Aug 24, 2010
01. Meet Amit
Amit Raaye barrister. When, moulded in the English cast, his surname transfigured into Ray and Roy, the rubric was rubbed, but it summed up to more. That is why, desiring singularity of surname he conceived so strange a spelling, that to his English men and lady friends, his name, already suffering from a hardened T, took the form of AumiT Raye.
Amit’s dad had been an all conquering barrister. He had amassed a pile high enough for three generations to effortlessly deep-dive into decadence. But in spite of the cataclysmic clash with inherited wealth Amit managed to survive unscathed.
Before even stepping into the threshold of graduation in Calcutta University, Amit was admitted into Oxford. There he passed seven years in passing and passing up exams. Intelligence ensured minimal study, but he did not come across as limited in knowledge. His dad had not expected the unexpected from his son. His sole desire had been to dip the soul of his only son in the colourful texture of Oxford so that the hues of memory refused to fade on his return to homeland.
I like Amit. Charming lad. I am a new author. My readers total up to a meagre few. Among them Amit stands out in terms of credentials. The vivre and éclat of my style has caught his fancy. According to him, in the Literary-land of ours, the authors who are famed lack style. The works of these writers resemble the camel of the creature world. Asymmetry reigns across their structure and substance, their pace is loose, disconnected. Their tread is limited to the bare, blanched desert that is Bengali Literature.
According to Amit, fashion is the mask, style is the visage. The commoners of Literature, the ones who cater to their own souls, are the owners of style. And the noblemen, whose business is to meet the demands of the masses, fashion is for them. Bankimesque style can be found in The Poison Tree, where Bankim has really surpassed himself. On the other hand, clinging to the Bankim Bandwagon, Nasiram pulls Bankim down in Manmohan’s Mohunbagan.
The commercial danseuse can be sighted under the canopy of festive tents, but at the moment of the auspicious meeting of eyes, the bride needs to be veiled in a Benarasi. The canopy is fashion while the Benarasi is style – to capture the special colour of the shadow on the special face. In Amit’s opinion, our hesitation to step away from the well trodden path of the common reader’s market leads to the neglect of style. In the legends of Daksha’s ceremonial homage we find the elucidation. Indra, Chandra and Varuna were the fashionable gods of heaven, they were invited to the auspicious rituals. Shiva, however, had style – so original that the chanting masters of ceremony believed it to be unconventional to solicit him in their guest-list. I like it when a graduate from Oxford says all this. I believe that I have style – and that is why my books are liberated after a single edition, without rebirth or reprint.
My brother in law Nabakrishna could not bear Amit’s expositions. “Don’t tell me of your Oxford graduate,” he used to say. He was a hair-raising M.A. in English Literature. He has had to study lots and perceive little. He recently told me, “Amit puts the lesser authors on a pedestal to reduce the stature of the great ones. To beat the drums of slight and scorn is his hobby, and he has made you his drumstick.” Unfortunately, present at the scene of discourse was my wife herself, his sibling. Yet, to my great joy, she did not like what my brother in law said at all. I realised that her tastes matched that of Amit, yet she was limited in her scholarship. Women are naturally intelligent.
Sometimes I have my own doubts when I see that he has no qualms to denigrate some of the famed English authors. The ones who flood the common market with the endorsement of the stamp of nobility. Whose works do not need to be read for appreciation, who could pass us off as passable critics with eyes-shut eulogies. For Amit too, it is redundant to read their writings. He does not stop from disparaging them, eyes wide shut. Truth is, the famed are too widely public – like the waiting room of Bardhaman. And the ones he has discovered himself are his monopoly, as if the saloon car of special trains.
Amit’s addiction is to style. Not limited to literary selection, it spreads across the choice of attire. There is a special cast in his features that makes him not one of many, but the one, standing out among the many. A clean cut, clean shaven, fine dark, full face. Spirited bearing, shining eyes, sparkling smile, sprightly movements, spontaneous response always at hand. His mind is like a flint stone that kindles on contact. He often puts on traditional clothes since people of his group do not. White dhoti, folded with care, because it is not popular for his age. The Panjabi he wears has buttons from his left shoulder to right waist, the sleeve slit to the elbow. Around the waist, the dhoti is wrapped by a strand of brown zari, to the left of which hangs a small satchel of Brindabani pattern. In this satchel rests his pocket watch. His Cuttack shoes are of white leather patterned with red. When he goes out, a folded Madras wrap with wide intricate borders hangs on his left from his shoulder to knee. When invited to friends, he puts on a Lucknow Muslim hat, white weaving over white. I would say it is less of an attire than a loud laugh. I don’t understand the essence of his English apparel, the ones who do say he looks dishevelled but distinguished. It is not his passion to adorn himself into the attractive, but to scorn fashion is a frolic too endearing. Everywhere one comes across those whose horoscopes somehow map their ages into chronological youth. Amit’s unattainable youthfulness, due to his unadulterated springtime of life, is unrestrained, reckless, riding the tide of time outwards, washing away all in its way, with nothing clutched in his palms.
On the other hand he has two sisters, Sissy and Lissy. As if brand new procurements of the new market, specially packaged in fashion wraps. High hoofed shoes, the coral-amber necklace visible through the cuts of her laced jacket, the saree stretched out in a rigid slant. They tap tap in steps of haste, speak a bit too loud for taste, in stages roll out refined laughter, look haughtily with a soft curved smile on the lips, know what is called soulful look. Pink silk fans swish about frequently near their cheeks, and seated on the arm rest of the chairs of men friends, these fans strike their fake reprimand towards their fake audacity.
Amit’s attitude towards the ladies in his group stirs envy in fellow men. He is not aloof towards girls in general, but has not shown weakness to anyone specific either, yet ordinarily there is never lack of the sweet charm. In other words, he has no eagerness for women, but is not short of enthusiasm. Amit goes to the parties, plays cards, purposefully loses bets, entreats the off-key lass for an encore, asks the one wearing garish colours about the shop where such clothes can be purchased. He comes across with preference for all newly introduced, but it is well known that his bias is neutral. The man who worships many gods glorifies each god as superior in private. The gods understand but are not displeased. The mothers never lose hope, but the daughters have understood Amit to be the golden horizon – within reach but unreachable. About the girls, his own mind debates, but does not conclude. That is the reason for his bravado in elusive overtures. That is why he can make friends easily – even close to the inflammable he is safe from combustion.
That evening during the picnic beside the Ganga, when the moon rose over the deep, still, gathering darkness of the other bank, he was accompanied by Lily Ganguly. He softly whispered, “The new moon on the other side of Ganga, and you and me on this. This synthesis will never recur in eternity.”
For a while Lily Ganguly’s soul shimmered to the surface. But she knew the truth of the words was limited to the elegance of delivery. To demand more is to crave the ephemeral colours splattered on top of a bubble. So, quickly unravelling the transient spellbinding, she laughed aloud. “AumiT, what you said is so very true that it need not have been mentioned. The frog that plopped into the water just now, even that won’t take place again in eternity.”
Amit laughed in reply. “There is endless difference, Lily. The frog leaping this evening is an unrelated, trivial matter. But you and me and the moon, the flow of the river and the star etched sky, together create a unique tune – like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I think in the factory of the divine engineer Vishwakarma, there is a crazy craftsman. The moment he attaches a turquoise to diamond and diamond to emerald and puts them together with a flawless rounded piece of gold to create a supreme ring of one moment, he flings it into the ocean. No one will ever find it again.”
“Good for you, AumiT. You don’t have to worry about paying the bill of this jeweller of Vishwakarma.”
“But Lily, consider this. If after aeons we meet by divine chance under the shadows of the crimson forests of Mars, and if we stand facing each other across a thousand mile canal, and if that fisherman of Shakuntala slits the koelakanth of time to reveal the heavenly moment of today, if we start and glance at each other, what would happen next?”
Lily chastised Amit with her fan and said, “Then again the golden moment will unmindfully drop back into the ocean. You have lost so many such moments carved by the crazy craftsman, there is no record in your mind.”
So saying Lily got up quickly to join her female friends. This was one instance of many.
His sisters Sissy and Lissy ask Amit, “Why don’t you marry?”
Amit responds, “For the matter of marriage, the most important is the bride, and immediately after that the groom.”
Sissy says, “That’s funny. There are so many girls.”
Amit replies, “Girls were married in the ancient times, by matching destinies. I want a bride, whose identity is her own. Who is second to none in the world.”
Sissy says, “When she comes over to you, you would be the first and she the second. Her identity will rest on yours.”
Amit says, “The girl for whom I carry on matchmaking in my mind is of a wrong address. Often she does not end up reaching home. She is like a star falling from the sky who bursts into flames on contacting the atmosphere of the heart, does not land up in the dwelling place.”
Sissy says, “Which means she is not at all like your sisters.”
Amit replies, “It means she does not come to the house just to increase head count.”
Lissy joins in, “I say Sissy, Bimi Bose is waiting for Amit to beckon her, so that she can come running to him. Why doesn’t he like her? He says she has no culture. Why, she stood first in Botany M.A. What is culture but education?”
Amit responds, “The crude stone from whence the glittering diamond is cut is education. The luminous light that sparkles forth is culture. The stone lends weight, the light gives illumination”
An enraged Lissy says, “Ahem. He does not appreciate Bimi Bose. Is he at all good enough for her? Even if
Ami suddenly turns crazy to marry her, I’ll warn her not to reward him with as much as a glance.”
Amit says, “Unless touched by insanity would I ever want to wed her? In such a predicament, arrange for medics and not matrimony.”
His relatives have given up on his marriage. Their conclusion being that he lacks sufficient maturity to take on the responsibility of nuptials – the reason for his dreaming of the impossible and staggering everyone with the unconventional. His mind is like the light of the will-o’-the-wisp, dazzling over paths and meadows, impossible to be established inside domestic walls.
Meanwhile Amit gladly loiters around unrestrained, hosts strangers to tea at Firpo, needlessly treats friends to joyrides in his car, buys expendable stuff and distributes them among all and sundry, misplaces recently purchased English books at different places of visit, not bothering to retrieve them.
The quirk that gets on the nerves of his sisters is his compulsive disregard for convention in talk. In a gathering of the respectable, he is bound to venture opinions contradicting the honourably approved sentiments.
Once, some political-theorist was singing praises of democracy. Amit said, “More than a hundred holy sites were created across the country when Vishnu slashed the remains of Sati into pieces. Democracy today has installed innumerable fragments of aristocracy. The world is being infested by small petty aristocrats – in society, politics, literature. No one has a semblance of gravity, since they don’t have self belief.”
When a socially conscious friend of feminism was criticising men for the discriminatory dominance over women, Amit lowered the cigarette from his lips and gushed, “If men stop, female dominance will commence. The domination of the weak is too terrifying.”
The women and the champion of feminism in the assembly fumed, “What is that supposed to mean?”
Amit said, “The party with the shackles fetter the bird in chains. The ones without manacles, bind through opium, in other words through deceit and delusion. The shackler ties you down but does not beguile. The opium vendor places you under control and also misleads. The female case is filled with opium, nature being the evil supplier.”
One day at a literary gathering, the poems of Rabi Thakur was the hot topic. For the first time in his life, Amit had agreed to be the chairman. He had gone mentally dressed up in the regalia of battle gear. A goodhearted old timer was the speaker. His only purpose was to prove that Tagore’s poetry was truly poetry. Apart from one or two college professors, the majority agreed that the proof provided was satisfactory.
The chairman stood up. “Every poet needs to practise poetry within a time frame of five years. From twenty five to thirty. I won’t venture to say I want better from the next, but I do want novelty. When the Alphonso mango is over, I won’t say bring Alphonso-er mango. I would ask my mate to fetch a large custard-apple from the new market. The green coconut is short termed, valued for essence. The hardened coconut has extended time, regarded for substance. Poets are short-lived. Philosophers are older than mountains ... The major complaint against Rabi Thakur is that the gentleman is emulating old Wordsworth and living unjustifiably long. Yama sends lamp lighters to snuff out the light of life, but the guy holds on to the arm rest of his chair even when he stands tottering to respond to the call. If he does not slink away to oblivion on his own, the onus is on us to leave his assembly and walk away. The next one who will arrive will also come snarling, battle ready, claiming eternal reign. The abode of immortals will seem tied to his door post. For a while the devoted will garland and anoint him, feed him to the fill, prostrate themselves to him ... and then will arrive the auspicious day to immolate him, the propitious moment of the liberation of the devotees from devotion-bondage. This is the ritual for the worship of four legged gods of Africa. The same holds true for the two, three, four or fourteen legged deities. There is nothing as sacrilegious and impure as making worship tedious through rituals. Appreciation proceeds through its own evolution. If the fascination of five years back remains static and fixed half a decade on, then we have to understand that the poor soul has not realised that he is dead. A shove will make him see the proof that his sentimental relatives were delaying his last rites, probably to deny his deserving successor forever. I have vowed to reveal this illegal conspiracy of Rabi Thakur’s group to the public.”
Our Manibhushan’s glasses flashed in reproach as he asked, “You want to remove loyalty from literature?”
“Absolutely. From now on, it is the quick termination age of the poet-president. My other opinion about Rabi Thakur is that the substance of his works is akin to his own scribbles, rounded or wavy, like a rose or a fair lady’s face or the moon. It is primitive, like the mock show of the handiwork of nature. From the new poet president I want terse, straight lines. Similar to a shaft of an arrow, spear or thorn. Not like flowers but as streaks of lightning. Like an analysis of neuralgia. Like the angular, edgy Gothic churches, not the rounded domes of temples. No problem even if it is resembles mills, factories or the secretariat building. From now on, leave aside mind deluding artful posturing of verse vaults. The senses need to be abducted as Sita was abducted by Ravana. Even if the mind goes forth protesting and in tears, go forth it must. The geriatric Jatayu will forbid, but will die in the process. And after a while, Kishkindhya will arise, some Hanuman will leap through, torching Lanka and arranging for the mind to return to its abode. Then we will reunite with Tennyson, will tearfully embrace Byron, will tell Dickens – forgive me, for I have slighted you to recover from infatuated illusion ... If the fascinated artisans had forever erected domed stone bubbles across India, every gentleman would have sought retirement into hermetic woods the moment he turned twenty. In order to love the Taj Mahal it becomes necessary to shake off its addiction.”
(Let me note here that unable to wade through the wave of words, the reporter of the meeting had lost his bearings. His report had turned out even more abstruse than Amit’s speech. I have set forth whatever pieces I could salvage from the ruins.)
On the question of the repetition of the Taj Mahal, the red faced devotees of Rabi Thakur remarked, “The more the merrier when it comes to great things.”
Amit said, “Just the opposite. In the kingdom of the Almighty, it is a blessing that good things are a rarity. Else, crowded by His likes, He would have ended up mediocre. The poets who are not embarrassed to live to sixty or seventy, they punish themselves by becoming cheap. Ultimately the pretenders and copycats surround him in battle formation and make faces at him. The soul of his writing is soiled. He lifts stuff off his past works and becomes a receiver of stolen property. In these circumstances, it is the responsibility of the readers never to allow the too old poets to survive. I am not talking about physical survival but poetic. Let the longevity of the relics be used to the full by old college professors, veteran politicians and ancient critics.”
The speaker of the day spoke up, “May I know whom you want to instate as the president? Name him.”
Amit abruptly said, “Nibaran Chakraborty.”
Amazed voices raised themselves from various chairs, “Nibaran Chakraborty? Who’s that guy?”
“Today’s question is the seed from which will rise the giant evergreen of an answer tomorrow.”
“Meanwhile we need a sample.”
“Then listen,” saying so, he produced a long Cambis bound exercise book from his pocket and started reading.
The one unknown –
To the land,
Of the familiar band.
Cause of infinite jest.
I bring Almighty’s dispatch
Eternal lord –
Sends undecipherable word.
Who are the brave,
Challenging death crave –
To answer the absurd?
Rush roars on breast –
Dies on crest
On shores of crag
In suicidal brag.
No garlands, bosom sans splendour
No armlet, amulet or piece of armour.
In fate that for me ever forbidden
Victory mark lies hidden.
In beggarly tatters – still
Empty I will
Your treasure store.
Open the door
Have extended my hand
Briskly fulfil my demand!
Heart aflutter, shivering, grim,
Earth and sky fill to the brim.
Fearful wail rises fierce
Horizon does pierce –
At once depart
O rampaging beggar
Back does dart
Nightly slumber sharply stabbed in heart
Bring on suite of arm.
Flay my being with clashing alarm.
Let death slay death, life will endure
Legacy will I ensure.
Wrap me in chain
In moments – free again
From shackles that did entwine
Find will your freedom in mine.
Bring on the holy writs.
Rush at me with learned blitz.
Savant and scholar
With loud arguments will endeavour
To negate decree divine.
Know I in heart of mine,
Scythed to fragments.
Eyes dazed by weak words will take flight
Alight the fire.
Whatever today meets desire
Tomorrow is thrown on pyre,
If it does ignite
Worldwide by right
Let it burn.
Sorrow let us spurn.
Through my baptism by fire
Let on all the world blessings transpire.
Inscrutable words of mine
Rain blows on those who opposite opine –
Make them fretful,
Crazy my verse
Raises the confusion curse
For seekers who have lost peace
For hungry whom fate does fleece.
With hands on head will pledge
One by one acknowledge
In rage, fear and sorrow
Openly on the morrow
His identity will intone.
The one we know not we say
With sun and storm in summer, the world does he sway
Stingy clouds does twist
The secret store of rain
Torn free, across earth’s terrain.
Rabi Thakur’s devotees were stunned into silence that day. They threatened to send in a written response.
While he was driving back, having stunned the gathering into a stupor, Sissy asked him, “I am sure you have created this entire ruse of Nibaran Chakraborty beforehand to fool the good hearted people.”
Amit replied, “The one who propels the uninvited forward is called the uninvited deity. I am the same. Nibaran Chakraborty has landed today, no one can stop him now.”
In her innermost mind, Sissy does feel proud of Amit. She asked, “Amit, do you wake up in the morning and sharpen all the razor sharp words that you will use for the day?”
Amit replied, “To be prepared for what is likely is civilisation. The barbaric are unprepared for anything on the earth. Even this is jotted down in my notebook.”
“But there is nothing called your own. You say whatever sounds good at that point of time.”
“My mind is a mirror. If I wrapped it completely with my own considered opinions then it would not reflect every moving moment.”
Sissy said, “Ami, you will spend your life amidst reflections.”