It is a beautiful house John Keats would have loved to inhabit. It has the infrastructure to trigger romantic poetry. But wait, infrastructure is such an ugly and unmusical word Keats would never have stepped into such an unglamorous place fouled by the sound of that abominable word. It is still a lovely house if Keats pardons my inappropriate terminology.
It has six bedrooms, five and a half bathrooms, a living room, a family room as commodious as the inside of a Boeing 707, a kitchen resembling a Punjabi langar and a library where the spirits of symbolist D.H.Lawrence and minimalist Raymond Carver clink glasses of champagne with John Cheever. There is also Viriginia Wolff writing irreverent prose. The house sits on a mount in the middle of four acres of gardens and woods. Not far from the mount flows unobtrusively a small brook gurgling aquatic melodies in the shade of the soaring pines in a bid to lure Keats. Keats would certainly love to luxuriate in the sensation of water. He might revise his mind if he takes a second look.
In this house originally built for writers of poetry I live an unpoetic life of romantic inanity. I scribble prose bereft of style and substance. The inside and the outside of the house meld like water and milk benefitting from the transparency glass walls facilitate. Others who inhabit the house are M.F.Hussain’s unharnessed horses, Francis Newton Souza’s hungry and dying humanity and Lakhma Gowd’s Telangana peasantry. There are also Jogen Choudharie’s reclining feminine anatomies too delicate to stand the touch of a garment. One of Hussain’s horses has two heads, eight less than Ravana’s. The unrealness of reality. Who used this phrase? I don’t know. If the phrase incites plagiarism, it is not my fault.
There is a gym in the house where you can happily sweat to grow unwanted muscle and look ugly. When it comes to flowers in the gardens I remember Thomas Gray’s lines about flowers wasting their fragrance on desert air. The scent of the flowers in the garden is too delicate to penetrate the glass walls. It is not the scent but the spectacle that coaxes me to write. I see the flowers closer to the glass wall because my glaucoma eyes refuse to see beyond a twenty- feet radius. I see lilies with six petals each beginning as purple at the base and paling off into white. Right to the lilies are intensely pink wave petunias in clusters of long thin tubes with flattened openings. I could also see lantana florets clannishly huddled together in pink and yellow inverted cones. There are foxgloves too.
Beyond the ridge on which these flowers are co-existing exemplarily are peonies and hydrangeas which even good eyes fail to see from where I’m viewing this floral extravaganza.. Suddenly I see a goldfinch come in hopping onto the ridge and begin to warble a melody chip chip chpsy. What a pretty bird in bright lemon yellow, black and white habiliment! Sometimes I see them bouncing near the swimming pool, a delightful place where people sit around, forgetting to swim.
Now, listen to the story of my daily struggle with Infinity, the endlessness of Time.
It is a ranch house, my son-in-law tells first-time visitors. It is six o’clock in that house of wood and glass. My daughter emerges from her room like the sun from the East. In her wake comes the evidence of habitation in the house. She finds me making coffee. I put three tablespoonfuls of Lavazza coffee into the filter. It was Folgers earlier. You need to put more coffee if it is Lavazza. But how much more I’ve no idea. I just take a chance and make it three. Now, the fragrance of brewing coffee and the auk-like gurgle of the coffee maker awaken my son-in-law. The scent of fresh coffee spreads like a wild rumor to other parts of the sprawling glass cage and stays trapped.
With coffee in his hand, the son-in-law wakes up his school-going son. Then begins a fast-motion Chaplinesque pantomime, all the three characters of the family trying to squeeze more minutes from the hour. Suddenly, the garage door groans in the manner of a goat on its way to the abattoir. The labor of ascent, I suppose. For my son-in-law it means the beginning of a 45-mile cruise to the work place. It also means the beginning of an evacuation of the house, my grandson to Allen Roberts High, my daughter to Florham Park. In ten minutes all of them vanish, leaving David Copperfield agape and a silence of the primeval forest to rule; metaphor stolen from Albert Camus.
7 0’clock now. I’m the master of all I survey (who said it?) through the transparency of the glass walls. First, I try to overcome the sullenness that envelops me after the flight of the threesome to different destinations. The problem of surviving the Infinity of Time, linear or cyclical whatever you choose, challenges my resourcefulness. How to harness this cosmic phenomenon? Look at the grass, the plants and the trees and feast on them with an eye on writing some pedestrian prose? Forget breakfast, you mean? The best thing, my inner voice tells me, is to break Time into manageable segments and fill them with time-consuming activity.
Wait. If you create segments, you’ve to give each a number and determine what Time it takes to fill each segment. Man, why doesn’t it occur to you that a visit to the library can take care of several segments in one go? Okay, several of how many segments? Look, it is not so simple. Granted you go to the library, how do you select the books, on the basis of authors or subject? God, you’ve delivered yourself into a pretty mess you haven’t cooked yourself. Blame yourself. Blame the guy who suggested the fragmentation of Time. On second thoughts I defer the decision choosing to act after I consult the man who knew Infinity. Ramanujam? Is he also the inventor of Time? No sir, Time was there before anything and has witnessed the invention of God and his universe and his wicked ways.
I begin to peck at my brain with the fury of a woodpecker. To solve the problem of Time, rather it’s Infinity. I end up drilling a hole in my brain. But why do you need a brain? A starfish lives without it for 35 years. In spite of the hole I pecked into my brain it has not stopped to function. Haven’t you noticed that the information about the hole in the brain came to me from a functioning brain? I’m glad I’ve killed some Time in manufacturing this rigmarole about the brain and in simulating cerebration untainted by purpose. But I’ve pushed Time only by one hour. There is still four hours for the first of the three fugitives to return. Okay, I’m not without wits. See how I’ll convert one more hour into past tense.
I walk up to the langar, the kitchen. It is not necessary to say kitchen every time because langar by any other name is langar. Open the fridge door. It has two. I look for Time-killers in the right door. Breakfast in slow motion will reduce Infinity by one hour. Oatmeal or tomato sandwich? Let the mind linger on it for some time or if you want an instant answer you can search Google to know which of the two is more nutritious and Time-consuming. Google Uncle takes me for a ride, first to Grub Street in New York and then to a nutritionist who sings praise of a bodybuilding oatmeal sandwich. Are you counting the Time that spans my consultations with the brain, badly pecked into? Is your stopwatch reliable? Mine shows 36 minutes17 seconds. You haven’t yet decided what breakfast you would make. Decide, you cretin, or clod if you prefer. Why go in for exotic things. Tomato sandwich is the known devil. Go for it.
From the door, right if I remember right, I take out white bread we’d bought at Costco with the help of coupons. The whole world knows I don’t like wheat bread. Spaghetti, for that matter. The other day a TV crew attacked my house merely to ask me what dish I favored most. Idli, I said. What is idli, they asked. Stumped. On the net I found a wise geek who gives clear answers for questions. That’s what he claims. Idli is a typical south Indian savory cake, he says, formed by steaming a fermented combination of rice and lentils, these white spongy breakfast cakes serve as a starch. They are generally presented alongside sambar, curries, and other sauces. I gave this information to the TV crew asking them to credit this info to the wise geek. The TV crew reduced my day by an hour that day. How I wish they came today also to know my views on weather. If you’re keeping Time, tell me how much Time have I to kill before the first fugitive shows his/her tired face,
Suddenly, the aforesaid spaghetti transports me to its most celebrated fan Haruki Murakami. I go to the library and find there three works by him: 1Q84, The Elephant Vanishes and Blind Willow and Sleeping Woman. The first book is forbiddingly bulky and ruled itself out. The other two are short story collections. I don’t read novels for the same reason Raymond Carver hated to write them. When I open a short story book I first see which story is the shortest. Now, let me choose one from his two collections I’ve. I toss a coin. It is heads. But I forgot what heads stand for. So I keep the two books on the coffee table. I try to forget the titles so that I can be objective when I close my eyes and place one hand, right or left is immaterial, on one of the books. The book my hand happens to touch will be my choice. I close my eyes tightly. It doesn’t work. I bring a towel and blindfold myself to rule out chances of cheating. Determined not to cheat, I place my hand on one book. I open my eyes. It is Blind Willow and Sleeping Woman.
Like a man who has dug his own grave, I open the book, go to Contents and begin counting the pages each story has claimed. My idea is to go for the shortest story. A Perfect Day For Kangaroos has that virtue. No, I’m sorry, I can’t read it. There is already a Kangaroo story in the other collection. He is crazy, I mean Murakami. He loves spaghetti, loves beer and now loves kangaroos. What else. End of imagination? No way I’ll read you, Murakami, I tell him. Why are they considering him for a Nobel Prize? God alone knows. Is God such a knowledgeable person? In that case give the Nobel to Him. Wait, there is one reason I love Murakami. He loves music, mostly western classical.
There is a lot of music in the ranch house. Classical music and music from films. I don’t listen to film music unless it is vintage like kahan ho tum zara awaz do type. I throw the music plan out of the window because the music in the house is post-fifties. I suddenly remember Kumar Gandharv? We’ve plenty of his music in CDs. I go for a Nirguni bhajan: sunta jaa guru gyani. Gandharv takes off in his inimitable (I love this cliché from The Dictionary of Indian Media Cliches) folk style providing voice to Saint Kabir. Kabir is saying and Gandharv is singing: Your soul has come from There to Here to quench the thirst for God. You unwise, you leave the nectar and drink poison again and again. Trapped Here you toss and turn to get back There. Kabir then asks God, Who am i? God tells him, You’re I. No, it is I, says my grandson, the Allen Roberts brat by ringing the doorbell and releasing such sonic violence that it chokes the voices of God, Kabir and Gandharv in one foul stroke, so that the bell of his voice could be heard. The Infinity of Time is cracked by a third grade kid, my savior.