The story hangs on,
staring at your face day and night.
Looking into you not letting you look away.
Forcing you to cry and curb.
The bread crumbs and crumbling homes.
It starts growing in proportions
taking shapes beyond imagination.
With million eyes, all yours,
and many more tentacles
it starts to embrace you.
At first, softly and smoothly.
Caressing and cuddling.
The grip begins to tighten.
Smoothly and softly.
Lost in its clutches, warm and welcome, you forget never once has it said anything.
You crave for the voice and whisper.
When it turns around and whispers.
`hello. Are you done? I am’.
The head in the furnace and climbing down the building with a pot crashing at a distant
It had been four months, six days and few hours since Raess had walked into the market when he discovered about the `toilet transactions’. It was accidental; the discovery. Though, Raess had long since stopped believing in the magic of accidents. Or magic. When Raess would later think about it, which he would a lot, it would always come to him as shifting moments on deserted street kicking cans to find silver in one of them. Always someone else’s coins, cries, convulsions, etc and all.
That day Raess was late again. This was the fourth time in the last four months, six days and few hours that he was late. And working in a courier company where delivery on time accounted for the quality of the work did not help, at all. The first time he was late, he had lost his way. Or rather had not found his way. The labyrinth of concrete, crowds, calls and conversations in which Raess had to set his markers, his mark, had a movement; a movement which was incomprehensible until one succumbed to the movement, the move without any pains or pretensions. The whole place had come to Raess like a colossal monster groaning in pain but unable to slide away. This explanation of his first lateness to his ganja soaked, music making employers had not only got their appreciation for perceptiveness but also an exemption from his lateness.
`This is a courier company. A delivery machine. People come drop their sins and secrets at our doorsteps to reach their destination on time to avoid the apocalypse. We are the caretakers and undertakers; even if that means stomping over the monsters bleeding eye’, was the response from the stouter one, also the one who was spitting out residual tobacco of his third joint at ten in the morning.
For a while after this Raess was genuinely excited by his work, carrying bags full of packages all over the market complex in cold heat, sizzling rains and smelly winters till the time when he climbed one of the abandoned building’s roof and opened up few packages to revel in others sins and secrets. Unpaid bills, bills crossing due dates, call details, threats for unpaid bills was all he found. That day in the reflected shadow of glinted glass Raess took his head in his hands and wept profusely. It wasn’t the packages, it wasn’t the agony of the numbers which were squirming in his head which made him want to throw his head away; it was another betrayal, yet another one. He had carefully walked down the precariously woven together twelve flight of stairs occasionally peeping out of the frameless windows. At that moment he felt like trapeze artist only he was sure there was going to be no net for him when he falls. There was none.
The second time he was late there was a city wide bus strike on some pretext which Raess did not know then and did not remember now. The funniest thing about it was that he spent one hour standing at the bus stop with million others who apparently were all aware of the strike. At least no one was surprised when Raess eventually inquired about the reason for the lateness. Counting the numbers which would have clamoured into that bus sharing unshaved armpits and rotting food in tin carriers, Raess was almost glad. He was exempted from his lateness, yet again, though the centre stage light shifted to Munna for walking 10 kilometres to work on time. Before that day, Raess had not given Munna much attention. He was foul mouthed constantly bursting out into a stained quack like grin always eager to share a pat and cup of chai. Raess did not like to abuse openly. He did not think much of people who could not take care of their teeth. How could anyone tolerate looking into the mirror and be welcomed by a set of stained, stinking teeth? What would be the rest of the journey be like? He did not allow physical intimacy and did not drink tea. Of the times Munna had tried to talk to Raess, Raess only remembered swimming gibberish thrown in between `boss’ and `one. two. three….things’. But that day with the lights on him, Raess actually saw Munna.
Munna’s face was very difficult to navigate through. It wasn’t distorted or disturbed by any unnatural causes. Rather, Munna had a pale, transparent skin through which one could almost see the blood collected beneath. What made it difficult to pass through his face in one look was the many focus points his face had. His forehead was huge and protruding bumping into his eyes and nose all of a sudden with a jerk. His eyes were somewhere between brown and green and in the refracted light sometimes turned orange and maroon. The white of eyes was splattered like the yolk breaking into the skin of an egg on fire meant to be sunny side up with a perfect yellow spot. The room beneath his eyes was dark. Very dark. It almost felt like the eyes caught all the light not letting anything escape. In between these stood the nose very frail and gentle. The nose rings looked like delicate rose petals plucked hastily and placed in between tulips. The cheeks were fully rounded and thick. His lips were da vinci’s lips carefully drawn for an anatomy class exhibition. In between was showcased the small, really small, set of teeth. And also they were stained.
Raess thought, `it’s so ugly, his face, that it is almost divine’, and quickly diverted his attention to counting the packages which needed to be delivered before the face was captured in his memory and started visiting on his nightly sojourns.
His third lateness, Raess liked to remember as the `profoundest’ one. That day the plastic roof of his room shanty in Govindpuri, where he stayed, was blown off in the warm thunderstorm. When Raess had been woken up in his slumber by the flowing stars and gazing moon, he dwelled in the moment for a while convinced that it was another of his journeys into the nether land. However, the sun by disposition is not that calm and it stroke through Raess hair and eyes with a burning glare waking up to the reality that was now his. The sun then shifted the attention to someone else’s slumber. What Raess remembers of that day, roofless day, is the sounds. There is a difference between sounds coming through sideways from half closed doors and thin walls and the sounds which storm through the unpredictable openings. Suddenly, he could hear everything from up above and down below. Raess would have maintained his status quo with the roofless top only if it hadn’t been for the sounds. He could not bear the mundaneness of everyday existence applauding on his drums; the squabble of obscene blue coloured plastic, the clogged drains, the hesitant laughter, the insistent sex, the cooked sobs and performative cries. The earlier part of the day was spent raising loans, bargaining for the plastic, searching for abandoned bricks and borrowed strings. His roof ready he had left for work. He walked into the complex through the meticulous blocks and unprepared dirt to the office with a strange haughty hastiness. It was like he was dancing to the tune playing in his head only some one would change the tune every now and then and would Raess have to coordinate his steps with it.
When he reached the office, he burst out, `I lost my roof’.
The thinner but the taller one strumming on his acoustic guitar, a Dylan number `how many miles…’, with his gaze caught in the metal strings said, `the roof over my head is some one else’s floor and my floor is some one else’s roof. The drains carrying the filth from the toilet are some one else’s decoration. So as it seems, none of us have a roof anymore’.
In the thirty seconds that followed Raess was frantically looking for an opening line. For openings were very important to him. Strolling after work hours in the market complex, he would carefully pick up books from the laid out exhibition of consumed words for indulgent devouring and haltingly read through the opening line of many books. He could never call it a stall or a shop. He never bought them. He could not afford it then. Also he had no illusions about being able to continue beyond the opening line. One of them which he remembered at the moment was, `A story has no beginning or no end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead’. He did not remember the name of the author or the book or the word beyond the punctuation but in the given moment, his moment, this would have the encompassing emotional bearing. He was almost thinking of borrowing it, per se, to begin his monologue on foundations or the lack of it, when he felt Munna’s hand down his spine dragging him into the corridor. In the neon lit, airless corridor Munna breathing heavily said, `Boss. What is the problem with you? One thing, you have a fractured excuse. Second thing, you expect medical reimbursement’. The stained teeth followed. It was then Raess discovered that many focus points on the face in front of him. After a quick scan, he selected the eyes and part of the nose and started as calmly as possible.
`Munna’, this was the first time he had taken his name without whispering it to himself trusting Munna’s instinct for a reaction, `these things are beyond you. Over million cups of tea in a day turning everything into an obscene joke, you have forgotten it. What you want, why you want what you want? Or are rather scared to find it. My quest is on and please do not interrupt me ever, ever again, in the future. Everything cannot be sipped and squabbled over’.
`Yes. I admit. I don’t know what you are saying. I don’t understand. But you know what, I don’t want to understand. So that at least makes me aware of What is want. Why is something I will tell you over the one of the million cups of tea. Boss, come and have chai sometime’. Munna patted his back and left. Raess had not heard the disintegration of emotions into one, two things but remembered the boss and the delicate touch of his hand. It was different from when he was dragged down the spine.
While walking home, his old room with a new roof, Raess was intrigued by people. Not a person, not someone he knew but people. The whole lot of it. What is it with them? Their shapes and forms. He found everything he saw about them around himself grotesque. He felt all of them were under a spell of mass hypnosis under the influence of which no one really looks at anyone else. For if they did, they would see the irony of the situation. Everyone was just the same. The same. In their shape and forms, in the newness of the youth and wretchedness of the age, in their feeling a look and missing a touch. And because he looked, really looked, he was disgusted with himself and with everyone around him. Sometimes while walking down the streets, he would find a corner and throw out the disgust, yellow and watery. Sometimes only watery. That day on the road in ruins next to the temple, he tried finding his corner. In his squatting himself, he realized that it was not his disgust for people he wanted out of his system. It was Munna’s touch down the spine which he wanted to eliminate, the distant but constant remembrance of it. If he didn’t it would haunt his dreams. She was all his landscape allowed him. Then.
That day, on the day of his fourth lateness Raess did not rush into the office. There were no tunes to amuse him; to make him dance though, he was convinced about the profundity of his excuse. But somewhere in the profanity of living it was lost. There had been no water in Govindpuri, where he lived, for the last three days. That the water flowing through or not flowing through could bring life to a standstill was beyond Raess’s comprehension before that. What is it with water? Was water like love whose bearing was only realized when it stopped flowing through? And there was nothing that could contain the overflow? That love like water had to be contained and controlled. That day a water tanker had been organized to come into the locality. Raess was unaware of the ritualistic initiation into the ceremony. Also he was unarmed to battle for the exploits. It began in the evening. Through whispered calls, the water tanker’s presumed appearance the next day was speculated. By midnight, beating the dark heat and suffocating lives it was announced. Confirmed. Raess had heard the announcement and arrived on the scene on time. However, he was completely unprepared for the spectacle that unfolded in front of him. Encircled by throbbing crowds stood the Tanker. Small hands precariously balanced out of their lives on the slanting roof with sliding realities thrusting in the pipes to drain the water. The roof of the tanker did not allow for the feet which had walked many miles much space. In that moment, it was not the people draining out the Tanker but the Tanker like a colossal beast sucking the mere mortals. After that moment passed, Raess started looking for a tube, the pipe; the weapon. In between these moments, Raess was overcome with the urge to take the flight but the necessities of everyday ablutions made him stay. Defecating in public toilets over stagnant spoils and overflowing conversations with shared smokes was bad enough to make it worse by having to go through it with borrowed water. An old woman had extended her pipe to Raess voluntarily without his asking. It was almost to state the futility of the weapon in her hands.
Raess managed two blue containers full of the exploits. Heeding attention to the called out advice, he chained the containers with each other, arm in arm, destiny destined, and left them to amuse themselves in the corner of the room least visited. Somewhere he had read, `The door is on the latch’, and it never seemed as appropriate as then. When he tried to reflect on it, he remembered that it was not an opening line. Where there moments where he has transgressed beyond the openings?
Then hanging the lock on his hanging door, he walked to work. That day he did not head for the bus stop or stand in the queue. His situation, he thought, was similar to the old woman who had handed him her weapon; futile. He had already lost one hour beyond the permissible limit and he was convinced that his eagerness or his reflections would not win him the exemption from his lateness. However, he knew he could exercise the power to exempt himself from the monotony he had set his living to.
It was for days like this he stuck to the monotonous routine with a mad man’s frenzy.
This was his treat to himself.
He presented to himself the experience of the other he had created so delicately. In the self is the other.
Everyday Raess walked to the bus stop counting the 45 steps it took and waited for the bus at the stop making a mental note of the absentee’s. From a distance, to Raess, the city had seemed to slip through undefined coordinates. When he started slipping through the coordinates, he realized the consistent chaos of city, the defined coordinates and the lack of any other planes to draw out any other coordinates. On the third day at his stopover at the bus stop, he was struck by the realization that he had to share the specified route with the specified people. There was hardly any room for newness; of sweat and seats. There were hardly ever any absentees and in the comforts of the known, the unknown were slipped. Since that day he started taking a roll call.
The bus, everyday, dropped him at the crossing on the main road, Ring Road, leading towards Nehru Place, for him; other places, for others. From there Raess had to walk on the barren road in ruins past the temple and the petrol pumps through the Nehru Place Bus terminus to walk into the central courtyard. This walk was both his link and break from one life to another; the monotony precariously balancing the two. The rumble of ruins, the anticipation of the concrete smoothness, the nauseating smell of the incense, dead flowers and leftover offerings, the exhilaration of the spilled petrol awaiting to break into a fire dance, the stolen moments of lovers behind abandoned buses and filth of yesterday being hastily hidden transported Raess into an another plane; on this plane Raess could be anything and anyone in any of these places. He always walked into his office being the other himself.
That day Raess walking on the other route through well maintained parks and closed balconies, stout schools and crisp uniforms, crowded markets and signs calling out in the oblivion slowly and steadily realized the diminishing dirt. It was not the sight of it; it was the smell which made him took notice. The smell of incomprehensible dirt had entered his sensibilities awakening in him the perceptiveness to acknowledge any change. Unlike many people who commented to him about the dirt with disdain and its multiple miseries when they were informed about where he stays, Raess was not perplexed about the dirt; the filth, the smell, the clogging and the contaminations. He did not live it outside of himself. It was in and within him. Only sometimes, he wished that even the dirt wasn’t so monotonous. His own and others.
He was welcomed by this Nehru Place with a jerk. Unlike his everyday routine, there was no walk in between the crossing and the concrete. Suddenly it emerged from the behind the shadows in front of Raess. The skyline of distant form was shifted to solid shape. The buildings were much shorter. And much more assured. Also empty.
It was not the abandonment of the buildings which created the vacuity but the confident possession of them. These buildings like favoured children were taken well care of, fed and bathed. Also, like the favoured children, it made many hesitant to approach them, to come and share the stolen fruits.
In the blind cleanliness, the speck of dust staring out.
Nothing of this, his Nehru Place, surprised Raess. Rather he revelled within the ripples it created in the otherwise staid monotony. Of beings and buildings.
Raess found a place on the fake bridge connecting this Nehru Place to the awaiting Cinema Hall in the complex. From where he was sitting, Raess could see the posters of the running and awaiting films placed strategically to get the gaze of the passer by, to tempt them and taunt them of their lacking. From where he was sitting, he could only see all the colours merged together. Raess marvelled at the sight and desired to disintegrate everything he had into an unknown, colourful blob. He almost forgot that it was the fourth week of the month that he has already exhausted all the money that he had scattered loans that he had rent to extend by the end of the month that he could not afford to miss a day’s wage that he would not find any other job that he could not leave Nehru Place.
He was still in his colourful territory when he heard a squeak below his ear. He turned to encounter a face which he had not been able to identify in that moment and recollect since then. The face which stared at him below the ear had the colourful blob like being. It was the Distant Face, a face which one felt one was always looking from a distance never able to discern one feature from the other. For a moment, Raess was jealous.
`First time to Nehru Place’, the distant face said.
`No’. Raess did not want to allow anyone into his territories of miseries and moments.
`Have you seen all of Nehru Place?’
`You know’, it was just a feeling which made Raess aware that the Distant Face had broken into a playful squeak, `there is a lot to see and do in Nehru Place’.
`I suppose so’.
`Have you seen the new underground parking they are constructing?’
`The cars will be parked under the buildings’.
`Well, you know with all the cars gone…the parking space. Well, doesn’t matter. Have you seen the glittering building?’
`No. Maybe I will’.
`Have you been to the toilets?’
`No’. This unexpected, unwanted tour of Nehru Place was getting slightly tedious for Raess. Also he was embarrassed, now that question was posed, for committing his acts as a public performance creating toilets in the missing. Also each visit to the toilet cost one rupee. This was not a luxury which Raess could afford.
`It has a lot to offer’.
`I am sure’.
`Are you? Then would you like to go for a visit. Which one, Rs. 100, Rs. 220 or Rs. 500?’
`That much for the toilet? I thought it cost Rs. 1 for each visit. Is there some scheme on offer?’ Delivering packages and opening them secretly, Raess was acquainted with the world of offer and schemes, the rebates and discounts. Inquiring about one when offered was a natural impulse.
`Oh! You haven’t been to the Toilets’.
The Distant Face then meticulously elaborated on the proceedings, about the `toilet transactions’. For Rs. 100, fellatio was on sale. Spit or sallow had added listing. Rs. 220, one time intercourse within half an hour. For Rs. 480, more than once with stretchable time limit. And obviously, the entry fee into the toilets was not included in this listing. The Distant Face’s elaboration had been far from being this precise. It was a platter crammed with illustrative anecdotes, promises of assured pleasure and postures of unimaginable bearings.
Raess did not bother about the dressings fiddling his pockets he put its possession on display.
`Well, a single time. 30 minutes’. The Distant Face offered.
At that moment, Raess, slid in a state of suspended animations of realities, all too many of it. He had found himself in that place before sliding into the city in a borrowed backseat of a broken car. `Life is a deva ju experienced from the backseat. A moment delicately diffusing into another without disruptions’, he had thought then. `Love’, he had reflected, `was like driving’. He did not know what he meant by that then. Also he did not know how to drive.
Carefully touching through the tiles of these different realities, Raess came out of his slumber feeling the coldest one of them. The distant face was at a distance now and from where he stood he mouthed a distance of ten minutes to the transaction and pointed out in the direction of a semi-oval structure, distant and roofless. The site; The toilet; The transaction.
In that moment, He completely forgot that it was the fourth week of the month that he has already exhausted all the money that he had scattered loans that he had rent to extend by the end of the month that he could not afford to miss a day’s wage that he would not find any other job that he could not leave Nehru Place.
At the mouthed moment, Raess walked towards the toilets. The walk to the toilet was not a cautious walk, it was also not his usual walk; it was the moonlight drunk dancing walk; the steps, the moves encapsulated in that moment only and only that moment losing everything and anything outside that moment.
For Raess, Reality in that moment was so challenged that everything seemed surreal.
A man covered only half welcomed Raess with a nonchalance glance, a routine, a task, an assembly production queue. Raess handed him the charge to enter the inferno and as his finger tips touched the half covered mans cuticles; Raess knew there was no turning back. He started towards the sections which had a caricature which vaguely looked like a man or was it this all men looked liked, Raess thought in the passing.
`Not this side. The other one’, pointing to the ladies side the half covered man mumbled more out of practise than patience for other’s follies. He explained, `there you might get disturbed. Here no one comes. Well almost’.
`Second to the left’, he added while Raess crossed the boundary.
Inside the world was marked by the rustling of the dead leaves and silent stench growing out of all corners. Raess walked to the `second to the left’ and knocked, thinking, `Who is that waits on me?’, when his knock was responded with a crack in the door.
Inside the world was marked by the sound of shifting steps on dead leaves and the silence of frivolous breaths which left the stench unnoticed. She was standing there with her back towards Raess.
For a long time, Raess would only remember the rising and falling of life in between moments on long stretched frame of the back.
A sudden moment between nothing and nothingness collapsed when she spoke.
`Do you mind if I keep my face covered?’. Her voice was not melodious; her voice was not coarse either. It was the voice which faded because of the dry throat and cracked tongue; flat with sudden high pitch variations unable to control the activity of the vocal cords.
Raess mumbled in affirmative. And shifted his weight from one foot to another unable to decide which one will be able to carry it, lift it. He was aware of the mounting pressure the pausing minutes called on him before the curtain call. Also something of him throbbed outside of himself in distant territories.
He stretched his hand and touched the nape of the neck. Not held it, not pulled it towards him but just touched over it. The only thing he felt was the blood gushing under the unseen skin. If Raess transgressed beyond that moment it was because the desire to feel the blood gushing down through the narrow alleys which keep life intact completely overwhelmed him. When everything was dying in bits and parts all around him and when he was constantly stepping over carcass carelessly left behind either his own or others; the smell of the blood, the taste of the serums residues of the living, the cracks of the bones, the collapsing moments in between living where his only association with the real, the reality.
The act was consummated without any preparation or pretensions. The spilling left to dry in its own sweat and shame.
Raess walked out leaving a part of him on the floor, writhing and rotting, carrying only the smell. It was not the smell of the sex, pungent and dry. It was the smell of the flowers which adorned the woman’s soul. White and wet the smell of the flowers soaked into that of the body, absorbing and absolving anything else.
The reality that met with Raess once he crossed the steps was a different reality. Between the concrete which stood cold and the lives that walked it, there was a circus in procession. Lives hurdled in a corner, moments crashing onto the floor and in between people devouring stale food and stolen gossip.
The city is a place of limited floors and extended roofs, thought Raess. And did not think anything beyond.
He walked home with an adamant nonchalance, had a bath using both the containers of water he had acquired in the morning, drowning everything he possessed in his limited domain, and with the similar oblivious discomfort slid into steady sleep. That day Raess decided that he was going to live the city as the city lived itself, a moment in itself which only creates a momentum when the moment has passed.
Next morning Raess waded through everything, the passing looks from the closed car windows, the pausing glances at the traffic intersections, the stifling crowds and cowering concrete to reach the office before time. Without any guilt, regret or rubber stretching the soul to sole, he mumbled his half baked apologizes and consented to one days pay cut before beginning to paste the packets.
That day Raess did not look outside, look at outside; he was dwelling in inside where the membrane dissolves into something incomprehensible, where the brain and the bones give away to a labyrinth difficult to navigate. A crystal maze. Only he had lost the crystal when he was sleeping.
Since that day, Raess oscillated in between the insides and outsides cautiously mapping the limitations of the floor and the expanse of the roof only to find a little of something.
Only sometimes while walking through the narrow alleys and dark lanes, he would catch a scent of the smell, that smell; wait a while, whiff the passing wind and climb the crumbling stairways to deliver packets.
One too many.
Also, he was never late again.