June 24, 2002

Delayed dinner and a painting

It has been a while since time and circumstances have afforded me this luxury of stepping aside and looking at this creature of strange proportions and measures called as me. In fact it has been such a long time that I am having to remind myself, "hey let your guard down, it is okay". Melancholy. Yes, that is the word that sums up the vision that fills the eye of my mind. Beautiful, yet sad, colours compose the scene. I feel like the saddest daubs of paint in a master's most brilliant work.

It is a stranger that I see, his features are vaguely familiar, he has his back to me with a body language that says do not look at me. Slightly disconcerted by the lack of clues from the stranger as to what his ailments are, I look around. I too am in the painting now, but only in the artists's mind, I might or might not manifest in so many colours, I am digressing now, lets get back to the point.

Yes, we are at a beach, the ocean lies up ahead. Further ahead, where the stranger's gaze seems to be fixed, lies the horizon. The essential truth, it is everywhere, yet no where, you cannot have it, yet you are in it. Dejected, I make a mental note to check this usual trait of me to dive deep into polemics every now and then.

It is strangely peaceful, I mean the whole painting is. There are children playing on the shores. Making castles in the sand, chasing each other, the odd kite madly dances across the sky in a wild emulation of so many different styles. Seagulls flock all over the place, diving every now and then, sometimes successful, and during other times to come back up with a beakful of disappointment, regardless they keep trying, cackling away like school children at a lunch break. Of course it is their lunch break. Correction: The sun is setting, so it cannot be lunch, must be dinner.

Oh, sorry I lost my thread of conversation. You see I am trying to put all this down between cooking my dinner at the very 'earthly' hour of 3:30 AM and trying to write two letters, a semi-apologetic letter to a dear friend of mine and another a valuable routine conversation. Would you please look around for the thread and hand it back to me immediately if you come across it. The mutton needs another 15 minutes worth of time on the flame and there is one more whistle to go before I can get the rice off the pressure cooker. I do not want to bore anyone with the vagarities of my daily existence if it is possible. Aaah! there she blows, hang on I will be back in a minute.

Back now with a freshly lit cigarette in hand and the just recovered lost thread in the other. So we shall carry on. Shall we?

The painting again. Yes, the only sad spot on it. But how much can a painting tell you? Especially about a man who is standing with his back to you? I touch the person softly on his shoulder and I take a few steps back. You never know how these brooding types are, they might snap at you any time and I for one do not like surprises. He turns around with a bemused "but, why me" look on his face. Thankfully he does not seem to be violent, at least for now. Over a few paper cones of roasted peanuts this is what the man had to say:

"Of late I have been travelling, travelling a lot in fact. From places that I have been to before, to places that I have never been to. So you must assume by now I am a traveller. I have a ticket in my hand that will take me anywhere, to any part of the world. There is no place that I cannot go. It is a one in a million ticket. Very few have ever had in their lives. But, strangely I have no where to go."

"Wherever I come back, I come back to these shores, to feel the waves lapping at my feet like a violent but now obedient dog. No this shore is not a destination for me, it is just a refuge, temporary one at that. I have watched these children play for a long time now, a different set of them used to play here sometime back, soon this set will be replaced by others. Like the seasons they keep changing, only I am here all the time, just a prisoner of time, constantly watching the same drama evolve over and over again."

"Somewhere I have lost the faith in the journey. I do it now more or less due to a force of habit. Nothing binds me to it. There is no more excitement. One day even these beaches will bore me when I would be able to trace the same path I had taken through the wet beaches the evening before, even after the waves have washed everything off."

"Again I wonder where would I want to go? I do not know. In fact I am not sure at all if I want to go even. This feeling has slowly been growing in me that I am slowly getting used to the fact that there is no destination that I want to travel to. I am used to having no destination now, reconciled to not having one, now the thought of one arriving out of the blue scares me. So, in a way I do not want the destination."

"But where do I go then? I have played with these thoughts so many times before. Funny they are. They often remind me of the wet soap that fell down on the bathroom floor. Try as hard as you can, it slips from your hand. It slips and it slips and it slips, like the the beautiful meadow that I have seen in one of the journeys. Looking so beautiful from a distance but dull and drab when you get closer to it, the mundaneness of the singular blades of grass that comprise the meadow remains as a beautiful irony to be added to my knapsack of such ironic trinkets that I have collected over a lifetime of travelling."

"I have seen many a beautiful scenery from the corner of my eye that vanish the moment I look back to catch it in its full glory, my mind playing tricks I assume. Maybe there is no beauty in this world at all. It is just a trick of the mind, after all what do I have in my knapsack? A few old snaps, letters, moments -- in short a motley bunch of odds and bits which are anything but beautiful."

"I have often thought about giving the ticket away. But I cannot. I did not ask for it. In fact it is not even a physical entity. If I want to go someplace I just go, no one asks me anything. It had become so routine that I guess I started painting imaginary smiles on the faces of people I meet just to make the journey more bearable. Now looking at the things trinkets my mind is plagued immediately by suspicion, maybe I painted the beauty on them too. You never know."

"Listen, I would love to tell you more, but it would be the same story, with different people and settings. I do not want to waste your time or want the beauty of this conversation taken away by the boredom that lengthening it would cause. So bye"

Abruptly he stops and goes back to the sad spot on the canvass. Feeling rather helpless, I step out of the painting. The clock tells me it is past four in the morning now. The cooking has been done. I am still due my weird hour shower and the long delayed dinner.

Putting a curtain over the painting, I walk away wondering if I would meet the man again when I look at the painting the next time. Somehow the hollow look in his eyes haunt me even now. Tired and yawning, I pick my towel and head for the bathroom to duel with the slippery soap for the umpteenth time.