My daughter wakes up to the sounds of activity around her, my grandson ransacking every closet looking for his science notebook, my son-in-law making coffee using cutlery to orchestrate the art of making South Indian coffee and the clatter that my walker wheels generate to herald my arrival to make coffee the way my grandmother used to make.
With her cup of coffee darker than any lethal potion you see at the CVS dispensary, my daughter says hi dad to me and asks what dream did you have last night? Don’t ask me, I broke my dentures and got new ones made. When I looked in the mirror I looked like Boris Karloff. The teeth were all soaked in blue paint. I got up with a start and found my dentures unbroken in a bowl nearby. Dad,, you’re really funny, my daughter says.
Now is the time to make a confession and seek an apology. All those stories appearing in my Seaside Bride collection are dreams I had captured with a video recorder I keep in my bed before I go to sleep. Later I realized that I had made a mistake in revealing the secret behind my writing. The next day I found the camera missing from my bed. I began looking for it in every crevice in the house. Moved by my frustration, my daughter told me, dad, you won’t find it. Yesterday I dreamt burglars breaking into our house and taking away the camera. Now, you’ll not read any of my stories based on my dreams.
But the stories you had already read are not the only dream-stories you had read. Another collection of dream-stories is hibernating in some nook of the house frantically saving itself from termites. I wish my next dream will show a representative of Simon and Schuster knocking on my door.
Some time ago after the birth of man, someone whose species the anthropologists failed to identify, had said that time and tide wait for none. How true! Man is trying to go beyond space in search of water, metals and minerals. I am not far behind. I am not the same infant who mewed and puked in the nurse’s arms; I am close to the winning line.
My dreams are too many that I cannot take them with me. Breaking my reverie on life my daughter brought a magazine that carried a story pilfered from my unpublished collection. It reads like this:
(This story appeared to me as a dream sometime ago and asked me to write it down but it seemed to me full of oddities of all sorts that only a Murakami could walk away with. I had hoped that time would dissipate his artistry. Nine months after I saw the dream I picked up the courage to send it to the publisher purging from it all traces of Murakami genius. Read on now:)
Dreams, a part of everyone’s life, visit me quite frequently, some short and some long. When I wake up I would tell my daughter what I saw in the dream the previous night or in the dawn that followed. I can never tell her how long or how short it lasted because there is a problem with measuring dreamtime in a state of half-memory and half-doubt.. The mind-clock registers it when it is in a different state of consciousness. As a kid I used to tell my mother the dreams I saw. She is now no more but very often appears in a dream.
Some of the dreams I saw read like magic realism stories. As a kid I fantasized about going abroad and seeing cities I had never seen. This desire perhaps translated itself into a strange but delightful dream.
In that unusual dream I went out one morning for a walk and walked several kilometers, so many that I started gasping.
‘Already?’ said someone from behind. I turned back and saw it was my friend Haruki Murakami.
.I caught up with him when he was in the middle of his daily run of ten kilometers. When I began panting in keeping step with him, he said, ‘tired?’
‘It’s easy for you to mock. At the end of 10 km. you can also swim a long stretch,’ I told him.
At that moment I wished that there was no part of speech like tense in dreams so that I need not have to explain to him when the events in the dream had happened and for how long.
He, that is Murakami, sighed deeply and said,
‘Okay, we’ll do one thing. I’ll put you in a bus and I’ll come home walking.’ Waiting for the bus I listen to what he claimed as his latest yarn about a town where only cats lived and none else.’
It is bullshit. That is not his latest; still a story as crazy as the man himself. I had read it in The New Yorker long ago. The guy didn’t know another Japanese writer Hagiwara Sakutaro had written his only short story with the same title ‘The Town of Cats.’ He will go down in history as the only writer who began and finished his literary career with a single short story.
I told Murakami that that story was more bizarre than his -- an amalgam of tenses automatically inserting themselves in places readily available, the co-existence of a variety of literary forms and an exercise in poetic anarchy.
I told him to tell me a spaghetti story instead since I knew he had declared 1971 as The Year of Spaghetti because in that year he had cooked spaghetti to live and lived to cook spaghetti. The mention of spaghetti brought a broad smile on his face. He had cooked and survived on spaghetti every day of the week, every week of the month and every month of 1971. If ever he were to build a house he would certainly name it SPAGHETTI. I knew it is a different story that his 1971 did not mention the war Indira Gandhi had waged against Pakistan to liberate East Pakistan.
‘That was in 197i,’ Murakami began.
‘Why 1971,’ I asked him not knowing the uniqueness of the year.
‘I’ve hardly begun; you’re asking me questions,’ he snapped,
‘But you always do it, create doubts,’ I said.
‘Yeah, I do it often,’ he agreed and smiled, indicating admission of a trait.
‘Let that be. To know to make spaghetti you need spaghetti.’
‘I agree with you for the present,’ I told him.
‘So I go out to get spaghetti. You know where?’
‘Is that necessary for me to know,’ I asked him.
‘Not always,’ he said indicating that he was about to drown me in his favorite style that tells the readers a hundred things about mundane life that they already knew and have no role to play in the story.
I was becoming restless when a savior came in the form of a Leyland bus. Murakami stopped it and put me in it. As the bus started moving, he cried, ‘get for me spaghetti from the Brick Lane.’
I took a window seat and slipped into a brief state of what I couldn’t tell, then or now. Shall we call it a state of mental liquefaction? When I woke up, after how long I didn’t know, I felt like a patient coming out of anesthesia. There were too many white faces inside the bus and unfamiliar geography outside and I understood why Murakami had taken the name of Brick Lane.
The conductor asked me to show my passport.
Shit, what passport? I told the conductor I wanted to go to Barkatpura. The white faces began laughing in an Anglo-Saxon way. The driver told me that I was in London. It was an international shuttle between India and parts of Europe and Britain.
“Sir, the bus will drop you in Aldwych. Your High Commission is there. Sort out your problem there,’ the conductor told me kindly and gave me five pounds, saying I would need it. I thanked him.
At the Indian chancery I ran into a girl who was my student in Delhi. I told her what had happened.
‘Please wait,’ she said. She walked to the reception desk and came back with a sheaf of papers.
‘Please fill these forms, sir; the High Commission will pay you money enough to stay in London for a couple of days. You will get an interim passport. You can stay in the High Commission’s guest suite. I will take you out for sight seeing.’ I admit even Murakami could not have envisaged such an incredible happening to his protagonist. It was like his fiction becoming a reality with a man-eating cat as the hero.
When my student turned up the next day at the High Commission I had not finished the very good breakfast the Commission had served. I told her about Brick Lane and the Gray’s Inn.
‘What do you do there, sir?’
‘You know the cantankerous Japanese writer Murakami; he wants me to buy good spaghetti there. Gray’s Inn is where my father had qualified to become a barrister. I want to see the Inn and imagine the days he had spent there,’ I told her.
My sightseeing and shopping were over in a day. My student got me into an international bus and gave me Indian currency for bus fare and food on the bus; I thanked her profusely and sat in a comfortable seat. I was mentally and physically exhausted. The dinner served on the bus put me to instant sleep. I didn’t know after how many hours, the Indian sun began pouring into the bus when I woke up and found it cruising through the Kacheguda Station Road, I got down at the next stop, that is Barkatpura Chaman. As I entered my house opposite the chaman my mother came out, hugged me and cried softly
My father dismissed my story as a great spin. To convince my father, I rang Osmania reception and asked to connect me to Murakami.
Who is he, sir? The operator asked me.
I gave him the details.
‘Sir, no such professor stayed in the guest house or invited to speak to the students.’
Tailpiece: The man who extensively theorized on dreams is supposed to have died dreaming a few years more of life for himself.