Sunday, January 04, 2009

Blue

Samyak stood by the window, looking out. You couldn't see much from the window save other houses and a slice of the sky, but he stood still, awestruck, like someone facing the sea for the first time. Actually he was lost in his thoughts, like most Bengali men of his age are. Samyak was waiting for the sound of a car down below.

At 32, Samyak has done decently for himself and earned himself quite some name as a percussionist. He plays the tabla, and has recently been invited by Dr L. Subramanium to perform with him at Bangalore. If you ask him how he feels about it, he will tell you it is like having achieved something beyond his dreams. From his initial days of learning tabla from Manibabu, the tall, dark teacher who used to come riding a bicycle wearing a white dhoti, to playing with Dr. Zakir Hussain at Banaras, Samyak has come a long way. He has even made a statement by refusing to play at the Sankatmochan music conference in Banaras, thus creating quite a stir. He had his reasons, he said on national television. But critics say he refused because non-Hindus are not allowed to perform at the Sankatmochan temple. And he feels, like all musicians do, that music is created to spread the word of peace and break barriers created by religions and races. Despite having come this distance, Samyak didn't forget about Manibabu. He died of a mysterious disease. His family didn't allow anyone to visit him the last few months. Not even Samyak.

He has even been approached by a couple of producers from Tollygunge to act in some Bengali movies, but he refused. He doesn't have the time. Apart from being immersed in practising, studying, and experimenting with music, he now has a new occupation. A little disturbing, you can say. Samyak is falling in love. And that is keeping him busy.

Samyak is not traditionally goodlooking, but his long wavy hair and his tall, sinewy physique make him a rather desirable date for most young women of Calcutta. Once, just after a performance at Kala Mandir, a crazed fan begged for his silk kurta drenched in sweat. And he has not pushed away this attention either. He has loved it like Cristiano Ronaldo would, and while some have looked away, most prude Bengalis have raised a questioning eyebrow...art doesn't give you the licence to...ahem.

So Samyak is falling in love. And the world doesn't know about it. Yet. He denied it to himself all this while, but when Gayatri gets off her sleek, black Civic and walks to him, he momentarily wants to forget that she is married with a kid. They met when he was a struggling prodigy, trying to get a slot in the local Doordarshan studio. Most of the producers were a little wary of his talent, and the local singers weren't too happy when he pointed out how off-rhythm they were, so the going was generally tough. Normal tabla players were in demand, not prodigies. That's when he met Gayatri, a city-based lawyer, married to a businessman in New Delhi.

Gayatri had heard him perform, and probably even took a personal interest in him because she herself arranged for him to meet her dad, who helped Samyak bring out his first solo cassette. It was a series of jazz percussion compositions, using absolutely unmusical objects to create heady, crazy, and sometimes eerie sounds. Although the local Bengali magazines pooh-poohed his attempts, a critic from the Downbeat magazine came across a copy of his album and lauded his efforts. There was no looking back since then. It was 1999. The year he met Gayatri.


Samyak stood in front of the window, knowing Gayatri wouldn't come. But his ears were trained on every sound that they could capture. Nothing much was happening in his locality that afternoon. It was sleepy, soundless, with the lazy crow soaking in the winter sun and letting out an occassional kah as if in thanks. Do crows pray? Samyak thought for a while, but then brought himself back. This new streak of absurdity is either a fallout of too much work or of going crazy altogether. A few days back he caught himself in a delirious bout of thinking about elephants flying and covering the sun.

Gayatri had moved to Delhi in 2001. But she used to come over once a year. Once she came with her daughter, about whom Samyak had no news.
"Whoa! How come you never told me about her?"
"So I haven't told you about so many other things too."

Gayatri was always at an arm's distance, but just beyond his reach. Samyak never thought about her much, but when she came with her daughter to Calcutta, he was a little shaken. Somehow, perhaps because she helped him of her own will, or because she listened to most of his whims, Samyak felt she was his. She wasn't after all. She went and had a kid with another man. Her husband, yes, but another man. All his flirtatious attempts at taking her to bed were in vain, but because he always had someone or the other to come home with, he didn't realize when simply missing Gayatri had turned into something serious.

He turned back after a long time and felt the wrinkles on the blue bedspread. He brought it out after two years, to make Gayatri's visit today special, reminiscent of their last meeting in 2007. That day Gayatri wasn't in her black business suit as always. She always wears black or steel grey business suits and Armani glasses, looking stunning. But that day she wore a white tee above a pair of blue jeans. She threw herself on the sofa, something very unlike her, but placed the flowers carefully next to her.

"Come and sit next to me, Sam" she patted the sofa and beckoned.
"You...you look so different in a t-shirt."
There was a questioning look in her eyes.
"I mean, even more beautiful. Almost human. Like I can reach out and touch you."

"And you couldn't all this while?"
There was a whirlwind working its way through his mind. Before he knew it, they were engaged in a kiss that seemed to last longer than he could hold his breath. "Gayatri..." he managed to gasp, but she pulled him deeper and deeper into her.

Samyak had tried to remember their lovemaking later in many of his late night fantasies, but couldn't find anything special in it. Sex with Anindita is always more experimental and vast. She manages to surprise him everytime. But despite being vast, it is devoid of something essential in making love. Something Samyak hadn't known before Gayatri. He had finally fallen in love. And he could chuck a thousand Aninditas and their Saharas for one little boring oasis for the water in it.

"Why were you so generous today?"
"I always wanted to give you this. All these eight years."
"But why now? Why not before?"
"You weren't ready."
"Didn't you want to kiss me that night we ran inside Nandan from the rain?"
"Not that I can think of," there was a glint of mystery in Gayatri's eyes. She was smiling, and he knew she won't tell. Despite having made love to her, he realized how far she still remained from him.

"Marry me, gee."
"I will, Sam. I will, the day you mean what you say."

Since then till today, Samyak has changed. He has waited for her, saved the blue bedspread they made love on as it was, and put it in the closet. And memories of the Aninditas and Sahanas have been taken over by memories of that one afternoon. Even his harshest critic, Sagarika Ghose, has mentioned in her latest article about a newfound element in his music: feeling. According to her, Samyak Basu has graduated from being just a technically brilliant composer to a musician from his heart.

Gayatri hasn't given him her number and isn't calling up either. She prefers to stay the mystery that she always has been. Incommunicado, just out of his reach. But today she will come. Has she left her husband? How old is her daughter now? Samyak started getting fidgety. He plugged in his iron and tried smoothing out the wrinkled bedspread. What will she think? If it is wrinkled? Will she not want to marry him thinking he is incapable of looking after himself? But isn't that too far fetched? Why would a woman take that as a sign of his incapability! Absurd. He wasn't incapable. She had closed her eyes when they kissed. She had kept moaning when he slowly entered her. She cannot think he is incapable. She hadn't made love in a long while. Or had she? But wasn't he thinking of his abilities as a husband? As a homemaker husband? What is the term for them? But will he look after the home? Her daughter, her daughter...where is she now? How old? Five, six? Will she come with her? Will Samyak be a father? Will the wrinkles on a blue bedspread, which has been spread out to rekindle memories of a blissfull afternoon, be held against him? Samyak kept ironing the ends vigorously. And then the phone announced a message.

Gayatri will not come. Ever. "Have a good life, Sam" was staring at him from the screen. He called up the unknown number but it was just that: unknown.

You can see Samyak in silhouette now. He waited all afternoon, standing in front of the window facing west. And now he is back there, facing an orange sun, wondering if he should turn back and crumple the ends of the bedspread to keep intact the memories as they were. He couldn't remember if Manibabu was his father. The flying elephants had started covering up his orange, setting sun.

10 comments:

Vantika said...

very gripping... and very interesting indeed. The character sketch is really good and the mood of the story just keeps you reading...

Well done.

Anirban said...

Xcellent read........I have a feeling though that I know the person...

Anonymous said...

nice read... but kinda one-sided and touching on bengali melancholy and guru duttesque pathos...
like she calls the shots... the guy stands by the window and stares out into nothingness... tut tut... poor soul! how very predictable!
give it a twist... like he realizes that his priorities are elsewhere (btw why is he single? that's boring)... and she decides that life is like a box of chocolates... you never know what comes up next...
maybe he reads a newspaper headline that says "prominent city lawyer in plane hijack drama"... or let him realize that his true passion was always for the security guy who stands by the gate all day! (... and hence his staring out of the window)
i dunno... i am no story teller... you are the stud writer... add some zing to this... :)

Lazyani said...

Great , I dare say. A hint of Vikram Ghosh and June Malia somewhere, but just a hint.

But , the whole, a good story.

Nita said...

What I admire most about your writing...is the sudden asides! "Do crows pray too?" That set me off in another direction, but your story was so good that I bounced right back to read it till the end. Good one! Please publish a book!!!

Oreen said...

anon,

come over for a chat.

Oreen said...

samyak isn't single that way. he is leading an ideal life, something every man will like to lead. i am gonna write about the flaws of the story in another article. one character is larger than life, but the person who actually calls the shots is kinda nothing more than a name. the Manibabu and insanity factor haven't been built upon either.

somebody questioned the need for allowing the author to have a narrative at the end. why does the author have to butt in? valid point.

many flaws that seem apparent now that i read it again, but that was the spontaneous bit.

will work on it.

Pinku said...

hmmmm...nice read....

Oreen am commenting on your comment...'he is leading an ideal life, something every man will like to lead'.

I dont think it is so...its the life everyman dreams of and yet when he has it he wants to be chained into something mundane and normal...like Samyak.

Mampi said...

Excellent, the ending is wonderful now.
The effort to crumple ... WOW!

Oreen said...

three of my most valued readers, two of whom have refused to comment on this, think that this is utter crap. from the contrived story to the struggling words...

i will scrap this story soon...

have a long way to go... :)

but thanks.