It was a sultry summer morning when I first met Sam twenty five years ago. My roommate was groveling for an omelet, sprawled in his bed. He had been missing his turn at cooking breakfast for the fourth day in a row. ‘I swear I’ll take over tomorrow.’
I hate the promise of tomorrows. Ask Macbeth.
Someone knocked at the door. Rubbing my hands with a towel, I let the visitor in.
‘Good Morning! I am Sam Narin.’ The man had a neat French cut. ‘I am in the second year of Arabian Culture. I am a writer.’
He had a firm handshake and his eyes were dark. He moved to the bed to shake the hand hoisted from the naked torso. He chose my padded up chair.
‘Toss in one more,’ the roommate said tentatively.
‘I’ll do two by three,’ I said.
Having pondered at the ceiling of our room for a considerable time, Sam opened the blue notebook he was carrying and scribbled something. He was known for chronicling life as it happened. My roommate winked.
I measured out stuff for two cups of tea in a saucepan. That could be shared too; rationing was in force towards month ends.
Without further warning, Sam closed his eyes and started singing.
‘When my black hair swayed in the mirror
I was proud of my young breath.
Now white is all that graces this head
And I remember my death.’
The dirge reverberated with a nasal force. Sam’s fingers twitched in his lap as he sang. Somehow, it had a depressing effect on me. My eyes fell on the notebook that lay open on the table, adorning a single line, ‘He made three misshapen omelets out of two oval eggs!’
My heart flipped like a pebble at the harmony of syllables.
Sam leaned towards my roommate and whispered conspiratorially. My roommate looked at me.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Boy, you have a hundred rupee note on you,’ he declared. ‘Sam will return it before you know.’
I freed my wallet of its lone pride.
Sam carefully hid the currency in a sheaf of folded papers in his front pocket. ‘You see, writers often get into financial ruts. But it is important for them to keep writing. In fact, all of us should hone our writing skills more and more. Today’s organs may be vain and vengeful but the days are not far when each of us will write for journals of his own. Maybe these journals will have no physical form. They will exist in computers that can store pages that anyone can read. Our lives will be determined by our output.’
Sam paused to study the ceiling fan. ‘The more we’ll write, the more we’ll get to live. In order to be writing every moment of our lives, we would write about each and everything that we meet on the earth. We would write of matters spanning from sun to moon, curse to boon, wrong to right, darkness to light, spark to blaze, night to days, mice to cats, skivvies to hats.’
‘And Alpha to Omega!’ my roommate added chirpily.
Ignoring him, Sam marked an entry in his notebook, ‘He gave his only note to a writer of note.’
I didn’t see Sam for months after that. Further enquiries revealed that his real name was Shyam Narain but he had rechristened himself to the ease of his global audience. He had fallen on hard times composing prose and rhymes that never fetched him a dime. My roommate washed his hands off of the whole affair. ‘You gave it to him, didn’t you?’
But I admit, every time I mourned the loss of my high denomination bill I also thought of something being scribbled restlessly somewhere on the earth. Art has to be supported at all costs.
Late on my morning sojourn one day I passed by the terraced temple under the neem tree. The sun was glowing hot rather prematurely and most of the walkers had already left. Sam was seated on the terrace, gazing at a wisp of cloud in the shining azure. To his left, members of a laughter club kept throwing their hands up in raucous bursts, ‘Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha!’
Remembering my lost fortune, I went closer and wished him brightly but Sam’s face remained impassive. I looked at the sky where his gaze was fixed and returned to his brooding countenance. In a flash of revelation, my anger turned into deep admiration. It occurred to me with a force that I could be witnessing the birth of a classic at that very moment. An Odyssey, a Beowulf, a Mahabharata, a Paradise Lost was moments away. Stealthily moving sideways, I sat to his right at a distance so that his trance remained unbroken but I could still watch the unblemished page. In about an hour or so, a shadow crossed the writer’s face and his pen moved, ‘Sam was sad.’