January 12, 2006

The Timeless is Temporary

For ten months I let it lie in the brown paper envelope in which the India Today magazine is posted to my address back home in Goa. I collect these envelopes. They are sturdy, and I particularly like their feel. For ten months it lay quietly. And for ten months that it rested in that brown paper envelope, Parul didn’t say a word to me. She didn’t ask me if I’d read it. She counted on me to tell her when I was done reading it. She waited. I waited. And the book waited – until new year day.

After the clock struck midnight bringing 2005 to a close, and firecrackers exploded outside the building, lighting up the night sky near where I live, I dusted the slender brown packet on an impulse and drew the book from its resting place. The Bridges of Madison County. By the time I finished reading it, only taking a break to SMS Parul that ‘Yes, can relate to Robert Kincaid, some characteristics seem familiar territory. All too familiar actually’, it was past five in the morning.
For a long time afterward, the curtains sheltering me from the Sunday sun waking up to a new year, I lay on my back running scenes from the book through my mind, turning Robert Kincaid over in neat somersaults through compact hoops of experience honed from living on the far side, to an extent like him or so I believe. The more I did that the more Robert Kincaid came alive, in memories from long ago, and some in the notes Parul made and stuck them to pages at ‘appropriate’ places meaning to remind me, moments spanning a private sky and parts that I shared with others, and they, with me.

I don’t usually tuck books into brown paper envelopes. I like them out in the open where I can see their covers. When I’m reading them, I let them lie where I can see them from across the room. I did that with Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, that lemon yellow swathe dwarfing the three protagonists, one of whom is backed up against a closed door. Yes, the door. Ditto with Camus’ The Outsider though the cover reminded me more of the Titanic than Meursault, pictured against the hulk, alone – the outsider. And Jack Kerouac’s On the Road too. But I returned The Bridges of Madison County to the brown envelope. I had my reason for doing so. I did not want to lose those notes on lemon-yellow stick-it paper pasted to pages.

It was last Feburary that Parul gifted me the book with her observations, recollections, and reflections (written in blue ink, sometimes pink, other times black, occasionally red, and light orange, once violet, yet other times green, another time star-dust pale white, and occasionally in pencil) on lemon-yellow stick-it paper. The small, square pieces of lemon yellow were scattered through the book, stuck to paragraphs and lines in the book that she drew parallels with from occasions we shared in the years we have been friends since the day we met at Ratna’s apartment in Borivali, nine years ago, and occasionally with moments from her own life married to R, and bringing up P, her angelic daughter, and other times spent clambering over gates in the dead of night to share girl-talk with Aksha, her friend.

I met Ratna at a wildlife sanctuary (Tadoba) in the central heartlands of India where fifty of us spent five days camping in Tiger territory in the middle of the Naxalite tracts of central India. Parul was Ratna’s friend from Elphinstone college. Four years after corresponding intermittently with Parul by post, lunch brought the three of us to Ratna’s apartment in a dusty locality in Borivali that I cannot quite recollect now. Parul met me at the door. I hadn’t seen her in person until then, having come to Bombay to work at an Infotech major who’d taken me in in my final year at the university. Parul, ever the mischievous imp, took one look at me (I’d just recovered from food poisoning), and promptly directed me back the way I came, down the four floors I’d climbed up, when I asked her if this was Ratna’s house. “No. I think you’re in the wrong wing.” After I had taken the stairs down and walked out into the blazing sunshine, sweat gathering under my collar, irritated in the heat of a blazing sun, two voices called out to me from a corner window, Ratna’s and Parul’s. I retraced the path, not amused but smiling none the same.

In the story where Robert Kincaid steps out of his pickup on sighting Francesca ‘sitting on the front porch swing, drinking iced tea, casually watching the dust spiral up from under a pickup coming down the country road,’ smiling as he asks her, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m looking for a covered bridge out this way, and I can’t find it. I think I’m temporarily lost,” before wiping his forehead with a blue bandana and smiling again, the note penciled in Parul’s handwriting, pasted to the paragraph, reads: “Is this Ratna’s house?” “Hmm.. No! I think you’re in the wrong wing.” REMEMBER?!

Yes. I do remember. It’s close to ten years now. But how could I forget it.

Another day. Another time. Parul, Aksha, Asif and me start out from near Dadar station. Asif and me are carrying cameras. I like shooting city life. People. Faces. Places. Activity. Moods. Vendors under the bridge outside Dadar station are hawking flowers, vegetables, newspapers. One old lady. Wrinkled face. Sari pulled over her head. Selling ‘luck’ - Green chilies strung together and stitched to a yellow lemon. People who want to ward off ill-luck or ‘buri nazar’ (evil eye) will buy it off her, later nailing them to corners of door frames back home, or hanging them from their vehicles. She has a meditative face, calm, composed, and intelligent. I kneel down and take a few pictures, then take a narrow road, step over the railings outside, climb up the empty crates. Some more shots. All along talking to Parul. Explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing. The angles. The composition. The colours. The light. The works.

The folded note in Parul’s hand, written alternately in orange and blue ink obscures the portion: ‘He (Robert Kincaid) couldn’t get very keen on the idea of fashion. People threw away perfectly good clothes or hastily had them made over according to the instructions of European fashion dictators. It seemed dumb to him, and he felt lessened doing the photography. “You are what you produce,” he said as he left this work.’

I open the folds, straighten out the note and read her hand.

The old nooks and curves of Goa. Unlikely places in Mumbai, Dadar market, wild forests, machan . . . .

“Look at this one. It’s one of my favourites.”
“Hey, it’s good. The colours merge well.”
“Yeah, but there is something else which is striking about this picture.” I stared blank.
“You see this white object?” It was a table. “See the way it’s cut off at the edges, just where these colours begin. It is because of this bright white that the colours look lively.”
“Uh-huh,” I stared, meaningfully, this time.

The objects blurred. The colous began to pace out. The sharp images smoothened and what remained was only white. I don’t remember the picture. I remember ‘the white and the words’.

I remember this, too.

I turn the pages to where Francesca directs Robert Kincaid to the Roseman bridge. And where she ‘watched him walk up the country road, taking a camera from the knapsack and then slinging the bag over his left shoulder,’ I lift the note pasted to the page and continue reading.

‘It was quiet. A redwing blackbird sat on fence wire and looked in at her. A meadowlark called from the roadside grass. Nothing else moved in the white sun of August.

Just short of the bridge, Robert Kincaid stopped. He stood there for a moment, then squatted down, looking through the camera. He walked to the other side of the road and did the same thing. Then he moved into the cover of the bridge and studied the beams and floor planks, looked at the stream below through a hole in the side.’

I let the note rest on the page, unfold it and read the pink handwriting.

Just short of lake, you stopped. You stood there for a moment, then squatted down the steps, looking through the camera. You walked to the other side of the steps and did the same thing. Then you moved to a spot on the steps, sat on it and studied the old buildings and their worn out walls, looked at the lake below through the camera . . .

It was quiet. A pair of crows sat on the tree branch and looked in at us. Nothing else moved in the “white” sun of june . . .

Banganga. My first visit here. June. Parul. Asif. Aksha. Me – on the steps. In the water before us – geese. Parul has been here before. A man on the opposite side, stripped down to his shorts is drying himself with a towel, facing the massive walls. I frame him. Click! The shutter releases.

‘Francesca peeks through a crack between two of the side planks, down toward the stream where Robert Kincaid had gone.’

‘“It’s real nice here, real pretty here,” he said, his voice reverberating inside the covered bridge.’

Francesca nodded. “Yes, it is. We take these old bridges for granted around here and don’t think much about them.”

The note. Blue handwriting.

“It’s so calm here.”
“I’ve come to Banganga quite a few times but have never found such peace.”

The calm waters!
The ducks!
The steep steps! The steady cooing of pigeons.
An ordinary day at Banganga! Yet, a lasting impression on mind. The minutest detail that you captured of the man against worn out walls of buildings; the play of ducks, waters caressing our feet, the shared giggles . . .
Washing face with soda?!
How can one . . .?!

An extra-ordinary day, timeless!

No comments: