Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The White Shirt

(A super-naturalized, fictionalized and tampered account of a night at a friend’s home)

It was a strange night; it was not supposed to be but turned out to be one. It all started with a benign, in-the-heat-of-the-moment invitation by my close married friend to spend an evening together. I have gone there many times and had no reason to say no and so just said yes. He stays with his wife, he and she, only two members in entire two BHK flat. We were supposed to discuss monotony of a modern existence and ways to ignite and sustain creativity. It started with all possible mundane activities, I took a city bus to suburban Ahmedabad right after my office got over and it brought me exactly where he lived. I had messaged him about my catching bus and did not bother to see the reply lest he makes some excuse and solves his crisis on his own. I desperately wanted to be part of the solution, I was so so keen to pontificate, show off my skill of navigating through tough phases of existence through some clever talks.

The moment I entered room, things welcomed me more than the host couple. Copper flower vase was holding some more flowers. A very small all plastic flower vase with small plastic plant and tiny leaves wanted my attention. I just ignored and went ahead to shake hand with my friend and his wife. We sat down and slipped into small talks as if to make background for coming greater reflection on existential dilemma and such lofty ideas. Lady of the house offered some snacks and I don’t know why but it felt there was a breakdown somewhere, a landslide or maybe a major earthquake. When I gathered my consciousness, it was a different place. We were in a small village of Orissa. I, though, chose to ignore this sudden change and kept myself busy in snacks and small talks.

My friend’s wife told us to go to a village pond nearby. If she had any ulterior motive to send us off, we were not aware but anyway our supposedly intellectual discussion demanded an apt location. It appeared to be a good proposition and who can deny a stroll around a pond in a village of Orissa? The next moment we were talking and laughing and acted normal as if nothing unusual is happening. Just Robin Sharma happened to pass by. I maintained a calm demeanour and did not go to take his autograph on “Greatness Guide” written by him. I had long read this book and was waiting for this moment when he meets me somewhere and I totally see through him just to make him realize how bad his ideas are on self-help. May be they might have worked for others but surely not for me. To lighten the moment, I told my friend I would rather read him (my friend) than any famous writer. He was busy with Kafka. I was so much overwhelmed with this writer and his complexity that I did not dare go near him and ask for his autograph. My friend chatted for a while and then they both parted. He asked me whether I liked Kafka. He is such a big writer, it is impossible to pass my own judgement. He understood my dilemma and gave me word to express myself. Yes, I am so much in ‘awe’ of him that I cannot say anything. On the way, a young plump lady with his plumper son passed by. My friend exchanged greetings with her (of course in Oriya) and gave a warm pat to young boy’s back.

On the way, there was an open shop of hundreds of magazines and books. I just took “The Newyorker” from the bunch of magazines and started showing it to him. He even offered me his favourite monthly “Harvard Business Review”. I was elated seeing “Granta” on the rack too. It was a special issue on India. All familiar Indian- English writers were there on the stall. I did not have time to meet all of them. I just smiled at them and they smiled back at me. In the far corner was Sitakant Mahapatra, my friend showed me. We had not much interest to go to him. With Mahapatra was another Oriya poet who writes in English. I could not identify him, his poems I have read in my graduation and loved them. After a while, we were tired and sat on a nearby bench. We had taken a toll on the monotony of life. Everything seemed afresh. We promised each other to take more such strolls, if possible with more of our like-minded friends who were willing to read magazines, books and meet writers and write themselves. I am damn sure no one knew here at this pond is such a big display of magazines and such writers come. Why on earth do they come! Are they not supposed to go only to big book launch parties and fancy literary festivals. They might be getting tired and what can be more salubrious than a moony stroll on a pond of a small village of Orissa.

It was getting late and we were almost sure that the lady must have finished cooking and we don’t have to move even a single potato and hence right time to go home. Though, it was not to be. She was still unfinished and two minds what to cook. Okra and potato sautéed in the morning was still lying there on the kitchen platform in a big uncovered bowl. She prepared food alone while we pretended to carry on with our high talks. Actually, we were ogling at some Pakistani women with big eyes and shampooed straightened lustrous hair. Isn’t it strange! Pakistani women in an Orissa village!

She served us dalma, rice, roti and the same sautéed okra and potato. We ate to our heart’s content and afterwards I licked my finger as if not to let the flavour wash away in the basin.

I was anxious to leave early so that to reach Gandhinagar on time. I was doing my mental calculations. Isn’t it too far from Orissa to Gandhinagar! If I start early night, might reach in morning. And then I will attend office in fresh clothes otherwise will have to go in the same dirty ones. This idea of going in same sweaty shirt nauseated me and I was fully determined to leave. And then, the unexpected happened again. Audrey Hepburn was there in her floral design knee length frock, all her slender self and narrow waist. She held my hand and made me sit on the faux leather sofa. My friend greeted her and made a request to take a seat too. Closely followed Gary Cooper too with his broad shoulder and sharp jaw and sleek suit. Lady of the house was suspicious towards Audrey. She had reasons too. My friend was gazing at Audrey continuously. To the extent that Audrey sometimes felt uncomfortable. I think that is what prompted my friend’s wife to retire to the bed so early. Usually she is all awake and talking, giggling with us till wee hours of the day.

I completed left the idea of going home. Going directly to the office was my plan B, even in same last day dirty clothes.

We all chatted till past midnight, me, my friend, Audrey and Gary. They shared how they met and fell in love and decided to settle in New York. It was love in afternoon being narrated at midnight in a small village of Orissa. At around 2 AM, they took leave and we were all tears. I was sure Audrey was going to appear in my dream. My friend was totally overwhelmed and I even teased him saying he was getting too melodramatic.

Early morning alarm of the mobile phone waked me up. And lo and behold, it was again the same suburban Ahmedabad flat of my friend’s house. I reluctantly got up and washed myself. Maid was knocking at the door. My friend’s wife opened the door. I proceeded to wake him up. He was too tired and sleepy but nevertheless came to drawing room. I chatted with him while he ritually kept sliding his mobile screen, back and forth, up and down, left and right. Relaxed was I now as had no hurry to attend office from Orissa to Ahmedabad. Morning air had stopped. After all, it was not the same village we were at night. I took milk and stuffed my tiffin with hurriedly made roti and cabbage. It slowly dawned on me that normality had been restored to the last night’s upheaval. But it was not to be. I noticed the last evening small all plastic flower vase with small plastic plant and tiny leaves had grown big, quite big and bloomed and was full of white flowers. Just to be part of this magic or maybe to break this spell, I plucked all those flowers and wore it. Now, was not in my sweaty last day shirt. I was ready and confident to attend my office. 


suvendu said...

Now I am sure that you can write some great fiction. Events of a simple evening presented very nicely and humorously. Way to go!

Parina said...

Wow really nicely written and totally agree with Suvendu. It is like taking us in the world of dreams. But you forgot to mention green tea in classy cups 😉

Mani Kant Giri said...

@Suvendu: See i told you how much we can inspire each-other ! Thanks a lot for your warm compliments which i dont deserve at all:) @Parina: Thanks a lot and yes i did miss those beautiful cups with exquisite green tea. Later i recalled and tried to fit them into somewhere but they were too good and big to be accommodated so casually ! My apologies . Though i hold them in my heart :)

chandan singh said...

yes, you write quite well Mani...you need to think about it more seriously :-)...Were you talking about "kafka on the shore"?...it's an interesting fiction, the last i read a few months back.

Mani Kant Giri said...

@Chandan: Thank you so much. Actually i was referring Franz Kafka, a German writer of great stature. By the way, it is really a coincidence that I have just started reading "Kafka on the Shore" and I am loving even this Kafka :)

Pinkle said...

Enjoyed reading this...i should collect your autograph before u get famous n maybe snobby

Pinkle said...

Enjoyed reading this...i should collect your autograph before u get famous n maybe snobby

Pinkle said...

Enjoyed reading this...i should collect your autograph before u get famous n maybe snobby

Mani Kant Giri said...

@Pinkle: Lol! As if I m not a snobby already :P ... Thanks anyways ... I m fond of your writing myself :)