My dreary existence speaks for itself. As the night drops in on us to take us to fitful sleep, I lie awake, dreading tomorrow, with its infinitely long seconds; I don’t know what to do with the time I’ve been allotted. Neither I’m squandering it nor am I saving it.
Ah! Allow me to recount the tale of my uneventful and monotonous life, plagued by boredom. I’m raving, I know! But, I can’t help myself. I have lost the clarity of my thoughts and my emotions are no longer stirred; the instantaneous urges of mine have lost their strength and no longer do they scramble for their own gratification. What pitiful sight! For what is a man that circumvents pleasure for no evident reason, other than finding it unendurably weary and languid? Pleasure must speak for pleasure, extolling its virtues and undermining its vices! Am I dead in spirit? Or am I succumbing to some mental illness of which I’m as of now unaware?
Ah! I met her a few weeks ago and took her hand in mine and breathed on the purity of her spirit. Even love has lost its charm for me. I’ve seen through it and what befalls is not a pleasure to senses but a certain type of displeasure of aloofness and melancholy. Ah, but, again, I’m digressing!
I’m here to narrate a story and narrate I will but the story has not yet sunk in and my imagination has already deserted me. Poor me! I shall carry on, writing as I’m thinking, heaving the responsibility of making out any sense of my rambling on my reader, apologising in advance.
Once upon a time, long long ago, there lived a boy- tall, lanky, skinny. He was devoid of beauty and all those who looked upon him exclaimed with great terror and grief, ‘Ugly! Isn’t he but ugly!” But, the boy was unresponsive to their derogatory and disdainful comments, and instead smiled in resignation, a word he barely understood. His mom shunned him at home and as he grew up, she left him to make a living of his own, and so he’d wonder around the village, all alone, without company and hooligan boys of his age would throw stones at him, beleaguer him with nasty remarks and he’d never complain, not because he couldn’t but because he wouldn’t. He never held a grudge against them. He pitied them. For he possessed what they could never hope to get hold of-no, not a pure heart-but, the beauty of silence. If one could manage to close his eyes and be around him and strike a conversation with him, the conversationalist in him would be unleashed to take command. He had a soft, effeminate, and lyrical voice and the choice of his words was hauntingly poetic. Indeed, his speech was remarkable. But, his silence was more daunting, more understanding. Many a times, people would seek him out and while he stood facing his back to them, they’d talk and he’d listen. They’d share their most profound grievances and revelations, declaim their most shameful desires and passions, cry out their most appalling traits and weaknesses and he’d encouragingly and calmly listen, without so much as so passing a judgement or a suggestion in between, but, he might occasionally break in on their flow-without, in fact, in any way jeopardizing it- speak a little here and there, and then would allow the speaker to resume his tale. Had one ever looked at him in those moments, one would have observed the unusual spark in his sea green eyes, the light twirls of his curly loops in the sunlight, the crease of understanding across his brow and the slushy way he licked his pale dead lips. Indeed, he was charming and his charm precisely kept him well fed as people- in exchange for hearing him speak- might throw in stale food, which he’d later relish. He was an outcast, living within the village. His words were hanging in every household while he was still living on the street.
Ah! He was the secret keeper-always available, never really out of sight. Although he was a nomad, yet, one knew where to find him when the need to confess took hold of oneself. And the boy was always by his own, lost in his dreams and his patron’d approach him from behind, the noise of his footsteps giving him away, and the boy’d acknowledge his presence with a nod and that was the cue for the patron to begin. Strangely, never did the visit of two people collide! And only when one was done, would the other follow!
What the boy did in his spare time was a matter of no interest yet some of his unctuous patrons had seen his back observe the sky, his hands make shapes in the sand or his dirty mud smeared feet hum beats. But, never did they hear the listener become the speaker and most of his regular visitors, often wondered whether he had any feelings or emotions to express and once or twice, his mom (his most esteemed and promised patron) tried to make him emote himself, more out of obligation than out of consideration. She never succeeded and was secretly happy about her failure. She feared if her son ever did unveil his emotions, he’d complain bitterly about his mother, and run her name through the mud; as if it was her fault in the first place he had turned out to be as ugly as he was, so ugly that even words fell short of ridiculing him. She’d often rant about her helplessness in solving his predicament. He was born just fine, she once claimed before him. In fact, he was more exquisite and delicate than his two elder siblings could be and people from places unknown and unimaginable came to stare at him in wonder and in awe. Then, when he was two years old, while happily suckling milk, he bit her nipples, drawing a spring of blood and a curse befell him. For two days, she profusely bled blood and for two days, he profusely bled beauty. His ugliness, his wretchedness was his fault, she once shrieked at him. Later, after that dreadful episode elapsed, against the wishes of her husband, she carried her son to pundits and priests who dwelled in far off places, and as each rebuffed her after a fleeting glance at her son, she soon realized to her dismay there was no hope for her son and he’d always be tainted with this curse, never purging himself off it. Beauty is the norm of the society, she once complained to him. When she returned to the village, after a period of three unrewarding years, she learned her husband had quite recently passed away and now she not only had a house to run but also had to look after her three children, one of whom was a disgrace. I did try killing you if it’s any consolation, she once muttered to him, tears welling in her eyes. She had taken a pillow to his mouth and would have smothered him without a moment’s hesitation had he not muttered his first word, “Mom.” She gave an involuntarily start and threw the pillow aside. She was delighted. Her suspicions were mollified- her son wasn’t dumb, after all. That was the last time she had hugged him. And, years later, when his fist pubic hair developed, she threw him out of the house. She was scared his curse would be passed on to her two gorgeous and petite girls and she couldn’t bear to consider that thought any further, so, she got themselves rid of him. Besides, no handsome and well off boy was calling on his sisters because of him and they were soon to be married; she decided to sacrifice him for them and never once did she repent her decision. Only once did she hesitantly apologise to him, more as a formality than as a lament. To this, he replied softly, “Mom, you needn’t apologise. To me, your love is more precious than your expression of it. I know you you’ll always love me, won’t you, mom?” She never replied.
Ah, but that’s who he was! To him, love drifted in the heart and not in its gestures; gestures could be flawed. But, again I’m digressing! Forgive my over indulgence, it’s a trait I have recently picked up and can’t seem to do away with it.
But, he never lived in a farce for the villagers guarded him against the outsiders, and his legend stayed only with them, and his fame never spread for it was not allowed to spread. Even when outsiders passed through the village or visited for a few days, he’d be kept out of sight. The villagers were possessive about him- their gesture was all fine, albeit their intentions were strangely clouded. So, when one day, a young girl with sorrow in her eyes sought him, he was taken aback and his ears took time to get accustomed to her choking voice and her first words to him were, “He’s getting married to my best friend.” And then, she recounted her love story and he listened to it attentively and in the middle, she broke down many times, and he’d let her cry, and soon after an hour of crying, she was exhausted and numb and only then did he trust himself to ask, “Did you really love him?” A few seconds of suspended silence and she burst out laughing, loudly and cheerfully. After she had regained control, she leaned towards his back, softly touched his shoulders with her fragile hands and whispered to him, “I guess you are right. I was never actually in love with him. It was mere infatuation.” She shook her head and ruffled his hair and took his leave. That night, he could barely sleep and tracing the warmth of her touch on his skin, he convulsively sobbed.
And thus began an intimate friendship.
Every evening, they’d sit in each other’s company, mostly hushed and lost, and occasionally, she’d share a joke or an anecdote with him and at times, he even shared bits and pieces from his life and he discovered, to his amusement, she was a listener nearly as patient and sympathetic as he was. She’d ask him questions, here and there and he’d oblige with answers and then she’d reply, “I love listening to you.” And he’d smile. She had never seen his face and he had never seen hers and yet they were deeply drawn into each other, mumbling words of tender and warmth. In those rare moments of human closeness, he’d be freed of his feelings and let them pour out. He confided in her those things he had kept hidden from himself- his painful memories of his parents, his embarrassment and self hatred when people looked at him and cried, “Grotesque! Grotesque! Oh, sheer horror!”, his grief over his sisters’ indifference to his pitiful condition and his doubt over his life and his heaviness at blaming himself for his repulsive looks. He once told her, “Back in my house, my sisters used to avoid my shadow. They were…they were horrified by me.” Once, he asked her, “Why do you think I’m an excellent listener?” When she failed to come up with a reply, he answered, “Because I know my words hold no value.” And the first time she asked him, “Do you think you are ugly?” It took a minute for him to think and respond, “May I kindly point out it doesn’t matter anymore? I was six when I first registered the word ‘ugly’ used for me and I retaliated and I rebelled, with all the immense belief I had in myself and in my inncoence. For the next few years, that’s what I did but how long could I have fought? No one voiced my opinion and I had to fight against the world. Slowly, and I can’t say when, a lingering doubt crept in and like a parasite, it grew and grew and gradually all my beliefs and hopes were dashed. So, the day a stranger, saw me and spit in my face, I realized to my horror that I was, indeed, ugly, that I was indeed, despicable, that I was, indeed, despised and with the last cry of battle, I spent that night scratching and fiercely scratching and brutally scratching my face, hoping that my sharp nails would dig in my flesh and mould my features into something more pleasant…more human.” After a pause, he added, “Unfortunately, even an ugly cannot love himself.” She broke down and he consoled her, “But, it’s all in the past. Now, now, no one dare look upon me.” And she yelled, “I want to gaze at your face for eternity.” His face tightened and his body tensed. He curtly declined her offer and said, in his musical voice, “I can’t bear to lose the only friend that I have.” She was relentless, severe and forcibly she turned him around and saw his gruesome face. He was scared, his eyes were shut and his heart was beating with the anticipation of violence. She stared at him for a moment, her breathing shallow, and for them, a moment stopped, and suddenly, she bent over and kissed him on his lips, almost magical, almost paranormal.
He had taken one step at a time and she had kept on nudging him in the right direction.
Amidst a whirlwind, with shoulders brushing almost apologetically and whispers passing- of dreams incomplete and spirit indomitable, of emotions secretive and loud laughter, of heat oppressing and cold winter, of daffodils blooming in the meadow and dry leaves crackling, of loneliness killing and silence interminable, and of each other’s body tightly pressing together, almost to the brim, choking and…gently…cravingly…suffocating.
Their heads were in the cloud and thunderstorm blazed on the ground.
And balls of fire dropped.
And, for them, the two enraptured in one, each moment was fleeting, evading, and running away from the monotony of life, as if scared of its strangling quality, and they pitied all those who lived life’s masquerade, pushing themselves on, pulling themselves up, struggling and calling it surviving- they hadn’t experienced the pleasures of love!
But, not for them-the two enraptured in one!-whose every touch was a spark, trembling with symbolic possibility…
Ah, but what neither noticed was his face, which, with every passing second, and with every outburst of passion was taking a new shape of its own and adding new contours to itself, until, one day, she saw him and exclaimed, “You are the most beautiful boy there ever was!” He squinted at her uncertainly, unable to believe his ears but her expressions painted sincerity. He ran towards the lake and in its clear crystal water, he sought his reflection and touched his face and tears simmered in his eyes. He, indeed, had become handsome. He sat among the greenery of the trees, gaping, holding her hand and then, as if in falling in delirium, he started murmuring ‘thank you’ ‘thank you’ to her and then, out of the blue, he began jumping and yelping with delight and wonder.
Alas, beauty comes with a price! Yes, for days, people showered kisses and bestowed words of honour on him and his family presented him as if he were a jewel, a precious little diamond they owned and he was ecstatic, ignoring the hypocrisy of the masses and spending most of his time with her. But, as more and more days elapsed into nothingness, people observed he no longer had time for them and their secret keeper had a life of his own. Some of his regular patrons approached him, requested him that he spend some time with them as well and he gave in for he knew the addiction of a person is the most harmful of all and hence, is hard to drop.
But, his patrons couldn’t bring to reveal themselves before him anymore. They’d look at his proud, erected spine and would run out of words. They knew, on the other side, was a face of a sculpture they might never see. So, they complained again. And a new setting was adopted. He faced them, stared into their eyes. But, the moment their eyes fell on him, they were dazzled and quickly forgot what they were supposed to say. They blamed his beauty and disliked his apathy. But, he chose to ignore them. An underlying current of coldness and anger rushed to meet him. People turned their backs on him, glared at him through their windows and chaos and mayhem spread in the village. Fights broke out in shops and domestic violence became a common occurrence. They were finding it difficult to fall back on to those peaceful times when he wasn’t around and suppression to them was second nature. Now, they couldn’t check their impulses and didn’t know how to cope with their prickling emotional confusion. They threw punches on walls, shrieked from within and their eyes became hollow and faces turned pale. He was unintentionally torturing them. His mother refused to believe her son had become a stranger and continuously asked herself, “Is a new face a new identity?” His sisters weren’t hankered after and their magnificence was drowned in his and for once, jealousy brewed in them and they prayed for his death.
Only two people remained happy and they were the boy and his beloved. They’d still meet at night, in secret, and clutch each other’s hands tightly and build a future together. He was grateful to her and nibbled her ears and bit her neck.
So, one fine day, he called on her father and asked him for her hand in marriage. Her father was an uptight, conventional man who followed all the norms and the norm in the village was: Stay away from the boy. So, her father declined his proposal and concocted a story that her daughter was betrothed to his friend’s son and he couldn’t break his promise. He pleaded and went on his knees and begged and there was sympathy in the girl’s father’s heart but he didn’t act on it because, he shockingly observed, that the beauty of the boy was wearing off a little and he made a connection that dumbfounded him for a few minutes. His wife’s eyes were red, she was irritated and she had often visited the boy; for the past weeks, they had been continually brawling and grumbling and as his understanding augmented, a solution strolled into his mind. He towered upon the boy and declared, “She will never meet you again.” And he asked his wife to take their crying daughter away and lock her in her room. Within a few minutes, the boy was back to his earlier self, and tears were smeared all over his disfigured face and the girl’s father cried, “Grotesque! Grotesque! Oh, sheer horror!” And with it the town breathed a sigh of relief and people walked on the streets, shaking hands, celebrating and exclaiming, “Love! Love was the culprit! It was love!”
In the evening, the boy was back to receiving his patrons, listening to each one patiently and cursing his beauty of silence from inside.
And, after a week, as the town was restored to a state of equanimity and as his mom’s son was back and as her sisters were given the attention they were son used to, and as people decided to put this horrible incident past them, the boy and his beloved had planned a surprise for them.
In the middle of a cloudless night, while the stars shifted and moved here and there, they eloped.
In the morning, a search party was organized and for months, it looked for them, tried to locate them but to no avail. And no one knew what happened to them.
They were eternally…lost.
Ah, even now if you take a lazy walk around the town, you might chance upon a face so gruesome, so horrific, and so ghastly, that you will shriek in disgust. But, then, calm your weak heart. Narrate a story to him…
Once upon a time, long long ago, there lived a boy- tall, lanky, skinny. He was devoid of beauty and all those who looked upon him exclaimed with great terror and grief, ‘Ugly! Isn’t he but ugly!” But, there lived a brave girl who possessed the courage to look beyond his skin to see that beauty…that even beauty…only resided in him and that love…love is the culprit of all beings.
Indian Literature and Indians Writing in English. Bhanuraj Kashyap’s short story “A Boy with a blind face”. Read from a variety of short stories. poems and articles.