Train Station

Burnt-out twilight

Early night

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Tangle in the Shade

Eyes closed,
wide awake
to the color of night.

Time
in its primeval namelless oneness
unsliced by ticking swords
of cartographers and historians

only to be punctuated
by bright splashes from
a leaking faucet.
God’s sake–off with it.
It’d have got on her nerves.
A light sleeper.

At a distance
a howling dog is
rolling up his plaints
heavenward
yet again tonight.
I am not a god.
The dew must have brought
them down back to the dust,
and the wind drifts them to
dark windows with no shades or panes.

A short rest to the wheeze,
and the drips beat yet clearer–
a city bright atop a mountain
on the darkest night of the year–
and the watch’s whistle dampened and
fitful sirens and nightly grainy traffic
mis-shaped by the sinewy wind of December
make a shy creep into my ear canals
for attention in the lucid dark.

I can’t still fix it with
closed eyes–wool in a tangle.
Open eyes and I find
the dense stands of darkness
bending over me and staring against
the monochrome walls and ceiling
grained by the diffused city lights
through the smuggling holes
from the leaves in a scret communion.

The dog is still rolling up
his howls heavenward (or is
he now rolling them down?)–
it feels like each fine dewflake
murmurs a grain of howl in an echo.

Obsession with Order and Rhythm in Hounds of Love

Ben Young’s psychological thriller Hounds of Love (2016) has some interesting aesthetic elements expressed visually in mise-en-scene and cinematography (which are the visual signs of the directorial signature) that consistently weave the psychological fabric of John (Stephen Curry), the randomly murderous husband who suffers a certain form of OCD. John is obsessed with cleanliness and having things in symmetry and perfect order, an obsession that finally lands him in his own doom. The things in his house, especially in the kitchen, are arranged in perfect symmetry or order. More than just an order, the things form a rhythm–similar things put in perfect order, like repeating beats in music. Evelyn (Emma Booth)–John’s wife who, from fear that she would be left behind by her passively abusive husband–acts helplessly subserviently on whatever he tells her to do, including getting herself involved in randomly abducting girls for his sex prey and finally killing them.

Even though it is Evelyn that is actually doing everything to keep the house in perfect symmetry, order and rhythm, her meticulous engagement in these rituals indicates her having become a behavioral extension of her husband, a deep subservience born of the insecurity as a wife she experiences.

This obsessive care for order–a transferred behavior–is seen when she prepares her husband’s breakfast toasts–she arranges them in a perfect line and checks the order repeatedly. This obsession is seen everywhere in the kitchen–the dining table has two knives and two salt containers set out neatly as a pair. The wall in the background has such sets of things. The frame itself is symmetrical. Everything about the house is in perfect rhythm–cigarette butts in an ash tray, the cutlery, the plates, small pieces of works of art.

The cigarette butts ranged in a line form a rhythm.

The cutlery, the jars form a rhythm each of their own that together form a larger rhythm.

The plates, bowls, the jars and the knives on the knife holder form their won respective rhythms in this shot.

The two wolves form a rhythm in this shot.

The legs of the animal, its breasts, and the two children form their own respective rhythms in this shot.

The obsession is to such an extent that the couple’s bodies form a rhythm even when they sleep. In the frame below, the corresponding parts of the couple’s bodies have similar orientations. Even the pillows.

The couple walks in their rooms barefoot. They leave their shoes on the shoe-rack near the door. Every time they put their shoes on the rack, they pay studious care to order and rhythm, as seen in the following instance, one of many in the film.

John’s obsession with cleanliness is also evident in the indulgence attention he pays himself when he shaves himself and narcissistically watches himself in the mirror while Evelyn, as part of her household upkeep, cleans up the blood-stained tissues at the foot of their captive girl’s bed.

John’s cleanliness obsession is to such an extent that he hates it when the captive girl he rapes turns out to be a virgin and blood is all over between her legs smearing him with blood. He stops short, recoils in utter disgust and rushes to the bathroom and showers.

His sexual interest is turned off by the sight of the captive girl in chains wetting her bed. His cannot control himself when he sees his wife’s dog shits in the rooms.

John kicks the dog to death when he finds it in the room and the frightened dog runs into the kitchen to avoid facing him instead of getting out of the house.

Rather than the Young taking recourse to a more direct expository characterization via action and dialogue, all these indirect devices consistently build up the details of character and psychological make-up of John. Importantly, this character trait is developed not in vain–it in fact leads to John’s own doom.

A Cup of Memory

a cup of memory after ages

Memory serves its master–it selects and discards. Court-room scenes of long-drawn-out legal fights, people in the evenings of their lives who have lived through dramatic twists and turns of events but want to settle now, people who have survived extreme traumas, and also a common person who experienced something good or bad in the early phase of their life that has left a life-long impact on them–they show that we often remember what we want to remember and even create memories. Memory thus can lie to us, seducing us into believing something else than what was really the case, such as a jilted lover remembering good things that did not actually happen. Memory is edited over and over again.

Fun Side of My Tea-making:

I have not had tea in a long time and felt like having a couple of hours ago when I saw that JNU cup. Late-night guy. Turned the gas on and remembered I more often than not turn into a metallurgist when I make tea–smelting the pot on the gas. Tonight too I almost became a metallurgist. I had to pour the water again into the sizzling pot, like dry-frying water after I had already put sugar and tea.

That was the most awfully worst tea I have ever had.

Some Whispers are Soundless

Birth and death meet in a house and it embraces both of these two ends of life into one great enigma. A grey mix of love that comes across as love tinted with fear or fear tinted with love. Every house has this enigma in its rooms.

Dehradun. A small girl died in this house first as far as we know. She puked blood. Then after a couple of years the man of the house followed his daughter. Soon the elder daughter died too for no apparent reason. Then the son, the eldest child, survived by his wife and their very small daughter. All in front of the mother. Soon the mother also walked the way of the whole family, leaving her daughter-in-law and the small kid. The mother and daughter moved to Delhi, where they are living now, leaving the empty house with silence.

People come and go. Houses remain there, standing, day and night, year after year, as if waiting even when there is nobody to come until somebody demolishes them. Before they return to their origins, some see more births than deaths with their occupants moving to more convenient, if not better, places, while some others see more deaths than births. Number is not always the weight–to us humans, a death casts a long gloomy shadow on three births of our loved ones. Death is more conspicuous because it tears a hole in the chest of life and smuggles our loved ones out through it and the last time we see them, hear them, touch them, is the last time we have with them. Death nullifies life on this side of the grave, and it often empties a house with a few repeated sweeps leaving it to sink in silence and decay amidst the din of the busy world, like the one in the photograph above.

The patio of an old British lady’s mansion. Soon after Independence, she gave the mansion and the estate to the Mussoorie Post Office which though has moved to a new place still owns it. The house is dilapidated now but parts of it still have a couple of antique-maniac occupants.

Abandoned houses always fascinate me. The gloom, sadness, decay and the evident shabby-gentility they are characterized by, the mute memories the rooms are filled with, the soundless whispers of their stories splashed on the damp, faded, mossy walls–I love these ghosts, their haunting.

To John Ashbery

John Askbery photo by Lynn Davis
Photograph by LYNN DAVIS

Poetry is ash, Ashbery—your dust has already scattered in the wind, been the breath of many who have turned into ashes and joined the dust, wind, fire, water and the sky. I don’t know where you came from, Ashbery, but I think you return where you came from, like all of us. We are ashes for a while and we fly and scatter when the home-bound wind comes.

John Ashbery, the beloved Ashbery, your death has let the hell loose in me again, and a sadist or joyist (who can tell them apart, if they aren’t one and the same thing?), I love it because there is a pleasure in all this. You are like me—guilt tasted pleasing, and it made you a poet, for which you have become the beloved.

Surviving the death of a loved one always accompanies a subtle (often acute) feeling of guilt. Life wants to live and death wants to go on, and unfortunately love cannot bridge the two, to our chagrin. If not bridge, love should be able to keep us together in life, through life, or in death, we petulantly demand. But we the warlike humans, who just don’t let it go without a fight but wage wars against and kill each other for whatever petty thing there can be, can’t possibly put ourselves into any action when death wrests our loved ones from our arms invisibly even as we see it, which is stabbingly painful. And life is such that in most of the cases we drag on (just out of nature, but for nothing obvious to live for—it really feels rather empty, unbearably heavily empty, and you just don’t commit suicide), feeling the fading pang of guilt—the survivor’s guilt fading into general sadness or general weakness that pervades the rest of our life, which gravitates toward and finally empties itself into death. Life with its apparent injustice ends well in ash, so it all seems well. Maybe, there will be a lingering after-life feeling of anger at having put through it that badly.

Ashbery, you go on. Your ash, a berry to home—it sucks you back. All the world is ash. I loved you. I love you. I love myself. Life and death. Living and dying. I don’t put myself to a final death maybe because that would deprive me of the (extended) pleasure of continual dying, the pleasure of hating life that in turn breeds love of life, the pleasure of feeling angry at being wronged or done out of something good. The sadism or joy of all this.

Physical Environment and Human Behavior #1

I found it chocking and claustrophobic when I recently (24-26 July 2017) saw an unfinished building oddly jutting out of the main locus of the JNIMS (Porompat, Imphal) buildings, squatted across the Pong Lambi. I had not noticed it in my two other visits to the hospital earlier this year—one in mid-March and the other a bit earlier.

Twenty-one years ago in early 1996, when I, as a young boy, came first to the hospital (it was called the JN Hospital—Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital—until it was raised to the status of a medical science institute a few years ago and renamed the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS)) to attend to my maternal grandfather who was getting intensive care in a separate room at a private ward, the road had quite a busy traffic flow because of Mahindra Jeep commuters, besides others, especially between the MG Memorial Hall (Imphal West) and Sangomsang (Imphal East) long before the cheaper if irritatingly-too-noisy means of transports—the first and second generations of three-wheelers—became popular in these parts of the state, Manipur. Honestly, irrespective of their undeniable socio-economic and historical importance to the country, I hate auto-rickshaws for their inconsiderate noise and terribly ugly looks and color. When grandfather was sleeping and I had an hour or so to myself, I walked far south-east along the road to see the vacant fields and wetlands edging away far into the distance on both sides at most points of the road that tapered apparently into the faraway greenery of the Nongmaijing Hill. The air was cold and fresh, and being there instilled a liberating feeling in me.

When I saw it in my recent visit, the part of the Pong Lambi before the JNIMS was more like a seldom-swept, asphalted backyard parking lot of some affluent minister with visitors from all over the country—the road brown in the July heat looked old and to have stopped losing aggregate and ageing; the dust that had gathered in the dips in the rough surface texture had turned into dry mud and the layer of new dust seemed to have been there not disturbed enough to drift in the air to change place, and the uniformly brown asphalt surface bore almost no sign of darkening by tires visible on roads in regular use. No new signs of wear and tear. It was not difficult for any visitor driving for the hospital along this part of the road to sense that the vehicles coming from the opposite direction started not long before—the vehicles felt to have just swerved and not all vehicles in the middle of a long drive would not come at the same slow speed which characterized almost all of those vehicles I saw there. My suspicion about something possibly having happened there to the once familiar place was later confirmed by the cul-de-sac the jutting, unfinished building had made of the road.

I had no personal feelings associated with the place but seeing the building inconsiderately squatting there cutting off the road quite apparently social instinctively shocked me. What immediately flashed in my mind the moment I saw the obstruction (or objectively speaking, the erection of huge physical structure across the road) was the Berlin Wall. Later, when I had found out the name of the road was Pong Lambi, another wholly different thing struck my mind, triggered by the word Pong, a term (it is perhaps a chance sound similarity) the Manipuri’s knew the Burmese by, without actually knowing the status of the road’s historical association with the Meitei-Burmese trade relations before the Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891.

The change in the physical structure of the place due to the protrusion, something like an unnatural outgrowth of the earth right across the road, nudged my mind to have a different attitude toward the place and to physically behave differently to it than I would have twenty-one years ago or any time without that structure. Later I walked and casually surveyed the place and discovered that the addition of that building in that particular way in the physical environment of the place had nudged the people there also to behave in a certain way that would not have been the case in the absence of the building across the road. The way the built environment emerged ensuing from this odd building’s stopping the traffic rendering redundant the rest of the road south-east of the building (red-circled in the picture) is the physical proof of how people’s settling behavior has been influenced by this building on its south-east. Due to encroachment by human settlement (the legality of which is beyond the purview of the task at hand), the road on the south-east of the building has shrunk into an alley in stark contrast to the width and health of the part of the road on the opposite side of the building. Irrespective of the legal status of the JNIMS claim over the piece of land across the road (yes, the government is the owner of the land and for larger public causes such as the JNIMS, it can make adjustment reshuffling to the patterns of settlement at least of limited areas), nobody would have dared to do anything that would lead to the shrinking of a road in full use. Later on, while researching for this series, I came to know that the part of the Pong Lambi before the JNIMS has now been renamed JNIMS Road.

The movement of people east of the new JNIMS building in question has changed, the settlers closer to the hospital, in the absence of a artery, taking to the small alleys leading to the Porompat DC road while the people of further-away places such as Sangomsang having to take the Khongnang Makhong Lambi on the Iril river and then the Porompat DC road. This shift in movement is quite phenomenal.

Our concern in this series is not to judge the merits and demerits of the physical environment but to study the psychological influences of the physical environment including built structures on how humans behave.

 

Cold Stone Womb

This black cave, the only space
carved out in the whole rock-solid world.
A black stone womb. Cold.
A single impossible hole. Blinding bright.
Time. Endless. It flows in.
Licking tongues of smoke in a shaft of light
straight as a freight train in full speed
into the jaws of the darkness.
Spiraling. The hooks of an arrow.
Never ending. It flows in. Time flows in
like from an oxygen tank. Keeping me alive.
Giving me time in this black stone womb.
Time stretched thin out to eternity.
To feel every single bite of pain
every single tear in the tissue
in the world where nothing else exists.
Nothing else. Nothing. Just live.
An immortal. A god in torment.

Edge of Humanity

Legs splayed out carefree in a care-wearied world, he was beautiful seated on the dusty pavement between a highway and the Kangla outer moat one late afternoon in mid-January. He became conscious of me when I had taken a few shots of him—he shifted uncomfortably where he sat and took up a balled-up towel behind him, unrolled and unfurled it before him with both hands. I felt guilty to have invaded him. That boldly, too.

I approached him and asked in Hindi if I could photograph him. Suddenly a calm smile spread across hitherto blank face and his lips flickered wordlessly with excitement. That was beautiful. I interpreted that as a gesture of willingness. I took a couple of portraits. When he sensed I had done with the last shot, his gesture of willingness changed to one of curiosity, the desire to see the photographs taken. I immediately connected it with his initial discomfort with my photographing him. I wondered if he was mad at all.

He took a few diffident and tentative steps toward me when he read the willingness in my face. I also approached him and showed the pictures. His smile broadened. The portraits were good.

“Where are you from?” I asked him.

“Assam,” said he.

I could not but wonder if he was mad at all.

“Buy something and eat. You must be tired.” I said as I took a ten rupees note out from my wallet and gave it to him.

Cities press their poor out into the streets, under the bridges and into the gutters. Once homeless, your sense comes across as nothing different than insanity and you fall on the edge of humanity with little or no chance of getting back to where you really belong. Once out in the street, you are a nameless part of the city most pathetic landscapes–dust, pieces of paper and other litters, scavenging birds and animals.

I walked on, looking back at the man every now and then, and he looked stiff as if he was trying to resist the temptation to look toward me. When I took the turn I saw him bending to sit where he had been.

Ways of Dying (“Died” in the passive voice)

One of the most emotionally fragile day. I consider myself as one of the simplest, naivest persons in the world. Perhaps verging on stupidity, if not stupidity exactly. A caveman. I am exactly a caveman, and this world is not for the types of me. Not about good or bad–I am just a misfit here, and my world often caves in and I get buried in the rubble heap. I just feel like dying. Especifically, death coming to me, to do his own job. I don’t want to do his job because I trust no place. Bad trust everywhere.

When my death comes, I die. I is the grammatical subject doing the action of dying. The dier. The doer of the action of death. But thematically, I is not an agent; it is an experiencer. I experiences death. I undergoes death. Something I has to. Something I cannot escape. Something like emposed on I.

This dying that happens when death comes is different from the kind of death that happens when the subject is the agent of the act of dying. That is in committing suicide. In death, the responsibility of the transfer of being (if being continues) from one state to another or from one plane to another or from one place to another is with what causes death–nature or God, just for the lack of term and undrstanding. When the subject takes their own life, nobody else is responsible for the transfer and I personally don’t know where I can put what I have snatched from this uncomfortable life. There may not be any place. There may be places, good or better, bad or worse than the ones known here. I just don’t want to do other people’s job. I am lazy. On my own. I don’t even want to be the fucker when having sex. I wanna be fucked. (By the way, I hate bed hopping, and I am not a guy to drink from a greasy cup. My life in this regard is clean and smooth–if a fly happens to setyle on me (=my morality), it, with all its six (or eight?) legs will slip and break all its legs on the floor. I ain’t being funny. Serious.) There is just one thing where I hate to be passive–if I am a gay, I will always be the giver and never the receiver. That is it. Otherwise, I don’t want to do anything, let alone committing suicide, which also involves pain and things like that. I once hanged myself from the ceiling and that painfully bruised my neck–I looked myself in the mirror after my father and brother hijacked my flight to death.

I would love it if death comes to me like I got lucky in a lottery. Somebody picks up my number and the other the winner’s what-do-you-call-it. Like a heart attack. Unfortunately I am damn healthy. I pump iron in the gym everyday–exerting all my angry and frustrated energy in pumping iron. I wish I die in a nightmare–an anaconda or something swallowing me whole in a dream and me dying. 😀. Unfortunately, I am an insomniac. And if I sleep, I almost never dream. I wish somebody just kills me. Unfortunately, nearly everybody seems to love me, except a girl (but she won’t kill me to be a murderer–so kind), and a politician or two, but they don’t want to incur trouble killing me. So sad. I have got to do a heavy-weight thinking about ways to get “died,” dying in the passive voice. I am serious. Though smilingly.

Silence. Wordless. My language now.

Gathering the Remains of Dusts

In a slow response to the pull of silence
the dusts of sound have settled down
to the abandoned life spread across the floor–
preserved in layers the creases of pains
painted in fragile smiles for the show,
spirals of despair deyed spry for the show.

Slowly the dusts of life have settled
on the photographs of dead people
and people memory has let go of,
those blurry visitors in grainy dreams
you have once or twice in a lifetime
gathered from a long forgotten past,
part of the mistakes you made in learning life.

But a bearded storm keeps coming with a broom
dragging along his cart of dusts and photographs
when the sun is low to the snow free of all dust.
After or before the dark? You never know.

I poetry, because in poetry, they don’t take you seriously

It’s coming up–that heavy feeling
that creeps up the chest,
slithers up the throat
and seeks so forcefully
to force damply out through your eyes,
loudly out through your mouth

I feel like crying.

I wanna go somewhere noisy and rainy
and cry.
I want to rest.
I want to feel sleepy,
sleep at least in fragments
or rest at least in small change
found stuck in cosy pocket corners
or one here another there
in unswept rooms
and in the shade under the bed.

I wanna pour all of me out
somewhere far away
and come back free and empty
to my silence
and rest.

This was not meant to be a poem, if it ever is now. It was like a creature in the wilderness of my mind moving around and practicing wild cartography there. Not restrained by culture that the civilization called poetry usually demands.

It just happened to be this way, the way a lone tree in the middle of an open savannah just grows up untamed by its emptiness. Yes, I broke the run-on sentences into lines, to time them to the beat of the emotion running through them.

Failed Man

Failure is a beautiful thing–
the most beautiful but the hardest to live.
A beauty you avoid, an art you fear,
one you like only from a distance
as your negative space.
The best men in the world
are failed men.
They keep failing. Beautiful men.
Hopes crumble down in their laps,
brick by brick–those they laid one by one–
into shapeless rubble heaps,
formless grains of dust and mass of wastes,
in sounds from the mute fall of airborne dust
to the soundless noise
following the crashing of towers
and skyscrappers onto the dust
where the sky begins.
Meaningless until you hear them on a tape
meaningless until you rub
and feel their roughness on the canvas.
Failed men breathe through the wreck,
speak in nonsense–
a tongue of a different frequency range
where sound and matter merge.