This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
The curious and baffled faces that surrounded house no 34 on street J were very little sure of the event that had led them to be there and as the day passed there were people with enough commotion to insinuate a stranger of some kind of celebration. It was almost evening when the police arrived and took out the body which had by its own will not exposed itself to the natural light and fresh air for about three days but still seemed calmly live. The subtle grin, which carried the innocence of his otherwise majorly debauched life, was the last impression he took of the earth. That life could have resuscitated itself anytime. It was calm but radiating brilliance.
Some of the men who saw it being taken out were amazed and perplexed thinking that the man was not actually dead but was in some deep unbreakable sleep in which a dream so inspiring must have had brought that grin. The body was removed and the room, which was filled with the sordid smell of depravity, anger and desire along with torn and worn out pages of some long read and forgotten books, for the first time in many days, truly became empty.
In the confusion outside, a banal death had become a mystery and so the city police was assigned to see to the case. Amongst the scattered paper that lay on the floor, a policeman got hold of one on which he stomped over. The paper contained a diagram of myriad concentric circles (as it became difficult for the policeman to count the circles) with few lines written beneath it which read,
‘ I am not trapped in a vicious circle but in concentric circles. Things repeat themselves but with the difference that i keep drifting away from the core or, I doubt, i keep getting towards it; both of which in any case seems endless. Maybe there is no core. I yearn to get to the core. ‘
The note seemed to have ended abruptly to the policeman and that too with some contradiction. He remarked to his fellow officer who was occupied in reading some excerpts from the book kept on the table.
‘ I always thought life was a straight run, one never stops until he is done. Circles, changes, core, they all come but you keep running and passing them. A great run this life is. Ah! I myself have started talking like a poet but I guess aura of this room does evoke such notions. Don’t you have a notion about life?’
The second officer being indulged in reading had not heeded to what the other officer had said except for the last line which struck him strangely and so he replied ‘ I have no notion for this life. I live as it comes. Too much thinking to find a way around it only leaves you muddled and consequently miserable. I understand you may completely disagree but I have sailed till now without thinking much. Strange it may seem but it is the truth’. After speaking the words he repositioned himself back to reading.
‘Poor fellow this poet was’ remarked the first officer as he shovelled through the paraphernalia cluttered at one end of the room.
‘Poets are always poor; it is as if a curse that they carry. They have a little care for money anyways; it is with words that they find pleasure. They can only be rich if people understand them but in truth they only consider poet’s to be miserable and are unconcerned of them dying every now and then. My brother he was a poet too but he realized soon that people had lost their sense for poetry and so he renounced being a poet and came to work at X shipment company as the floor manager (the one who looks after the working of machines) for a meagre salary of 12 thousand rupees. But still it was more than what he earned as a poet. He was wise, escaped misery before it engulfed him and left him bereft.’
concluded the second officer with a sigh and with a grave expression and abruptness he seemed to have lost himself in some remembrance. The first officer kept looking at things around rejecting everything that he picked up. The one thing that evaded his rejection was a small transparent crystal ball which was kept on a small table near the window. He couldn’t clearly discern the purpose of the ball, or for a fact, whether it really was a crystal ball. His amusements lead him to believe that the poet must have kept this as a source of inspiration or for some artistic purposes only; for sure he could not be a clairvoyant. He put it up against the light, then in dark, then even tried to create a light infringement pattern on the ball by moving his fingers around in a queer way, hoping that something might be seen in the crystal but to his misfortune he managed only, to drop the crystal on the floor, inducing a subtle crack on its surface.
The impact sound was good enough for the second officer to have his reverie broken. He stood up from his place and remarked quickly,
‘There is nothing to investigate here, the poet died of his own miseries as they all do, I might be wrong but my experience bestows me to hold such opinion however imprudent it may seem.’
The first officer who was still amusing him-self with the paraphernalia of the room was somewhat taken aback by order of retrieving so early.
‘But shouldn’t we inspect the room for more details. After all, what are we to say to our head inspector about the case’.
‘There is nothing we can find here. Its only books, shelves, dust & memories that are encapsulated here and by intruding their harmony we will only leave our self illusion’s. Moreover I’ve been having an uncanny feeling from the moment we have entered this room. The death will, although, seem mysterious to many but in truth it is only a failed attempt to live.’
‘Well, your cranky feeling is clearly reflected in your thoughts. You haven’t talked like an incumbent policeman yet. But none the less, the point you put seem quite valid. Although I think we should learn more about the dead poet.’
As soon as he completed the sentence, there was a knock on the door, which was already ajar and before any of the officer could respond, a girl, who still seemed to be in her blossoming years, stepped in. Both the officers looked up at her and noticed that despite the valour she showed of coming up to the room amidst all the confusion she stood somewhat shyly near the door holding its handle.
The first officer asked who she was. She didn’t answer and kept looking at the floor. He went up to her in a manner that looked as if he was going to pull her away from the door but he stopped at a little distance from her and saw her eyes were wet. He said amiably ‘Please come in and tell us what you want to speak’.
The second officer got up from his seat to offer her a place to sit. She walked with heavy steps glancing around the room and sat on the chair. The two policemen kept standing as there was no other place to sit. She told the policemen that she knew the poet and broke down. Officers not understanding what to do kept staring at her, a woman in grief. After a short while she regained her composure and spoke again
‘ he was a nice man but remained reclusive. I was his only companion, although we met occasionally and secretly. He didn’t want our friendship to be known, from the fear that I might too become a squalid subject among the people.’
She took a pause looking for some response but the two officers kept gazing at her as if watching up an act from the theatre. She continued ‘ just a few days ago he told me we should not meet up any more. He gave no reasons.’
She stopped again.
This time the second officer spoke ‘Poets are like that sometimes. At some point of time absurdity seems more reasonable to them’.
As soon as he spoke these words he began to ponder whether what he said was true. The first officer asked the girl in a tone that authenticated his profession ‘Did his talk ever insinuate that he might put an end to his life?’
‘No’ replied the girl sharply and stood up and proceeded towards the door ‘I just came to see his room for one last time. He never contemplated of death. It all happened so sudden, I can’t think of a reason.’
‘She is a derided lover of the poet. No one can understand the mind of a poet, even lovers can’t’ said the first officer after the girl had gone. The second officer had regained his seat and once again was indulged in the book as if something of great interest has struck him and occupied him. Suddenly with no prior warning he began to read out from the book,
‘I have forgotten myself and so have others. We are a bunch of people who do not care to find ourselves but look for part of us in others, a part which is not truly ours.’
The first officer thought that his partner had started talking with himself but on seeing him he realized it was just an excerpt that was being told. There was nothing of value in that room except an old chair and a table, and its decrepit semblance affirmed the poverty of the poet. It was almost an hour that the policemen had been in that room.
Outside there was still commotion in the street, for they had not seen a death for some time, or rather, a death without purpose. And the visit of the girl made them curious and to believe that there could be some twists or mystery in the banal looking death. They were all ready to forsake their work and follow the case, maybe just to break the monotony of their lives.
With nothing to look into the case only trivial matters needed to be looked after. They had received the news from the doctors that the poet had poisoned himself somewhere near the dawn. It was obvious from the beginning but the poison itself was not found in the room. Why he did it was more a question of morality than reasoning. The sudden and short appearance of the girl hardly caused any change in the ambience of the room. Both the officers seemed unconcerned of the event.
The first officer was still interested in the case. He thought, like the crowd outside, that the case was not as simple as it looked although he was pretty much aware of poets dying every now and then but since it was his first case of death he constantly hoped that a matter of great significance would come up, something from the trivial that has escaped their attention hitherto.
For the second officer the case was plain and closed. He was merely passing off his time reading a book or some manuscripts which lay on the table. He understood the excitement of his fellow officer but kept himself disinterested, for he knew there was nothing to be done except to prepare a report for a suicide; one of many which he had done for lost lovers, men taken by guilt, some by stupidity and in rare cases as a matter of experiment. Surely this case was not going to evoke a response from him. Such cases were merely a burden for him. He often wondered how in this small town people died so frequently, before their age. What instigated them to give up so early? At what point does a man becomes self-defeated. Doesn’t joy of living overcome all the pain? This often led him to the realization that he himself was unhappy and sombre…but why?? He was lost in thoughts once more when the first officer spoke
‘If there is nothing left to see in this case then shouldn’t we just go and give out our report? There are many curious faces waiting outside. It is as if they have never seen a man die.’
‘Those curious faces are only anticipating a drama to unfold. They are not the ones who are concerned. Anyways, you are correct we should prepare a report now but for that we need to know more about poet. I think the landlady is still downstairs.’
The first officer was a bit disappointed that they were going to prepare a report so soon, without any investigation but the idea of talking with the landlady mitigated his disappointment. He went out of the door, down the wooden stairs and called out for the landlady. He did not go down the stairs completely rather stood few steps above the floor. Through the glass of the window on the ground floor he could see outside in the evening light the gathering which was growing in numbers.
Was it because of confusion or some matter of concern he could not discern but there was chattering going on amongst the crowd creating a buzzing noise. Someone from the crowd must have noticed the officer too through that window, for suddenly the crowd burst up shouting or cheering maybe. The landlady, who looked not so old, appeared in the hallway that led to the stairs. She was a middle aged woman who lived alone and had rented one of her vacant room to the poet. She had wrapped herself in a shawl. There was neither an expression of grief or shock on her face and on seeing the officer her expression remained the same. When the crowd outside saw, through the same window, the lady ascending the stairs crescendo of their noises affirmed their interest in the case.
The officer along with the lady entered the room. The second officer had renounced the book and the chair and was now looking outside at the crowd which suddenly seemed to have gained a new life. He noticed the two entrants at the door and before the first officer could say anything he addressed the lady
‘Good evening madam, it is such a misfortune that we make acquaintance at occurrence of a tragedy but such is my duty. Please take a seat.’
The landlady took her seat and the first officer came and stood behind her, making it look like a scene of interrogation. The second officer had moved away from the window and was now directly facing the lady. He asked ‘what do you know about the poet. I mean to ask whatever history you know of him.’
‘The poet… he was a nice man. Eccentric but suave. He made rare visits to me. The only regular one was at the beginning of the month when he had to pay the rent. It would be unjust of me to judge him by his profession, for I hardly know anything about it but for a person he was someone who swayed between dreams and reality. He, in our brief meetings, would recite some of his poetry. It was almost dream like. What a pleasure it was officer to have a tenant like that. He was not meek or feeble; he rejected the world as the world rejected him. It is sad that he chose to go like this not even leaving a hint.’
‘What amazes me, madam, is that I see no poetry in this room. There are only old books and papers none of which comprises any poetry? Did he not write his poetry here only?’
‘yes, he wrote everything here, I guess. Sometimes he wouldn’t come out for days. That is why this time it also felt normal but I should have paid more attention.’
‘Well, last week he took away a large bag of books. It was quite normal I thought. When he was in need of money he often went to sell books, not his work but the ones which he had read, the ones by famous writers and poets. Seeing him carry so many books i thought that he was in dire straits and offered to help him but he replied otherwise. He told me he was clearing away his room for more space and light. It was difficult to know his intentions t hen.
‘So he disposed of his own work. Quite a queer poet indeed!’ interrupted the first officer
‘It was all so natural yet so frantic.’
When the lady had completed her statement the second officer turned his face away and looked out of the window once again. There was nothing he wanted to ask. It felt to him as if the story was being repeated by different characters and words. There was nothing of importance in the landlady’s statement, neither it was there in girl’s statement who had come earlier. There was never any in the statements he had heard. The repetition had bothered him earlier but now he had accepted it. Now he felt desperate to get out of the place. He would prepare the report at the station itself he could do it all by his experience and imagination. The morbid air of the room was getting to him now. He quickly turned once again and said to the lady ‘Thank you madam, you may leave now’
The lady got up a bit surprised but left in hurriedly on seeing the turbulence on his face. The first officer tried to protest by making articulate gestures with his hand but after receiving scornful glances from his senior he moved away submissively. As soon as the lady left the first officer spoke with contempt,
‘we should not waste anymore time. I can see you are overcome by some predicament of your own. I too have no interest in this case anymore.’
He breathed heavily for few moments, constantly looking at his senior. The second officer calmed down a bit and spoke almost apologetically ‘ I understand that you are disappointed, for this was your first case but you must learn through this experience that deaths of poets are inconsequential. No one is affected from it, not even the ones who are close except for a few. Exploring a poet’s past will leave you in distraught. Only handfuls have made it to history. Do you read poetry?’
Such an abrupt question astonished the first officer. He for a moment tried to remember something but nothing came to his mind, so after a brief pause in which he let go of his anguish he replied ‘No’
Then the second officer concluded with the remark that poetry was something everybody wants but nobody cares for. Such conflicting was his statement that he himself failed to understand it but such was the vehemence that despite its absurdness it seemed true. Finally he told the first officer to clear away the crowd and tell them that the case was over and it was just another suicide. He hoped that this will clear away the matter as the crowd was building up an unnecessary scene. The first officer moved dejectedly having no further cause for protest.
Outside there was full commotion. A random death had given people a chance to break out their monotony. It was first time in the city that a death had brought so many people together. Some of them came up with their suspicion trying to make a case out of it; some passed it on as mere tragedy. Somewhere in between the history of the poet was passed on from those who knew to the others. In this attempt the story of the poet became sensationalized and the news spread through the city that a poet had died. Although nobody knew or heard of him or his poetry but sympathies flew from all around the city as if giving solidarity to people.
Some of the men in the street started reciting poetry which they remembered from their childhood, in a tribute to the dead poet. All the confusion of the day was changing into festivity. Songs were sung, poetry recited, some even broke out to dance. From a cause of mere hopelessness it was turning into a story of vital importance and that too all abruptly. Such a scene stunned the first officer. The second officer was looking at the crowd from his window and had lit up a cigarette. He could distinctly hear some famous poetry, one which he had read when he was younger.
When the first officer returned to tell the situation it was already clear to his senior what has happened. While they had been sitting morosely wasting their time, people outside had already started with the celebrations; at first slyly without much noise and after breaking of the news (by the first officer) they went berserk as if some great victory had been achieved by them. It was all unreal, the view from the window of the poet from which the officer was now looking.
‘Was such a scene possible if the poet were alive today?’ thought the officer and then remarked to his fellow officer
‘Look at this crowd, nobody knew who the poet was but now they are celebrating his death like crazy. This is for the first time I see this vision. What can one conclude from this?’
After speaking the officer himself started reciting one of the poems that he remembered. The first officer too tried to sing something but fumbled and didn’t try again. As they left all the poetry of the dead poet remained somewhere scattered or hidden in that room intangible from the world that was celebrating outside.