As a child, one of the earliest memories that I have of a short story – is one where Ruskin Bond describes an encounter with the spirit of Rudyard Kipling, over a bar-counter in Dehradun. My best guess as to how old I was back then, is eleven. I found the story in Swagat – which was an Indian Airlines in-flight magazine back then. (I don’t know if the magazine still persists, I haven’t flown with those guys ever since.)
One story about a confused writer – looking at the pale, distant face of a legend – that reeled me in with the simplicity of a knife slicing through cheesecake. And right then, I discovered something about myself. The traditional concept of beauty is not something I was familiar with. If it takes a little more persuasion to drive the point home – I was never excited at the on-screen presence of “Timeless Beauties” like Madhuri Dixit or Karishma Kapoor, as most of my peers were. I wasn’t into it, and that sense of departure from how my friends reacted to various objects of beauty- was liberating for me. To an extent, I admit- it gave me some weird form of ego-boost to imagine & understand that I was different from the lot, I wasn’t built or programmed the way other people are designed.
It is believed by many wise men & women, that the things we get really irritated by, are the things that we hate about our own selves. For instance, when we traditionally get angry at a person or upset over someone’s behavior – we’re not really angry at that person. We’re upset with the predictions that we make about that person, based on how we would have reacted to that exact same stimulus. I remember being angry a lot, as a kid – when my friends would get excited at the prospect of watching a Bollywood Award Ceremony on television- or a dance by the ruling Bollywood diva. Was I angry because I hated their interest in the concept of traditional beauty? No- I was angry at the idea of me being excited by that exact same thing. And today – when I imagine those millions of people looking at simple, beautiful objects – walking past on the streets, ignoring every flower, ignoring every stream of clear water, ignoring every cleverly crafted billboard- Am I angry at them? Not in a million years. I’m angry because I can’t do any of those things. I’m blind. Should I say – blind-ed by that accident so many years ago? I don’t know. And at this point, I don’t think I even remember the details.
Sorry, Mr. Keats. Your poetic words of wisdom about how we can enjoy a thing of beauty – I don’t believe that theory applies to me. I was very weird as a child, and my weirdness has paid off every inch in the form of thick, dusty stacks of paper which nobody wants to read.
“Still thinking about the past?” She whispers into my ears, bending over my shoulder. I can’t see, but I can sense her odor wafting through every inch of the air that surrounds me. It’s a decent combination of wood, chocolate and wine- I suspect she has been doing it for years just to please me, and I’ve never complained. Truth be told – I don’t think I would’ve allowed this connection to exist between us, had she not met me before the accident.
It was different back then. Everything was – brighter. A shrill voice in my head reminds me all the time – that my effective distaste towards beauty could very well be a direct result of me not being able to see her face anymore. Once again, strengthening the theory that I don’t detest beauty – I’m angry at myself because I can no longer see her.
I don’t want her to know that I’m upset. Mainly because she hasn’t cried in so long, that I’ve forgotten how she looks like when she’s sad. I cannot, for the love of god – begin to visualize her face when she isn’t happy – in the darkness behind my eyelids. The easiest part of my day begins and ends with the moment when she smiles at me. I can’t tell for sure because I can’t see; I just know. It’s hard to describe how I can sense her joy. I think it has something to do with the fact that her smiling face is the last living memory of my non-blind self. In my short-lived career as a physically able writer, I had met several women – encompassing & surrounding them with adjectives that would have put Shakespeare to shame. And somehow, when I met her – All i could manage to talk about was my inexplicable attraction towards the mahogany bar-stool where Ruskin Bond claimed to have met Kipling’s spirit. She took it rather well, I must say.
Ah, the day when I first saw her. She came to me with the innocence of a leaf that hasn’t bloomed in a thousand springs. It’s one thing to look at someone and say that they’re beautiful – and an entirely different thing to look at someone for the first time and be transported into your childhood, standing at the exact same spot on the side of the road for hours at a stretch, looking at a billboard that fascinates you. When I saw her for the first time, with absolutely no idea of how her touch felt like, on my skin – of how fast her veins could pump blood, of how easily she could pierce my heart and put it back together – I knew that she was the billboard and I was the child.
I think it was a hot day when I saw her. Partly windy, judging by my memory of her hair fluttering within the careful entrapment of a black & silver scarf. Hiding behind a truck, I didn’t see much reason in peeping out too obviously. The child & the billboard have ever since, enjoyed a silent relationship of mutual admiration, or so I have come to believe. In the conversations which had preceded our first meeting, she had jokingly spoken about this little tooth which stuck out a little bit, when she pursed her lips and smiled. She had remarked that it made her look like a vampire.
“I love Vampires.” I had said. I know that sounds corny when you play it back, and it doesn’t make sense when you’re talking to someone over the phone. But when you look at someone (Child, Billboard) and you’re ready to imagine that the human barrier of blood doesn’t exist, the remark holds good.
Behind that same truck, when I managed to sneak a glimpse of her lips, the idea of dissolving into her veins, making my way through that mouth and then inside her- seemed like a journey which I should pursue. That’s the thing about not meeting someone and drawing a mental picture of them based on what they say or what they sound like. Over the phone, her enthusiasm in meeting me was too compelling to ignore. In person, she resembled an invitation to glorious disaster, walking on two legs, one frail step at a time. She was wearing those wayfarer glares that didn’t let me look into her eyes right away. But it added an element of foreboding, when she turned her face around to look for the entrance to my house, and I couldn’t tell where she was looking.
Spying on her was the kind of thrill that told me it was dangerous, and yet there was no turning away from it. For about five minutes – that’s three hundred seconds – four hundred and fifty hurried heartbeats – a hundred footsteps – she kept walking, and the voices in my head kept fighting over who gets to admire her first.
You know how some girls add little shades of henna over tiny streaks of hair? In this care, most of the lit streaks fell on her face. She has sworn to me, and I have believed her for years – that it always happens by accident. But in one mischievous corner of my head, there’s a voice that still believes that every particle of hair on her head knew that I was looking at them, and that instant when I first noticed her face, had been planned a million years in advance.
At present, she leans in a bit closer to the couch, reminding of the time when I could see, and could pull her over myself – enveloping her in my arms so that I’d never let her go.
“Hey! You need to tell me, what do you keep thinking about all day?” She complains, breathing into my neck.
When a person defines your idea of passion, can you really tell them that you hate yourself for not being able to see them?
“I’m thinking of the time when you touched me for the first time.” I lie.
It’s not a cruel lie – It’s a pleasant memory, warped into those areas of my head, which have now been damaged beyond recognition. I don’t know how my face looks in the mirror anymore. The only cognitive link between my appearance and my thoughts, is her innocent laughter.
I was still watching, hiding behind the truck. I don’t know what I was thinking – is it possible to keep yourself hidden for an eternity, trying to delay one moment so that forever gets to be a little longer? I mean – with terrible things like technology creeping into our lives with such unfathomable speed, it’s hard to defer such moments of glory. Within about three minutes, she had pulled out her cellphone and dialed my number. “Where are you…. sssir?” She had managed to utter when I had answered.
My phone rings now, somewhere in the vicinity I assume. I can feel her lifting her chin off my shoulder, and the tresses of her hair brushing against my face tell me that she’s turning her head to look. My hand reaches up, to feel her lips and I tell her – “It’s okay, let it be. Just stay here.”
Right after I had jumped out from behind the truck, I think it had taken her a while before she could digest the fact that I was that same man she had been speaking to all this while, in flesh & blood. And I was as excited as a little kid, delighted to meet every flavor of candy I had ever craved for, all at once. I don’t think she had realized back then, how much of a nutcase I was.
After exchanging courteous pleasantries, when we went back up to my room – she remarked that she liked my honesty. I had informed her that the room was worse than Delhi Belly standards. It was a bachelor pad – I think the seventh one I had stayed in, during my days of liberated vision in the city. I blended in pretty well with the surroundings, dressed in a T-Shirt that said “Don’t sleep, meditate” and a red pullover and a pair of black, dusty shorts.
She was dressed like an Arabian Dream. A black shrug around her shoulders (I have to credit her about my knowledge of women’s clothing. I didn’t know what a shrug was, until she told me), a black sleeveless top underneath it, and a pair of pink aladdinish harem pants. (Once again, the knowledge of the term goes to her credit. All I could manage to come up with, was “Nice Aladdin Pants”)
And then she had taken off her shades, and looked into my eyes.
At present, she bends over and looks into the curtain of darkness where my eyes should’ve been. Maybe it’s fair that a cynic gets to spend his last days as an invalid addition to the world, as the thing he craves the most, is staring right at him.
I can smell you. I can see your eyes in the darkness. I can reach forward, just a little bit and feel your lips entwined in mine. I can gladly lose myself on your slightly slippery tongue. I can reach into my dead, black heart and pull out that side of me which yearns to excite you, feel you bite into my neck and think of that one seductive tooth, rupturing my skin and pulling me into yourself. Yes, I can hold your hands in mine, let our fingers melt into each other and I can feel every inch of your nails digging into me.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Right now, I’m not this blind guy, dreaming of mahogany bar-stools and cursing award ceremonies, nonchalant about where my phone is. Right now, I’m looking at you, in your Aladdin pants. Right now, I’m the child and you’re my billboard. Right now, I’m Ruskin Bond and you’re Rudyard Kipling. Right now, I’m twenty two and you’re twenty one. Right now, you’re taking off your glares, sitting down on the bed, shivering, asking me to look away. Right now, I’m that boy, happier than the happiest man he’s ever seen, more enthusiastic that he’s ever been, a little more hyper than charlie sheen. I’m that boy. The hungry kid who leans into his candy, breathing in a little whiff of ecstasy, tasting a nibble of his fantasies in you, dissolving into you.
I’m not the guy trying to find my own tears with my hands, searching for your face anymore. I’m not blind when you’re around me.
“Did you say anything?” She asks me. She must’ve noticed that I’m clasping her hands really tight now.
“Nah… Could you come a little closer?” I murmur.
My Mahogany Shrine.
The End (?)
About the Author: Shomprakash Sinha Roy is a bestselling author of Fiction & Non-Fiction in India, winning accolades such as the Whistling Woods Young Achiever Award in 2013 & Getting nominated to the Forbes Influencers List in 2014. He is 24 years old, and a Tongue-in-Cheek Sly Devil who doesn’t fail in the act of weird repartee. He lives alone, in Bangalore & spends time criticizing his own books, most of which are available at http://tr.im/shom
He rants on Facebook, at http://facebook.com/BrandShom.
Twitter : http://twitter.com/thenewauthor