Monday, March 16, 2009

The story of Narcissus

- Sachida Bista

Anything that is unconventional and alien to one is wrong and hence frightening. Hence to overcome those fears one tends to tame things outside oneself, like the circus-man who must tame the carnivorous lion. Of course that man is never truly rid of that fear which makes him ‘tame’ it in the first place. He must always carry a whip and lash it whenever need arises. An absolute reconciliation is impossible for he is a man and it is a lion, and in their differences only a pact between them is possible, between two powers, one scared of the whip and the other scared of the whipped. Well, I am not as much interested in the lion as I am in that circus-man, probably dressed like a clown, a painted mask to hide his fear and misery. Why he must tame the lion in the first place might seem ridiculous, but that is because to tame is essentially his nature and his purpose. Without taming the lion, or rather without the lion, his existence becomes meaningless.


Only by ‘teaching’ the other can one overcome one’s fears. Man finds himself alone amidst variety, change; amidst things he cannot make sense of. Hence, his immediate reaction to such an unknown environment is to spread himself, his ideas, force them down the other’s throat if need be, to overcome that variety, to understand that change, so that everything becomes familiar again, so that he is not ‘outdated’. He is reaffirmed. This is why knowledge is ‘light’, missionaries must bring charities and the words of their gods must be spread.


Man needs to see himself reflected. He is a narcissist and hence man will essentially die in his own self absorption. He collapses into himself. He is not seeking relationship in others, but mirrors so that he is reflected. So that he knows who he is, his desires, his fears, his strengths, his achievements. So that he can value and validate himself. For this reason man devised religion, customs, traditions, love in order to find himself in the other; so that he sees himself reflected. But what he fails to learn is that even the other seeks the same. Hence an interesting and a pathetic situation occurs: two mirrors reflect each other in futile for infinity.


The lion and the circus man are at continuous strife with each other. The circus man wishes for a puppet; the lion wishes to devour the ‘puppeteer’. What is common to both is that desire for victory. Both are engaged in that unending game because there will be no victory. It is a game between equals. It is to be a continuous struggle essentially because one needs the other for meaningfulness. The circus man, our subject, must engage himself as long as he desires to live. The moment he gives up is his end. The lion, the other, of course never rests.


Love, is a process of self-realisation and then the affirmation of that realisation. The lover seeks to see himself reflected in the ‘beloved’. Perfect love is love where one finds complete reflection in the other. One loves, to seek a validation of oneself; a validation of one’s imagined, constructed self. However, since an individual is always different from the other, love is a process with no end; there is no complete fulfillment, no complete reflection; hence there is no perfect love. The narcissistic lover is in a continuous process of ‘finding’ himself in the other. The other is reduced to a pond in which he sees himself, to appraise himself, to love himself. The murkiness of the water allows him the liberty to obscure and imagine various aspects of himself. But occasionally, the water clears to reveal the truth. Because of their (the lover’s and the beloved’s) inherent and acquired differences, a complete reflection (desired image) is unattainable. Thus love is an incessant and as unending process of ‘teaching’ the other. To ‘learn’ (from the other) is however unacceptable to Narcissus; for that would mean that he is lesser and more importantly, invalid. Hence, to reaffirm himself, he feels the need to tame, mould, ‘teach’ the beloved/the other into his idea of himself; his reflection. The other’s differences are understood as a threat to his identity. So the other is either held in contempt or is made to unlearn what she (in this case) is and in a way, mutilate herself into the lover’s notion of himself, so that he can overcome the fear of solitude. The lover needs to feel a ‘validity’ of and for himself in the social fabric. Thus, love boils down to the desire to assert oneself upon the other; to control the other. It is only a more cordial and agreeable method of exercising unwarranted power.


For a cup of tea

- Sachida Bista

It starts within one of us – that thirst. It proceeds onto a proposal and then a tacit agreement. It is as if we plan it all along. Then we clothe ourselves in our woolens, to protect ourselves from the cold of the night; to keep from exposing our nakedness from night’s wanton gaze. We push the gate; how the metals clash as they fight each other; and off we shoot ourselves, spurting onto the night’s cool skin. Our shadows dissolve into the dark.


It is a long, winding road to PC; where remnants of life still chatter, fuss, trade in the night. The road is empty, desolate. We walk – usually the three of us; sometimes a forth joins us, and sometimes it is a human chain, hissing, as it pulls itself forward. We walk on into the night with that great sense of purpose, with a need to satiate our thirst that gnaws our insides. That thirst is a void that absorbs everything that comes in its way; so we and our voids march forward absorbing every fibre of dark that we brush against. Sometimes, a conversation about something startles us and it accompanies us till our destination; sometimes, nothing.


The lamps that illuminate the road to PC hum in that low note, singing to the insects that collect around them. How those insects swirl around each glow creating a universe oblivious to another.  Each insect battles another for a touch of that divine fire; that dispassionate flame that evokes all desires; and after a fierce fight where each one is for oneself, an insect finally touches it - it burns, shrivels and falls from the heavens to the earth, from whence it had once sprung – a closure to its exquisite dance of death – a declaration of its limitations.


We walk on, unaffected as we pass these lamps; unaffected even as we see the carcasses lying around the lamp-posts. We search for our own spotlights – to touch the source of that illumination and to be scorched by the mere brilliance of it. But mostly, it is through the dark that we travel; it is in that dark where we imagine ourselves significant; it is there in that unknown, where we suddenly and fully know our purpose; it is there, where night is most blind, fragments of forgotten dreams converge into a point of concentration; it is in that dark we reign, we survive; for there, we are secret.


Life fades in as we near PC. There are men of different kinds, caricatures mostly; in a pathetic display of light and shadow. Whispers of women ooze out of cracks, in the barred windows, only to be stifled by the loud grunts and abuses outside. Sometimes, a car flashes past, tearing everything apart, followed by a gust of wind; but PC has a peculiar habit of stitching itself together again.  It has stood witness to fights, rapes, perhaps a murder; it has been bruised, wounded, scarred and yet, it is there still, firm, throbbing, a vein – a passage for life.


We collect around the tea-stall, for a cup of tea. The burning flame moans as the priest prepares the golden liquid that must quench the thirst that keeps ghosts from their sleeps. Hundreds gather around to see the sacred event, to be united with each other, in their desires. When the tea is finally ready the man who has practiced the great power of keeping everyone in suspension, pours it in small plastic cups. Each man sells his life, concealed in a few coins, for a cup. After he gulps down the burning liquid, the ceremony is over. He must return.


 We, are among those, who witness that eternal fire that warms the cold night in the deepest of winter; we are among those few, who travel great lengths for a sip of that elixir that flows endlessly in the rivers of that nocturnal civilization. We are among those restless pilgrims, who journey the unknown, in search of that god to be redeemed from the sins of the ignorant world. With that realization, we must all go back from whence we came; we must all submit to night’s calming powers. The road back is the same and its shadows too. More insects are stricken dead by the towering lamps and we must all return to our beds as sleep finally beckons us. Returning is a happy burden and numbed, we walk back, forgetting all that we had desired, all that we had been.


Then, in that last minute of wakefulness, as we finally settle ourselves in our confines, we suddenly come to realize: Night purloins our dreams and dissolves it in a cup of tea.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Rain

The rain 
is so eager to fall on our heads, 
prompt our trembling, 
tumbling out of beds. 
It ceaselessly pours, 
so trenchant and so cold, 
we feel the mooring 
of intractable, shouting winds 
that rush into doors 
and out of cantankerous windows.  

The rain 
is so willing to drench us, 
to wet our clothes, 
to wash, to cleanse us, 
it feels startlingly like  
a deluge of ichor 
bettering wounds. 
It is the washing  
of soiled bodies, 
thrashing and writhing in a momentary pleasure.  

The rain 
makes change so seamless. 
It takes old, vestigial hurt 
and flattens it gently.  
A soothing balm comes over it 
and precipitates 
layers of healing, 
making clean the prickliness of the old. 
It opens up fresh pores 
that breathe resuscitated.  

The rain 
pattering on him makes him look wet 
and calm and bellowing 
with hopefulness. 
It makes him incandescent  
with a kind of secret hope 
of incorrigible joy. 
It makes him feel 
like a refuge 
in which I can finally seal  
my peace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vegetarian Tuesday

It is a Tuesday night. Food in the mess is terrible – the same quotidian vegetarian stuff. Like every Tuesday I have to go out and find somewhere else to eat. Someplace nice, something new. It’s always like this on Tuesdays; the food is nondescript. It’s startling that food could become boring. But it eventually does. For instance, there used to be a time, in school, when on Tuesdays, yet again, you didn’t have an alternative. You had to eat whatever was served at dinner. It was an irrevocable fate that awaited everyone. Everyone had to eat it, no one could even bunk dinner. There, we had a location problem. Our campus was in a isolated area, was cordoned off by enormous fences, intimidating barbed wire that banished even the slightest thought of egress. You fell in line whether you wanted to or not. Everything worked around the clock. It was perfect. Nothing could induce you to try and change the irreversible. Not even the menu, which appeared and reappeared with strict regularity. It was pedantically repeated week after week, month after month, year after year, and nothing could be done about it. Of course, occasionally, people attempted to take the mess-manager to task, and bring about some drastic changes; but really, in the grand scheme of things that transpired at dinner, lunch and breakfast, everything was unalterable. 

It was almost comforting in a way. The fact that no matter what you felt, you would eat the same thing over and over again. You would be subject to the same culinary dicta. You would have to look down on your plate and find the same things. Other things tossed about obstreperously, fights ensued, people fell apart, expulsions and suspensions were handed down, but nothing would stop the food from being the same. Teachers left school, new ones replaced them. Students beat other students at competitions, some triumphant, some morose, they would all eat the same thing. On some days, I felt pinned against the wall, my imagination frustrated by the unimaginative ways of those who decided our routines. But I let it pass, and the feeling subsided. It became less and less problematic. Everything routine gradually became a source of comfort. A source of silent approval. You could be whatever you wanted, the circumstances around food never changed. 

But here, in North Campus, innumerable things offer respite from the regularity of Tuesday dinner. VKRV, for instance, is full of people. It overflows with lots of students avoiding dinner in their own hostels, trying better combinations of food to combat their boredom. They all escape the vegetarian dinner in college to come here and ask for some tried and tested alternatives. The most popular, unarguably, is Maggi and egg. Maybe with some aloo parathas in addition. And some coffee/cigarette or coke later on. The people who run the kitchen know their formulas so well. They vacillate between the two tables, slowly, ponderously. They look at you and ask you for what you want. You respond disinterestedly. You know the options. They might even remind you, if you don’t come often enough. The prices never change, except maybe in a few years. But such changes are brought on by the vicissitudes of a gorged-out economy, vitiating the lives of people elsewhere. Here, in response to the exigencies of inflation, they might occasionally change the price of aloo parathas and scrambled eggs. There are days when the place is full of loud conversations, dialogues intersecting each other midway in the air, garrulous people overcharged with talk. The people who work in the kitchen are silent even in the midst of this. They are always terse, even when engaged by the more loquacious among their customers. Theirs is an inherited silence, passed on from one generation of workers to the next, every year.

Kamla Nagar is so different. It is crowded and pushy, people inveterately step on your toes. They brusquely brush against you when you walk on the pavement. There is so little space on the pavement. Cars that are parked along the curb stolidly await their owners’ return. No one knows how long they stay there - stationary, contemptuous of pedestrians that try and squirm past them. You walk past the cars and file into the lane of Chinese restaurants. Pick any one for they are all the same. And this regularity does not bother you, because they all serve the same things, and they all do it quite well. You never think about the prices, they’re more or less all the same too. Those who come in from college look stealthily around, spotting others they may know. It’s interesting to note other people who think alike and seek similar avenues of escape, at least on Tuesday.

The roads are narrow and cars criss-cross each other, bludgeoning anything in their way. Dogs scuttle past, scampering across roads while others stand disbelieving on their side of the road, refusing to test the dangers that barricade them from the other side. People who walk along the road feel the energy of these cars; the abrasiveness, the vindictiveness with which they jettison past the melee of stranded, slow objects that obtrusively limit their potential speed. The contempt with which they deride slower things. They were made to repudiate them. They were made to be better, faster, sleeker and to overwhelm the slow and stationary with awe and fear. 

The Chinese is Kamala is filling, and well priced - comparatively. As you walk back to college, slightly tired and bemused, dodging cars and dogs and people sprawled in various states of sleep on the road, bloated and satiated with non-mess food, you look forward to another Tuesday, hoping you will do something new, something different from this one. Likewise, every Tuesday will carry you back to previous Tuesdays, protesting every thought of the regular, the boring. The routine of change fills you weekly with something else not to do. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A little bit of clubbing

That night, I had no idea it would lead to something as complicated. I had absolutely no clue. Of course I knew that it would be slightly confusing. So many people, with so many things to say to each other. It was disorganized. People streamed in from everywhere. They came in their cars and some came by themselves, in autos. Everyone sort of just drifted along until they reached the club. That is how things normally work on these occasions. There is very little time to sort everything out precisely and meticulously. People just assume that everyone will come along; for those who don’t, it’s a sort of unuttered loss, but it doesn’t matter. Minutes before, everybody messages everyone else and they all come to some common consensus. It’s not entirely very simple. They have their separate plans and problems, which come up intermittently, sometimes together. Some people don’t know where to stay over. Some people have a slightly more difficult time convincing their parents. Some people have a tough time concocting stories to sufficiently satisfy their curiosity. But usually, parents here are complicit in their children’s bouts of drinking and smoking and dancing. They kind of appreciate it; it implies that their children are progressively growing more sociable, more fun-loving, more open to doing things with other people. It marks a kind of rite of passage, one that culminates in full-blown social mobility. For some families here, this is important. It is as crucial as the academic brouhaha that persists in colleges, episodic things that they are kept mostly separate from. No one goes to their parents to discuss their classes. But for ‘socials’, they do come in somewhere, somehow, even if in the most nondescript kind of way, taking away their capacity of surveillance so subtly and yet so unequivocally.  

And so it was that night. Everything followed exactly the same pattern and everyone produced the same procession of events, leading up to the club. It wasn’t very far off, closer than most of the other clubs in Delhi and it was significantly cheaper to get there. That wasn’t the issue. Everybody got there alright, without too much of a burdensome cash-slip attached. Certain people needed more comfortable means of getting there. They arranged for that as well. Cars are fairly easily available and women prefer cloistered cabs to the more public and more open metros and the more vitiating autos. People took a long time to get there, and the wait was kind of excruciating. Not because I didn’t know some people there; that’s not too much of a problem – you don’t really know too many people at these places, you just have to unobtrusively go along. But here, people I didn’t know had some kind of an overwhelming feeling of aggressive energy, transmitted randomly from person to person, from stranger to stranger, from one unknown space of discomfiture to another. It just kept growing, like little pangs of angry solitude. The dresses were nice, so was everything else they had put on. But they almost demanded, and screamed perfunctorily for, recognition. Not attention though, but recognition – the two are very different sometimes. I was there because I wanted to spend some time with certain people, which I did alright. But other things kept getting in the way.

It didn’t take me very long to slowly drift away. It was so easy. Everything already kind of egged on individual reveries. I only had to allow myself a conscious attempt at it. There were people who came along in throes, some of whom I didn’t find myself able to interact with. Which is perfectly fine. There is nothing reprehensible about not speaking to someone in situations like these. You can get away with it. You ought to get away with it.

I didn’t know, however, that someone there would seriously hold it against me.

It didn’t take me very long to feel that frustrated kind of repulsion. There is something instinctively invigorating about it. Whenever you get the feeling, you know it straightaway and you know it well. It fills you up with an assertiveness. You know you need to become more mellow, but some anger in you pushes you forward and you feel these little pangs of irritation. They cannot really be told apart from the melee of other things that inscrutably pass through your head. They come and go. You cannot be left wondering why. I felt those little pangs too. But I couldn’t tell them apart. They came and went. And I didn’t want to be left wondering why. So I simply felt it evaporate from me – effortlessly. They didn’t need any kind of initiative. They just petered out quietly, unspeaking. It didn’t feel right though, this person and her scrutiny. It wasn’t right. Because later, I chanced upon the conversation between them. It was ludicrous; not because it offended me, but because it was illegitimate; like a reprobate drunkard telling people off for harassing him, even as they tacitly watch him fulminate and go crazy, doing no more than witnessing the spectacle.

It was offensive. But so what? I enjoyed threatening its illegitimate coming forth. I liked the fact that I could reprehend it, and strangely, stupidly, even unwittingly, question it. Why not? People get away with a lot of things. They ought to get away with these things. Even then. They can be asked questions.