Sunday, October 25, 2009

In search of the absurd man


"All the boys are please come with me" - cried out a shrill voice. The audacious misuse of a language he loved made him squirm uncomfortably in the upper berth seat where he was lying down. He had his head on the side facing the pathway. He liked the hazy blue light on that side. He rolled over to track the source that was molesting his first love and trampling over it like a bull dozer. She even resembled one. She was a hefty lady in her mid forties in a bright blue sari that made your eyes sore if you dared to watch it continuously for more than a minute. She had an yellow jute purse on her side which she held on to very tightly. She had a maroon colored scarf tied around her head. Must have been the cold. For whatever reasons, he felt that the scarf suited her yellow purse and blue attire perfectly.

"The number of Boys heads is more, Maddam", she said. "No Maddam, it is for good only, to separate them to the other compartment".She was arguing with a fellow teacher in the same age group. He turned around noisily in his upper berth and looked at the face belonging to the shrill voice. The sudden noise made her look at him. He stared at her with contempt. She did not know why the youngster in the upper birth was looking at her with disgust. She returned his look with an equally kind look of scorn. He mumbled something and turned back again. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. The events of the previous day came to his mind and made it difficult for him to sleep. He rolled over again and uttered a noiseless cry thinking about the stupidity at the so called practical requirements of the world. The lady in the blue stared at the unknown someone who was starting to annoy her with his frowning face.

The boys moved one by one with their bags to the next compartment. They looked as if they were around 12-13. The killer of English was 'GUIDING THEM' to their respective berths. She returned after ten minutes to my bogey and sat on the side lower birth. She had traded her side upper berth with a young boy who had to oblige to her sympathetic plea of old age. He lay now cramped in his side upper trying to beckon the sleep that was far from his wary sight.

It was only her and her girls now. The girls were flocking her. They were asking her to suggest a fun game for them to play. The girls looked like they were around 15-16. A select few had the look of a nymphet. Oddly the boys of the same class had looked puny and lost compared to the girls. It involuntarily reminded him of something he saw in National Geographic once about female black widow spiders that kill and eat the tiny male ones after they mate. This thought made him chuckle. This time he attracted attention from many people. He laid his head down immediately. This time the stare from the big blue lady was good enough to incinerate an unguarded offender to ashes in seconds.

She went back to her chores. She taught the girls a carol praising the Lord and started singing with zeal that can be matched only by a devout, with rapid movement of her hands. The innocent girls, not knowing what to do, started singing along. One girl pulled the plait of the girl who had asked her 'Maddam' for something FUN to do. It was as though she was asking how she could ask 'Maddam' for something like this, knowing very well what the notion of fun was in her dictionary.They still enjoyed it and sang aloud, since the sing-along part was entertaining.

He was thinking of the possible cheeky retorts he would have given, had he been in the girls' position. He sneered at the singing lady. The guy in the upper berth, the one who lost his lower berth to the singer below, noticed his sneer and acknowledged it with a smile, turned back again in his relentless pursuit of the invisible sl(sh)eep.

He lay prone and and fumed. Fumed at the inane lady. She reminded him of the many happy folks that he hated. He hated them for being full of easy convictions, running behind things they love or lust. How happy would it be to believe one belief and have no questions about it, he thought. How he was unlike them. How difficult it was for him to not question things around him. He felt that he could never love any single person with so much motivated love; motivated- though for a variety of reasons.He so wanted to be the Absurd man that he had always envied. But conspicuous efforts to do so always leave him frequently anti-social and cynical as this instance in the train. Self wrought absurdity could never equal the real deal, enjoyed by the many, he realised with time. He usually became depressed again at his ephemeral misanthropy.

The events of yesterday played before his eyes like the trailer of an Oscar winning melodrama -- complete with the sepia undertones, slow motions, close ups and recycled version of Satie's Gnossienne no. 1. He had long waited for yesterday's meeting. His heart raced so badly before the meeting that he felt that he would die of a silly asphyxiation before the much coveted encounter even began. Butterflies in the stomach-- a silly clich├ę, but life is definitely overwhelmed with clich├ęs, he thought, as that was the only thing that he could feel then.

By this time the compartment was very silent. Most people had dozed off. The girls started to disperse to their berths and laid down and had small talks in groups there. Eventually even they drifted off. He didn't feel like sleeping. This is pretty common for him during the times of his depression. He felt hungry and drained of energy. He had not had any food since breakfast. He didn't want to lay down any more. He felt very cramped and wanted to move freely. He crept slowly from his berth and started getting down, without a noise. He didn't want to wake up anyone. When he got down the lady in the blue, got up in one swift motion that was very much unlikely for a person of her age. She groped in her bag for her glasses. She must have thought that he was a thief trying to rob her luggage. Once she saw him, she must have recalled him as the guy with the frowning face and particularly rash attitude towards her, as it could be easily deduced from the change in her expressions. He thought of apologizing to her, then after a second he thought again and left quietly without a word, to the end of the bogey. It was calm and cold there.

The memories of the events past should have ideally left him unhappy, but for reasons unknown failed to do so. He did not feel bad for getting rejected. He was not angry for being ruled out. The reason for rejection was that he was too young for what he aspired to be. Though it sounded ludicrous he could understand perfectly well why he was rejected on those grounds. He even felt that he had been served proper justice, in one warped but possible angle. He was sad at the turn of events, as he had expected and banked so much on this meeting.

The scorn and outward contempt at things around him was also an effort to act as the absurd man of love, hate and conviction. The poor lady in the blue. He felt sorry for throwing glances of disgust at her. What did she do, to deserve this? There she sits, with her love and care for her girls, and of course for her luggage. Oh stop it you sceptic fool, he thought. He felt like crying. Ah, here starts the bout of reflection and depression, he thought. How he wished for a moment of pure, intense, unadulterated love or loathing. It was all that he needed to get out of this vicious cycle.

The train started to slow down. It was the next junction. His hunger called him again. He thought of getting down and grabbing something to eat. He opened the compartment door that was closed and leaned to see if there were any shops open. All the shops had closed. He checked the time. It was close to one am. There was a canteen of sorts about 30 metres from his compartment. He did not know how much time the train will stop there. Few folks covered in tight dresses and shawls were boarding the train. Very few were alighting the train. He got down the train and started pacing slowly towards the canteen. It was a small tea shop. They had almost closed it, when he went. He hurriedly asked the shopkeeper for some biscuits and a tea in a disposable glass just in case. The short guy in the stall, sleepily got a pack of dusty good day biscuits and tea as he had asked.

The train gave the usual jerk before start. He gave two ten rupees notes. The shop keeper was fumbling to get the change. The train's whistle, tearing the cold mist reached him. It started moving slowly. For a moment, thinking if he had made a stupid decision of getting down the train, he rushed back to his bogey without getting the change. When he was nearing the train with his heart racing, for a second he thought that he would miss the train, when suddenly the train came to sudden halt with a jerk. He too stopped with a jerk. The tea in the glass was almost half empty due to the climactic thrill that the train had successfully provided. He started walking slowly now.

By the time he had reached his bogey, the train had started moving again. But he was so close, he didn't take pains to rush. Only when he reached his bogey did he realise that the door was shut. By the time he realised that he could not force it open, the train had picked up speed. He reached the next window, where the lady in the blue sari was sitting, to ask for help. She was watching him with a cold stare. He shouted at her to open the door. He signalled her saying that the door was stuck. She made no effort to move and continued to peer at him. It took a few seconds for him to realise that this silence was intentional. Her lips curved into a sheepish smile.

The shock left him speechless for a moment and he came to an abrupt stop. It didn't strike him that he could still continue to shout for someone to open the gate, or rush towards the next compartment door. The train had picked up considerable speed, and it was stupid for anyone in their right minds to chase it now. He stood there, shocked, wondering and maddened. He had never been so tempestuous and started cursing her loudly. 'That vile old cunning hag, how could she?', he wondered. His face froze for a minute. It struck him only then. He started laughing, a small chuckle at the beginning. Isn't this what he had wanted all along. He laughed and laughed like a mad maniac. The train soared past him noisily unaware of his happiness. Pure, intense and unadulterated happiness.