Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blue Octavo

I was in a bit of a daze. C's voice was like a drone that refused to depart from my head; explicating something about an insipid law of thermodynamics. It was a constant stream of monotone I was trying in vain to shake off. Meanwhile beside me, a gentleman was enthusiastically elucidating how he and his ‘crew’ battered another crew in Maligaon. I expressed my regret at not being present and conveyed my spirited assurance that I would lend a hand next time anybody needed battering.

It was a nice autumn day. Everyone was quite cheerful; they had all received their papers and took a pathological delight in earnestly discussing the answers. I felt suffocated in the classroom. Lunch break felt like the (alleged) manna the Israelites received from the high heavens during the Exodus.

One of the few things I liked about school was that it was right beside the mighty Brahmaputra (yes, I realize what a clichéd term that is) with huge rocks on the banks. I really liked that place; I was drawn to it like Eve to the serpent. I remember back then there was a mongrel that used the place as his humble (sic) abode. I trudged along there and I told him about my day. He looked at me with languid interest as I pontificated about the utter irrelevance of everything happening to me to this point and the ragtag I had to share room space with. As always, he evinced his empathy for me by relieving himself on the school bus tire.

I often wondered if my apparent neurosis had any valid grounds. Then I realize - attempting to brand an experience into a mental disorder was a lame attempt at escapism. It implies an inability to confront and absolve an issue. Well, I do confront. How? By talking to random dogs in your free time? Well, I have a right to dissociate as I please. Yeah, I’m sure your desk lamp will be de-‘lighted’ to hear about your travails today. Ok, stop, both of you. Like the illusion of one disorder wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to saddle another one; MPD at that. Loser.

Fast forward a year. Summer, in short, was like that Metallica song. What seemed to be the soothing light at the end of the tunnel was just a freight train coming my way. Temporary injuries of course; I soon forgot about the crash. I remember a line from a Woody Allen movie which I’ve somehow never forgotten. According to the protagonist, life is divided into two categories: the horrible and the miserable. The horrible are the kind of people terminally affected with disease, blind, crippled, et al. It was the worst kind of living possible. The miserable are all the rest. Hence, people should be thankful they are miserable and not horrible. I loved the concept. When someone asks me to describe the last two years of high school, I have an upbeat reply at hand.

There was a short, rotund, utterly jovial, slightly naïve guy in our class with a slight moustache, a permanently frozen grin on his face and a comical stutter. Poor thing almost always got picked on for some alien reason. I liked to observe him because of something funny about him. Unlike any normal person, insults just bounced off him. He was so unperturbed that I made it a hobby of mine to delve into his psyche, categorically strip him of all ego defense mechanisms and watch him flounder, like a cruel little boy pulling the wings from a beetle. All this had no effect however. It was almost as if he did not require any defense mechanisms for his functioning: it was frightening. I was always greeted with the same huge grin every day and a friendly pat, no matter how harsh I was. The bloke was like a little masochistic beetle.

Fun times. So yes, maybe senior secondary wasn't entirely the Kafkaesque dystopia I was making it out to be, although thinking of it in those terms makes me strangely exultant and misanthropic at the same time. There wasn’t much to be done about it though; freight train drivers have the luxury of momentum. It was a learning experience, albeit in a boringly redundant and wasteful way. I suppose it all comes down to what you make of the situation. You can either look at it as misery (and as a logical progression, be grateful) or shrug off all attacks to the ego with a morbid grin. It is vaguely similarly to Kafka’s paradox of Paradise. After all, Adam’s first domestic pet after his expulsion from Paradise was the serpent.

The World As Representation

The walk to my bench took longer than usual. Something about Camden gives people a heightened sense of awareness. Maybe it’s the ghetto ethos pervading the air; a single movement in the corner of your eye is bound to make you reach for whatever protection you’re carrying. I jumped when I almost bumped into someone from round the corner. It was just a guy in a suit, dressed to impress. Probably just out of law school, criminal lawyer I wagered to myself. There were many of that kind around.

Slightly discomfited, I meandered around aimlessly for a while before retiring to my bench. I loved that bench. It was by the river, very secluded and conducive to isolated, reflective musings. I try to grow out of this seemingly invariant state of nature, but solitude is a refuge. From what, I don’t know. Reticent detachment versus garrulous gregariousness. Debateworthy, but as of now, I’m inclined towards the former.

There was an earnest poster of Beneficial Bank to my left. ‘Beneficial Bank’: what an oxymoron. After my college loan fiasco, my regard for the banking sector was reaching rock bottom.

I lit a cigarette, observing the stick slowly getting transformed into steady smoke. I thought dimly about the analogy Ayn Rand used: ‘When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind--and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression.’ Fire tamed at man’s fingertips. Not that Rand was a tobacco lobbyist, she was thinking in metaphysical terms. It is a refreshingly novel idea. At least it gives me moral justification for getting nicotinated with cancer sticks. Symbolism apart, I amused myself watching the smoke rings evanesce gradually.

I was slouched comfortably, imagining myself to be d’Anconia, when she came and sat down in the bench. Chafed at this intrusion to my narcissistic mulling and the willful seizure of my private spot, I sized her up. Very good looking, tanned complexion, looked like she was used to running. Cute chin. She took out her book. Not wanting to look planless, I did the same. She was wearing an Anthrax T shirt. This intrigued me. Then number of female metalheads is probably countable. I wondered what could have made her join the ranks of the headbanging brethren.

She looked up. I realized I was staring at the Anthrax logo at her chest. Face slightly hot, I turned back to my book. She had quite a rapacious look. It reminded me of the fiercely beautiful warrior women of Slavic folklore.

‘Are you into metal too?’

Her voice was mellow, a perfect singing voice. I was taken aback by the question. She was either too perceptive or I was too readable. I affirmed her question. In retrospect, my wild hair was, in all likelihood, a giveaway. A lengthy discussion later and after much debating whether Wagner was the inspirer of the genre in the Romantic period or whether it was the slaves from South in the form of Blues, a pregnant pause followed. I made no effort to bring anything up. I was observing the dozens of little whirlpools in the river, momentary and fleeting. Disappearing shortly after being born, like the smoke rings.

Every now and then I looked at her surreptitiously, along the lines of the Schopenhauerian notion of genius, so I could make an aesthetic analysis of her chin. She looked unperturbed and peaceful. I suppose I was seeking emancipation from the ubiquitous Will. Not that I fully endorse Schopenhauer’s views. They’re the kind I turn to when I’m at a loss, or when I know the fierce volatility of covetousness could never turn out to have a salutary effect on the state of mind. Conversion of need into pure perception: that is the heuristic rule for me for some time to come.

There were a hundred things I wanted to say to her. I got up abruptly and started to leave.

‘You dropped your card, Adit.’

I started and looked at her. She smiled and motioned to the ground. I had dropped my college ID card. I nodded, smiled back, picked up the card and hastily started to move away. I felt much lighter after I walked a distance. The clawing in my mind started to become more savage, but I somehow suppressed it. I didn’t turn back once and walked faster.

Benefit and banking. Are they really that contradictory? It was too confusing; I did not want to push.

I flicked away the cigarette. It flickered away after leaving a trail of bright orange, momentary and fleeting.