Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Excerpts from, 'This Way to the Garden'.

1. " Mind’s Eye Apoplexy, he thinks, when he’s reached the edge of reason, about himself and the world. The worst part is not remembering, not having concrete memories to correlate certain base feelings about certain base things with. He tries to remember, but a collage of hazy images and painfully nostalgic pangs assault him. There are many things he thought he would always remember, but now he remembered only the emotion surrounding them and not the actual event at all. It wasn’t a happy thought, this wallowing in self pity, without even knowing what he was originally the victim of. He remembered that he told himself to remember the death, but which death? Chronologically, there were two deaths in his life and he felt the same wave of pain when he thought about each separately or both at the same time. He wasn’t even sure they meant so much to him when they actually occurred, but they must have been important, he consoles himself. They must have…"

2. " Once upon a time there was a young prince who liked nothing better to do than play all day in his father’s palace. The king and queen did not fuss too much over him and granted him enough latitude to indulge his freedom as much as he liked, albeit, under the watchful eye of his personal maid.’
‘You pronounced albeit wrongly.’
‘Do you want to hear the story or not?... Eventually our hero’s curiosity extended to what lay beyond the palace’s gates and he expressed a desire to explore the lands beyond them. Still the king and queen did not object, letting him wander all over the extent of the kingdom, but at the same time informing their neighbours that they should keep an eye out for the young prince as he went to and fro joyfully exploring the limits of their lands. So, our hero’s days were spent in play and his nights within the secure confines of his parents’ loving arms…’
‘That’s pretty good, I …’
‘Okay, that’s it. No more story time for you.’
‘Sorry Rahul. Go on, please’, she says and snuggles up closer.
‘And the days went by in much the same fashion, until one particular morning when his parents forbade him to go out and instead dressed him in his finest robes and readied him for a journey. The prince was elated. He loved outings and especially those in the royal carriage. Finally they were off and the prince was in ecstasy, looking out the windows of the carriage, exulting in the thrill of motion…’
Rashmi grunts but doesn’t say anything.
‘The prince was enjoying the journey so much that when the carriage finally halted outside two large iron gates that led to a forbidding palace within, the prince was not impressed and cried and cried not wanting the journey to stop. But the king and queen were stern and as they ushered him into the gates, the prince’s curiosity overcame his grief and he looked with disbelief at the numerous other princes and princesses standing at the entrance to the palace gardens and who were being accompanied and shushed by their own parents. He was, in fact, struck dumb at the sight, never having encountered so many of his fellows before, all at the same time and all at the same place. Eventually, when an old woman came up before them and spoke for what seemed a long time, the prince struggled to be set free from his father’s grip on his shoulder, wanting to go among all the other little boys and girls looking interestedly at one another. Suddenly there was a silence and the prince was surprised by his mother’s sudden smothering and his father’s repeated pats on his shoulder. Only when he heard the cries from the other children did he realise that something bad was going to happen, but because he didn’t know what, he cried louder than any of the others. Finally, the king and queen left reluctantly and the tearful prince was taken into a room with little chairs and tables and wooden blocks with figures painted on them in bright colours. The prince was surprised that all the other children had accompanied him to the room. He was not accustomed to being one of the many, until now being always the special one, always the one doted on, in any large gathering of people. But this was the first time he was surrounded by other children seemingly as unhappy as he was and the prince vowed that he would always be angry at his parents for his abandonment that day. As the days passed, the prince realised that the separation from his castle and his earlier happier life for many hours each day was going to be a recurring occurrence and the hugs and kisses from his mother on leaving him at the children’s palace gates each day eventually lost their intensity. His cries at her leaving and his shouts of joy at finally being brought back home also lost their resonance as the prince became accustomed to the fact that everything in the world was not there solely for his pleasure. He began to recognise his fellow’s faces at the children’s palace and he also began to look forward to seeing some of them at the beginning of each day. And so time passed and the prince grew up along with his fellows at the palace they now called ‘school’. And as he grew up even more, the prince realised that he was not the one with the largest palace and the most number of servants and the costliest carriage as the other princes and princesses seemingly had more than he. But on the way back home from school, he realised that he was very rich compared to the shabby man who took him back home in the cycle-rickshaw, the maid who appeared everyday with a new bruise on her eye or face, given to her by what was called her ‘husband’ and the fruit and vegetable vendors who came by his gates in the evenings hawking their wares in loud soulful chants. Eventually he even gave up thinking he was a prince. As the years passed, he became popular at school among his friends because of his zest at games and his politeness to the teachers. Everyone thought that the prince was a ‘good boy’, but little did they realise it was because of his contempt for everything that was meant to be his but was really not, that he tolerated the world. He treated everyone with respect, did his homework always on time and was gracious to even the morning sweeper whom he met when he came in early for the daily football match on Ground 1 before school started. Many familiar faces and voices in school had left and new faces and voices replaced them. The prince was interested in the newcomers only until they proved that they were inferior to him in any respect, whether in games or studies. After that, he would completely ignore them. The prince was not alone in this respect. There were two fellows of his who were much the same. One was better than the prince in studies and the other better in games. When their supremacy was first defined in their respective fields, there was much fighting and bad blood between them, but gradually the three princes developed a grudging friendship and even invited each other to their castles. As they grew even older, the three princes became inseparable and were known around the school as ‘best friends’. But for the three princes this was a hollow term, as they understood the actual nature of their alliance while the others did not. And they hid their contempt for everyone else as carefully as they hid their contempt for each other. That contempt did not disappear even when one of them performed badly in a particular exam or another was found wanting in a particular sport, it just became a far more dangerous indifference. They were many instances in their lives when their resolve was tested. When the studious prince lost his palace and had to move to a lowly ‘flat’, when the athletic prince lost the king, his father, to a disease that had been pursuing him for many years, and when our own prince lost his zeal for the sacred temple customs that he had been faithful to all his life. They were embittered by their experiences but did not voice their fears to each other because a display of weakness was a betrayal of their own convictions. And when the three princes were all grown up and ready to leave school and face the world, as they say, they came under the spell of the Lord of Confusion and Misunderstanding’.
‘The Lord of Confusion and Misunderstanding? Oh, my God.’
‘I thought you said you would be asleep by now.’
‘How could I sleep through such a gripping story? So, go on then… about the Lord of Confusion and…’
‘Maybe later’, says Rahul and turns to her."

3. " Pondicherry on arrival, overcast and humid, brought on the sort of petulance one feels when the world is hanging over, close and surrounding on all sides. They find the store after a staggered hour of speaking to shopkeepers, roadside vendors and tourists, the modality of the dialogue varying from diffidence to invective in a circuitous changing of subject and tone, sometimes lost in translation and dialect. They finally reach the charming colonial building. But today it is reminiscent of an age of defeat, subjection and the preponderance of a supposed superior culture."

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