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 adolescent youths 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)’.