Monday, February 11, 2013

The error

It was one of those rainy afternoons when the whiteness blinds your vision. Being one of those hapless individuals who did not understand heavyweight phrases like 'paradigm shift', he did not really feel like working on a stormy afternoon.

He kept on checking the time at the bottom right of his Dell Latitude. It was still half an hour before he would be able to leave work. He stood up from the chair, visibly impatient, and he paced up and down the corridor next to the window, keeping an eye on his manager's door. If only he could feel the rain...

He knew that the outside was not going to be as cosy as inside the office. However, he also knew that once he was through with that tedious drive back to the hotel, he would be warm and smug once again. Sighing, he walked towards the coffee machine.

His cellphone beeped once. Was it her?

Yes, It was her message. She had texted him finally. She wanted them to be back together once more.

His dead eyes lit up with a fire that he had almost forgotten. His expression was indecipherable. He read the message again. And again. His mind raced back to the incident from a couple of weeks back.

***

The argument had broken out over a petty issue, as usual. It had all started over TV channels, and they had a fight over the possession of the remote control. During the early days of their relationship, such matters would have definitely led to a few hours of passion. After four years of living together, fights were always fights the way eggs never turned out to be hammers.

The argument had turned bitter - more bitter than orange peel soaked in concentrated quinine for hours - and had almost reached the verge of violence. That was when he had decided to pack his bags and leave; he had half-wished that she would stop him, but she did not.

He left. He did not forget to slam the door hard - hard enough for her to hear. It was a miracle that the neighbour next door did not come out to check what the fuss was about. It was another thing that the neighbour was deaf.

He had checked into a hotel. The distance had torn apart his soul and induced a crave in his body he had not felt for four years. However, the worst bit was the fact that the hotel provided with Promise toothpastes - a taste that he clearly detested: he typically settled for nothing less than Amway Glister, and she was the only Amway agent he had known. Maybe he should have packed more patiently.

***

A familiar sound diverted his thoughts. His colleagues were packing up. Yes, it was indeed six now, and he could leave. He was more impatient than ever. He rushed back to his cubicle, packed his Dell Latitude, and stormed towards the basement.

It was still raining. It was ice-cold. But he would not have to return the hotel room today with photograph of the innocuous-looking zebra on the baby-pink wall. He would come back and check out tomorrow.

Today, he had a home to go to. He had something to look forward to tonight. His dreary existence over the last two weeks, as eventful as a Manmohan Singh speech, had now come to an end.

He finally felt something. The calm assurance of having a place he could call home. The frenzy of lust. And more, lots more. He knew exactly what he was going to do, and the thrill made his palms sweat even in the chill.

As he drove out of the basement, the Kolkata monsoon hit him hard. Raindrops sploshed against the windscreen so hard that for a while it seemed that the glass would crack from the impact. He still drove on amidst zero visibility, completely aware of the risk but impatient to reach her.

He was somewhat scared, but the thrill of imminent danger brought back the adventurous self that years of Powerpoint presentations had sucked out of him so efficiently. He tore across the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass at breakneck speed, dangerously silhouettes of cars dangerously, impatient to be back home.

Home. It is funny how some people often tend to forget what the word exactly means. Or rather, how important it can be. He sighed at his own folly.

As the car halted just after nightfall at a traffic signal, he took his cellphone out and read the message again. No, he had not read it wrong. His impatience rose.

***

He walked out of his car as he reached home safely. The ceaseless rain hit his bare cheeks like shards of glass as he rushed into the building. His soaked, cold fingers fumbled on the button outside the elevator. He was not one of those men who thought that pressing the button multiple times would make the elevator accelerate, but he was really impatient today.

He turned the key in the latch. As he opened the door, he heard footsteps: she had come up to the door to greet him. Water dripped from his stylized hair; his deep, now hungry eyes were red behind his wire-rimmed glasses; his white, now almost translucent shirt clung to his torso, making him as desirable a Greek God.

She smiled at him and let her nightgown drop to the floor. She was wearing a skimpy, black negligee that was clearly new; he guessed it had been purchased specially for the occasion. He reciprocated her smile with a look that reflected the burning lust somewhere deep inside him.

She knew that look of his. She knew he was hers - as he had always been.

Within moments they were on each other. His cold fingers found her warm flesh, making her moan in ecstasy. He immersed his famished lips in her softness; she melted in his firmly built arms. Then, regaining her composure, she ripped his shirt apart. He could vaguely hear sounds of his buttons flying to various corners of the room.

He was not distracted, though. His frantic, restless grip made her go weak in her knees. She welcomed him on the floor. They did not care that the door was left ajar. He tried to close the door with his legs, but did not find it, and did not bother in the end. The cold marble floor could not be a hindrance to their impatient nakedness.

It was all flesh from there on. It was oblivion.

***

After a couple of hours - but what seemed like a couple of minutes to them - he pulled himself away from her and lay on his back, staring at her bare back at the mirror on the ceiling. She probably wanted him to hold her, but he did not.

His insides churned. He had not realized how hungry he had been all this while. He mumbled a couple of words, got up, closed the door, and walked towards the kitchen. She lay still on the floor, feeling the marble numb her cheeks with its icy touch, listening to the incessant rain against the French window.

There was the unmistakable sound of a refrigerator being rummaged through - and then, after a couple of minutes, the familiar ting of the microwave oven. She knew he would be back. She remembered how she loved to see him gobble down food on his return from work every day. She sighed.

She could hear him putting down the plate in the sink. She knew he would invariably turn the tap on and let the water accumulate on the plate. She had often laughed at his habit of doing the dishes immediately after the meal. She used to make fun of him. It was obsessive compulsive disorder, she used to say.

She could hear his footsteps now. She felt the familiar butterflies in her stomach. This was like in their early days - when they were still exploring each other's bodies - when with every session she found out what he smelled like, tasted like, felt like.

She knew he would resume. They would take the passion deep into the night, maybe till daybreak. Maybe even beyond that.

He was upon her. And then - without any warning - he plunged the steak knife into her bare back - once, twice, thrice with a venom she had no idea that he was capable of. She did not have any time to react. The blows had pierced her heart and lungs, and she died almost instantaneously, gargling blood.

"Bitch", he murmured under his breath, his hands still warm with her warm, fresh blood. He moved to the sink again to wash.

Then, with his fist clenched and his jaws hardened, he reached out for his trousers and took out his cellphone. He read the text she had sent that afternoon - the one that had made him rush to the apartment he hated to call home now.

He read it again. There was no mistake.

"Your all I have. I don't want to loose you."

Friday, February 8, 2013

It's February again

Once again it's February all over again. The unusually chilly January of this year is wearing off bit by bit; if you take a walk in the sun for fifteen minutes or so, you feel that itchy, prickly feeling that usually defines the cut-off between dry skin and the first droplet of sweat. And yet, the temperature drops at night - drops sufficiently to keep the quilts from being packed away in suitcases with strategically placed mothballs: the occasional sweater is still there; and so is the boutupi (can be roughly translated to 'bridal cap'; it is an incredible invention to ward off cold while sleeping).

No, boutupis are not the reason that I love February (even though I simply love boutupis, and think they are the greatest invention since sliced bread). They rule. But that is not the point. This post is about February. Boutupis will be covered in another post.

As I have mentioned before, February is the best month to be in Kolkata; and Kolkata is the best place to be in February. The mild sweat - the kind that does not tire you or stink, but has that certain feel-good aspect about it - is here now. The early mornings and the late afternoons give you the precise amount of sunshine your otherwise starved system craves for all year: it's so immaculately measured that you almost think that it cannot be a natural phenomenon.

The city smells of heaven. It may be flowers. It may not be. It simply smells of a Kolkata February. Of something soft; something fresh; something invigorating; something comforting; something primal; something relaxing; I have no idea what, but it is a feeling that my limited vocabulary cannot portray.

No longer is Park Street crowded with noisy banters of teenagers in colourful woollens, no. The seamless laughter has given way to solemn faces, back to their mundane lives at the end of the rather short-lived Kolkata winter. They look forward to another long year ahead: but they look forward to it with a smile; and the reason that they smile is the Kolkata February.

The rustle of the leaves; the full bloom of the polash; the sheer bliss of standing on Bijon Setu, watching trains go by as the lukewarm breeze caresses your face; shorts; the first proper bath after two months of bathroom horror; the effortless waking up every morning; the urge to read more without having to climb inside the smug safety of a blanket and feel drowsy after fifteen minutes. February has it all.

And then, there is the Book Fair. Yes, I know that Flipkart and Indiaplaza (and even College Street) have better offers, and they have free home delivery as well. The Book Fair has been shifted to the most obscure corner of the city (albeit for valid reasons), and it gets virtually impossible to find a transport back. And yet, as the mid-day sun melts into the mellow afternoon, the Book Fair pulls you with a grappling hook attached to your belly. Or it feels like that, at least.

It's also season-change time, of course. It's when the mothers all over West Bengal - from Darjeeling to  the Sundarbans - warn their children (irrespective of their ages) to wrap themselves well; as the afternoons melt into evenings, worried mothers appear on the balconies: What if my son catches a cold? His head won't be covered when he will return home - this is why I always ask him to carry a scarf! But is there a single soul who bothers to listen to me...? Kiro'm him porchhe (roughly translates to 'the dew is forming', but it hardly captures the essence: you need to reach out into the heart of the Bengali mother to know what she means)...

With its inefficient and inadequate efforts to become an international city, Kolkata has managed to reach nowhere: it has lost its pomp and grandeur, its tag as the cultural capital of the country, and yet it isn't even close to where had intended to reach.

Despite all its ridiculous attempts to change, it has managed to keep its February intact. The quilt on the bed baked in the dry mid-day sun smells the same as it used to a quarter of a century back. The innocent morning sun still welcomes you to get up from bed early and bask in the freshness; long walks in the melancholy evening still allow you the luxury of what-would-have-been thoughts about old flames; the trains look just the same from above; the air kisses your face the same way it has always done - like the whiff of perfume that is left with you, almost as an afterthought, when that girl walks past you to get off the bus.

The Book Fair has not changed either. The traffic situation is hideous. The entire thing reeks of gimmicks and a terrible lack of management, and the free entry has really not made up for them. The entire thing looks ugly and artificial, but then - once you step inside, the same magic that has always made you peek inside each and every stall, eye one book after another, ask the seller about the quality of the book (and get an honest answer) still works. The feet still ache the same way; the crowd swarming around Benfish could well have been from 1990s; and the mothers - the quintessential mothers - still cover their helpless, too-young-to-protest sons with monkey-caps (an ugly boutupi).

These things, unlike a lot of others, have not changed. Girls in yellow sarees still look pretty when they blush to match the polash as they team up with other girls to meet their own boyfriends. They have not been able to take away the innocence of a February love; the dreams that come with it; the aroma and flavour that make the memories of the relationships so memorable; the way the eyes of the young boys light up when they see their see their feelings reflected in the affectionate eyes of their girls.

I now know what it smells of. I possibly do. The Kolkata February smells of my childhood. Of the days without responsibilities. Of the days when every day was a special one. Of the days when boys had to muster courage to talk up girls. Of the days when Pheluda was the world. Of the days when we were served coffee only on special occasions. Of the days when a small packet of miniature plastic animals made us ecstatic. Of the days of buying sweets for the guests who had arrived, and look at the plates with hope - what if he suddenly looked at me and decided to be generous?

The little, innocent bits of joy that have always been there but have eluded my senses throughout the year all turn up to hold me captive in February. And leave me hanging, craving for more.

To hell with your cherry trees, Neruda. I want to do to her what February does to Kolkata.

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