The lost bicycle and the sea shanty

I imagine myself as a man who has lived life with no ego and with a lot of dignity.
It may turn out in the end that I was one with a lot of ego and no dignity. The symptoms certainly are all there.

Ego, dignity, is it not the same coin?

Bicycle Thieves, a film about a man who starts at the top, ego and dignity. Then like the times and the nation he is in, loses it all. Towards the middle, he goes to the same lady soothsayer that he had pooh-poohed his wife for visiting. Ego gone, trying to keep his dignity (or vice versa?) he tells the sage about the bicycle. “You’ll find it straight away, or not at all…” she tells him back.

Was she talking about the bicycle or his self-respect?

The film ends with the protagonist losing all dignity, becoming a thief (hence the plural in the title, I guess) akin to the one who stole his life in the beginning of the film.

Aristotelian tragedy. Achilles’ heel. The fall of an infallible hero who has a fatal flaw.

Was the fatal flaw of the hero in Bicycle Thieves his dignity? Or was it his ego? Or was it the fact that he could not distinguish between the two?

If that is the case, my fate is sealed too.

Unless, I can leave the shackles of self-respect behind and become the true beggar, the thief, the pirate that I may really be.

The genuine article. Truthful, if ugly. The urchin. And may be then, when I can show my true colours, I might even hoist them all and croak my sea shanty.

“Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colours high
Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die”

-

Right now, I search for ego in the losing of all ego. Stuck in a loop that spirals down.

Note to self: try harder, don’t be a lost cause, like that bicycle. That was a film, this is not.

In The Wake Of The Sunset

I sit at Powai Lake promenade, the circular platform at the IIT end. Fishermen are beginning to go back into the lake to gather the nets that were set in the morning. I stare at nothing, the point where the sun set not a half hour ago.

There’s the familiar Powai skyline and the ‘link road’ underlining it. Suddenly, the underscore begins to glow, all on it’s own, it envelops my vision and embraces the lake. The glow dissolves into traffic headlamps and street lights if I try to look at it straight and comes to life again the moment I go back to spying on the sun in the dark sky. It brightens up and becomes a pulsating constant, like the brim of a very wide hat, always on the edge of my vision.

The sparkling glow is a teasing temptation, desire. Look at me and I am gone. I wanted to capture it forever.

At the Powai Lake

At the Powai Lake

Light beams and fine mist

He takes off his seatbelt in the moving car.
“Can you stop by the side for a moment?”
She looks at him, surprised by his sudden request.
“Now? We’re in the middle of the road.”

Pause.
Sigh.

Indicator light blinks, lanes change, the car comes to a halt just shy of the pool of sodium vapour glow cast by the street lamp. The wipers swish raindrops from the windshield like heartbeats.

“If what I am about to do turns out to be a stupid move, I want you to only remember it as proof, that I fell for you.” Then in a hesitant, confused moment before she could decide, he leans over and kisses her. She was still wearing her seatbelt.

This is where all our monkey contracts – marriage, morality, propriety – break down.

Vehicles swish by chasing the beams of their head lights, tires rustling up a misty spray on the wet road. The car remains silent, floating in a pool of light beams and fine mist, the indicator light is still blinking.

It’s a pure moment, new monkey contracts are born off of it.

There’s so much magic, I am yet to see

so much magic

I have a writing book

with perforations on the side

where it’s bound by a wire comb.

As I sit writing in it,

on a table with a glass top,

the sun falls in through the window.

The warmth

bounces off the white floor tiles,

filters through the glass top,

trickles up the perforations

and conjures a charm-cookie on my wrist.

It takes me by surprise.

To a man never there

The blue ambassador, you and me, in the back seat. You get a beautiful brown glass bottle, the sun shines on it’s neck, its full of beer. Mum was looking at us, imperious. You crack it open, you put crushed ice in it and tell me that someday when I grow up, we’ll have drinks together.

That day never came.

The ambassador turned metallic maroon and then went away, to ply as a taxi-cab for its new owner, who painted it again, a pall white. I have wondered, in moments sufficiently aloof, where that car, if at all living, would be today.

I grew up, fast.

Nowadays, you, very often would drink from a glass bottle, no ice. Sufficient mead and yeast in you, you would try to tell me a story. The same story, again and again, with no end in sight.

I grew impatient.

You would sit in the study cum bedroom, on your swivel chair, study table to your left, bed at your feet, your feet on the bed, me sitting on the edge, of the bed, facing you. The round red table lamp glowing with a yellow 100 watt bulb, too bright to read in, too bright to sleep in, your lit cigarette burning a hole in your thick woollen pyjamas. The bottle, now clear glass, brown liquid, no ice, half empty, urging you onwards with that very same story.

I grew impatient, and left.

Never again did we meet on good terms. You wanted fantasy in a life that had none. I wanted my life to become the fantasy it would never. I had an intuition that at the end of that story was a secret you want me to know, a catharsis, a moment, when we would know we were alive and it was important and it…we would hug dearly and cry. A moment I wished would never come, because I hated the stink of cigarettes and brown liquid. The moment never came, you never got to the end.

And then, you were gone.

Not forever, no. I intend to meet you someday, far into the future. You need to answer my questions. Including, ‘why? ‘

That secret you wanted to reveal in your stories is forever locked now. Safe. I still sometimes think of that time, that time of the round red table lamp, and feel a longing to know the secret. At times like these, when I am sufficiently lonely, I do miss you.

I have survived several heavens since you left, and a few hells, but, if there’s a final garden and I hope there is, then…

I can have anything I want. So, I want many of me. One of me, looking at all those moments. One of me, listening to that final secret you wanted to tell me and then one of me, in that blue ambassador, with you and your beer bottle, beautiful brown, crushed ice in it, the sun, shining on us.

And then one of me is telling you about that girl I miss, and that girl that never was, the girl I had a crush on and the girl who got away, the girl I am head over heels for now, the girl who has just blocked me away, the girl who is around me all the time and maybe that time is all in my imagination. Wait, I think I am talking about the same girl, but, why are you listening to my girl-rant? Stop prying! What the hell dad?! Stay the fuck away! I need my space!

Her average imaginary smile

I am not sure what to make of her. She looks so familiar and interesting.

A white full sleeved kameez with sheer black ‘paneling’. Is it black net or black lace? Either way. Kohl lined eyes, hands on her lap, a bangle, red churidaar salwaar, drinks on the table, right in the middle of the uncool part of the coffee shop. It’s too crowded and noisy this evening. I sip my brew then go back to ignoring all but one in the herd.

She has a face that looks like it would break into a smile any moment now, but it doesn’t. It just looks bored.

It is easy to talk of a woman’s face, her imaginary smile and give an impression that she must be pretty.

She is not. She is, statistically, 51% good looking. A 5. Large eyes, full face and the chest length hair cut in ‘layered’ fashion that so many women are so into these days.

Even her company – median height, medium build, almost balding, narrow rimways, grey stubble, red T, khaki shorts, too many pockets – is unrecognizably familiar.

I don’t know whether to like them or hate them just yet. I did feel, at that moment a few paragraphs ago, that I wanted to know them better.

She catches me staring at her. I fail to avert my gaze in time. Embarrassment, sip brew, count to 5. She looks again, with her bored expression, catches me, again.

I want to know her better.

If opposites attract then a 0% goes with a 100% and a 49% with a 51% while the perfect 5s and the unique 50%s amongst us look like they might smile, at any moment now.

Comfortable Strangers

A couple, pregnant wife, sit silently for 20 minutes, hooked to their phones, each almost oblivious of the other, at ease with their reciprocal’s absence, and presence.

Sometime later, the girl points out that her tea-bag is not paper, but, a nice silky one. So nice. He nods, smiles, checks his phone one last time before pocketing it in his knee length tartan striped shorts, then he stands up. His grey t-shirt proclaims him to be deep yet cool. He finishes his fancy coffee.

The girl straightens her back, flips the cover back on her phone and gets up from the sofa. She smiles again, adjusts her striped hoodie, then puts a hand in the pocket of her comfy yoga pants, stepping behind him as he turns away and leads.

They leave the cafe.

He did not even hold the door for her while stepping out.

I write this on a tissue while a lady sits next to me scribbling strange scrawls in a notebook, oblivious of my presence and my absence.

Edit: Polyethylene Terephthalate aka PET aka food grade nylon. My mental spell checker breaks down while writing it. Ph and th in the same word, makes it sound doubly cancerous. She should not be using a tea bag at all. No one seems curious or worried about it. Maybe it’s that corn plastic thing – Poly Lactic Acid, nope still doesn’t sound safe.