“Man’s greatest tragedy is that he can conceive of a perfection which he cannot attain.”– Lord Byron
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.
I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.John Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci (Stanzas 1, 2 and 3 out of 12)
Indra said he would not appear for the viva. He said that two months ago, not just then. He said he can’t complete his thesis. We all thought he would be the first to do that. He disappointed everyone; but more than anyone, Shehnaz, his once-best-friend.
That is the first thing that crosses my head when someone asks me the tale of Indra. A good man, could have been a great one, with a little bit of persistence. By then, he was the unchallenged scholar of our university. He has cracked all the national wide and state wide exams and also he used to get this scholarship, and he’s the most eligible of all we knew. He also was an ambitious man, very. He wanted to complete his PhD in just three years and start a literary and academic career at a high stand-point. He was all ready for it. The manuscript of his first novel was almost getting done. Also, he published half-a-dozen papers in various literary magazines, a few also in the most reputed ones. Not all the professors have submitted as many as he did. He was on his path to glory. But, sadly, that was not where he ended up.
“Aaromale,” he said, one day, sitting at the beach in a very unorthodox posture. He likes sitting at the beach, a lot. Like daily, and along with him, it has become an everyday ritual of mine to visit the sea at least once a day. He was smoking when he asked the question; those days it was too much. “Do you know the meaning?” he asked. Indra, such an amusing and at the same time irritating guy! He has this distinct thing of over-confidence in his eyes, which, I used to love once, but slowly started to despise. I simply shook my head, staring at the eternal oblivion before us – The Bay of Bengal. “No,” I said.
He always does that, he simply chuckles. Once he asked me why I think Henry Fielding has asserted his first class literary efforts just to parody Samuel Richardson’s Shamela. I didn’t know. He chuckled. He does that, and when I asked him why, he simply says with a smug smile: Fielding wanted to marry Richardson’s sister and Richardson didn’t agree for it – insulting Fielding – so was the revenge. He used to amuse people around like, like, he makes our jaw drop down and, we’d like, “Really?” But, that was all a long time ago – when Indra used to be fun. He still was fun, but, some kind of an ominous heaviness. I can’t explain what that is. Some kind of a sinister air around. But that time I didn’t want to ask. His words were all filled with her. Tainted with her, to keep it in his words. Totally. Dipped and taken out of her essence. Every word he speaks, it was just about her in some way or the other.
Like, words weren’t letting him speak about anything else.
“Aaromale means, beloved,” he said, and spit the cigarette recklessly. I didn’t warn him of the possibility it might fall upon his skin and burn. What do I know about those tiny smoke pipes? After all, he is a legend at smoking.
I nodded, looking at the suffocating cigarette in the wet mud. It died slowly. “And where is my beloved, Ravi? Where is my Sarah? What’s she doing?” I knew, that was the reason why I didn’t ask him. “Where is my Saro?” he was losing control, “Where is my Aaromale?” I might not know the meaning of the word, but I knew it was about her. The girl who was burning him worst than the cigarettes he’s puffing. The girl who tainted all his words. His beloved, as he said. Indra’s beloved. Indra’s Aaromale.
“And the stars have withered and died– Her Essence was My Heavens.
But didn’t with pride;
The lights that sky has sucked
Like my mouth without the taste of my bride,
But the stars were my eyes,
But has shined only when I
Has poured them over my love,
Over my bride,
The light that has shun
Over her lips is sacred
And her hips are mine,
The zips that I’ve opened
Were lips of those beacons
Which had her essence which were my heavens.”
A poem by Indra (aka., Nagendra Sarma)
That was the kind of poetry he was writing. I am pretty sure of one thing: When he begun the poem he planned for a universal poem dealing with a cosmic theme. Check the first three lines; he was talking of stars dying and light being sucked; if I am right, he attempted to write a poem over the magnanimity of a black-hole. He always was inspired by the intricacies of space. But then, after the first three or four lines, the poem was driven out by her. He didn’t attempt to control. He simply poured out: Talked of how his life had become dry without her and described his love for her lips and lust for the hips and all, and then, he threw the poem out of the window, and as a tradition, it found me.
“He is going mad,” Shehnaz sighed when she read the poem the next morning in the midst of a couple of singing birds. “What’s all this rubbish? I simply don’t like it!” she placed the paper in my hands before her friend retorted.
“What’s wrong with it? I think it really is a beautiful poem. The rhythm is good and the rhyme too,” she lend her palm requesting for the paper. She eyed it, slowly reading under her breath. “A fast poem. A beat poem. It is perfect.”
“You talk like this is Indra’s greatest poem!”
“It might be,” the friend said, very confident, looking at the piece of paper again. “The rhyme pattern and rhythm are really complex, and. . .”
“Just a moment,” Shehnaz said, searching through her hand bag, and pulled out a paper. “Is this the last week’s poem?” she asked me. I looked at it for a couple of seconds and recognized it. I nodded my head; yes, it was the poem he threw the week before that.
Shehnaz started reciting it aloud:
The dripping raspberry juice of your lips,
Makes me sick; thrills and kicks
The drums of my heart and opens the strips
Of those strings which haven’t played since
the first of my kiss, which,
I faintly remember, as a dream
Of my past life, in which you,
The queen of my every dream, sings, and
Pleases my fits for love, for lust and for this
Dripping raspberry juice of your lips.– For Love & For Lust
A poem by Indra (aka., Nagendra Sarma)
When the poem was done, which Shehnaz read in a snap, she stood silently for a moment looking away from her friend. “That was so perfect,” her friend said, trying to take in what she has heard. “He always writes of his love?”
“No,” Shehnaz said, almost impatient. “Once he used to write about art, life, motivation and gods,” we started walking. “Now it is just her. Every other thing has gone.”
“Or,” her friend said, slowly. “Every other thing has become her: art, life, motivation and god,” and she stumbled, “Or, goddess!”
That morning was interesting. The whole of hostel was a mess. Nearly all the PhD and M.Phil vivas were being done that day. Conducted, I mean. After waking up early in the morning, to secure a washroom for myself, the first thing I did was, I went to Indra’s room and banged the door, trying to wake him up. He opened his window and from the dark opening, with light falling upon his face slightly, he murmured that he woke up and he would be ready too.
I rushed away with my bathing accessories into the washroom. All the other friends were excited too and we all got ready together and in the hurry, I forgot about Indra and what he was doing. May be my mind sorted out the solution to that problem by saying to itself, “He would be ready,” and no one else cared about him – for his arrogance. Everyone else together went to the mess and had our breakfast, and when we were about to go, I just wanted to check on Indra. Others simply said it was a waste of time and he would care himself. He never came with us. He never ate with us. That was all fine, nothing new. But that morning, keeping the dim face aside, when I woke him up, I didn’t even see him. I didn’t know if he walked out of his room or not.
I checked the time. It was nearing nine already. We need to mark our presence by 09:30 and ought to stay in the campus from then on. We were running late already, true. But it was running late on him too. If he has slipped into sleep unconsciously even after waking him up, I simply wanted to warn him.
Even while the others were protesting with impatience, I said I would be back in a couple of minutes and rushed towards his room. The room was still locked and I tried to knock the door, which at my slight push, got opened. And I found him. Lying.
Not on his bed, but on the floor; his head towards the door, and he was half under the slipper-stand.
We were just on time. We parked our three bikes at the slot provided, and we were walking while I saw Shehnaz walking in. I asked the others to leave, so I could join her and walk in. She saw from the distance and waved her hand. I waved back. She walked near.
“So ready?” she asked, with a tensed smile.
Simply shrugging, I told her I was. Casually speaking we both walked in and got enrolled and walked out again: better to wait in the campus garden, than to sit in iron chairs of college for hours.
“I don’t think I saw him,” she said, subtly. I smiled, and hesitantly, I said he didn’t come. She sighed. She nodded her head in silence. Accidentally, I broke the silence with a chuckle. She was alert. “What was that about” she asked, and I simply shook my head, my face still beaming with amusement. I chuckled again. Laugh is contagious. Without any reason, just looking at me, she started giggling, but started probing me, “Come on, Ravi. Tell me. What is this about? Even I would laugh.”
But I told her what that was about.
“This morning,” I started telling her the tale. “When we all were starting to college, I wanted to call Indra,” and when his name came in, I could see, she was alert. “I walked towards his room and opened his door,” I was laughing, and she was also laughing without knowing for what, “Do you know what he was doing?” I asked, like a male-imp.
“What?” she was eager.
“He was hunting cockroaches,” I said and then, only my laughter was audible. She went silent. Her face slowly shrunk and she asked me what I meant. My smile faded too. She was serious. “I mean, he said he didn’t want to come to viva,” she knows that much. Shehnaz was his best-friend; for years. She probed me to go on. “And he was,” I didn’t know how to utter the same thing for the second time. “He was hunting cockroaches. Like, falling upon the ground half naked and hunting these insects that are under these tables and at corners; killing them bare handed and all.” I didn’t know how to conclude. “Disgusting, yes.” it felt like a dignified comment.
I am not sure, but I think I saw a glisten in her eyes.
“Can you call him and tell him that I want to meet him?” she asked. I sure would. But I warned her that he might simply deflect the invitation. She thought about it for a while. “Tell him I need him now.” Such an irony, I thought, but that worked like heavens.
So what, I’ve been sick,
Waiting, taking your tricks.
I think, I’m on a brink;
No, I can’t take you in,
Can’t take you in.
Too far, I’ve swum; I will sink:
This time, I think I will think,
Always, you’re the one who wins,
Ah, my heart is where you’re pinned,
Heart is where you’re pinned.
Recklessly rumbling rains;
Roaring: running as rivers,
Racing: rummaging hither,
Racking: remaking tither,
Remains resulting grim,
Replaces reluctant weather,
Raves, raves and raves.– Raving Reckless Rivers
A Poem by Indra (aka., Nagendra Sarma)
“I miss optimism in his poems,” she said, eyeing his recent poem I had in my book. I was, I am and I shall be a great fan of his poetry. “He used to write about cheerful things. But now: sick, sinks, pinning to heart, roaring, grim and raves, my god,” there was a certain contempt in her voice. “The word itself is so disturbing: raves,” she said, like calling out the name of her enemy with distaste.
“That’s true,” I said. There really was a lot of cheer in his poems.
While we were talking, Indra drove into the road and was nearing us on his bike. At a distance he stopped and walked towards us. Not hurried, not very easy. “You’re fine?” he asked, stumbling upon something.
She looked at him, her face flabbergasted. He was all hairy. Lips darkened, eyes bloodshot, neck coated with murk. She tried to touch his hair, which he tried to avoid, screaming a ‘why?’ to which she did not heed. The hair was maty. “When did you clean this?” she asked, shocked and stunned at his appearance.
“What are you talking about? Ravi said you are in some need, and I left all the works I was doing and I came here.” That was his retort.
“Which work?” she asked, really haughty.
“Many works. Personal works!”
“You mean, cockroaches!”
He looked at me. I was flushed. I looked away. he screamed. “Ah, this is so stupid. Why did you even call me when. . .”
“Look at you!” she screamed back. The students who were a little away from us started peeping at our quarrel. I tried to hush them down, but Shehnaz would never listen. So I didn’t. “Look at how you are. The pants, the dirt, my god. What is this shirt? When did you wash it. It is stinking like. . .” something interesting caught her eye. “What is this hole on the chest? Why is it burnt?” even I didn’t observe that small burnt hole on his shirt till then. She slowly tried to touch the shirt and he tapped her hand.
She glared at him, and wondrously it worked.
She eyed it like an expert for a moment and she, in a revelation, asked me to hold her handbag for her, so she would have her hands free for the operation she wanted to do. All of a sudden, without giving Indra anytime, she ripped open the shirt at his chest.
In a moment, Indra, with a panicked outburst covered it. But a moment was enough for Shehnaz to confirm what she was afraid of. While Indra was trying to button his shirt, Shehnaz, closing her gaping mouth, eyes wide-open in disbelief, staring still at Indra, walked back till a wall and leaned onto it.
What she saw was unbearable. Beneath the dense curly chest-hair of his, Indra’s skin was all marked with many burnt circles. As little as a cigarette head.
“What is that!” I couldn’t hold any longer. “What are you even doing?”
Indra was laughing. One of his ways to escape from blame.
Shehnaz walked towards him. “You filthy bastard,” she said, and Indra laughed much louder at it. “After that bitch went off your life, I thought you would learn something.”
When someone accused Sarah of anything at all, Indra would hold their throat and squeeze it as much as it goes near snapping off. I was afraid. Indra stopped smiling, and was staring at Shehnaz. Like expecting something from her. She didn’t speak. Even I didn’t. then, he started humming something in a low tone.
He nodded his head for a several times. It felt like he would slap her.
Instead, he spoke. “After she went off, yes,” he said, like in an agreement with Shehnaz’s words. “I learnt something.”
Shehnaz made a mocking sound. I didn’t like it.
“Shall I show you what’s that?” he asked.
She didn’t reply.
“I shall show you, see.”
He pulled out a cigarette from his chest pocked. It was half crushed, for Shehnaz crumbled the shirt. He made it as proper as he can; like a skilled mechanic, and kept it in his mouth. Shehnaz’s eyes were clearly glistening. I was urging him not to do that and he was like I don’t even exist. He was just glaring at her, and she at him. He pulled out a matchbox from his pant pocket, and lighting the match stick, he was saying, “After she went off, I understood, I need to learn some skill to save myself, and here see,” he lit the cigarette. Shehnaz was almost at the brink of breaking out. “I would take a puff from the cigar without touching it.”
Saying those, with a lit up cigarette in his mouth, he blew the white, hot smoke onto my face.
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan
I set her on my pacing steed,John Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci (Stanzas 4, 5 and 6 out of 12)
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.