Monday, August 18, 2008

Winter (in the City of Djinns circa 2005)

Winter falls over the bright, boisterous conurbation
Bringing with it the fog and the mist and decorating
The meandering suburbs through which travel commuters
Wrapped in leather jackets and woolen caps and sweaters
That shield them from the coldest days that the city has seen
In seventy years. And the capital bustles with many new themes
(The Commonwealth games, the new metro and airport(s))
That make it all seem that things are getting better, of sorts.
“At least the river will be clean in four years time
And hopefully by then, we’ll be rid of this crime
Spree which has overrun our city”, say the populace.
But far from such thoughts and overworked haste
Of page three’s and controversies and daily altercations
Sits a young boy in his room (and here begins the mood
Of this short, epigrammatic story, this ballad to the youth
Of the nation, and maybe the world, for such things go on)

Sits a young boy in his room and gazing at his desk,
Trying to follow the his books but not succeeding,
And it’s just a day left for the dreaded Internals Test.
Yet his mind cannot stay here, with a sigh, he goes fleeing
And delves into contemplation, meditation and dreaming.
He has come far, many miles, yet has many miles to go before he sleeps.
And as Frost creeps inside, he throws his long shawl over his knees
To keep warm (for this year the mercury has dropped incredulously low
Almost grazing the Indian gift to mathematics: the haloed Zero)
He puts his pencil down and concentrates instead
On arbitrary thoughts that come speedily to his head.
He is in college now, in fact, in one of the best,
(An argument that will never be lain to rest)
And as his final year approaches, the future subtly encroaches
On him and yet he can’t say that he is delighted
With the path he has chosen, though he has been far sighted.

Pausing his deliberations he turns to his friend
Sitting across the room, dreaming of stipends.
“Is it dinnertime yet?” he asks his room mate
Who replies “hmm…? No. It’s still quarter to eight.”
Once again our protagonist sighs and resumes his rumination
And idly and absent mindedly chews on his nails in hesitation
Before he carries on his premeditated and calculated procrastination
Of the task at hand - to further what the world calls education.

Excelling in academics, he was the envy of his batch,
And many a prize in sports had he defiantly snatched
Away from competition, for he yearns for the rush
Of defeating the others and then acting like “it’s not much.”
He used to be humble, he used to be meek.
Barely a confrontation or challenge would he seek.
He used to despise the boys who’d always try
To hurt other boys and make the little ones cry.
For these were the bullies (he had been bullied too,
Questioned by them, and by the soles of their shoes)
And bullies are cowards, or so he’d concluded,
They were filled with false notions and were completely deluded.
He vowed to never become like one of them,
To step on other people and always pretend
Like something he wasn’t. To put on a mask
And carry on callously with menial self-centered tasks.

Yet ironically he finds himself now sternly seated
Many years later and his vow has been defeated.
For though our victor has overcome many an obstacle
He’s compromised a little of his faith at every single scuffle
And little by little the compromises integrated,
Till there was nothing left of the kind hearted adolescent
He remembers himself to be, just a little while ago.
(Before he shaped his present protagonist alter ego)
What precisely happened, we (nor he) can assert.
It could have been the bullies, it may have been hurt.
But maybe just plain loneliness or an endeavor at love
Followed by all the reactions, and all of the above
That caused him to walk alone, friendless and forlorn.
And eventually, his heart imploded and gave way to scorn.

He remembers what the world had taught him when he was young,
Learning about getting up when on the soil he was flung.
For fall we must, once at least, we shall hit the ground.
But it remains to us to lie there or stand up and abound.
So he stood up again, and strengthened his shame
And he covered his face and he chose a different name.
A mask to hide what was weak and feeble inside.
And so he became what he hated - the bully full of pride.
Because it’s not easy when you’re backed up against a wall,
You have nowhere to go, not even space to crawl.
When the world pushes on - when it carries on its attack -
With nowhere to go, you have to start pushing back.
So he forgot what it felt like to feel all that he believed.
He numbed himself to what his heart would decree.
And even as the winter crept into his room and he
Huddled even tighter to his shielding shawl invariably
The frost caressed something, deep within something stirred
And was brought back to life. A hollow feeling of meaninglessness
Engulfed him and he opened his Bible to the book of Ecclesiastes
To read the works of Solomon the Teacher, and he was the intern.

This book, twenty first in line in the Bibles New Testament,
Strikes a deep chord in him for it reeks of discontentment.
And even as he turns the pages, his mind once again drifts
For it has no desire to meander over anything but its
Own landscape, a maelstrom of thoughts and emotions
And conflicting beliefs and incompatible notions
About life and how to live, for we all must make a choice
Whether to look at the thorns with roses and rejoice
Or choose to see the roses with thorns and whine,
Though they’re one and the same, there’s no demarcating line.
And then he sees what was obvious from the start
That, in loneliness, long ago, he had twisted his heart.
But now, he was headed for no different fate
For strength lies in humility, and love will not hate
What it cannot achieve, it seeks no reprieve.
Forgiveness of the past and of the self is the key.
And now our little anti hero pauses and deliberates
Over things he hasn’t reflected upon since many a day.

But the minute hand has traveled one fourth its journey
And dinner is about to be laid for all who are hungry and weary
Like our friend. So he puts away the Book and, with his room mate,
Heads from their hostel room to the mess to empty filled plates.
After dinner, to the room his room mate speedily returns
To study more commerce and to eventually burn
The midnight oil tirelessly. Yet our protagonist remains
Standing by the field, where in the morning they play
Hockey and football. Moved by the chill that
Sends shivers down his spine, he lights a cigarette
And inhales deep inside the smoke and the nicotine,
And relaxes as his body is flooded with acetylcholine
He glances back at the brightly lit building where he stays,
His home away from home, the college hostel portrays
An image of peace and tranquility and the assiduously
Adept students that inhabit the rooms, the stalwarts of SRCC.

And above him in the sky, whose stars are obscured by the clouds
And other such Floydian thoughts, pass two aero planes no doubt
Headed towards greener pastures and bluer skies.
The winter mist settles over the green field and travels on till the periphery
And all that can be seen beyond the grass are the lights of the nearby dhobi.
But the embers of his cigarette are his only light.

“They say it’s lonely at the top, but I wouldn’t know.
I’ve never climbed that high, not yet, I’ve always been so-so.
But recently I’ve felt this urge to be the best, whatever the cost,
And it’s with this that I’ve spurned so much, so much I’ve lost.
And yet I keep going because the ladder keeps growing
And rather than be content with what I’ve reaped, I carry on sowing.
Is this how it will persist? Is this how it shall always be?
With me chasing wearily after the horizon on the sea?
Because I feel in part and I think in part (the two aren’t the same
For one needs the heart and the other requires the brain)
I didn’t renounce anything to get this high, to get this far
In my life, rather I realise that I gave it up at the start
And where I am now is but a natural consequence
Of the innocence I surrendered when I gave up my beliefs. Hence
It’s not lonely at the top, but the people who get there themselves
Are lonely already and that’s simply the story. There’s nothing else to tell.”

He turns around to return to his little room of a nation,
And cogitate a little and maybe amend his destination,
And as his mind swims with thoughts of odd fornications,
Winter lifts over the bright, boisterous conurbation.

No comments: