The Saturday is melting away like an ice lolly in afternoon. Swift bursts of rain have given a washed look to mould-ridden walls and rooftops. Even the mounds of garbage look clean. It is a noisy old suburban rail coach, lurching and cruising towards Churchgate, coming to a halt with a shudder on stations, and setting off equally abruptly. A bunch of adolescents barge in at some point.
There is much shuffling and squeezing onto the seats. They sit in pairs, these acne-faced pals, some still clinging on to their teen years. I retrace my steps into the story I have been reading off and on for a while. The author has been crowned with a Man Booker earlier but that’s not why I am reading this book. Experience has taught me how the hallowed prize is no guarantee to satisfaction as the crow flies. Sometimes the other works of the same author may regale you with a much greater force. Sometimes the magnum opus is yet to come, if at all. Maybe it’s a personal thing.
So I am forever reading more than one book by an author and, at times, even more than that if I can manage. The one in my hands now comes from an intense, intimate writer who can quickly put you in the skin of the protagonist, make you live her life by the moment, brooding, loving, hating things, discovering new meanings to mundane turn of events, in times bygone and present.
Of course the tale begins where it ends so that is not a mystery here. It is more about the trail of a young woman, fierce and independent, smitten and obsessed with a man not her husband. She is wading neck-deep in passion and lunacy, confusing love with lust and lust with possession, breaking into momentary sanity now and then, till the final revelation that we are all supposed to discover including her. And perhaps a bit of that is known too. Adultery is an old institution. It’s outcome, however, may vary over time.
Sometimes when I read I pull the book close to my nose in a way which is impossible unless you are a myopic and choose to rest your glasses in your pocket and that is what I do. I am aware it may look weird to some people at times, as if I were trying to keep them from prying into a private secret or shame, but I assure you it is not intended. Suddenly then, as if on cue, the girl sitting next to me starts nudging her boyfriend but he is cackling like a chicken that would be culled any moment now, explaining something to the duo across them. Next, she is rattling her jeans clad knee into the boy’s and he stops to look at her. She leans into him to whisper in his ear but she is already whimpering with excitement and she is not even one tenth as discreet as she wants to be, ‘The book! I say, look into his book!’
‘What..?’ says the bumbling boyfriend before he manages an angle oblique enough to let him peer into the gap between my face and the pages. Then it hits him, how could it have escaped him, the big, bold title of the chapter I was engrossed in, ‘Kiss Me, Honey, Honey, Kiss Me!’
How could have that escaped anyone but me?
And then they explode into a laughing discharge that refuses to abate as the train pants and groans and speeds and stops, commuters walk in and commuters walk out. But these two fools are having the laugh of their life. Soon, the whole group is communicating in sign language, asking questions and answering with smirks, and then their fingers are dancing on their pads and phones as if World War III had just begun.
I feel belittled. It is as if my tailbone has gone bushy and spilled out. I am an ostracized citizen returned to the boulevard. I am a Dormouse in the midst of Queens and Kings of Hearts.
A few minutes later, my blood is still simmering and my mouth tastes like I have swallowed a rotten egg, but I have made peace with my ego. The nurse who helped me take a tread-mill test last month had advised me to take deep breaths whenever stressed, so I pull in the air smelling of rain and sea and deodorants of my fellow travellers. Perhaps, I reckon, the gushing rays of youth at dawn fanning out to shine on an eager world can make light of the light of setting suns. Perhaps, while the sun blooms, the world is yours to be conquered, courtships yours to be waltzed, love yours to be won, and lust yours to be requited. And not until the smog of the day leaves a quote of grey on the forehead, you will know the light of evening is as mellow and diffused as the daybreak, the blush of the delta as graceful as the rush of a mountain stream, the kiss of calm air as intoxicating as the hiss of the hurricane. Because for better or worse, you may have learnt of smallness of treacheries, of pettiness of human miseries, unexplored, untasted as yet.
As for me, I am just a half-grizzled head, marooned between the lagoons of forever that is youth and nowhere that is where we are all headed to, whom if you pass by as you alight this slow train to the beach, you’d find reading a chapter called, ‘The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)’.
Now that’s what is called reading between the lines and even outside of them! Enjoyed every bit!
We are all reading between the lines all the time, Amit. In a way, that is what makes the world such an interesting place.
“….nowhere that is where we are all headed to…” says it all. The crux of life.
Yet, that is just one of the ways to look at it, my friend!
`…..marooned between the lagoons of forever that is youth and nowhere…’ ah yes US, but not yet time to alight that speeding train. I fear that great man Mr. Wilde was right…youth being wasted on the young.
Clever as always US; a joy to share.
‘Youth being wasted on young!’ Now that hits the bull’s eye, Ian. As for exiting the train, few would do that given a chance, but aren’t we all little timepieces set to go off eventually? Many thanks for those sweet words.
That must be the best book review I’ve ever read. Makes me want to read MORE Umashankar
You flatter me, my friend, and I am yet to finish the magnum opus!
Yes, you are a writer. this is an amazing piece. the way you have described one incident in your life is amazing.
And remember, people who have never tasted books would never understand what goes into them. It is always better to ignore such people for obviously they aren’t deserving enough for your attention. 🙂
Thank you for your kind words, Manpreet. It’s the little incidents that make the life rather than otherwise. People will read and then they will not and it is more the difference that gives us a chance to get excited.
Your words are sheer poetry Uma. They are so pleasing to hear just like the gushing of the stream ! “…the gushing rays of youth at dawn fanning out to shine on an eager world make it hard to think of the light of setting suns..” The exuberance of the youth and the wisdom of the old cannot be better penned. I am sure that must have been such a discomfiting experience, but if that experience had not happened, then we would not have had the pleasure of reading such wonderful words !
I really don’t know, Ash. But there are times I get into a bend of mind that will rather write that way. Incidents are nothing but triggers and a lot of them are dud ones too. Many thanks for those kind words.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ride with the words. What a narrator you are weaving magic with your words! Thanks to those fools for inspiring this post. Have reread your post thrice now for it’s sheer poetry
Glad to be service of Ilakshee, magic is in the eyes of the reader. Thank you so much
When I read the first para., little did I think it would lead to a scene like that. I swear, I felt like I was in YOUR skin, USP.
That is a gorgeous compliment, Divya. That is what all authors die for, Thank you!
Beautifully and magically written as always, uma. So many riveting metaphors and descriptions. Wondering if the book in your hands is half so enchanting. It’s fun for me to imagine you somberly contemplating our human fate on that train to nowhere.
I am lucky to have a patron like you, Marty. Every time you set foot on my blog you turn my pebbles to gold. Thanks for the encouragement, and the reminder that I must return to Breeze on the Grass.
Ha Ha. Interesting and engaging narrative of what most might have passed off as a mundane experience.
Mundane it was and was taken so. It did trigger some thoughts in me nonetheless.
I just love the way you keep your nose in the book, Uma! I think your assessment of the young lovers on the train is right on track, so to speak (and I’d have been a bit perturbed too). “Perhaps, I reckon, the gushing rays of youth at dawn fanning out to shine on an eager world make it hard to think of the light of setting suns.” So true. There is beautiful imagery in your words, “the blush of the delta as graceful as the rush of a mountain stream, the kiss of a draught as intoxicating as the hiss of the hurricane.”
“The Shoop, Shoop Song,” what fun, I just had to go to YouTube and play it…ah, the memories of youth. Wonderful post!
Oh yes, Madylin. Books have anchored me in nasty seas over and over. I am happy my little train took you back to such wonderful times; I am happy you liked the imagery too. Many thanks for those kind words.
Loved reading every bit of it..as mentioned earlier readers there so much poetry in your narration. Great read!
Many thanks for the compliment, Deepa. I am glad you loved it so,
Thank you for reminding me of this book, just as I finished reading the two I had got from the library this week. Also found this post that has links to YouTube clips of all of the nineteen musical numbers that make up the chapters.
And I loved how you turned a prosaic encounter into such a beautifully narrated piece.
So kind of you, Subroto, to point me to that excellent post. Those songs lend a new meaning to the book. Thanks for the compliment too.
I came back to your pages after a long time, and this was a super experience. magical indeed.
Welcome back, my friend. I feel proud again.
Uma, this piece is so poetic and rhythmic. I love how you captured a few moments in time with such detail and clarity. I could feel the jostling of the train, smell the passengers, see the pimple-faced kids, and sense the quality of the air. Your descriptive style is reminiscent of Hemingway.
Thanks for the boost to my ego, Kris. As for Hemingway, he is the sea where I am a crab.
Your way with words is magical. A delightful review.
Thank you for your kind words, Otto.
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