VIEWS: 10 PAGES: 10 POSTED ON: 8/12/2011
LOST Mohammad Rafi? Or Mukesh? I don’t remember exactly anymore. Neither do I remember the words of the song. Only the signal tune comes back to me and begins to play softly in my mind sometimes – suddenly, unexpectedly, at different places. Which film was it from? Was it from a film at all? When did I hear it for the first time? Where? In whose company? In what context? Under what circumstances? It was a very long time ago, when I was very young and still at school. Maybe I had heard it from the loudspeakers of the cinema-hall I had to pass while going to the pharmacy some evening to get medicines for my mother’s chest-pain. Or maybe some afternoon over the radio at home, or maybe some night through a window of some house. Ma had frowned and asked, `Are you studying or doing something else? Why do you keep whistling every now and then, even while you are studying?’ Deuta1 had said, `Let him whistle. His brain will get clogged if he keeps studying continuously. It is good to relax at times – the brain also gets some rest, and gets refreshed too.’ But Ma was not entirely convinced, `I’m not sure about that. We never whistled or sang like that while we studied. I don’t know.’ I don’t know about relaxation, but I would whistle with great pleasure and enthusiasm – a little out of tune perhaps, but still very spontaneously. Probably Ma also understood that: while pouring water over myself with a ghoti2 from a bucket while bathing, while rushing to school after hurriedly picking up my books and stumbling over the door- step, while running to the kitchen after dumping my books after returning from school – excitement, happiness, overflowing energy. Sometimes that tune would be forgotten for a while when I got carried away by some new songs, but then again suddenly someday, while combing my hair in front of the mirror, I would find myself humming that same old tune again. Ma stopped objecting after a while (unless I was too loud or too much out of tune); sometimes she would raise her head from her work 1 Deuta: father 2 ghoti: a small metal pot, and look at me, but mostly she did not bother. At that time Baideo3 had come home for a few days with her two little children. She said, `Why do you keep humming na-nna-na-na-na-nna-na all the time? We’re all going deaf hearing it over and over again. If you feel like singing it so much, why don’t you compose a lyric to match the tune? Maybe it will be good…’ Without doubt! That was the time when there was nothing that I could not do (I had not forgotten that line we had practised our cursive writing on -- `perseverance makes the impossible possible’). So I did. I did not put in any real effort in the job, not to speak of meaning. It was almost as if the lines came out of their own accord from within me – don’t remember them completely now – `The sky is blue My heart is true Let fly, let fly Your mind’s kite to the sky. Come out in the open, Come out in the open.’ Something like that, just an overflow of enthusiasm. Baideo put her baby down on the bed and listened to me, amazed – the words seem to match perfectly with the tune. `Gosh, that’s fantastic! You have done it.’ `What did you take me for?’ I asked her smugly, digging both my hands in my trouser pockets. `Write it up, write it to the end,’ Baideo continued, busily picking up her little baby again. `If you tried, I’m sure you could write whole songs too.’ `And also set it to music,’ I added confidently, and started whistling long and loud once again, after planting my hands firmly in my trouser pockets. Week by week, month by month, very fine modifications, very subtle variations, some slight additions and deletions, was there anything left in it at all from the original score? But that is not important, there is no harm in that. Even the singer himself must have forgotten the original tune by now. 3 Baideo: elder sister A little fed up, Ma asked me one day, `Why do you just keep changing the same tune over and over again?’ Hearing that tune reverberating repeatedly from the soot-covered kitchen walls, the scheme of words must have got recorded in my mother’s mind, and started to echo in her ears as well. I stopped my humming, but Baideo spoke out, ` I don’t think he sings that tune deliberately, Ma, the song must just come out by itself from somewhere deep within him.’ `I don’t know about that,’ Ma said. Even though I was quite young, I could figure out, even if not very clearly, what Baideo was trying to say. That somewhere within me there was a source, a spring, a fount. That in reality, this tune had no connection whatsoever with any song from the world outside, whatever connection there was was purely incidental. More like an accident or something ordained, fated. Inside me somewhere there is a spring. The seeds of the song had come from there. I had no control over it, the lines of the song, the rhyming or not rhyming, the meaning or the meaninglessness. But it had brought with it a strange kind of inspiration and exhilaration – spontaneous, unexpected. Maybe that was why nobody disliked it, maybe a few even liked it, some might even have liked it very much. And these restless outpourings will continue to come out like that, as long as the source exists, slow or fast, deep or shallow, but none-the-less filled with the ecstasy of life – dynamic, complete, flowing, alive… Dynamic … I wonder what Ma would have said on hearing the tune that is today playing on my foreign-made record player. Would she have said, `You don’t seem to have left anything at all from that old tune. Or is it something else that you have created?’ Because this was almost a complete transformation. But Ma has been long dead (Deuta died even before that) of a sudden stroke, a very long time ago. But why `sudden’? Do things happen suddenly? She had had chest pain for a long time, she had been hyper-tensive for quite a while, her passing away must certainly have been the culmination of many little processes of deterioration and decay; the result of a gradual progression of many events; the coming together of many little reasons, silently, imperceptibly, without obvious warning, from within. Did that source within me open up `suddenly’ one morning, one afternoon, one evening? During that period my mind would suddenly become very restless; my whole being would be filled with some irresistible expectation; my whole body would experience an indescribable warmth – what perplexities… what bewilderment… sleepless nights, `bad’dreams … suddenly one morning I looked in the mirror and saw a little pimple on my face. I felt shy when Baideo looked at me and turned my face away. Couldn’t understand what my crime was, why I was so embarrassed. Before that, when I was very young, our group of little children from the neighbourhood used to create a lot of noise while playing `crocodile and the den’ in our front-yard in the evenings. One day I had boxed the ears of one of the girls named Minoo (Minati) from that group for having hidden my tennis ball. She had started to howl and had sworn never to touch my tennis balls ever again, no matter what happened. Later when we stopped playing with tennis balls and started playing with footballs (of size three) in the nearby field, a different group of younger children began to play in our front-yard. I saw Minoo only occasionally after that on the streets, going to school with her friends, carrying her books and a toffee tin, and sporting a red ribbon on her braid. `How tall she is getting day by day,’ remarked Baideo. One day when she had come to our house to collect something from Ma I thought I saw something different on Minoo’s smooth round face. I looked again. There was a pimple just above her upper lip, just like mine. So surprising, so unexpected, so `sudden’. And once my whole being was filled with some irresistible expectation; my whole body experienced an indescribable warmth -- what perplexities… what bewilderment. I wanted to say, `Don’t you have school today, Minoo?’ or something equally inane but suddenly I felt shy and my voice faltered. Minoo also seemed embarrassed and went away very quickly. An uncertain tune seemed to want to reverberate in my mind – not the same old tune to begin with, but soon afterwards I heard that tune somewhere, and then it was as if that dull faint murmur found a base for itself, went in deep, immersed itself, and stayed on. Or maybe I had heard the tune for the first time in completely different circumstances, can’t remember, was so very long ago. In the meanwhile, two poems of mine appeared in the school magazine, after that my elder brother and his family left home and went away to some mofussil village, after that Minoo sang one of my songs in her school, after that she did not sing any more at college, after that she sang one more song over the radio one day, and then silence again, after that she got married and went away, after that we rented out a part of our house, my brother still supervised the house from afar, after that I got a scholarship and left for England on a training for two years, and stayed on to work for some more time after that, and Baideo wrote, `you are going away for a very long time to a very faraway place, may courage and happiness be your companions…’ After that silence again. I didn’t write anything else for a long time, the factory in the morning, weariness in the evening, busy days, lazy days, at times an inexplicable sense of regret, maybe I had made a mistake, maybe I should not have left like that, should have stayed on where I was. Sometimes, suddenly, I would see the pimple on Minoo’s face very clearly in my minds’ eye, it would take me by surprise. Maybe I should have tried, but didn’t, due to indecision or due to negligience, maybe I had lost something, or will lose it, as if it was the uncertain, hopeless realisation of an uprooted and displaced expatriate; `I have swum through crowds of thousands of people..’ and from the various rows of those crowds of thousands of people, we have heard thousand different and new kinds of sounds, unfamiliar rhythms, unknown songs, unrecognisable laughter, incomprehensible tears, fast love and fast forgetfulness, friendship and separation, love and misery, Bhupati and Shyamal and Jugalkishore, Ingrid and Eva-Marie and the red-haired Jewish landlady, Manfred and young Doktor Bok, and that fat Greek girl who was going to study at the university at Uppasala (whose long name I cannot remember anymore) – and I wrote to Baideo how I added a week’s leave to my Easter holidays and went on a trip to France and Belgium, how I had all by myself hitched a hike for a stretch of road between Namur and Leige and Brussels, and how the Belgian gentleman who had given me the lift had dropped me by the roadside about five hundred metres away from Leige and had gone on his way after wishing me a pleasant journey (he was going in a different direction from there), and how I had walked slowly towards the city along the empty road, carrying my suitcase, braving the scorching afternoon heat. There was not even a kilometerstone in sight. In the distance, I could see a church steeple and windows of some houses, shimmering in the sunshine. From that distance it looked as if there was not a soul anywhere, an abandoned city. After walking some distance I put the suitcase down on the roadside and took off my rain-coat. I was hot. Two motor-cars and a horse-cart laden with apples passed me by, raising the dust, and disappeared. Their sounds too merged in the distance, and it began to look as if the road was astonishingly deserted and lonely, and suddenly I realised that I had come a long way along that road – so lonesome, so isolated, maybe I had made a mistake somewhere. I could make out that the road was elevated and cobbled, narrow, rough and dusty, but there wasn’t any sign of a single car, even though it was so close to the city. In the sunshine could be heard the chirping of some cicada-like insects. Fields on both sides of the road, and sunshine on the fields, and some factory chimneys very far away. I could not make out whether they were smoking or not. Behind them a thin thread-like river, one could make out even from this distance from the reflection of the sunlight that its waters were murky. I was tired. Just then in the distance a petrol-pump like building came into view suddenly, and single storey building, which had written on its roof with big bold white letters just a single word -- `Café’. One could see it clearly even from so far away (maybe it was meant for all those driving into the city). And I trudged on carrying my suitcase, like a desert-traveller in sight of an oasis, my palms perspiring. I had taken off my jacket and was carrying it too. Ah, for a glass of beer, a sandwich, a cup of coffee!… Then I felt as if something was trying to push its way from within me, keeping step with my quickened pace, but kept stopping along the way… So here’s that Café, a long white building with dark wooden beams, and also the petrol-pump with the sign-board with the shell symbol drawn on it – signs of life, maybe it was lunch-break in the factories, I could see a group of white-and-blue-overalled factory hands, with oil and grease stains on their faces, hands and clothes. At one of the tables laid out under the cool shade of a tree in front of the café sat a middle-aged woman, wearing a black blouse and a white apron, with a glass of beer in front of her, stitching something. Maybe she ran the café. On a huge poster on the café walls, below a fat smiling face was written two words in large letters `Votez Liberal’ – maybe the local elections were approaching. And suddenly I realised that the old tune was surfacing again from within me, pushing away all obstructions. I did not know when I had started whistling the tune softly. Drawing a smile over my face, I approached the woman… I do not know about courage or happiness, but that tune had surely been my companion all along. After that the tune got lost again, pushed beneath many other sounds and various preoccupations, just like an old-fashioned gramophone record lies neglected under a pile of new discs, gathering dust, the letters of the label coming off, a corner getting chipped somewhere, scratched and skidding at places… Sometimes I have written to Baideo (primarily to fill the aerogramme) about the hit songs that were currently ruling the dance-halls in those parts, the numbers which were making the blood race those days in the young boys and girls, the tunes I had begun to whistle in the bathroom, the songs which floated in from the street below as I lay in bed at night: `The March’ from the `Bridge on the River Kwai’, `Send me the pillow you dream on’, `Tom Doole’, `Oh meine Papa’, `Volare’, `Sugarbush, I love you so’, `Come prima’, `Fascination’, `Maria’, `Summertime’,… Baideo wrote back, `Are you unwell? Or is something else the matter? Please do not keep anything from me. You have written quite a few poems already. You have even become fairly famous now. But you have not been able to go in deep into even a single one of them till today. Still we have read your poems with great interest and eagerness, because even if your words did not have great depth, they had a lot of emotion, beat of life, they touched the heart, … But I have been a little uneasy after reading the two poems you sent last time – they are a little unnatural, as if it is not you, as if you are compelling yourself, … You do not have to force yourself to write innumerable poems, you can slow down occasionally. You have a source within you, take up your pen only when you get a cue from it….’ In other words, even Baideo was beginning to feel that slowly my words were becoming lifeless, there was no pulsation of life in them, a fast-deteriorating withering health which mere word-play and skill with words could not cover any more. Not like the words of those times when I would forget to eat, to sleep, to rest, sitting on one corner of my bed, at my table, on a bench, on the platform, at the bus-stop, in the puja- mandap, under the wedding-marquee, completely oblivious to the noise and disturbance around me, and would find sequences of words just ringing out, almost by themselves, from within my mind onto the paper in front of me, without really meaning to or knowing when it would happen – when the cup of tea would go cold, when I would forget to shave or to wind my watch, nor feel the mosquito bites – as if a huge wave would arise from within me and paralyse my hands when I would have to stop midway while tying my shoe-laces, that irresistible force of life and emotion that would pull me and my sister and many others to the last word of the last line in some inviolable manner – it was as if all that had faded and got lost today… I wrote back that probably happiness was no longer my companion, maybe that is why she did not like the poems I wrote those days. If really there was a source within me, then maybe it had dried up, and stopped, just as all good things do. `No source can dry up in this manner,’ Baideo replied after a long while (in the meanwhile, her little son had died of diphtheria), `do not even think like that, do not try to write either, one day you will find that nothing is over yet, that it is all coming back to you,…’ Was Baideo trying to give me courage, or was she trying to comfort her own mind, I could not figure out. I did not want to remind myself of the face of the little one who was no more. I read her letter again while standing holding on to a strap hanging from the ceiling of an over-crowded underground train, full of people returning home. A couple of curious fellow- passengers tried to snatch glimpses of the strange script on that sheet. Even while reading, I suddenly realised that even in the middle of that over-crowded underground train, my lips were beginning to quiver to a soundless humming tune, as if I had pulled out the neglected old gramophone record from beneath the old pile, wiped the dust away. Those forgotten words seems to ring with life once again, the sound was very wasted and thin, it got stuck at places, it became shrill at some places and rough at others, but still, without doubt, it was the same tune… But `suddenly’? True, maybe nothing happens suddenly. No spring dries up suddenly. Nothing has happened suddenly. In the meanwhile, I have swum through crowds of thousands of people, and in those waves thousands of moments have passed by… Minoo and the pimple on her face, Bhupati and Shyamal and Jugalkishore, Ingrid and Eva-Marie and my brunette landlady, Manfred and Doktor Bok, and that fat Greek girl who was going to study at the university at Uppasala, and when I was sitting still in my room after getting the news of Baideo becoming a widow, after a long while it seemed as if a feeling of surrender was slowly enveloping me and spreading over my entire being, just as the first yellow morning sun spreads over the leaves of the trees – a cool, soothing peace, all noises from the city outside silenced, all turbulences from within had subsided – only a soundless soft tune had made my lips quiver weakly, as if it was a familiar assurance, just as used old clothes envelope the body with ease, but still so unclear, so stifled, so subdues, so strange, as if after staying alone for a long time in a faraway place, the boy was returning, with a different face, to his native land. Home. In the meanwhile Dada had affected some repairs but the walls of the kitchen were still black with soot. Work, routine, the daily grind, preoccupation, poetry (occasionally). Editor, magazine, literary friends. I had bought a Swedish-made record player with some money I had got as bonus within six months of my arrival in England, because Baideo loved listening to music. But Baideo doesn’t want that anymore (she has joined a school these days, her children are growing up). On her way back home from England, I was listening to jazz music from a coin- operated music automat in a bistro at Marseilles port. Suddenly I put down the coffee cup, sat up and listened with cocked ears. It was the same tune, how unbelievable! But really, there was nothing implausible about it. A jazz-band named `Tony Boone Rhythm Quartet’ had in the 1930s or 1940s played a jazz-tune named `Bela Bartok Goes to Town’. The tune was taken from a Hungarian folk song and was very popular then, although forgotten today. The tune for the Hindi song must then have also come from there. After a lot of hunting in various shops I finally managed with great difficulty to locate and bring back a record of the song. I do not say na- nna-na-na-na-nna-na anymore, or rarely. But sometimes I play the record. Not the sitar, flute, tabla and tanpura of before, but saxophone, piano, drums and cymbals. But it touches the same chords… Home, work, routine -- the daily grind. Preoccupation -- poetry (occasionally). A compilation will appear shortly. It will be printed within this month. A poem is required within this week. A servant boy. Editor, friends, literary friends. Letter: please send the poem. Telegram: Where is the poem? Registered letter: Please send it quickly. Office, telephone, the Editor’s voice: Is the poem not ready yet? Home, still, cold. My legs have got cramped with sitting for long at my table. Let me go to the verandah, it is sunny outside. I’ll sit in the sunshine and write. Verandah, heated, the reflection of sunlight on white paper, hurts the eyes. The road, how crowded, how noisy, what dust, so many people, familiar faces at every street corner. A deserted park. (Moonlight! As if I am a sixteen-year old boy!) Home, quiet, cold. Servant boy, lighting a fire in the kitchen. A letter on the table with the publisher’s seal on the cover. Baideo had come to visit me with her two children. Her brother-in- law had dropped them here (Christmas holidays). The house is unusually noisy, the running about of small children and their peals of laughter, everything topsy-turvy, pulling and pushing, Baideo’s rebukes, simple household noises once again to be heard from the soot-covered kitchen walls, my servant boy a little mystified, Baideo had got him to do some peculiar jobs in the kitchen. Baideo dressed completely in white looked so fair, so tall, so light against the dark soot-filled backdrop of the kitchen walls. I played the record for her. The batteries were weak. It did not play very well. But Baideo said, `Yes, you’re right, it is the very same tune, how surprising!’ `It isn’t playing at the right speed. I’ve bought new batteries. I’ll play it for you once again after changing the batteries,’ I said. `It’s an amazing discovery, after searching all over the seven worlds, my congratulations!’ `What did you take me for?’ I asked her smugly, and planted both my hands into my trouser pockets. Baideo looked at my face and wanted to laugh, but didn’t. After that she said rather carelessly, `You probably keep playing this record over and over again these days.’ `Yes, sometimes, once in a blue moon, say, when I am in need of inspiration,’ I also said carelessly and laughed, as if it was a funny thing that I had said. The week is coming to an end. Another letter. This time they have sent me a cheque in advance. Why have I lost so much weight so suddenly, Baideo must be wondering – the food of the past few days under Baideo’s supervision has been better than usual. Sitting on a mura in the kitchen, Baideo was teaching the servant boy how to arrange everything systematically in different Glaxo and biscuit tins. I sealed the envelope after wetting the rim with water from the kitchen tap. Baideo saw the address on top. `So you’ve written it already?’ she asked me busily. `Why didn’t you show it to me?’ `No, I’m just returning the cheque. It has been very rushed. I’ve given up for this time.’ I stood uncertainly for a few moments, holding the envelope in my hands. But Baideo did not say anything. She did not even raise her head to look at me, just started to pour sugar from a paper bag into a tin with great concentration. I waited indecisively for another moment. Then went out. After posting the letter I returned to find the house quiet. My niece and nephew were not in. Baideo was sitting alone with her hands on her lap in the chair next to the record-player. I sat close by for a few moments and waited for her to say something. After that I bent down and started to undo my shoe-laces. Baideo spoke out, `What a complicated contraption you have here. I thought I would listen to a record. But could not make out head or tail of what I was supposed to do…’ `Hopeless, ‘ I said and took of the cover. `This is the `speed’ button,’ I explained, `this is `volume’. Baideo listened without any interest. She had put the record I had bought from Marseilles on top of the heap. I put it on the turn-table. It started turning. The pin touched the groove. The same familiar tune, but thick and slow, as if it was dragging itself along with great difficulty, a quavering shaky sound. I looked at the speed button, a little surprised. `Look, you have set the speed button at 16. The things you people do!’ I said a little annoyed. `It must be Bubumoni. He has become more and more disobedient, day by day. He does precisely those things that I forbid him to do.’ I corrected the speed. But the same thick and slow tune, a little distorted, drawn out at places. Baideo looked at me and pushed the new red batteries towards me with her bare white hands. `No, let it be for now,’ I suddenly heard myself saying earily. `Changing batteries is really a big hassle, you know, I’ll change them in the evening.’ And I sat down again in my chair and with my head bent started untying my shoe-laces. I could see that Baideo had finally understood that all sources could really run dry some day.
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