Even I had my share of youth some thirty years ago. Days when speedy, uncouth and restless winds appealed to the soul more than silent and mellow breezes. When revolutions were blindly sought after, not because they would benefit the masses, but they were just another symbols of style, making the poet seem wilder, madder and more discontented. Eerie silences after a war were romanced with in verses, with grandiloquent phrases and what was ignored was the sadness of wars and blood of innocent corpses flowing along the streets.
I had been, obnoxious as it seems today as I recollect, what you call a man driven by passions and heat of the young blood and hence, losing all his sense of order and reason. As bad as a man, driven only by the sensual beauty of his beloved, not heeding to the mansions of intelligence and sensitivities built inside. I had adopted recklessness as one of my vital characteristics for it only accentuated my youth and its affiliations to literature. There was a certain image of me that I sought to put across to people. That was of a discontented passionate romantic hero waiting and contemplating over possible movements. Those days, I had resolved to abandon all forms of ordinariness. My verses had never in them, the beauties of the usual sunrises and sunsets, the sounds of rain drops falling against the shed of my small terrace. I would not seek for inspirations in the damp smell of the mud and cleanliness of a bluish white sky after heavy rains. Out of all things, it was only the menace of the slimy mud that caught my attention and led me to flinch with a strong resentment.
The writers society of my college, I think, was suffering from the same surges of an irrational dynamism of the youth. While my audition for the society, I had written a short story about a land where some young men would wake up at wee hours of night, sneak out of their houses, and put up an absurd kind of dance performance, titled ‘Dance of the revolutionaries’, on the streets. These dancers would be covered with black cloth from head to toe and only their eyes and noses would be visible. They would chant slogans and make sounds like ‘Hoo’ , ‘Haa’ ‘Hoo’ and make iconic gestures like the ‘raised fist’ and ‘laal salaam’. All in all, these performances would seem unusually powerful and hypnotic to the ones standing in their balconies, woken from their sleep’ and viewing the spectacle, until one by one, they all came down and joined the group. Eventually, the whole land gave in to this revolutionary movement and put up this unusually frightening dance before the parliament one fine day. The politicians realized that this dance was a wake-up call for them and that, they should pull up their socks now and get to some real work. The town lived happily ever after.
This piece was received with a humongous positivity from the writers society leader and while reading and searching for my name on the list of selected writers, I found my name with ‘Assistant to the group leader’ in brackets after. My writings were greatly circulated in the weekly college pamphlets and I would be sent to many inter-college writing competitions, most of which I would win. I would send my writings to numerous literary journals and magazines and all of them would be approved for publishing. I graduated to become a w4riter and wrote poetry, short stories, novels, essays and so on and soon, I went on to become, if not, a successful writer, but definitely a writer who was traversing in the obscurer circuits of the literary world, waiting for his big break. I was frustrated enough. It had been five years and my fame was only limited to inauguration of college and local literary societies, book clubs, publishing houses and sometimes few invitations to lecture, mostly jaded audiences on literature and writing. The stints that I had had in my college days in the society had made me think of myself as a genius talent, only waiting to break out of college gates and, foray into the heights of literary fame. But stepping out was not only a crush to my soaring expectations but also, to my pride.
My books initially dealt with revolutionaries dying at the age of 24, and imprinting their names forever in the leaves of history, of grand leaders who would quicken the masses with just a blink of their eye, of scientists creating ground-breaking inventions, bringing the world closer in light’s speed, of musicians that changed the course of masses’ thinking with a song they suddenly decide to sing inside a temple during a gathering and so on. By the end of second year into my writing career, I had managed to create abundant pieces and all of these would be stacked on a side table, elegantly designed after the European design, by the chair where my mother would normally sit and clad in a neat yet lanky white saree, would do all her small errands-stitching, knitting, sorting out the pebbles from rice grains and oiling her thin white strands with coconut oil. All these, with intricate, dexterous and subtle movements of fingers and occasional movements and murmurs that stayed within her lips. But those days, these ordinary movements would never make their forays into my extraordinary verses. I would notice them as mere human follies, resulting out of living an ordinary life. Such intricate details and small fetishes intrinsic to human existence, splurging out of unconscious moments of spontaneity, leading the person to rise to another form of beauty, a beauty characteristic to only one, and making the universe a stitched expanse of different landscapes, different seasons and different intensities of winds. Of different habits. And those were the days, I had chosen to neglect the extraordinarily sweet pains, pleasures or only sweet matters-of-fact of one’s ordinary existence.
There was one particular habit of mother’s though, that never escaped my observation. That is my mother never going through the stack of prolific writings that her son had written since the day his first novel was published. Mothers are generally oblivious to how their children construct their thoughts into sentences and if those sentences flow like butter on your tongues and radical sensations in your mind and devour every inch, every word, every syllable and every full stops mandated by them, as if words were their own creation. But I had never even found my mother stealing substantial glances at her son’s failing successes. She never even talked about my works. It would seem that to my mother, my success was inevitable. But, I thought otherwise.
One day, I asked her. “It is not that you do not read. I see you reading books by other writers but you never care to go through mine. Maa, do you think that I do not have in me? That my words do not even enchant a mother who is meant to time to time get away with her son’s trivially constructed sentences?”
Then the doorbell rang. My mother, looking at me deeply for some time, got up, with an immense difficulty. She held the arms of her chair, lifted herself up, with a lethargic stoop and went on to straighten herself and walked towards the door.
She pulled it open.
“Aunty Ji! Juicy mangoes with so much flesh, that even the king with the fleshiest belly will be put to shame! Didi maa! One just does not buy only a half kg of these. Biggest mistake of your life.”
A lanky, tall boy of around fourteen, with his long arms hanging by his side and his dusty, rough and scratched knees, peeping out of the shorts that reached only the upper tip of his knees, giggling at my mother. His banyan was stained with black and greasy marks and was also torn at some parts.
“You talk so much, you could put the most talkative man of the town to shame. Give me only half a kg. Baba, do I need to die by all the sweetness?”
My mother went inside her bedroom to fetch money.
The boy ran to his fruit cart. I had never seen such a display of jubilance in my twenty-two years of living. The boy deftly picked the fleshiest mangoes with reddish tinges on their skin and put them into a packet with an excitement that you see in children when they collect fallen berries from the ground and tuck it inside their pockets.
Suddenly, to interrupt all his work, a little white puppy appeared by his side from nowhere. The boy glanced at his new object of curiosity. He immediately left the unfinished packet on the piles of fruits, bent down with his knees pinned to the irregular, rough earth and began running his hand, like an affectionate mother on the bumping head of the puppy.
A voice came from behind me.
“Now, if you write on moments like this, I will probably read.”
I received my first award for outstanding contribution to Bengali Literature when I was twenty-five. It was titled , “A Testimony to the Days.” Where a young fruit seller embarks on a perilous journey of survival where he is rejected by the society almost all the time for his lowly background. However, the boy never loses hope as he thinks his life is adorned with beautiful little memories of teasing the cats, tending the dogs in rainy weathers, and chasing after the birds. And with the sack of happy memories, he goes on to create a significant path for himself, fighting corruption and hypocrisies of the rich on the way.
My mother hanged the certificate of excellence, particularly on the most smoothened wall of the drawing room. She distributed free copies of my novel to even the farthest relatives and closest neighbours. This was least expected of an emotionally restraint and sceptical mother as mine. Now, whenever I come back home, I see a worn out edition of my novel lying on her heaving chest, as she sleeps with her spectacles on.
Revolutions vanish with a flicker. A mere vapour. Failed expectations. Heroes never save the world. For there are no heroes. Or sometimes it’s only the heroes who need all the saving. Marx, Hitler, Stalin. Their coming was accompanied with a bang, a bang sounding of hopeful fulfilment of masses’ aspirations to a change, only to dissolve into mere human vanities and today, their words are only stuck on to history books, which children care to study only during nights before tests with drooping eyes. Inventions do not bring the world to any comfortable functioning. SMS’ have only heightened my reluctance to personal interactions. All of these are mere specks of dust. Meant to vanish with changing times. What remains forever are those bouts of spontaneity, performed at the person’s most delicate, incognizant moments. These ordinary unprejudiced movements now seem to be lot more revolutionary to me. Who knows what potential does a young poor boy tending to a puppy with compassion hold? Or a sudden flicker of shine in the eyes of an adolescent, early morning witty rebuttals between your mother and rustic fruit sellers, the dexterous hand movements of aged peoples and the smell of damp mud after rains and of coconut oil?
Indian Review | Literature, Fiction, Poetry and Art | Author | Madhuwrita Nandi
Genre: Short Story