The Creaking Chair - Part XII

2:24 PM

28th May 1999

I have an abnormally large collection of photographs

moments I have captured over years
and I use them as mirrors to keep me grounded on a plane of simplicity
so my pictures are not the regular friends laughing in a pub kinds
or teens banging their heads in a rock concert
or even the quintessential birthday party as a kid
with the lettered cut out on the wall calling out ‘Happy Birthday’ 
and the beaming smiles of friends behind the cake & the Birthday Boy.

My collection has a rather abstract view of life
A fallen eyelash resting on a copper pooja thali;
the queer expression of a rebelling atheist
An aimless braided chair sitting idle on a sunny day with a hint of cloud in the background;
the untainted memory of a peaceful afternoon embossed upon the mind 
A rope line with my mother’s freshly washed saree hung for drying
the untarnished smell of unfiltered warmth spreading through the heart
A shuttered public library with the leftover ashes of a burning sigri
the aftermath of another cold night in the open for the watchman

But the one photograph which made me write this entry today
was the photograph of my beloved coleus plant 
It was a housewarming gift from a dear colleague when I moved to Kolkata
Placed in a fish bowl shaped casing it had layered soil and tiny crystal like rocks on one side
the plant nestled nicely in the middle of this boundary between the decorative crystal patch & the underlying soil 
there was another smaller budding offshoot on the other side 
I liked the gift – it was good, but I did not love the life in it, yet

And then a few weeks later, I saw tiny new shoots on it
beautiful red leaves with spreading green on its corners 
Oh boy, that was a feeling difficult to match
an untainted adoration and pure love spreading like a smile on my face 
and for the next few weeks, every morning it was my first ritual to watch the new bud & smile 
This was my first experience with the weight of responsibility of nurturing a life 

But the photograph was not of that little bud

the photograph had to be inanimate right? 
if you have not yet caught the recurring theme in my photographs
It was a black and white shot of the same bowl with a fallen plant with shriveled leaves 
In my youthful zeal filled with an arrogant ignorance 
I kept feeding water & sunlight to it – at times too much water & too less of sunlight 
without realizing the underlying build up of tiny root eating aphids
the day I look the photograph, I realized they were too far in their act of weakening the roots 

I did replace the plant with another 
and this time took much better care 
for I was now prepared and a little bit more wiser 
But I miss that original plant for it gave me my love for gardening

~ Ashk

P.S. – Sahil has taken up to ‘digitizing’ my photographs as his project this summer vacations. I have a feeling I have a summer filled with walks down the untrodden memory lanes & loads of stories to tell. 

P.P.S. – Maybe I should convert these stories into something like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’.

For the complete series, visit - http://www.ashksymphony.com/p/the-creaking-chair.html


The Creaking Chair - Part XI

6:35 PM

10th October 1986

The first thing I saw as soon as I got out of my car was the non-descript street light
It had a spooky feel to it, but also romantic 
like something ancient was peering back at me 
how many such long stares would it have endured in the last centuries
But then what makes me think it has been standing tall there for centuries..
It felt like I almost knew.

The murky yellow light from the lamp was rather dull
but it was the only thing which stood out in that countryside on yesterday’s spring night
Mikhail, his elder brother and me had decided to take a road trip 
They had done all the arrangements – the car, the tent, the camping stove to cook 
and of course the path we would take 
It was not a like a fancy camping trek you see in the Hollywood movies
It was a discreet retreat into the desert wilderness 

I have been on this ‘tour d’experience’
that’s what I am going to call it when I grow old and tell these stories aloud
It’s a fancy dream with a humble beginning
the first one was the visit to the ocean
not that I had never been on the sides of an ocean before 
but this was different
this time I had ‘experienced’ the ocean 
the ocean breeze saturated by the smell of sand & salt 
the sun reflecting on the ocean trying to match my thoughts 
Ah. Reverie.. I must not digress though 

This time it was about a night on the roadside scrub of grass
in an otherwise non-vegetative spread of the Rajasthan desert
We were told there is a massive celebration planned in Gujarat from the coming year
but a commercial hotspot. Not for poetic romantics like me…
This was a night of sitting under the moon in an abandoned dhaba in a nearby state highway 

We had ideally wanted to go completely off the road 
but Mikhail’s brother had been skeptical
and wanted to have access to the cellular network in case of an emergency 
when we spotted the abandoned structure on the roadside, we were elated 
this was the perfect spot for a night spent talking and singing 
I was trying my hand on the guitar and could sing 
But Mikhail was the real musician amongst us with his charm over the mouth organ
As we stretched ourselves on the bonnet and roof of our car
staring up the clear sky, many childhood memories ran back to me 
How I used to enjoy sleeping on the cot in Grandama’s place looking at the constellations
but the emotions it stirred were different 
the breeze flowing from the desert was slowly cooling as the night progressed
it was like an indication that I had moved on from those innocent days too 
and the only totem of time that remained was that street lamp and its light 

It reminded me of the days which went by 
and it gave me comfort of the days that were to come 
youth had given me hope slowly taking over the innocence of the younger me 
fear of the future had started to slowly creep into my spirits though 
and lying there gave me a feeling that the past, the present and the future were all coming together
for that one night 
It is ‘this’ experience which I take along with me today

~ Ashk

P.S. – Now that I have read Julian Barnes, I wish I had just written this instead of the entire diary page. How beautiful these words are -

In those days, we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives. And when the moment came, our lives -- and time itself -- would speed up. How were we to know that our lives had in any case begun, that some advantage had already been gained, some damage already inflicted? Also, that our release would only be into a larger holding pen, whose boundaries would be at first undiscernible.” ~ Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

P.P.S. – Keeping a placeholder for my thoughts here, for I am sure I would revisit this page. If not for anything, but for these lines by Julian Barnes


For the complete series, visit - http://www.ashksymphony.com/p/the-creaking-chair.html

The Creaking Chair - Part X

6:33 PM

08th June 1999

The other day I was speaking to Aman on telephone 

and we ended up talking about how we came to be friends, 
Not in the obvious sense, both of us were in the same batch in my graduation 
but more like when did we actually start talking,
what were our first words; non-verbal cues to each other that our frequencies match as Sahil would say in his generation
and not for the fault of our fading memories 
but neither of us could genuinely remember that moment of first encounter
Its quite ridiculous how easy it is to portray in a biography, a musical or a documentary 

‘We met for the first time in a sports bar while playing pool’ , or 
‘The first time we met was when Calen introduced us in one of her parties and we hit it off right away’
Realities always work differently, and hence the allure & charm of fiction I guess 
I repeated the experiment with Steffi and Manu and guess what?
We drew up a blank again !

By now I was quite determined to find out what had really happened,

I headed for my attic again, pulling out all my journals from Graduation days 
Alas ! no mention of that fateful day for either of them there too 
This comes as a rude shock to me though, 
a man who has always prided himself with capturing every significant detail of my life in these journals 
If that author friend of Kamal every decides to write my memoirs, 
She should just go through these journals, or maybe a movie would be more entertaining

I still decided to revisit the memory lane of some of the most wonderful years of my life

and went ahead reading all those diary entries and slowly these names started to appear
first it was sporadic, where I was massaging my ego by judging Manu for his hairstyle 
The warmth of the relationship slowly crept in
when time routines became intermingled,
the routes to the market to pick up milk started having a pitstop to meet Aman 
and when conversations changed from college gossip to broken hearts and future dreams 
This makes me sure that my story should definitely be a book 
a movie can never do justice to this surreal pace of integrating into each other’s lives as family

It is the second day and I am in the attic again to read from where I left yesterday

I have not yet reached Archit’s mid night accident and the scare he gave us all! 
But it made me realize, I could never find that moment when we first spoke to each other 
In hindsight, it may have been the most relevant moment between us 
but in the grand scheme of life, it was an irrelevant speck
just like the Earth in the Cosmos, and yet a lifeline 
just like Old friends

P.S. – to read about the day Archit’s mid-night accident & his temporary memory loss, go to 19th September 1952

P.P.S. – The only friend with whom I remember my first encounter is with Richard & our debate on the why I never learned the lyrics of Opera music and yet enjoyed it thoroughly

- Ashk

For the complete series, visit - http://www.ashksymphony.com/p/the-creaking-chair.html

The Creaking Chair - Part IX

6:32 PM

04th December 1999

Last night I could not sleep properly,
It was a cold winter night and in order to keep the chill out
I had closed the window in my first floor bedroom since evening
But it was not the cold that kept me awake
It was the sound of a dog barking outside
Poor soul must have been feeling very cold
And it kept barking till 4:30 in the morning
I spent a wakeful night with it, musing too.

What I was surprised about was how had it stopped crying in the early dawn
For that is the time when it gets really bone crunching chilly
In these Northern states of India
Reminds me of those early morning motorcycle rides with my graduation mates
As I stepped out in to the bedroom I got my answer,
Sahil was calling her Bruno
And Veena was staring at him with daggers in her eyes
‘How dare he get her into my house?’ she asked
Looking at Kamal, she said, ‘You know why I never got a pet for the last decade, right?’

Poor Kamal felt stuck between 2 loyalties
He did not know which side to take – his innocent son or his (extremely) angry wife
As if relieved to see me waking in he said
‘Dad, meet Bruno. Sahil wants to adopt her’
And quickly took Veena into the bedroom
To have a chat.
As Bruno came running to come paddle around my feet
She was a little more than a cub
And was already doting on Sahil

Regret comes in many disguises
And the worst of them stuck around like unwanted guests
One that had taken a deep hold in the heart of Veena
Was of not being around when she had lost Charlie
Charlie was the family Labrador who had lived and played with her since she was a young girl
And he was the only member of her family who had come along to join ours
When she had got married to Kamal
There was not a moment she would not dote over him
Sometimes he even fought with Kamal for his seat on the sofa besides her

Charlie had fit in just perfectly into the family
And was never short of playful deceits
Sometimes he would sit under the sofa to bounce off and scare
As soon as anyone sat on the seat
On other time, he would sneak into the bed
And try to push us off at ungodly hours to wake us up

It was on a similar chilly night that Veena had decided to go for an evening walk
Very uncharacteristic for her. As Kamal said she always liked the warmth of the heater
Instead of the walk in the chilly evening
She must have been pre-occupied with her own thoughts
One of the those which haunt each of us on such winter days
Charlie wanted to come along for the walk
But she did not want company, not even his, for sometime
It took her one and a half hours to get her nerves back and come home
When she came back, did we realize that Charlie was gone

In her state of reflection, as she went out, she had left the door ajar
Charlie must have escaped some time later in the evening
Trying to find her and bring her peace
What happened to him, we never got to know
Charlie was not found
He would never have run away, but we couldn’t have lost him forever
And that regret had stayed with Veena

I was brought back from my reverie by the cold nose of the cub touching my feet
Kamal was coming out of the room with an air of triumph,
of someone who had just dodged a bullet
Veena picked up Bruno and took him to the courtyard
There she poured some milk and chapati into the bowl that once belonged to Charlie
She smiled to Sahil, who was ecstatic with joy
But the smile had a hint of regret which would not be wiped

P.S. – Though she accepted Bruno into her house, Veena could never dote upon him as much as she loved Charlie, and you can see a hint of regret in her eyes and in the eyes of young Bruno…

~ Ashk

For the complete series, visit - http://www.ashksymphony.com/p/the-creaking-chair.html

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