Black beauty

Coffee was not always my beau. My relationship with the beverage started out as a disastrous one. I was eleven and it was a Sunday morning. As in most Bengali households, the morning ritual consisted of reading the Telegraph or Statesman and simultaneously sipping on coffee.

My father, a man loyal to his habits, was doing just that. I had woken up and like any eleven year old charged with adrenaline, wanted to engage him in one of my games. I pestered him for a good ten minutes and finally, when he couldn’t stand my goat like voice calling ‘baba, babaaaaa’, he admonished me and asked me to leave the room. In my anger, I flung the coffee mug on the floor and as the glass shattered and the black stained the floor, I fled the scene of crime.

My father is an angry man, by nature. He doesn’t forgive easily and has a memory of an elephant. No, he is not quick to forgive and forget. As a result of this feature, he refused to talk to me for the next few days. “Boro der shathe ayerom byabohar…it’s unheard of,” (such kind of behavior with elders…it’s unheard of) he would remark whenever he saw me. Those times, I would cower like a puppy with my tail between my legs.

As days went by, he forgave me and resumed his normal interactions with me. But that black liquid continued to repel me and reminded me of that incident. My father had placed his morning coffee higher than his elder daughter on the priority list.

His habit didn’t change and the ever present cup with the bitter smelling liquid resembling tar continued to be his faithful companion every morning.

As my limbs grew in length, I was made to shift to a hostel in college. The only thing in their kitchen that could be consumed without giving you a bad stomach was coffee. ‘Coffee kills hunger…try drinking it in the morning,” my friend had said to me.

The first time I had a sip, I almost threw up. It made my body warm and I had to take off my layers one by one. “It is an acquired taste…give it time to work its magic on you,” baba told me over the phone when I asked him how he drank it.

Initially, I had to plug my nose and gulp it down without breathing as if taking a bad medicine. But as days went be, I caught myself relishing the bitter and sweet after taste of it. The smell didn’t repel me anymore and the light brown froth pleased the eyes.

I drank coffee wherever I went- the bookshop down in Park Street where my love affair with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca began; at night when I had to stay up to mug up pages and pages of text; and at 2 am when I had to write. It became a constant companion which accompanied me to the interiors of my mind palace and helped me make sense of my tangled emotions.

When I went home after my first year, I had my first cup of coffee with my father at 1 am. We were watching the papal elections live and it was freezing cold. We both took our coffee black and unsweetened. The discussion that followed made me feel like my father had finally started taking me seriously.

“You have grown up. I am glad,” baba told me before going to his room with his friend in his hand.

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Train of life

Death. The final destination. Baba had once told me that we are on a train. This train has a start and a stop. At the start is a lot of pain, a lot of blood and a scream. We begin with denial. The screaming infant wants to go back where it came from. It doesn’t want to be born.

As we get used to the train’s motion, the tire jerks on a stone and for a moment our world goes upside down and then it’s back to normal again. When we start to enjoy the journey and get used to the sounds and smells in the train, we are thrust out into a platform we had no idea existed.

We are in denial at the end of the track too. We are dead. We don’t want to go where we are taken. We like the train now. But no one listens. We extend a hand seeking help, run towards the moving train, scream for it to stop, but all of that is in our minds. No one can hear us. We are dead.

Death. The final station.

In between the start and the stop comes unexpected halts where other people, whom we have grown quite fond of, deboard. That is when we see death consciously for the first time. The cold hard rubber like skin and the smell of rotting flesh subjected to the mighty fire that rises high into the sky comes first. Follows it is its old friend disgust.

When I saw the lifeless body of my father, I couldn’t recognise him. The mount of flesh that lay on the slab was not him. It didn’t even look like him. It was without essence, without his poise and without character. It was dead. It wasn’t him.

He disembarked and I kept going. After touching death and setting it on fire, I know where I am headed. All I wonder now is when?

My Father

My father is a man of few words. Words matter to him and he uses them wisely. For the last three months, he has not uttered or typed a single one. I don’t think he will do so for a while atleast.

My father has a round face. If I stand beside him and remove the top half of my hair and cut the bottom half extremely short, you will probably not be able to differentiate me from him. I hope the next time I see him, he has hair on his head like he does in the black and white photo in front of me.

My father tells me that he sees himself in me. He will succeed when I do and he would finally have lived a full life. I have 7000 bucks in my bank account as off today. It would suffice to say that he has a lot more to wait for.

My father hugs me tight whenever i get angry. He repeats ‘all iz well’ in my ears till I calm down. He hasn’t done that in a while. But I have a feeling he will need to do that soon.

My father likes history. He tells me of Genghis Khan and Alexander; of Gandhi and of Mandela; of Nizams and of their servants. He has become a bit slow off late but soon all he will do is tell me stories.

My father writes e-mails to me. He writes better than he speaks. He claims to have a monotonous and off putting voice. So he avoids the telephone and sticks to the written word. He hasn’t e-mailed me in a while. But soon he will.

My father is a favourite among his students. He is a hard task master for me though. He never ceases to  point out that unnecessary adjective that I use against my noun. Off late he has been correcting me telepathically.

My father is dead for the world. But isn’t it a happy fact that I don’t fall into that group?

The photograph

They were facing the sun—all three of them: a man in his mid-forties, a girl in her teens and a child of nine. Sitting in a line on the sand dune, they had their backs turned to the lens. The man wore a black Adidas cap, a cream pullover and a pair of black corduroys. The older girl seated in the middle had her hair tied in a bun and had worn a red full sleeved tee shirt and blue jeans that looked expensive. The youngest, sitting on the extreme left had her arms out stretched on both sides as if stretching and looked heavenwards. She wore a checked black-blue shirt and black tights. She had hair like a boys which flew in the wind, towards the right of the viewer.

It was December of 2010 and the geo tag on the picture would identify the location as Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. The horizon was crimson-yellow mostly but the patches of sky in the middle was bordering orange. The highest point visible in the picture was blue—the type between midnight blue and light blue. There was a slight wind that could be felt on the skin of those three. The rest of the frame had one camel standing in a distance, towards the viewer’s extreme left. It would seem that the little girl was punching the unsuspecting camel with her outstretched left hand. The camel was bending down as if searching for some foliage in the desert. It makes me believe that the camel must have been a very optimistic one. In its long years on the desert, it could only have survived due to its optimism. The image in my head right now- the camel is sitting on its back legs much like a human and meditating, exhaling deeply with its nostrils flared when it breathes out.

One can’t say much about their expressions since their back is turned to us but one can guess from their postures. The man is hunched on his back as if relaxed. You can almost see the signs of a smile on the visible part of his chubby cheeks. He wears glasses and you can see the black rim of the glass. He is a man of some style sense and gravitas.

The older girl, like the man, appears to be relaxed and staring in the direction of the setting sun. Her hands seem to be joined together in the front part of her body. She could have wrapped them around her torso to protect herself from the cold wind. I have heard winters in the desert are cold and temperatures drop to sub-zero levels in the evenings. Is that so? Have you ever been to a desert?

The youngest has an air of comfort around her. She is stretching as mentioned previously and is looking up towards the heaven as if giving thanks for that moment of peace. She is not interested in the setting sun unlike her companions. She is just breathing in the moment and is feeling the wind tease her hair. If you zoom in enough, you can see the goosebumps on her hands. She must be cold. Yet she smiles. It is like those smiles you see on the faces of Tibetan monks- ones reflecting contentment and a secret no one will ever know.

There are no visible clouds in the sky. It seems as if the great painter was too lazy to apply the final touches on his canvas and decided that that would be cloudless day and blamed it all on the wind. The sky was a large sea monster waiting to engulf the fighting sun. The yellow mango-like thing looked like it wanted to linger a little while longer but couldn’t. An invisible hand was pulling it behind the curtain of night, holding it by the scruff of its neck.

The three were on a holiday. One of those rare places which lack network connection, fast cars, geysers and emails. One of those places where the railway station can be filled with ten men standing on the platform. One of those places where people still waited for the postman to arrive and he was treated like the lover’s God. One of those places where a traveler had to strain his eyes to search for a fellow human being. One of those places where people crawled into bed by 9 pm and woke up by 6 am.

It was a week long holiday and the girls had urged their father to take them for a night stay on the desert. The tour guide had been given strict instructions to take them to a place far from civilization where the cries of monotony and routine couldn’t be heard and you were left with the wind in all its purity. A place where the sky kissed the sand without being hindered and the sun watched over the smaller creations.

It was a happy place. It was their happy place. The three musketeers sat one beside the other enjoying the silence of the desert. The desert spoke to them using a language more ancient than man himself. A language that lacks words and sounds. Something throbbed through the silence. Some mystics say it is the heart of the desert that throbs. But we will never know, will we?

Sitting on the sand dunes, they could see a vast expanse of nothingness. It was bare, dry and harsh. Yet there was beauty. A rustic, earthy kind of beauty. It took some time for their eyes to recognize the beauty of the desert but when they did, they smiled and the smile lingered on in the photograph placed right in front of me and I am glad for their smile.