Friday, 11 April 2014
Wednesday, 9 April 2014
The following part is an excerpt from my book Sorry... Again??? If you want to read the book, visit Amazon.com or Amazon.in.
At an unearthly hour of 3 a.m, I opened the main door of my flat and came out, nervous and scared. The darkness outside echoed the void inside me. I looked at the opposite door, for a moment I vaguely thought that the door would open and she would come rushing towards me. But no, the excruciating silence of the darkness was only being broken intermittently by the howling of stray dogs at a distance.
I rearranged the laptop backpack hanging from my right shoulder and locked the door. To avoid the untimely rattling of the lift that could have disturbed the silence, I took the stairs. At that moment, walking down four floors demanded adroit coordination of my senses; but my tired eyes staring at the abysmal darkness, the shaking hands holding the balustrade, and the weak legs in continuous search for the steps were disarrayed to offer any support. However, I had picked up one habit, the habit of counting steps, like all other hostel inmates during my graduation. Our apartment building had twenty-one steps on each floor, ten steps in one direction to reach the landing, and then eleven steps in opposite direction to reach the next floor. This old habit offered me the respite. I fumbled at times but I could descend three floors without much of difficulty. Yet with every turn on the stairs, the burden of the guilt was rising.
I took the turn on the ground floor, the penultimate turn before reaching the basement. I descended the first five stairs with ease when the laptop backpack slipped from my shoulder, to control it from falling further down I left the balustrade and raised my hand, but my legs lost the grip on the stairs. Even before I could have realised I was dragged with my back bouncing on each step until I reached the landing. Drenched in sweat I was lying on the stairs, motionless. A few incalcitrant teardrops trickled down my cheeks, I was not hurt, but my entire body was shivering.
I slouched against the wall and rethought about the entire scenario. Whatever I had done was wrong, but whatever I was doing, was even worse. Was this the only option left? I had debated it for a long time but could not arrive at any conclusion. I cursed myself for what I had done, I cursed myself for what I was doing, but I was helpless. I should have called Bangalore and spoken to him. He had helped me whenever I needed but then it was too late for that as well.
I readjusted the laptop bag on my shoulder, descended the last eleven steps, and reached the basement. The distance to the main gate seemed longer than ever. A security guard appeared from somewhere and came close enough to startle me, I stopped and took a step back, but soon I realised that he was not aware of anything that I was up to. In fact, nobody was aware, not even those who were cautiously sleeping within the confines of the castle lovingly built over a period with bricks of budding dreams. I wished that their chain of breath would weave a firmament strong enough to cocoon their life when the bricks of the castle cave in upon their chest.
‘Taxi, Dada? Where?’ The security guard asked.
‘At this time? Which flight? Where are you going, Dada?’ He continued with a smile.
‘Siliguri.’ I replied absent-mindedly but regretted it almost immediately. A sense of fear that was lurking somewhere in the back of my head came to forefront and stared at me from the eyes of the security guard. I should not have revealed my destination. This one mistake could prove critical. Who was he to ask? I didn’t owe him the truth.
The journey to the airport was never so smooth. Negligible traffic on the road, the few vehicles that were plying were not honking, it was not needed during those hours either, but it appeared so unusual in a city like Kolkata. Everything appeared unusual. The taxi was running at an abnormal speed. The hurling wind collapsing against the half-closed window appeared more violent. I gave a perturbed look at the taxiwala but remained silent. My numb and dry vocal chords refused to support my internal assessment that the taxi needed deceleration.
Ineffectively camouflaged by the transparent veil of cigarette smoke at a corner of the parking lot outside the Airport, I spent an hour continually staring at the board, which said, “Exit towards the Main Road” It raised questions for which I was desperately searching for answers. How difficult would the return journey be for me? Will I ever be able to come back?
I boarded the on-time flight to Bagdogra. The darkness was about to give up when the plane took its course on the runway and rose towards the sky as if to defeat the darkness earlier than it would naturally be by the earth moving on her axis. I was allotted a window seat. The view outside was mesmerising. The airplane was floating above the clouds and the sun was rising in the horizon. It appeared as if the sun had conflagrated the sky, or may be, to celebrate its arrival, the clouds underneath had laid an orange carpet and slowly walking on it, the supreme power rose in the sky and with its every movement it started changing its colour.
On an ordinary day, I would have ignored all the warnings for the flight safety, switched on my phone, and clicked as many pictures as my phone’s memory could have permitted, but it was different that day. Lost in my own haunting thoughts, my vision glazed over with every passing moment. Why did my life take such a bizarre turn? I had warned myself several times but a mere desire overtook my senses. I wished I could have changed the way I lived the previous few weeks. I wished I could have changed the outcome of it. In fact, I could have, but I was too scared. Too scared to do anything apart from what I was doing. Whatever had happened in the past was bad, whatever was happening was bad too, bad for everybody, and I was the only person responsible. I closed my eyes, a lonely teardrop rolled down. I was not sure if the pieces of my life could ever come back together but the board was already set and the pieces were in motion.
Kolkata, my relationship with the city was like that of an arranged marriage. A relationship that evolves with daily requirements and even before you realise, it matures to a level where the individuals become inseparable unless destiny has other plans.
After spending more than four years in the city and disliking every bit of it, like its unbearable mugginess where the sweat-stains on your clothes become a permanent feature even if you are out under the sun for a few minutes, and its ever crowded streets where walking on the pavement without bumping into strangers is a challenge in itself, I was able to comprehend my love for the city only when I was leaving it, perhaps forever.
With a lighted cigarette held tightly between my lips and its smoke partially hazing my view, I was packing my bags, carefully enough not to smudge the clothes with randomly falling ash. The flight was at 5:30 p.m so I had to rush the completion of my packing. But, It was difficult; every corner of the flat was bringing back the old memories. Memories not so old that warrant manifestation of their existence, yet not so recent as to manifest themselves in my pain, but they left behind indelible scars. I sucked the last puff of the cigarette and exhaled the smoke towards the ceiling. The smoke floated in the air until a gust of wind entered from the window and overlapped the existence of the smoke. I pulled the zipper of the bag and locked it, with a hope that the new twist in my life would be efficacious to create a blurry layer on the scars.
I was transferred in my job. I tried to avoid the transfer, half-heartedly though, partially because of my newfound love for the city and partially because of professional reasons. Kolkata was a known market, which is one of the prerequisites for a sales job. I was employed as a “Sales Manager” in a Bank, and my transfer to Bangalore would add another word “Area” before my designation. Promotion at the cost of the transfer diluted the excitement, yet I was not complaining.
This corporate world! They try to squeeze every bit available within you and even after you are completely drained out, you will continually hear the statement, “You need to achieve greater heights, keep motivating yourself.” I am still searching for that one factor of motivation apart from the paycheques being credited in my bank account at month-ends. But apparently, this sole factor of motivation is also overshadowed by human nature as the amount on the cheques always appears meagre, and it pricks even more when the increment is negligible even though you are transferred.
However, on the flipside, the transfer came bundled with certain positives as well, like the timing was perfectly placed. I was going through the worst phase of confused emotional turmoil, and since transfer tantamount to change of place; it could give me an opportunity to get a renewed self. Moreover, the destination was Bangalore, a blissful surprise because I had my best friend rather my only friend there, Aakash.
Circumscribed by the irrational mindset of a small town in Orissa where the walls of the houses are so perforated that they fail to even hold a whisper being leaked out and heard miles away, Aakash and I were names synonymous to each other. Confined within the five-kilometre radius of the town for sixteen-years, we had built a different world for ourselves carefully protected from the envious eyes. Our friendship withstood the change of fortunes of our respective families as well. His father was a job contractor in the same factory where my father was employed as a supervisor. Being the master of his own business, he kept on diversifying, whereas my father continued to serve his masters. By the time we completed our schooling, the difference between the wealth of our respective family was like that of USA and Bangladesh.
We realised the presence of so far clutched wings in that small town when we entered the hostel after completing our schools. We stayed together for the next seven years and shared everything starting from room, cigarettes, porn magazines, clothes including undergarments (he always took mine) and sometimes the academic books only when we would get time for studies. The ultimate realisation of power or, so to say, the vulnerability of the freedom came only when we almost spoiled our higher secondary and found ourselves not good enough to become an engineer or a doctor, a dream every parent in small towns envisioned for their child. Though we appeared for the state JEE for the sake of our families, we didn’t even bother to check the results. We could marginally recover our respect during our graduation, which could convince our parents to send us to Kolkata for MBA.
The ringer of the intercom broke the flow of my thoughts and my final scanning of the cupboards. It was a call from the main-gate to inform about the arrival of the taxi. After requesting the guard to keep the taxi waiting in the basement, I went back to the bedroom and scanned through the cupboards again. Everything was packed except for the card and the small note buried under the sheet of newspaper on the right shelf. Constricted under the sheet, they must have been staring at me with hatred and affliction. I found it difficult to lift the paper and face them. I should have destroyed them but my superstitions stopped me every time.
Another ringer, this time of my mobile broke the silence of the room.
‘Hello.’ I said after receiving the call. Aakash was on the other side.
‘What time are you reaching?’ He asked. This was the third time he had asked the same question after I informed him about the date of my travel.
‘The flight is at 5:30, add two hours to that.’ I replied still looking towards that sheet of paper.
‘Okay.’ He said. ‘Bring the “Old Sid” with you. The coming days are going to be fun.’ His reference to the “Old Sid” stuck my tired brain. Would that happen, ever?
I left that sheet of paper and the contents underneath untouched. I had started rubbing my head against the capricious destiny to shed my old scales, any reminiscence of the past would have been a hindrance.
Finally, the time came to leave. With a heavy heart, I shifted my luggage - a big suitcase, a duffle bag, and my laptop bag - out of the main door. It was a moment filled with sentiments. I turned the key inside the lock; the clack echoed like a trumpet inside my head. I caressed the door. The cracks on it reminded me of many intoxicated fists the door had to bear whenever the lock hit a minor snag, or perhaps the cracks represented the secrets the door had been hiding for me from the outside world. Yes, there were many.
I was staying in Tollygunge, on the fourth floor of a 5-floor apartment having 20 flats. The first day when I came to inquire about this flat, it was in a mess. Newspapers and corrugated boards were scattered all over, the bathroom was filthy, and it appeared that the walls were not polished for many years. The owner committed to clean the rooms but said no to fresh paints. My initial reaction was “not liveable.” However, when I was coming out of the flat I saw a girl at the opposite door, not so beautiful but definitely manageable. “Manageable” because of her structure, perfect amount of flesh at required places rather a bit extra on the upper part of the body. She came out, stood there by holding the half-closed door of her flat, and then went inside.
Now, that’s what I call a motivation.
I immediately paid one fourth of the initial deposit and fixed the date of coming Sunday to shift. The owner reiterated his commitment to clean the flat before I shifted. But when I moved in, the flat was not cleaned up to my expectation except for the removal of the scattered papers. It took me two days, a bottle of phenyl and toilet cleaner each to make the place habitable, but the agony of the labour was annihilated by the motivation peeping through the opposite door.
With one-and-half hour still left and the taxi running at a normal pace, I was comfortable to reach the Airport ahead of the schedule, until the taxi became a part of the sea of vehicles stuck within the waves of chaos and uncertainty on EM Bypass just before Chingrighatta Crossing. This was, perhaps, its way of bidding me adieu; the city demonstrated that unique slice from its many countenances, of which I had been a contented spectator till now without being exposed to its ugly side. A demonstration of Political Party had seized the city.
‘The country is going forward but Kolkata has remained the same, at least in this aspect.’ I murmured showing a double-faceted human mindset. The city was in a mood to balance out the wishes I had made in the past for a Bandh. A Bandh always meant an additional holiday, and irrespective whether you are motivated or not, holidays are always cherished.
As if, the arms of my wristwatch had suddenly discovered a new meaning to their drudgery inside the waterproof chamber, they started spinning faster than ever, and my continuous attention on them raised the level of their enthusiasm.
A man in shining blue necktie in another taxi looked tensed; he was perhaps missing the all-important interview for a job he was longing for years. A young boy, in his fancy bike, looked frustrated; perhaps his date with his girlfriend in Mani Squire mall was at stake. A rotund man in his car was still smiling; perhaps, his wife was waiting at City Centre with her never-ending shopping list. The depressed siren of an ambulance screamed about the fragility of a human life, perhaps, one of its occupants was playing hide and seek with death and Apollo Hospital, a few kilometres away, was the safe hiding destination.
Amidst all these, I was sitting with my hands clasped together and my eyes still glued at my wristwatch. I was foreseeing myself standing at a ticket counter to book for the next flight and mourning for the extra amount that will be charged on my credit card. Won’t the same day flight ticket cost a moon? The company had booked my ticket but they wouldn’t bear the difference. I had never thought that one day I would be charged for the enjoyment I had had on Bandhs earlier. A layer of sweat started glistening on my forehead.