Fiction: Himadri

February 07, 2007
Vivek Sharma

This is not a story of how things are, but of how things were. I feel I am forgetting the time I had spent with you. Even the colors of curtains that I raised to see the spectacle of your memories have faded and when I get to that room, I find that no purpose can drive me to those windows. It is, as if, a room in me, for I am a house in some ways, has decided to become abandoned. The neglect does not nag me anymore. I think I know now why grandmothers cease to bother about propriety after a certain age. The music that once forced my feet onto a dance floor is a background score, that by overplaying, has lost its splendor. Yet this is not a story of how things are, but of how things were.

The first snow had brought out a bunch of Indians to the street. The hilarity greeting the crumbling powder, as cameras clicked what was going to be a momentous album for this bunch. After spending twenty-four summer years in Mumbai, for even Mumbai winters qualify as summers by Western standards, you had arrived at the ceremony of snow, dressed in a JC Penny jacket that you had preferred over the cheaper Burlington Coat Factory one. Of course, I was to find this out later in the day, when I was driving you to the Emergency Ward of our University Hospital. The blackness of ice, the sheer, transparent hypocrisy of it, had floored you. Your roommate had reasoned that an ancestor like me was going to be the perfect choice to look after you. I arrived at the scene, and your introduction appealed like a snowflake on my hand, a melting voice send a thrilling note through to my spine. "Himadri*," you cautioned.

A ligament was torn. A swollen foot, a torn ligament, sub-zero temperature, plaster, the hunger that arrived like a mood swing, a hurried drive-through lunch, warm ginger tea at my house, followed by an evening with Amol Palekar movies and your floating into a deep sleep on the couch had arrived like a symphony score. Each movement had arrived at a pre-destined moment, as if each tinkle of your laughter was in response to an invisible conductor, and it was only the fear of waking you up that prevented me from giving you a standing ovation for the evening. I woke up next morning to find you in the same position, sound asleep. You gave me only few minutes to live my assumption and breathe in your beauty, when your lips curled up into a smile and forced your eyes to open. Wide open. Your express wish was to finish watching the comedy that had consoled you into repose.

Here I was a stranger offering room service, frying an omelette while I heard you crack up at Utpal Dutt's dialogues. Here I was smiling to myself as I stirred sugar in your microwaved coffee cup. Here you were thanking me beautifully as you matched my courtship (I christened it that just now) with an appetite that commanded at least my awe. I figured that your roommate had too much trust in me, or maybe she had herself suffered a disaster which prevented her from even caring to inquire after you. When I left for teaching a class at noon, you expressed the desire to be woken up whenever I returned. When I called your roommate on my way to school, I found out that she had gone away for a week, leaving you to my care, or whoever you wished to be cared for by. I never thought of myself as a Nurse, and watching Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents told me I never should, but I found myself indeed perfectly incapable of not looking after you. Your incessant talks introduced me to everyone you had ever known, a plethora of interesting episodes, recipes of Pao Bhaji and Varra, music of Jal, Fuzon and Audioslave, and eclipsed every thought I required to progress on my research.

I ignored the nudges of my friends. Only a select few hadn't evaporated by the hiring spree in this summer; most had left years ago. For last two years, I had avoided new students, knowing that a Bohemian like me, already thirty then, with endless PhD years rolling before me like the plains of Ganga, could be of no interest to their gaiety or them. A freak accident that happened years ago had gulped my fiancee and I had risen from dead six months later, with several iron and steel beams in my bones, only to enter a year or so of depression. I had spent three months at my parents house in Punjab, where a stream of visitors marred the hours that I so willed to pass in silence and sorrow. Then I retired to three months of stay in a Tibetian monastery in Kinnaur, a district in the hinterlands of Himalayas, in Himachal Pradesh. When these failed to cure me, my zealous uncle had taken me to work with him in the slums of Delhi, where it took a few months for me to recuperate. It took me those months to repent for living like an afterthought while my love had become a faded diary entry. I then returned to the United States to resume my research work, though all I had wanted to do, was published and buried by now. I had started afresh. Himadri was spreading her own mist over the lake of my past.

This is not a story of how things are, but of how things were. You were spreading your mist over the lake of my past. I started to feel like a bulb, buried in a flowerbed somewhere, who carries in itself the blossoms of spring. In your aroma, my old smells were getting ransacked; on your flesh, my old mole counts appeared like constellations that had ceased to exist. My emotions announced themselves without the fervor of yore, my emotions arrived not like the monsoon showers but like the cool sea breeze that enters an overcrowded room, when a window is thrown open, unsuspected, unannounced by an unknown hand. Perhaps you were too overwhelmed by my affection, my kindness, for in your incessant talk, you missed out every mention of him.You spoke to him everyday, but in my absence. You had him as a consoler and a confidant in my absence. You never ceased to love him in my absence. The day your roommate returned, she returned with the talk of him, who she had met during the week of her conference in a sunny California city. The mist off the lake cleared out. I recognized the lost houseboats again.

Vivek Sharma is a poet, an engineer, a scientist and a writer. He is published in both refereed literary and science journals, and his poetry was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He contributes articles to Divya Himachal (Hindi newspaper in India) and online to himachal.us, desicritics.org and blogcritics.org.
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