I may be down with typhoid now. So until the reports come in and I extend my forced sojourn in Mumbai by ten more days, I loll about in antibiotic haze and think. I have never had typhoid before and usually enjoy excellent health. But no-one who has known me since October 2005 will believe that. It has been my sickest year ever. For the most part, I have been able to get over the illnesses by not taking medicines; but, well, I had to capitulate when my innards wanted to crawl out of my stomach. I still feel badly about taking medicines though. I wish things hadn’t come to that. Oily, greedy pharmaceutical conglomerates having their last laugh…on the way to the bank. Cruel people who jeer at me, ‘So you were boasting about your health, eh? Who’s waking up in cold sweat with cramps now?’
I hate taking medicines. They make me sick. Most people mistake my abstinence from pills for my false bravado, but they don’t know. My throat burns when I swallow a pill and my head throbs like a torn drum. My liver clams up and I hear turkey noises behind my left ear. I feel nauseous and then I start shivering. But I must repeat the vile capsule shoving noon and night as well. ‘It’ll make me better.’ Yes, of course. Death cures sickness.
Speaking of death, I have decided to learn cooking. Well, not cooking per se. Actually, my fingernails have grown to a nice, sophisticated length. With these nails, I could live a vibrant versatile life – ride a horse - Nero, feed him lumps of sugar, then come back for breakfast where I’d swirl a perfect strawberry in champagne and take a bite. I’d go into the garden and smooth the mud around white irises and plum colored orchids. Neighbor’s children would come by in the afternoon and I would serve them hot, raisin bread.
I’d go into my workshop (which would be like the studio of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lover in ‘Perfect Murder.). Here I would make intricate fragile, fairy-like carvings on tiny crystal bells. Motifs would be Rubenesque with plenty of gossamer grazings and tendrils. After my work is over, I would go for a swim and return to some leek and mushroom pasta.
Everytime I look down at my hands, I think of stylishly sprinkling something over a dish – paprika over baked potatoes, nutmeg over pumpkin pies, khoya over gajar halwa, chilli flakes over pizza, coriander over pulao. My hands have turned into what can be called ‘Sprinkler’ hands. They would look good sprinkling – all long and tapering releasing fine bits of condiments over an expanse of wholesomeness.
Yes, learning to cook is definitely on the agenda.
What else have I been thinking about? Mainly college. This nostalgia shower was suddenly brought on when an old pal of mine from college, A.K., came to meet me. To say that I had liked him would be an understatement. He was, still is, a most beautiful person. He used to walk me from one class to another carrying my books and sometimes pour me coffee from his brother’s vintage canteen. He never loved me and I think I never loved him in a couple sort of way, but I have seldom felt the ebullience as I felt then.
Meeting him again proved that I could feel it still.
He had come over with red jujubes and a saxophone. A.K. walked into the gate and startled the sparrows that were dipping into shadow and light.
We went to the terrace of my house where he told me he studied at RADA and is now looking to make his own movies. From what I know of my cousin’s life who’s in the same business, the aspiration comes with a guillotine. The head with the ideas usually gets chopped off. The fading sunlight tessellated the floor and the palm trees were getting reflected on the saxophone. We didn’t talk for the longest time before he started playing.
It was a song we had written together in the library. ‘When whiteness melts’. Actually, it was a poem I had written and he had made it into a song. Of course, on paper, a poem and a song are not very different. ‘Later, you’ll see’, he had told me. I had misplaced my copy of the poem but he had it still. He had set it to tune and was playing the song.
‘Great that you chose the sax, A. I’m glad we can sing along’, I jibe.
Wasn’t a particularly great poem or a wonderful tune, but…you had to be there six years earlier and you had to be there six years later and you had to be him and you had to be me to understand.
I think that’s the way two people, any two people, get a song that’s truly theirs. They craft it, they part, the song meanders through lanes of forgetfulness, then finds its way back in tow with unembellished memories.
‘Unhappy, Muks’, he asked me.
‘Yes,’ I nod. ‘ I think I’m making too many compromises unnecessarily. I mean why do I have to put up with…’, I had completely ruined the sax sobriety of the moment.
‘What are we talking about?’, he asks.
‘Medicines. They don’t get down the fever. They don’t stop the cramps or the shivering and they make me feel all bloated and uncomfortable, but…’
‘Hmm’, he said offering me a jujube. Strange because I could have sworn I had it in my hands then.
He sat looking into the distance. So untamed and tranquil. He really was too beautiful to struggle.
A.K. left a little later as I got ready to go to the doctor. He had left behind the note with a small yet perfect saxophone doodled in one corner.
The note flew away. And somehow I feel that he played our song for the last time.
My head feels a little liquid now. Nothing that a nice entertaining movie wouldn’t solve. But that won’t be happening anytime soon.
As far as movies go, my brother at some point in life, had aspirations to become an actor. I think he was 6 or 7 at the time. He went to this hugely expensive, kitschy school where they got certificates for every blooming thing. If he got 8 out of 10 in one test and 8.25 out of 10 in the subsequent one, they gave him a certificate with a picture of a rabbit on roller-skates. ‘You’re zooming by’, the certificate read; of course with smileys in the ‘O’s. Geez!
My staid yet steadfast school, on the other hand , believed in no such wishy washy panderings. Growth happens in neglect, for God’s sakes. You’d think people would know that already.
One time, my brother’s class staged the play ‘Othello’. (See, this is what I’m talking about. What kind of freaky-chakra school gets 7 year olds to enact an emotionally complex play such as Othello? Private schools I tell ya!)
My brother was Othello. He was the most unlikely Othello ever – fair, rotund, and a veritable butterball. He was damn cute though and could have been the jolly old man in an X’Mas play, but Othello! I mean, you can take just so much artistic liberty.
My brother hated this girl who enacted Desdemona in the play. The hilarious bit came when Othello comes into the bedroom to smother Desdemona. My brother heaved himself on the bed and started biting her hand instead. Now Desdemona is supposed to be the wrongly accused wife, right? Well, she was a little 6 year old girl of equal or slightly more heft than my brother. She leaped out of bed, pushed my brother on the floor and started punching him left and right. Iago, Cassio, and other confused brats huddled around and cheered until the teacher broke them up.
We all came home, me laughing into my mother’s lap and brother smiling toothlessly (yes, the fight was that fierce). Bruised by drama.
I miss my brother though. Sometimes as I lie awake at night feeling the cramps of a boa constrictor, I think of him. When we were children and I would have stomach pain, my brother would lie next to me.
‘Your stomach is hurting?’
‘You know why?’
‘Papa sold your kidney because he didn’t have money to paint the house.’
Sheesh! I want this kind of comforting now.