Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Letter for Roshna

Published in DJ


I am writing this to you - or should I say it is my wish and desire that you should read what I am writing to you. Long after my ashes have filled their urn and the wind blown them over the Ganges. Long after that I would still long for you.

A collage of images comes back to me as I write. My brother Amar at eighteen, with a shock of hair on his forehead giving him a brooding poet's air. My oldest brother Ananth, in the final year of college, getting ready to leave home. We thought some Ivy League school in America would be his destination; he surprised us by taking off to France. It would have been adequately dramatic if Ma had pawned her wedding jewels for his passage. She had instead taken out a gold loan from the bank. Gold to fuel the dreams of the dreamer - that is hardly inappropriate.

Ananth was never one to explain his decisions. We accepted his actions after their effect knowing he knew best. With him gone we had to deal with Amar's cocaine addiction alone. Ma and Papa and I - three of us and still so alone. We did not tell Ananth. Ma said that he needed to stay focused on his research. Ananth, the man with a provided alibi. A man who lived only by free will - not meant to be contained or tempered.

I see Amar with his mouth frothing over like the foam of the sea that he loved so much. Some lines from a poem he wrote years ago came back to me when we got him to the rehab center.

Ocean don't leave me tonight
Let your tide rise, foam in my
Mouth, spill my poison upon
Sand.. bloody your salt water

Ma and Papa waiting in a narrow corridor, sitting at far ends of a long wooden bench - too devastated to comfort each other. Ma wrapped in a black shawl, her hair a tumbling cascade of black chaos, Papa smoking one trembling cigarette after the other - me pacing between them trying in vain to seek balance for our splintered family.

Just then, Ananth must have woken up beside Yvonne in the nude, resting in the comforting curves of her, heard her heart beat in his left ear- maybe. It was the picture that came to my mind - of a sunny day in France where nothing was short of perfect..

We took home the mangled ruins of my poet, physicist brother. We lay him upon his bed, dressed in white like he were a body bound for the crematorium. We stood around him waiting for signs of life more obvious than his beating heart. He showed none. His lashes closed tight upon his sunken eyes with eerie finality. I put on his favorite Mallikarjun Mansur tape and let it play. We stepped out of the room leaving the door open behind us. I turned back and saw him smile at me.

Ananth sent pictures of him and Yvonne from their road trip to Spain. It was my first encounter with spaghetti straps and navel piercing. He had his arm thrown around her with a casual yet proprietary air. At sixteen I had to wonder if this was not manhood what was? The only real one we had in our family of four males.

But, Roshna I was young then and that is my excuse. I did not know what drove Amar to crack and Ananth to Yvonne, just like I did not know what would one day drive me to you.

Papa and Ma would hang on to the words dribbling through the choppy international calls Ananth made sometimes. They would dissect what they had heard or thought they had, inject the serum of profundity where none existed - desperate to hold on to any wisp of hope.

Ananth was attending graduate school in Paris and after a year he dropped out. I hear Ma's cries ululating in the air of our home..Raag Kedar overlaying her voice. Amar was holding up well. He had receded into an impenetrable shell but we all felt safer for it..

Both my brothers had been star students in school. They were artistically gifted too. They had the Midas touch - shining at whatever they did. They made my parents very proud and to be honest Roshna, they made me a little nervous or was it jealousy ?

I was not gifted like them - more the stolid worker bee who trudged along not giving up until the end. I was never one to give up. I would labor as long as it took for my labors to bear fruit; sometimes even after - because I did not know otherwise.

I was noted by my teachers to be "diligent and perseverant." The word "brilliant" so often attributed to my bothers was never used to describe me. My parents did not have big hopes of me like they had of my brothers. They helped me accept my limitations and so I did. Among my parents' children, I was perhaps "differently-abled" though no one ever couched it in those terms. We did not know then to be politically correct.

Ananth stayed on in Europe. We were never sure what he did for a living or rather how he eked one out. At twenty four he was without a Masters and married. The bride in the couple of pictures he sent us was not Yvonne. We came to the sobering realization that he had moved on. We as a family strove to gouge him out of our memory and consciousness with middling success.

Amar mailed the new couple a tape he in which he had mixed Raga Madhuvanti with French wedding songs to mesmerizing effect. The bride Chantal, responded with a thank you card smelling of something distinctively French. My brothers were always attuned to each other. I was always the outlier as were my parents. It must have harder on them than it was for me to not be able to synchronize with the children they gave birth too. I cannot tell when or even why the thread that held things in motion snapped.

There are other images too - my mother sitting at what used to be Ananth's desk, leafing through school reports, old photographs, letters he wrote to us when he was in college. She bore his loss, or was it absence, stoically. Papa sat on his reclining chair staring silently into space.

Amar was not in mourning like the rest of us. He had no reason to be perhaps. He stayed in his room, played music, wrote poetry. Papa gave him sedatives when his pain turned unbearable. I have never seen such a primal agony of need nor such abject misery in the act of deliverance from it. He was recovering, however slow and painful the process. While he did not have a sense of how much time he had lost, of the career he could never have, he was getting a grip on himself.

We dread his recovery - what if he tries to escape again?

Many nights, Roshna I have heard my father sob bitterly and my mother comfort him like a child just like she once comforted us - especially Ananth, He was the hyper-sensitive one running to Ma for emotional succor when others would have fended for themselves.

The sound of my father's sobs reverberates in my head when I least expect it making me want to run away from myself.

Why Roshna, am I telling you all this ? Why should it interest you to know about my brothers Amar and Ananth ? I see the square on the wall where the picture of our perfect life used to hang. As I write to you, I trace the border of dust with my fingers smudging it closer to where we are today. Have I been able to create a picture in your mind of a family of five - once perfectly happy and then not at all ?

Ananth taught me to fly kites, repair toaster ovens and to wolf-whistle. What he did not teach, I taught myself - to walk like him, smile like him, gesture with his arms flying around when he was excited about something. Yet I would never be Ananth - the man who followed his dreams to the end of the earth, lived by his own rules without regret or apology.

I see Amar whimpering like a child as leaves out of his notebook fly out through the window. Clouds are knotted tight in a darkening sky, rain falls like lead pellets. Ma and I run to save his writing from turning into rivulets of royal blue ink. Amar uses my father's old Schaeffer pen to write. We scoop paper in our arms and turn indoors to lay them on the floor. Papa holds Amar to comfort him.

We leave him alone to sift, gather, crumple and throw. Later, Papa will flatten out balls of paper strewn around the room and file them away. We will hesitate at first to breach Amar's privacy but end up devouring every word and be consumed by guilt and shame when we are done.

We are sitting together as a family for dinner after many years. Amar is happy but not euphoric. We are terrified of euphoria though happiness scares only a little less. Papa is telling him about me - that I've been accepted by a top ranking engineering school - that I will be leaving home the next week - that we are all happy for me. Happiness is our theme for the evening. Amar pauses and smiles at me - I cannot tell what he feels - then he gets back to his food.

Ananth had surprised us by a phone call earlier that morning. Papa had told him the same things and Ananth had said to me "Good going, Kiddo. Don't mess up a nice thing." That was all. I had pondered over that cryptic message all day. Ananth the iconoclast, trading a brilliant career for a string of European lovers culminating in a Parisian wife and a Bohemian life telling me to stick to the hide-bound ? Maybe to go beyond was not for one like me - ordinary, pedestrian and conformist.

Amar is teasing Ma - telling her that the overdone chicken is a "work of art, inspired genius" . Just like the old days, he is the life of the conversation. Except he does not have Ananth to complete his thoughts and sentences, jousting bon-mots with ripostes - with elan. Our dinner table conversations were Amar and Ananth performances that we participated in ever so obliquely, relegated for the most part to the role of an enraptured audience. Today we were audience to a soliloquy. We missed the part of us that was missing.

In having told you as much as I have, Roshna, I realize how little I have told you before and I have known you for a year. The best year of my life. I see you standing with a group of friends beneath the spreading branches of a Gulmohar, like a host of chattering tropical birds dressed in vivid summertime colors.

I think of you as a splash of key lime in ice cold water, the arch of your body slanted against the tree trunk like a bow string held taut by an invisible arrow. Amar could have serenaded you with words and music . I only have my eyes and through them my thoughts try to reach you, touch and feel you. Could I ever go that far, Roshna ?

You may wonder where I am going with all this and what the point is to this unfettered rambling ? From the fetters of hero-worship, to those of self-pity through that of love .. what a long chain of links. For a long time, Roshna I was pursued by the feeling I am getting nowhere - with my life, with you, that I would be one among the many men before and after me that have been in love with you.

For years I would be a cog in the wheel working a dead end job, earning my bread. I would have broken no new ground, astounded no one, died one day a handful of ashes. I wondered how Amar and Ananth would fare, would my parents count me a success in relative terms or a failure for not being possessed of genius like them?

I remember the glowing faces of my parents at Ananth's convocation, the thundering sound of applause at his valedictory speech. The many prizes, plaudits that he received with the equanimity and grace of a man comfortable in his skin, quietly conscious of his greatness. Amar gave him a high five I can best describe as fiery and they embraced. My parents and they completed a luminous orb of fulfillment. I was the spell that would break the magical moment.. I knew my place and stayed there.

Ananth had slapped my shoulder saying, "Come on, Kiddo, let me show you around," and pulled me out of my little comfort zone. Both my brothers loved me - just like big brothers love kid brothers. There was nothing cerebral about that..

Amar addressed a lot of his poetry to a woman named Aparna. I did not know her, but in his words she came to life:

You turn your smoldering eyes to me
the whiplash of your flaming hair
sears my face. You know to leave
wounds to persist like fear of death.

I visualized a woman with long raven hair flowing like silken yarn, the quick movement of her slender neck, the anger in the lash of her wind swept hair on Amar's face and the scars beyond what met the eye. Her face remains painted in memory from words that told of her to her:

They drizzled you with liquid gold.
What the oval of you face would not
hold touched the ground beneath your
feet, to bedazzle. Step on my heart with
your golden feet, impale me, Aparna.
I will look up to the sky and see twin
stars shining in a darkly cloudy sky ,
dawn bursting through your pale
pink lips, curved like a dulcet note.

I fear to talk of love to you Roshna, lest I borrow from where I should not. When I hear myself in my head I sound like Amar without his lilting cadence and it makes eldritch music. I wanted to love you as myself but I do not exist in truth.

Who am I without my borrowed idiosyncrasies, words, thoughts and wisdom? How much in the last hour have I told you about me , Aloke ? Indeed what is there to tell? So Roshna what should you find to love in a shadow that will melt away one day?

Absence sometimes is the essence of a person - when their presence is make believe like mine. In having negated everything that I am not you will be left with what I fundamentally am. In loving you I turned curious to know myself , emerge from shadows and turn to face the sun.

Tell me Roshna, who do you see? Could you be in love with me? Would the bowstring tautness of your body ever snap under mine? Would I make you happy and proud? Tell me, am I a better man than my brothers? Who am I?

I chose to die an artistic death, Roshna. Leave you with an image to remember me by after many others have faded. Take my ashes in your hand, fling them into the wind, watch me scatter upon your world. Stand beneath the Gulmohar tree and I will fall in raindrops upon your upturned eyes. My love will permeate your soul, your skin and bones. Then, Roshna you would have known the true me, known I have loved you like no other man will. Take me away, Roshna.



Chay said...


I am at a complete loss for words here Crossings!! That was....brilliant!!WOW!!...brilliant. okay, when i get back my speech I will speak more...till then...WOW!!!!

Doh said...

awesome read HC!
the verse is just amazing!
reading blogs like these is like striking Gold! :)

Nithya Swaminathan said...

I havent read most of ur blogs, but have read enuf to say u write beautifully..:) the rate at which u write is far faster than what i read..:( so I will check them out at leisure..

This one was a fantastic read, HC!:-)

I feel it had a very girlish effect to it... I couldnt accept it was written by a guy... I really cudnt! Maybe bcoz it was way too descriptive... But that dint make it any less wonderful..:-) Keep writing..:)

Heartcrossings said...

Nithya - That I think was an excellent point about the tone being feminine. I did not think of that when I wrote. But thanks for the critique !!

Chay/Doh - Thanks :-)

Chay said...

now that u mention it nits...i did a double take towards the end when aloke mentions his love for roshana. till then i thought it was a gal that was writing the letter. But then, I thought I had not paid enough attention.

Heartcrossings said...

The only defense I can come up with for the girlish-ness is the character of Aloke. He is a teen, he is confused about his indentity because of his stellar older brothers, he is sensitive. He does not have a over-powering sense of "He-ness" - quite on the contrary. If Roshna remains out of reach it could well be because of this subliminal femininity about him.

Chay said...

I am sorry if i came across as critical.
perhaps a wee bit of an intro would help. :-))
Otherwise, it is perfect as it is.

Nithya Swaminathan said...

That was more than enuf defense... I agree, Aloke would be a very timid boy affected by "super achiever siblings" syndrome..:) So the feminity in the character is justified...

My only gripe was whether a guy (however girlish he may be) wud put across his feelings and pain so beautifully..;-) [are the men listening..;-)]

Heartcrossings said...

Chay/Nithay - My writing won't improve unless I get intelligent critique :-) So feel absolutely free to point out to any and all flaws you see. I look forward to it.

In writing a defense I was possibly thinking aloud.

Nithya - the boys would not be happy to hear that I'm afraid :-)

El enigma said... was depressing, is the first thing that comes to my mind HC - but it was wonderfully written....and I had a knot in my stomach when I read it, imagining it was yes, I too thought that the writer was a gal, but that was because of an inherent assumption that it was you....

gosh, there are some lines which are gonna stay with me for a while, I guess....

"We are all happy for me. Happiness is our theme for the evening......

.....Amar is happy but not euphoric. We are terrified of euphoria though happiness scares only a little less."

"Today we were audience to a soliloquy. We missed the part of us that was missing...."

"Amar could have serenaded you with words and music . I only have my eyes and through them my thoughts try to reach you, touch and feel you. Could I ever go that far, Roshna ?...."

" She bore his loss, or was it absence, stoically. Papa sat on his reclining chair staring silently into space...."

I just don't have more words to say how I was so....overwhelming, I guess..

and I can't even say u shud write more, 'coz there wud be a hundred pieces from u that I need to catch up with :)


Chay said...

if i were to CnP from an earlier convo this is what I said...
"I am totally stumped...its been a long while since I read something that made me feel so stumped!!"
"this is creative and intense like vodka on an empty stomach"

I should have just said before :-))
How do u manage to package something so heavy in something so seemingly light and airy...the nonchalance only makes it more intense!!

ok...i am now going to shut up!! zzzzip! :-D

buckwaasur said...

that was awesome hc...very intense and gritty...

FunnyCide said...

I know I am late. But I am glad that you wrote this and I read it. It is just plain awesome. It did leave a very picturesque pain behind.