Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The last days of term

It was five in the morning and the rain wouldn’t stop beating. It had been going on for a few days and no one could see himself doing anything constructive without being drenched. It overwhelmed everything about life here for a while. Even the classes started a while later than usual. The sports timings were shifted now and again. The teachers were tired and their voices were unceremoniously drowned out by the loud outpour. It took a while for everyone to get used to it. Not unusually, everyone thought that the rain was anomalous. Little did we know that it would rain for a long time afterward and we would continue to do all our things against the backdrop of an incessant beating of droplets on tin-roofs.

It was the last day of school and we were all packed up to leave for home. The evening was crowded with the formalities of departure. We had to put our trunks back into the sequestered trunk room behind Manas, bring all our extra luggage into the linen-room for safe-keeping, tidy up the rooms and bring all our dirty clothes and uniform for their final wash. It took a long time to get through all the preparatory holiday rituals. I usually thought I could get done with them days in advance but it wasn’t possible. There were tomes of prep-work to go through, several last-minute assignments to write. I had a difficult time doing them. My notes remained untouched on the table and my list of pending work grew gargantuan by the hour. Things remained in stultified inertia for a long time here, especially in my room. I felt them grow heavy on my desk and the table itself kind of ominously grew threateningly big, but just in that little unseen way. I could never clearly tell. Something about the urgency of last-moment tasks kept me from noticing. I felt relieved when everything came to a head on one of the last few remaining working-days. I would unthinkingly dive right in determined and finish it. It’s surprising how quickly I dispensed with hassles. Only I couldn’t work myself into that state without that crucial urgency of the last few days.

I filled up my trunks with all kinds of stuff – all my endless mounds of collected necessities that were absolutely unnecessary, which I never used in the end, piled into a huge collection, shoved into my cantankerous little box – and took it back to the storage room behind the house. The storage room itself was littered with piles and piles of mounting trunks all around, it was impossible to move. It was one of those truly great feats that people performed occasionally without the slightest feeling of accomplishment – like managing to get through a long line of people and finally getting to the front of the queue. People climbed and ascended all of these boxes to get to theirs. Once done, they dumped them back in, helter-skelter in all directions, doing anything to get rid of them until our return from the holidays. Everything became temporarily convenient and no one seemed to mind the ephemeral comfort we derived from carelessly strewing our trunks everywhere.

I returned all my linen. My clothes always got pungent by the end of the term. Well, everyone else’s did too, so I never felt embarrassed about it. We all threw our soiled uniform into massive heaps in the linen-room and left them there for the laundry.

That day, the last day of school, when I had done all that I had to do before leaving, I set about scrubbing my toye-unit. I knew my housemaster (Kevin Phillips) would come around on inspection later in the evening after dinner and it had to be spic and span. He looked at all of ours toyes very suspiciously and immediately detected any flaw in them. He had that quality about him. He could tell right away. I did my cleaning immaculately again. I had to. I didn’t want a reprimand from him. I kind of resented having my last days marred by last-minute recriminations. I avoided them. I scrubbed really hard and borrowed some soap from the guy next to my unit. He used copious amounts himself and never had a problem.

That done, I set about packing. I had two suitcases, one enormous, another really teeny. I filled in the big one with all the books I had to take back home, with my shoes and toiletries and the little ‘home’ clothes I had. No one wore ‘home’ clothes ever. Exceptionally, some days we could. So they languished in my big suitcase through the term, until I would have to rearrange a little bit at term’s end, move them slightly around to make space, or leave them untouched. I put my little boxes and pens and notebooks into the tiny one. I also had some dirty uniform I wanted to get washed at home. I put them all in and locked the two. At six in the morning, the space in front of the common room was crowded with luggage. Everyone put them there before leaving the hostel. It kind of waited in transit. These collected bags spent hours huddled together, merging into one big, bloated pile while the rest of us anticipated the coming day.

I sat on my stripped and bare bed, and waited patiently. I waited for solace. I waited for my eagerness to implode, but it never did. All I remembered then was the need to be patient. It would be hours before I reached home.

The hours were long and tiring. It exhausted me to sit in the bus, doing nothing, just sitting and hoping for home, waiting for its warmth. We would talk sometimes, the person next to me and I. We would talk about the prep-work set, about all the things we couldn’t wear at school this term and all the people we would catch up with over the holidays. We always had plans chalked out meticulously. These would tumble out on our bus journeys. I thought about the things I would eat on the way. I thought about the one hour wasted by those who got off mid-way at the hotel in Nowgong where we stopped every time – everyone used the loos there. But things moved slowly. The prospect of the (hostel) life left behind consoled me. The thought of going home left me awake and sleepless. I felt the heat peter into the bus, but I just stayed put in my seat, not looking back to talk to anyone else. I needed to get my plans in order. My holidays were here.

A conversation with Hemi Rawat

Last night, I stayed up till four in the morning. By the time I returned to bed, my eyes were heavy and I felt sleep crawling back. It made a quiet, incipient entry through the rear. I felt like I had both lost and gained something crucial. Something I couldn’t quite define, but definitely something indispensable. Perhaps something on which a lot of my ways, my traits and thoughts are incumbent. It’s difficult to say clearly what it was that emerged from that conversation – but something indispensable certainly did. It felt like a conversation about several things, a brush-stroke encompassing all of the canvas available, bludgeoning all the little white spaces spared. It felt like it was about everything, in a way. Ultimately, now I can’t even recall it properly. There is a sudden amnesia that afflicts people who want to remember important details of conversations like these. They cannot do it, details get obfuscated in the larger canvas, and all the little white spaces overcrowd the surface in their absence.

What did he really mean? The conversation started with Zeitgiest, a movie I had asked him to see. I recall suggesting it to him. I have a way of suggesting things that I especially like to people, that tends to back-fire with alarming frequency. To him too, I perhaps overstretched my point. I launched into a long panegyric about the movie, and tried to clearly tell him all the details in a convincing manner, gesticulating now and again, using my hands once in a while. I kind of generalized a little bit, gave him the larger picture and shoved in forcefully the central details. I know I did it a bit too unequivocally, like I was entirely prepared to annihilate any other point of view. Why would I do that? I don’t know – I have a strange tendency to do these things without the slightly bit of shyness. The strangest thing is I don’t even know if I know for certain I can surely guarantee the veracity of some of the facts. I probably can’t. Something about a new idea, however, gets me really going – almost in a propagandist kind of way. I get garrulous when I know that other people aren’t familiar with the idea of some story. It gives me a sense of wanting of legitimize my own version of it, or at the very least my point of view on it. The same, although, less dramatically, applied to this case as well, and Zeitgiest I unflinchingly put before him.

Last night, he said, albeit a little hesitatingly and bashfully, that he wanted to say something about the movie to me later. I didn’t know what it would be about. I tend to assume the least. I like sticking to the most innocuous explanation and leaving things that way. It provides a little bit of assurance, mostly when such is needed, not in the daily interactions that you have, but in the bigger, perhaps professional problems you encounter. I thought he might have something to say about his own take on religion, a topic discussed speciously in the first part of the film. I don’t have a problem with specious information. I know it can be misleading, but I progress with as much alacrity, and later, it does not turn me into a mind-fucked midget, but someone simply with a larger compass of vision. After dinner, I left the thought at that and didn’t consider it again.

Back in his flat, the question came up again. I was eating some delicious fish and was too engrossed with the eating to notice any impending crisis-point. I would refrain from calling it a crisis. It was a conversation. I thought about other things all the while, tried in my mind to work out some of the things I needed to do the next day, some plans I needed to execute, some food I needed to buy, some timings I needed to settle – all things indispensable to planning. I thought them through and then turned to the conversation at hand. Perhaps I was listening only fleetingly earlier. I wanted to savour the fish. I can’t dissipate my concentration whilst eating. If I try and recall what sparked the discussion, I will be inaccurate. But it was something about journalism. About journalistic writing and the kind of effect it has on the world that reads it. I thought about that for a while, but soon, it veered to the movie again.

How gullible are we as human beings? Extremely gullible, a little gullible, not at all, perfectly intransigent? The movie discussed several things and frankly, when I watched it, I thought it admissible. Admissible is different from legitimate. That was the crucial gap in our points of view last night. It was the technical chasm that lay between the endorsement of something, which he presumed me to be responsible for, and the admission of something. I had only admitted the idea, but could not put it across then. In fact, as I write this, I am startled by the comparative clarity of the situation. Last night, I was babbling nonsense and I could not have been more unconvincing and incongruous. He said that a lot of the facts were misleading, a lot of the research not consistent. I did agree it was inconsistent. However, it is difficult for me to accuse anyone of inconsistency until I have accomplished something similar myself. But that in itself is not a consistent way of looking at the world. There is not enough time to prove everything yourself. He said that the movie packed in a lot of details that confused each other and thwarted each other and left a lot of the story vacillating between conviction and incomprehension. I didn’t agree with that – it was coherent – coherent when I watched it and even now that I try and recall it. He said that it packaged itself so irresistibly that it convinced everyone merely by means of its flashiness and its inarguable sharpness. That I could believe.

What is the truth? When you think about yourself and the universe that surrounds you, you know that you will have very little coherence in your interaction with, for instance, aliens if they do happen to drop by and demand some synoptic kind of de-briefing. What would you say? Firstly, you would be very disorientated by the sudden break down and demise of all your presumptions about life. You are not alone in the universe. Here are creatures come to meet you from somewhere incomprehensible to you. Would you tell them about the many phone calls you have made, the many poems you have read and written, the interminable conversations you have on facebook.com if they ask you what your life means to you? What would you say then? I know I would be lost. Lost in a stranglehold of many daily events and little meaning.

Is everything virtual reality? What if all that means anything to us is a virtual concoction of uplifting energies? What if all poetry is designed to take you into another world and leave you stranded? If not by design, what it all literature does it by default? Would you still be as comforted by your dependence on it? In the daily needs and rituals of your waking hours, all the little things that you do, all the little duties you perform and indulgences you have, you have entered into an enclosed reality lived virtually? It is a simple matter. Nothing extraordinary. Think of all the relationships you conduct on the telephone. All the closeness you have taken care to build with people, all the moments you have lived through phone calls and messages. To think that they are all simply simulations of actual presences, but not those presences themselves, is to know that they belong to the world of virtual realities. They are made of the stuff of imagined lives in imagined closeness.

The sun was out at four in the morning and we moved to the veranda. We stood there for a while and looked at the growing glow around us. The day was almost beginning. It was beautiful. The trees looked young and ready and the street-lights stood you starkly against a new-born day. The veranda caught some of the sports-complex behind it and it jutted out through the trees in the distance. I thought about the trees and I thought about the dashing blue in the sky, cloudless and unhesitant. It didn’t know about virtual realities. It just existed, blue and fresh and renewed each morning. I felt everything coming back to me. All the mornings I spent in class four, waiting up till five in the morning when the busses going home would be parked outside the WMH. I thought of all the nights I spent thinking about home in the breathtaking final hours before the holidays. All the nights I stayed awake, anticipating the next morning; the long, smelly and tiring journey back to the city. I remembered the overwhelming desire to see the sun first in the morning. I remember the little things we invented to doggedly not feel drowsy, all the little conversations some of us - Navid, Raghav, Debarghya, Pratik, Gautam and I - would start and prolong – all because we could not sleep, waiting to see the morning as it sprang up on our stationary buses, waiting to carry us home.

That morning on the verandah in his flat, it all came back to me.

But I could not tell anyone because it was my solitary past – a past I shared with long-gone people - people somewhere obscured in the little details of time, place and different life-courses. A secret past of waiting that only the trees behind Manas will recall.