Amit thrived on association. Scenic beauty could not nourish him for long. He was a compulsive conversationalist. The hills and mountains, the forests and woods did not respond to witticism, being funny amongst them provoked dangers of falling flat – they subscribed to routine and expected the same in return. In one word, they were solemn, hence being away from the city suffocated him.
But suddenly something happened. The Shillong mountains seemed to be blending him in the spread of sensibility. Today he rose before the sun, sacrilegious to self ritual. From the window he saw the quivering fringes of the deodars, and behind it, on the light clouds, the sun had brush-stroked long golden streaks from the other side of the mountains. Burnt in the blaze, the many coloured lights that slowly speckled the sky could not be painted in words.
Downing a cup of tea in haste, Amit strode out. The roads then were deserted. He spread his legs and sat upon the many layered, densely fragrant, fallen leaves under an ancient moss laden pine tree. Lighting a cigarette, he held it between his fingers, forgetting to draw.
These woods were on the way to Yogamaya’s home. Just as inviting flavours could be relished from the kitchen before feasts, Amit savoured the aura of the house from this place. The moment the hour hand crossed the ungodly time-zone, he would proceed there and demand a cup of tea. Initially, his hour of visit had been the evenings. Amit’s credentials as a connoisseur of literature had earned him a standing invitation for discourse-dialogues. For the first two or three days, Yogamaya had expressed eagerness for these discussions, but soon it became apparent to her that the enthusiasm at the other end was rendered somewhat diffident. It was not difficult to realise that the reason was the projection of a third dimension on what was literally meant to be a dialogue. After that, there were frequent occasions for Yogamaya to be absent. A little analysis revealed that these were not inevitable or divine, but designed. It proved to the lady that the ardour in the two discourse lovers went somewhat deeper than mere love of literature. Amit understood that although aunt had aged, her eyes remained keen and her heart soft. From this his desire for discussion doubled. To stretch the limited span, he entered into a collaboration with Jyotishankar, to help him with English Literature for an hour in the morning and two in the afternoon. He started help, and in such huge helpings, that often mornings stretched into afternoons and talk turned to trivia, ultimately, at the insistence of Yogamaya and etiquette, lunch became an absolute obligation. Soon it was noticed that the sphere of such absolute obligations was increasing with the passing hours.
He was supposed to join in the studies of Jyotishankar at eight in the morning. In his natural state the hour was ungodly. He used to say, the sleep of a creature whose gestation period was forty weeks could not be measured using the yardstick of birds and beasts. Till then, Amit’s night had attached a number of morning hours as wagons. According to him, the stolen hours were forbidden and hence most favourable for slumber.
But these days, his sleep was no longer adulterated. The desire to wake up early was now deep-seated. He woke up earlier than required, yet he did not dare to turn over, lest it got late. Sometimes, he pushed the hands of the watch ahead, but the fear of being pulled up as a thief of time stopped him from doing it too often. Today, he looked at the watch once, and found the day on this side of seven. He was certain that it had stopped, but when he raised it to his ear, he heard tick tock tick tock.
All of a sudden, with a start he noticed Lavanya coming along the road above, swinging an umbrella in her right hand. White saree, a triangular shawl with black fringes on her back. Amit did not fail to understand that in half her sight his presence had been captured, but Lavanya was not ready to meet him headlong with a full glance. As she reached the mouth of the dam, Amit could not withold any longer. He ran to her side.
He said, “You knew you could not avoid me, yet made me run. Don’t you know what a problem it becomes when you go far?”
Amit said, “The soul of the luckless lonely one who remains behind craves to cry out loud. But, how do I call? The good thing about the gods and goddesses is that they are satisfied to be called by their names. Even if one growls durga durga, the ten armed venerable goddess is not displeased. The problem is with you lot.”
“Solved by not calling.”
“I suffice without address when you are near. That’s why I say, don’t change address and go far. I can’t call even though I want to. There’s nothing sadder than this.”
“Why, you are accustomed to western ways.”
“Miss Dutt? That’s for the tea table. Consider this. Today when the heaven met the earth in the light of dawn, to celebrate the moment of mingling, they together created a unique image and in it was embossed the moniker of the two. Doesn’t it seem that the whispering of the nickname moves downwards from up above and another whisper replies upwards from down below? In our lives too, doesn’t the moment arrive to create similar names? Imagine, letting restraint loose from life, fresh, full throated, I have called you – the name echoes across the woods, flies past the coloured clouds of the skies, that mountain in front of us, on hearing it, ponders, head wrapped in clouds ... can you even imagine that this name that I call out is Miss Dutt?”
“Christening takes awhile, for now let us take a walk.”
Amit joined her and said, “It takes long to learn to walk, however for me it is contrary. After so many days, reaching here, I have learned to sit. It is said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. That’s why I was sitting along the way since dark. That’s why I saw the light of dawn.”
Trying to quickly sidestep the subtle volley of words, Lavanya asked, “Do you know the name of that emerald winged bird?”
Amit said, “I was generally aware that there are birds in the creature world, but never got around to knowing the specifics. After coming here, I was amazed to discover that there are indeed birds, and what’s more, they also sing.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “Amazing.”
Amit said, “You are laughing? Even in my deepest expressions, I cannot maintain solemnity. It’s an idiosyncrasy. My birth moment has been graced by the moon. Even in the darkest of nights, it cannot die without a smirk on its face.”
Lavanya said, “Don’t blame me. I think if the bird could hear you, it would have laughed.”
Amit said, “Look, people laugh at my words because they cannot understand them spontaneously. If they could, they would have quietly thought about it. People are laughing because today I have come to know the birds anew. But, the deeper meaning is that I am getting to understand everything afresh, even myself. One can’t laugh at that. You see, the words are the same, but this time you are utterly utter-less.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “You are not a man of too many years, still very new, where does this penchant for even more new come from”
“In response it is necessary to say something serious, which is not meant for the tea table. The novelty that has graced me is primordially ancient, old as the light of dawn, like the freshly bloomed earth-champak flowers, eternal truth discovered anew.”
Lavanya smiled without words.
Amit said, “This smile of yours is like the smile of the thief accosting round lamp of the watchman. I understand, you have already read the words in the works of your favourite poet. But, I beg you, don’t judge me to be a hardened thief. On some occasions, the mind within turns into Shankaracharya, cries out, whether it is I or other who has written the words, the duality is an illusion. Just consider this. This morning, I suddenly resolved to extract such a line from my known literature that will seem to be written at this instant by yours truly, no other poet could have inscribed the words.”
Lavanya could not resist. She asked, “Have you extracted it?”
“Yes I have.”
Lavanya’s curiosity could not be restrained any longer. She ended up asking, “Please do tell.”
“For God’s sake hold your tongue
And let me love.”
Lavanya’s heart skipped a beat.
After aeons Amit asked, “You surely know whose lines those are.”
Lavanya tilted her head slightly and let it be known, yes.
Amit said, “That day, on your table, I discovered the book of John Donne. Else, I would not have been struck by the line.”
“What else but discovery? In book shops, books catch the eye. On your table they manifest themselves. I have seen the tables of the public library, that carry the books. And I saw your table, that gives them a nesting place. That day I could see Donne’s poetry with my soul. I felt that at the door of the other poets there was jostling of crowds, like the riddance of the destitute from the last rites of the rich. Donne’s poetry palace is deserted, there is space for two to sit beside each other. That’s how I heard the words of my soul this morning ...
(in Bengali) Mon ami, please say no more ... Let us yield now to amor.”
An awestruck Lavanya asked, “Do you write Bengali poetry?”
“I fear, I may have to start from today. Whatever the new Amit Raaye will venture to do is beyond the ken of the Amit Raaye of old. Maybe right now he will walk out to wage war.”
“War? With whom?”
“That’s what I can’t decide. I keep thinking that I need to sacrifice my life immediately for a great cause, later we can lament at leisure.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “If you have to give up your life, do so with caution.”
“To remind me of that is redundant. I am not willing to venture into communal riots. I will steer clear of the Muslims and the English. If I notice some elderly fellow, of peaceable temperament, spiritual looks, driving along blowing the bugle, I’ll step into his way bellicose, with a war cry. Like the afflicted who go to mountains instead of hospitals for cure, the ones who shamelessly feast on air to build an appetite.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “If the man ignores and drives away?”
“In that case I will reach out to the sky with my arms raised high and say, for this time I give you my pardon, you are my brother, we are both the children of the same Mother India. Do you understand? When the mind becomes very broad, man fights wars and also forgives.”
Lavanya smiled. “When you spoke of war, fear arose in mind. Now that you have clarified the concept of mercy, I am certain there is nothing to worry about.”
Amit said, “Will you please keep a request?”
“Don’t roam around much more today to increase your appetite.”
“So be it. What next?”
“Let us sit yonder where under the tree, water is trickling beneath the stone covered with many coloured moss.”
Lavanya glanced at the watch in her hand, “Time there is but little.”
“That’s the most lamentable woe of the world, Lady Lavanya, there is little time. Travelling across the desert, bearing but a half filled leather bag of water. Have to do our utmost to keep it from sloshing and splashing on the dry stretch of sand. It befits the ones who have loads of time on their hands to be punctual. God’s hourglass contains eternity, hence the sun rises and sets right on time. Our tenure is limited, it is extravagant for us to waste time by being punctual. On the other side of the river of life, if I am asked, ‘What did you do on earth?’ won’t I be embarrassed in responding, ‘Spent my life working to the ticking of the clock, could not find the time to look up at the eternal things in life that are beyond all time’. That’s what forced me to say let’s go to that place.”
When Amit speaks, he blows away with his arguments any apprehension that someone else can object to what is not objectionable to him. That’s why it is difficult to object to his proposals. Lavanya said, “Let’s go.”
The woods lovely, dark and deep. The narrow road led down towards a Khasia village. Halfway across, a small spring had denied the path of man and had marked its independent way with a sprinkle of pebbles. The two sat there on rocks. At precisely this place the gorge was deep and some water had gathered, like a purdah protected damsel behind a green veil, afraid to step outside. The bare desolation of the place brought unto Lavanya the embarrassment of baring herself. She wanted to say something simple to cover it, but nothing came to her mind, almost like the stifling silence that accompanies dreams.
Amit realised that it was essential to say something. “Look Madame, our land speaks two tongues – one refined one colloquial. But, one more was necessary – a language not for the society or for transactions, but a lexicon for nooks and corners, for places like this. Like the song of the birds, the verses of the poet, the words should have flown as naturally as tears. It is a shame that people have to rush to bookshops for this. Imagine what would happen if for every flash of a smile one needed to sprint to the dentist. Tell me honestly Lady Lavanya, right now don’t you yearn to speak in musical lilt?”
Lavanya sat silent, looking down.
Amit said, “On the tea tables, tallying up the checks and balances of etiquette is neverending. But in this place there is no approval or disapproval. So, I am left with no choice but to recite poetry to lighten my mind. Prose takes up more time than we have in hand. I’ll start if you permit.”
Permission had to be granted, else embarrassment would lead to embarrassment.
Amit prefaced it saying, “I take it that you like Robi Thakur’s poetry.”
“Yes, I do.”
“I don’t, so forgive me. I do have a special poet, who writes well enough to ensure a very limited number of readers. In fact, he is not even considered eligible for brickbats. I would like to recite his lines.”
“Why are you so apprehensive?”
“My experience in this regard is tragic. Criticising the poet laureate leads to ostracism. Silently sidestepping him leads to harsh commentary. My taste does not suit another’s palate – this is the root of worldwide bloodshed.”
“Have no fear of bloodshed. It is not in my taste to beg for the approval of another’s.”
“These words are all the music I need to start without fear ...
O unknown, my clasp you cannot untwine
Till your soul have I felt with mine.
Have you noted the motif? The bond of not knowing. The strongest connection. Captured in the world unknown, we will be liberated through knowing. This is doctrine of freedom.
In one instant – blind
Sleep married yet with wakeful mind
When lifting night’s veil did dawn appear
I saw you near
‘In which concealed nook’ – holding your gaze I enquire –
‘Of self oblivion do you adhere?’
There remains no obscure corner to hide from oneself. Treasures of the world yet unseen, lie merged in the corners of self oblivion. But, we cannot really give up.
To know you – I fear,
Is a task no mere.
With no words whispered by.
Win over will I –
The voice shrinking coy
Hand arrogant arrests ahoy.
From diffident, anxious plight
To unrelenting light.
Dogged. Powerful. Mark the testosterone of the lines?
Waking by the trickling tear
True self will instant appear
Snap will the entwine
Liberation of thee will lead to mine
You won’t get this strain in your famed author – it is like a firestorm in the solar system. This is not just lyric, it is the lesson of life.
Day turns to eve, flowing instant
Let the forceful moment
All bonds of restraint lift
In the glowing lamp of acquaint
Will I cast my life as divine gift.”
The recital had not fully finished when Amit grasped Lavanya’s hand. She did not pull away, looking instead at his face, without words.
After this they needed not words. Even the watch in Lavanya’s hand had retreated into self oblivion.