Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Taleteller’s Coda.

Ten years ago, Krishna flew on a plane to see Meera. He would fall out of love with Meera, and fall in love with Mathura. He would never touch Meera again—he would touch Mumtaz and kiss the lips of Heer, shed blood because of Delilah and marvel at Mehr-un-Nissa. And in this Mathura that was not Mathura, he would meet others who would spin some of their darkness into the the great river that made people flutter around it. And the river, in return, spoke to them in their nights, in their sleep; its slow flow watering them like plants, blocking their ears, silencing their thoughts, erasing their memories like the Lethe, as if its very waters came from the cave of Hypnos. In the Magna Carta, this brown life was called the Tamesis.


The Marxs Brothers traipse behind them and a cake is achingly left on the table—later, he would not remember what the cake was but its taste lingered on his tongue every time he remembered it. The Italian Beauty, vehement that she isn't beautiful, also bakes beautifully. She is dressed in a tuxedo and a top-hat, holds an umbrella for a cane, and when he enters into that warm flat of white panelled floors, she does a curtsey.

‘Welcome,’ she says. Ernest resumes smoking the old cigarette he had put down earlier—there is always a cigarette in his hand, and his sly flick of the cigarette pack top made you always want to have a cigarette too. Krishna thinks of Heer (but did Heer think of Krishna?) and how it must have been for her all those years ago. As he sits, another woman - not the Italian Beauty - flaxen-haired, with all of the britishness in her tongue asks, do you want tea?

Heer has gone back from where Heers come from, and he cannot remember when was the last time they had had tea. And Delilah became Delilah because of Heer. But now, he remembers his last tea two days ago—beneath a bookstore that’s older than most bookstores there—with a hazel-eyed woman whose eyes took the colour of the leaf more than the colour of the bark. It was pleasant, he remembers; how six years ago he would see her, quiet and elegant, and would want to sit with her. He  remembers how he always sat with her after that and how she almost leant her head on his shoulders one morning among the working ghosts of Victoria Station. Some stories, however, go nowhere. Some strands murder itself.


A list. 10 reasons, it said, why Krishna must not leave Mathura. Just ten reasons and that’s bloody enough, as if the world worked with such beautiful logic.

1.) We have to go to Paris together.
3.) We have to finish the wine cave of the King’s Arms
4.) You’ve got to start a love story with…
5.) You’ve got to have sex with…
7.) We need to write together down in…
9.) Kill Nav

Prime Reason: …


All these years, he says, I had never gone in. And you live so close by.
Do you want to?

And in bits, as if flashes; a memory of slipping on the slush right before this dirty pub on a snowy day appears. He had just ended it with Mumtaz, a difficult consort, one he would never build a Taj for. You could be a Mumtaz and a Krishna together here, and no one would say anything, even though they wanted to. Even though they are from different histories, different stories, of a single land.

They survey the pub—and the cold seeps into their skin; brown and white—because the night was crying and because its people will not cry. A few hours pass and they pass each other a blunt as the night gets weary of its darkness.

In the morning, the Italian Beauty—her short hair tucked behind her ear, her sharp voice in a whisper—lays a kiss on his sleeping forehead. Was there a slight a tremble in her usually confident tone? Was there, a regret that she did not cherish him earlier? That is the last thing he remembers of her—her gentle kiss.

He stirs and hears the door close behind her. His last day in Mathura, he did not brush in his own basin. He walks out into the balcony where once, leg upon leg—and those legs upon the balustrade exposed to the rain—Ernest spoke of the the lilt of a man’s pen and how it was changed and how that made his fingers special so that when he put it on paper something pure as good ink came out. The night’s rain sits in little pools where they had sat before—there is a cigarette by the windowsill—does he smoke that cigarette? Krishna cannot remember now. Mathura is asleep. The Temesis is calm along her bones that bend through all his brain’s memories like it bends through Mathura. The gold of the morning inches out from the horizon like a shy girl. In his heart, there’s a gram of weight.

There’s a postcard with a picture of a great tree (and in this postcard those ten reasons), mighty and pronged as if it were merely a great follicle of hair from the earth. On the tree, a man with a top hat on a rock-like branch, feet dangling, looks down. At the foot of tree, a man with a top hat, hands clasped behind him, looks up. Friends.

I wish you were still here in London - the Italian Beauty would say - I feel like we are losing something from your absence, even the ones that never met you.

In this Mathura, where there were Italian Beauties and Mumtazes, Delilahs, Hemingways, Fitzgeralds and Mehr-un-Nissas, people got lost and made stories as vivid and varied as the great stories of the of the river. In some nights, Faiz says to him:

Dono jahaan teri muhabbat main haar ke
Woh jaa rahaa hai koi shab-e-ghum guzaar ke

How does he deny to Faiz that his every vein has not bled for love? How does he tell Faiz, he’s leaving defeated in pain? That has not touched her trembling, long lips, or known her scent in the morning? Or the shape of her wide hips when she sleeps on her side?

He was afraid to see her again—the thrill she would excite in his blood was harder to calm with every meet. Her beauty stuck on one like the pollen on a bee's feet. It was carried far, and gave birth. He was afraid that there would come a time when he could not wash off her beauty. He was afraid that touching her would transmit a beauty that would take hold unto his very marrow. One shouldn't be allowed to touch one's muse—if one does, one is destroyed.

The Temesis, as it is called in the Magna Carta, spoke to men and women in their nights and poured into them its brown, so that, like the trunk and branch of a tree that pours into its leaves, they were all attached to each other. Each was a beautiful growth upon the other until the river decided to shed them in her autumns. He fancies he is the Tamesis—brown and ruthless. What was she then?

After the Tamesis sheds him in an autumn, hundreds of days later, he stands at a high place with another river that cuts through the old rocks of the world in green, blue and white; all the colours of life. All the colours of wilderness. All the colours of her. He listens to the distant river as the sun blows its last warm breath on the peaks that loom before him. At his feet, there is a deep drop to certain death—a drop that would break all his bones and set whatever that’s containing him free. And here, like a secret from child to child, he whispers to the mountains—he replies to Faiz:

Somewhere are visions of her life
nailed into, shining in your flesh,
You imagine such happiness;
the dark of her locks, the vermillion of her lips.