling her hair behind her ear as the morning news was being read? Does it begin during the sutta break between classes or when she calls you “dada” in front of your whole group, making you turn smile-less for weeks? When does a story start? And how many such stories can and do you have? For him, there has always been one.
It was the chills of December. College trip. The train was tearing through the darkness that engulfed the night. There were hoots in between. While the whole compartment was asleep, the troupe of hooligans disguised as students had made it their mind to keep everyone awake. Ooty was still far away and the two games patented by people for journeys would not stop. He was not a great singer and thus kept himself away from Game A; while completing tasks of sweeping the floors of the train and asking alms from fellow passengers didn’t interest him either. Game B was out of bounds too. He found solace in his playlist and the darkness outside. He started scribbling words on his notepad. And then,
“Hey! Why are you here? Bored? Join us for the game? Nilotpal is imitating Baruah sir!”
He looked, taken aback, and saw this girl, a coloured shawl on her shoulders, hair left open, eyes sparkling, smile on her lips. He tried smiling, then blurted
“Hey! Not really interested in the game. Had a long night yesterday. Might just doze off.”
“You were writing something? Come on, be a sport! You are too shy in class anyway. Get out of your shell!”, she said as she sat on the seat across him.
“It’s nothing like that. I am just tired. Was trying to write something.”
“Well then, show me?” she said, moving her right hand forward.
“It’s not over yet!”, he almost screamed, clutching his notepad in reflex.
She started laughing.
“Well, whenever you are finished, come and join the game. And yes, I will read what you write tomorrow. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight”, he tried smiling.
10 minutes after she was gone, he was done with his poem for the night.
“A breeze seemed to hit me
Now, as the train screams through this abyss
Tonight, the darkness is all but gone!
And I can smell the bokul
Right at my doorstep this morning…
Again, the mad heart has won over reason!
Gone are the days of peddling my cycle to
Once catch a glimpse of you; to
Give you the news of my existence!
On this train tonight, you are here; and
I am just two be(i)rths away…!”
That was how he had a word with Antara for the first time. Maybe that was when his story started. Maybe not…
Two years ago and two years into the relationship…
Guwahati wore a festive look. A new Jotin Bora movie was out. Durga Puja was near. New hangout points were coming up and “Let’s go to Hub” was no longer the catchphrase. The city was changing with every new mall and every new KFC outlet. However, they were a bit off the trend.
“Let’s go to Ambari! I want to eat something gela today!”
He would always comply. And they would talk endlessly, munching cheap chow-mein and momos. Dosa was a new addition to the list and sometimes they went a notch ahead to order smoked chicken.
“We’ll live in your village. The city is too much of an effort. We will find a way out for ourselves”, she said with a twinkle in her eyes.
He would tell her stories of his village. A place ironically lost in the plains of Assam. The only reason people knew it was because of the floods that destroyed it year after year without fail. That was one constant in his life. Water. He would tell her of the Mishing Sang Ghors, houses made over poles of bamboo to keep the inhabitants away from the flood. He would tell her how much he loved fishing and how exciting it was to sit in the shade, waiting for the fish to take the bait. He would tell her of how perfectly his mother prepared pork; how he loves cycling on a particular road and how that is one pilgrimage he always embarks upon on his every trip home. He would tell her about his father, who rode a bike every day for an hour to reach the school where he taught mathematics. He would tell her about the stars he gazed, about the poems he wrote on starry nights. And she would listen. She would listen intently, her eyes never off him. Be it Dighalipukhuri or Pan Bazar, she would not stop listening. And that was what he liked about her the most. She would always listen to him.
“My father wants me to be a professor. He never learnt English. He is happy I did.”
“You will make him proud, Baba!” she’d say.
After two years of moving to Guwahati and two months of heartless ragging in the hostel, he was feeling at home again; at peace. She made sure he was always smiling. And he didn’t mind it.
One year ago and two weeks after the tragedy…
“It will be alright! I am there for you, Baba!”
While he sobbed for the nth day in a row, the daily assurances fell on deaf ears. The ravager had destroyed his life forever. His home was gone; no one had survived. The embankment broke at near midnight, reports said. The village, by then fast asleep, was an easy prey for the waves. Nothing remained. Even the line of betel nut trees which his father had grown so lovingly was uprooted. The bokul in his courtyard was no different story. There was no home. Suddenly, he was an orphan and he was homeless. And then, everything else fell apart.
He barely passed his final year of college. He was kicked out of his hostel for lack of money to pay the mess bills. Now, working part time for a daily newspaper, he sits inside his palace of tin and wood. Poetry comes more naturally now. It screams with pain and remorse. But can you eat poetry?
“I am trying, Antara. But I will need more time.”
“I know Baba. But for how long can I ignore my parents. They have already called three boys to our home. I cannot keep rejecting every time. It’s just not possible! One day, they will marry me off. And I don’t want to marry anyone else. You know that!”
“My life is yours to take; and if there isn’t any other way, take my life and run away!”
“Enough! Poetry doesn’t feed your stomach! Get over your words and do something!”
With that she walked out of the room and the ever broadening abyss only seemed to expand a bit more. He had known what loss is. When he was five, his house caught fire and his father pulled him out of the flames. They had no place to live or go. He was at least better off now. He had no one to think of, unlike his father. He had no home, but he had a roof above his head. But will the roof guarantee him love? Will his poetry give him even a meal a day? He had been rejected by six publishers already. He was almost out of hope. And now he was without his only support so far. Things were falling apart too quickly for him to even try collecting the already fallen ones. And this was the last piece to fall apart. His roof was down.
He had always had a connection with the night. The calmness made him feel human for a while, before the day that was ahead of him could question his existence again. It was seven hours after he’d got the envelope. Colourful and embroidered, it almost hid the pain it contained. He picked up his pen.
“On nights like these, I try screaming
For once, my ears are not ringing.
Why did you not strike when I
Was on my bed back home?
Am I your biggest accomplishment till date?
This Saraighat is bloodier!
Was it a mistake to love Marx?
Or was Milton my gravest sin?
How can I chase the dreams of my deceased father
With an empty stomach?
Should I rob a bank or should I make the jump?
What do I become, a poet or a militant
And because I could not be the former or the latter
She went away too, with her marriage’s letter!”
The present day…
29th August, 2015
The bottle of Old Monk was over and his pack of cigarettes had burnt out. There was time till the shops opened for the day and there was time still for his next stipend to come. His stomach was full. After all, it was Antara’s marriage today. He had to visit her one last time.
Now, both of his friends were dead. Piyush Mishra was still playing in the background and the song could not have been more apt. His Duniya had come crashing down. But wasn’t it all a beautiful journey, blotted by bloodshed in the end? She used to say ronga was their colour. Red ruined his life. Be it the red of his parents he never got to see or the red on her forehead a few hours back. Now, was it about time he spilled a bit of his own? Maybe it was. She was still two births away.
Like the December chill, you hit me.
You shake me and freeze my spine.
And then, you go away, the way you came.
And with that, Prakansh’s pen stopped forever.