Saleem Sinai. . . .
Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Piece-of-the-moon, Saleem Sinai. . . .
Running through the colourful gullies of my mind’s eye, stamping his legs on their curious floorings as he runs strolls walks strafes an awkward left a sudden right, brushing his shoulders against the ever accepting walls of my imagining arteries, making them shudder with excitement and glisten with the phlegm that gets rubbed onto them from where his palms have touched them, from where his palms have rubbed his face and his running nose.
So Mr. Ravinutala, you are trained and ready now? Yes sir Starting next week you are to handle cash flow on your own Ok sir Any questions? No sir All the best then.
Saleem Sinai. . . .
Teasing me taunting me egging me on deeper and deeper into the winding mud splattered gullies of my imagination as I follow him from behind, allowing me to be engulfed into his tale of connections and inter connections and inter inter connections, his tale of smell his tale of sensations his tale of choice his tale of emotions, never letting me keep pace with his slippery movements, always taking an unpredictable turn every now and then just as I start feeling that I am going to catch up with him at the very next bend.
How many weeks have you been here? Seven One and a half months and you think you can manage everything on your own now? Of course I’d need your help Help? Huh! So if I sit behind you, you will be able to manage on your own? Yes I’ve got the hang of it Ha! Hang of it. . . quarter end aane de, phir maloom padega asli pressure.
Saleem Sinai. . . .
Sniffing at me, mocking me, taunting me with the one line that is slowly but surely being etched into my overgrown head as I stand again just like every day at dusk and dawn, amidst the swarm of shaved cheeks and starched collars swaying to the tune of screeching railway tracks greeting the metal tyres beneath our bogie. The one line that perhaps is-as I know now owing to hindsight-the beginning of my misery my anger my bitterness. . . . . my bile. The one line that is clawing and biting at the insides of my head as I pick my nose and scratch my left butt-cheek absentmindedly knowing full well that my nose is not the only one being picked and my buttocks are not the only ones being scratched in this crowd of hushed polished commuting gentlemen.
‘You don’t own me’ he whispers every passing hour minute second of my presence amongst these people who know nothing of the volcano brewing inside me.
‘You don’t own me’ the words causing a searing pain surge up in my abdomen.
You don’t own a touchscreen phone? What? I am seated in my office again with a spreadsheet open in front of me as I type in the numbers for the day. They all look so similar to me now. The eights and the fives and the zeros and the nines. Perhaps it has more to do with indifference than to do with similarity. I said you don’t own a touchscreen phone?Kya saab! How come? You earn so much.
I look at the guy, my lips that have time and again proven their disability to answer questions external to myself, quivering before my reply-I don’t like phones.
Well too bad. You know just last week there’s this new model Samsung released and . . . .
‘You don’t own me’ Saleem again, sputum dangling dangerously low on his upper lip, zoning me out of a conversation that I was never part of; that is until I hear the last bit clear enough to make me want to break the keyboard kept in my front into two, I’ll be honest with you. If you want to learn the work properly you’re going to have to start coming in by eight thirty in the morning.
It is done again as if to make me feel that I have a choice in this matter. I nod my agreement with flared nostrils and clenched teeth.
‘But I own Arin Shroff’ I retaliate naming my own creation-in-progress as he plays hard to get.
‘Haven’t seen him’ sniff sniff
‘And Dr. Khare’
‘Haven’t heard him’ that uncanny giggle.
‘And then there is Kama’ I must be desperate to please now because I’m naming things that haven’t even fully shaped in my head yet. Perhaps it is the dozen or so phones that keep ringing around me throughout the day and the dozen odd voices belonging to their owners, echoing against each other like spears and arrows thrown by two nomadic clans engaged in battle, with me, innocent me, at the centre that is making me gloat about uncreated creations to a fictitious character. Otherwise I am well aware of my inclination towards humility even in the act of bragging.
‘Tell me something then. Why do they never speak?’ Saleem you fantastic creation you! Yet again you leave me dumbfounded. I only have the day’s surplus figures to give to you.
But no reply to your question.
My watch shows quarter past nine as I wait on the platform like everyday for my ride home. Everytime I think of my writing when I’m outside the house I feel weak kneed and helpless.
So I stop doing that. I read instead. Rushdie making me revisit lines and scenes from Ghosh and then Ghosh doing the same for Rushdie, both failing as always to cease from seizing me by my neck and sending me plummeting down the rabbit hole of never-ending memories that I’ve never had, that I’ve never owned and yet, by my good fortune, I’m so much a part of. Rushdie with his free flowing, free falling narrative that can melt the harshest of metals and Ghosh with his history laced dialogue that can freeze the swiftest of breezes.
I observe now that I have stopped smiling whilst staring at vacant spaces, having perhaps noticed continuously for a few days that every random guy sitting next to me in the bus or the sharing autorickshaw does it. Maybe he looks at me and feels the same thing that I feel looking at him. Pity begetting pity. . . Ire begetting ire. . . . shame begetting shame. . . .
A fury burns inside me with yellow flames tainted in red as I am almost at my doorstep. . . My pact with myself of not thinking of writing when outside is riddled with holes.
My desire for penning words is ablaze, my passion for plotting scenes scorching.
Then I reach bath eat sleep brush bath eat dress up and leave again to what I call as my office and what my dear mum has by now begun referring to as my first home. I leave without a single word penned, a single scene plotted, my fury fully intact, cumulating even.
Weekends remind me of fine sand slipping through clasped fingers. They also remind me of other duties that I am to discharge of, owing to the various other skins that I wear from time to time: the skin of a son, of a brother, of a friend, of a lover. But these skins have begun to irk me as the people around me now see no purpose behind me wanting to shed them; now, that I am finally settled and will perhaps befittingly begin to consider stories as a hobby and nothing else.
And the flames rise taller as soothing voices and witty jibes, albeit well-meaning and harmless, enrage me, making me want to shout out loud at everyone around me with no control on the contents of these vocal outbursts.
My various other skins, especially the last, have developed rancid thorns. Their recipients, especially that of the last, bear the brunt of my sentiment of failure.
And Rushdie with his bald patch and his devilish brows and his incredulous mixing of innocent with grotesque. . . . And Ghosh with his sparkling white head and his frameless specs and his incredible blending of truth with fables. . . .Stalwarts of what I consider, what I want to consider, as my field my profession. . . . Waltzing away, hand in hand, to the sordid tune of a foreign vernacular that I am unable to recognize. . . Dancing away, hand in hand, feet in sync with the music that wants to make me retch at myself when I look into the mirror or even when I close my eyes at night and put a foolhardy effort into pulling together the pieces that are left of me as I take in the fact that another day has passed, uneventful, unmarked.
And it is the King now, the King, my King, my liege, my mentor who has joined Rushdie and Ghosh in dancing their dance of eroding dreams, the dance of my internal torment.
I am left no space to breath at all as the one who has made me is now joining in this exercise inside my mind that intends to break me.
And the worst of my fears have come alive as I open my eyes in realization of a simple truth which I have been failing to register in my brain until now- THE WORDS HAVE STOPPED FLOWING.
I am up on my bed, sweating, startled by the revelation, scared, but no longer ignorant to the reality.
Two choices are all that I have left.
I am now seated in a low ceilinged cabin that I have never been in before. It is the last week of May. I have a printout of the letter in my hand. I’ve also mailed him a copy.
Mr. Ravinutala, are you sure about this. Take some time to rethink. You see our company is a Brand. It has a name in the market that you would want to be associated with in the long run.
TO HELL WITH BRAND!!! I want to yell at him.
I feel like I haven’t pissed or shat in weeks.
‘I’m not saying that this is a bad profile sir. I’m just not the right person for this job’, I end up saying, the second half of which is genuinely true.
Well as you wish. The statement is ripe with the disappointment of having lost another employee and the anger of having to go through the recruitment process yet again.
Both are none of my concerns.
So you are to serve a fifteen day notice with. . . .
I am swaying again, on my way home with the sideward swing of the moving railway compartment. The vast expanse of the water body that follows the train tracks for a few minutes to the left reminds me of my days as a sword; also of my days of pretending to be one.
And not caring as to whether the year is going to get sourer or sweeter for me as it progresses, I smile again. . . .