I am trying to remember where we first met, I think it was an attic. You know how metaphorical an attic is, it is almost always a lie. Therefore my attic might need never have existed and yet I claim we met in an attic. I am sure you remember it as well. If you don't- ah well, does it even matter? I wonder whether you remember the dirt. The dirt has increased over the years for I am quite sure that the sweepers always forget to sweep out that one particular attic. It lies there in a curious liminal zone, beyond memory and nostalgia, an attic where we once made love.
You stood there looking at the dusty shelves trying to figure out whether it was the old copy of Beowulf you wanted or a book of transcendental old vernacular poetry. You had money for one book and you chose the Krishna-leela over heroic lores of monsters who existed in old Anglo Saxon England. Or was it England then? Who cares, my beautiful glorious one, who cares? I know you as I have seen you glow in the tropical summers of my old, forgotten, and fading colonial city, glow with perspiration, dust and poverty. I have seen you glow with love and inspiration and I have seen you fade too. Fade away, fade out, you drifted into the ether, the vast ether of humanity, away from this country and this city uniquely ours.
I remember you in that bookstore-in-the-attic, and I knew you were a mad woman, a woman who would throw the copy of Beowulf onto the floor and without epilogue or prologue bat your eyelids at me, and I would trace the contours of your eyelashes-what could be more erotic? But you adjusted your spectacles and almost in reflex the sari that you so carelessly and wonderfully wore stiffened. I believe it was my presence that alerted you. You looked up at me and looked past me. You paid for the Beowulf and you walked out, alone. I was so hurt then, so very hurt, almost surreally I saw the blood flow through my flimsy white shirt, it dripped on to the floor, the floor of red cement. Red camouflages red all the time, doesn't it? So it was with my blood which coagulated shortly until I realized that it was not blood at all, it was something else altogether. Don't shout "metaphor, you lousy lunatic!" at me, I don't think I can take it. I wanted to marry you then and there. I knew you felt it too. So I followed you. I followed you outside without paying for the books that I picked up. You see how I must go back eventually, go back to the old attic? I did not pay for my books, I must return.
To however go back to reminding you of that one mad day of love. I followed you and convinced you with my frantic gestures to accompany me to Prinsep Ghat, the banks of the river Hooghly. I wondered at your superb nonchalance in calling it Ganges, it is not the River Ganges, it is not I tell you. This little disagreement we have obviously livens things up a bit (although your utter ignorance makes me mad and very very angry.) We stare at the Greco-Roman pillars, not decrepit but not stunning either, somehow they seem so integral to the mood. We hope for something eternal you know, something lasting, even if it is only for the moment. You smile and tell me, "Let us take a boat for an hour, why don't we?" and in my enthusiasm I take a boat for two hours. You sat at one end and I sat at another and we were so scared that this little rickety boat would be overburdened with two strange hearts that would find little common ground that we stared at the swirling water instead of at ourselves. That eternal swirling water, what did it care for our transient and fleeting differences? The boatman asked us for a cigarette taking advantage of the uncanny silence. I grimaced but you laughed and handed him one of your expensive ones. He gave an ugly grin (what horrible teeth!) and lit it with your pink lighter. I could have died of jealousy at that moment, it is engraved in my mind-the image of his toothy grin and sly wink, he smoking your expensive tobacco and I staring moodily at the water, staring sans courage. But how could I protest? You would have laughed at me, and that would have been mortifying. So I kept my silence and you your tobacco but my mind was not silent, it was screaming screaming at the sky and at the water and there yonder at the distant silhouette of land. The river meandered like our moody minds; what did it care for how we think? These thoughts eluded the muddy water, the boatman asked for a cigarette, the glowing embers swayed and flickered out in the water. We had only that eternal passing moment.
Then you laughed again and I looked up. "Why is your forehead creased?" you asked. "I am thinking..." "Oh?!" and that strange smile reserved not for fellow human beings but for something less human, something we feel pity for and yet empathy too. "Our lives are taut and relaxing at the same time," you said," and that is why I find ice cream so delightful. The cold tingles my teeth (I have cavities that tingle) and yet the ice cream melts into the tongue...not always an explosion of taste but almost always an explosion of feeling." And then-because you were a poet-"Do I always write in the same way?" I was truthful before I was a lover so I said-"Never same but always similar." Then you got terribly angry and slapped me so I sat chastened like a little obedient sulking boy. Finally you smiled. "Exactly. Writing is like love then, eh?" I was impressed, impressed so much as to have an orgasm, but controlled myself in time for there was also this slight resentment. Love is never similar! Never! But the boatman had rowed for a couple of hours already, the hours of paid glamour and suspect danger were over. Death by drowning would not happen, not at least this evening.
That night I had a dream. I dreamed that we were married and were on our honeymoon. I wanted to go to Paris but you chose the mountains. There in a remote spot in the Greater Himalayas we fought absurd snow fights. You stuffed snow down my woollies, you bitch! I however was the winner (or loser) of this unequal match and carried you across to the little wooden cottage. We lit a fire. We cozied up. Shadows danced in front of us and outside everything was white. That dazzling wretched blinding whiteness symptomatic of snow. I hated it. I hated it too much. You said you loved it. You changed your mind the very next second. Then even you said you hated it. I said this was a dream and we would wake up very soon. You looked sad and you said it was my dream and not yours. So what would you do? You were condemned to linger there forever alone, you cried. "You will return soon?" I assured you that I would. But I knew that I hated this whiteness so much that I pledged I would never ever dream of it again. I wanted to prolong the loving(hating?) as long as I could however, so I stroked your cheeks. Your cheeks looked like red green-veined apples. One could ferment them and make cider and get intoxicated, I was already intoxicated with your smell. You had no ordinary smell, it was pungent and sweet like autumnal things. "You will return soon?" I assured you that I was yet to come or even reach my destination, returning comes later. My answer was "Cognition comes before recognition." You turned your slender stiffened back at me and wept. "I hate the way you speak. I hate the way you refuse to acknowledge poetry. I hate it when you descend into philosophy!" But I hadn't, I told you repeatedly I hadn't, I hadn't done anything. I tried to reach out to your fading silhouette and found myself awake. I was awake and alone and perspiring.
It is only at moments like these when you realize that solitude is not worth so much poetry or philosophy or even banal speculation. Solitude is the one curse that you do not ever need. I did not need it either so without further ado we had the most glorious summer in the world. So what if temperature shot up to 45 degrees celsius. I was mad, mad with the concept of dialectic, I understood it as I had never understood it before. We bought lozenges which we bit into asymmetrical twos thanks to superbly manoeuvred kisses, two sets of sharp teeth and the feverish love that new lovers acquire. I witnessed her perspiring in the most glorious cotton saris but we never went back to the attic. Nor even to the banks of the river. Gradually her cruel laugh became a distant memory and she would smile differently now, smiles of pleasant contentment. We explored new places and spaces and faces. Hand held in hand we discovered Calcutta as it was then. We ate greasy food that she could never digest and watched superbly political plays that she surely did not understand. I was often afraid to tell her how little she understood anything, stupid girl as she was she thought feeling was understanding. Yet who was I to aim to give her conceptual clarity? She was more beautiful than I was and she had breasts and she thought she could deal in language and for me, for the time being, it was enough.
Two summers went by. It was time to understand time. Not this eternal passing moment but the future. I had saved up some money. I bought a ring. I planned to meet her there where my brow had been creased in hateful thought two summers ago.
"Dearest," I said with my hand in my pocket, "We are done with this chapter in our lives. To increase our horizons and to aid that infinite progression of knowledge we must escape these narrow confines and travel, travel to a country and a university that with ample funds will sustain us for the next many years. Will you join me? Will you go?"
She stared straight ahead as if she hadn't heard me and muttered, "I hate the syntactical structures of your sentences, you freak."
A summer previous to that I would have felt a mild annoyance and infinite affection but all I felt was blank as if something had struck me suddenly. A faint idea trying to articulate itself. Perhaps it would be better not to? Perhaps there was something...? Her cruelty, her utter arrogance, her blind irrational hatred for everything that stood in her way. Why was she so irrational? How could I ever live with her? It was impossible! It was impossible! She was a stupid unseeing child who had flashes of brilliance but whose sense of self importance would make it absolutely impossible for her to achieve greatness. She claimed humility but modesty she had none. A snob, an intellectual snob with no insight into my interests and my needs. She said the same things of me.Yet I loved her.
I loved you so much that it was impossible to be with you. I don't think you will ever understand. I have heard that you were married and divorced and that you are working as a journalist. I didn't think you would ever go back to the city where we grew up either, but return you did. Something that I could never do. I often dream those old familiar dreams and wake up crying alone but of late it has been decreasing, I do it only once a year, midsummer. I daresay you think I am mad, I have always been. There is something so wrong about being in love, so intrinsically wrong. It has made me work harder and harder and I have produced some of my best work in the process. I bought your book of poetry recently. I never thought you could write such pleasant things not remotely sad. The Funny Book of Short Giraffes from a morbid self-obsessed girl like you? I'm sure you're going to say that I haven't understood it, that there are layers and layers and layers like onions that I need to peel- and cry in the process.
I am yet to return to the attic bookstore. I know you wait for me there endlessly, wait for me to return. I am sorry, I am sorry, I have lately started writing poetry-would you say it is a small step? This is how I end today-
"In the universe of our many delusions only one thing do I know with certainty that I have loved and my love was true and so did you and we wait for eternity to end so that we can reunite for this bitter joy is what sustains us this never being together this eternal anticipation and constricted feeling at the same time liberating…Thus ends the saga and thus begins it for in our end lies our beginning and we shall meet in those sepia attics and the whiteness until universal darkness shall engulf us in a different understanding
and still may we love…"
and still may we love…"
I know that I have failed us and yet succeeded. You fool, you utterly beautiful fool who exists like the attic in that curious liminal zone between memory and nostalgia, you made a mistake. You didn't understand. Or did you? I finally have.
The one thing that a poet and a philosopher can have in common is paradox.