I grow old, I wear my trousers rolled
Seasons arrive and leave like music. They leave soundlessly, like mother’s footsteps and the sound of her bangles, like music. An ode to joy, sometimes – Beethoven’s unheard symphony. Sometimes, an ode to the hard labour of the poorest and the peasants, celebrating, with Salil Chaudhary. And yet, there is an ache in some part of the body and soul. Perhaps in the inner-most recesses of the skin. Eyes. Fingers. Eyelashes. I grow old, I grow old. I wear my trousers rolled, as TS Eliot would say.
Seasons leave you with longings and sensuality. Tired of the daily rituals of your legs, as Pablo Neruda would write, tired of being a man, seasons heal you and torment you simultaneously. They don’t allow you to sleep. And if you are a nocturnal creature like me, trapped in the Gregorian calendar of youthful time and space, then the new fragrances of the changing landscape will chase you and haunt you like a lover and beloved, like the songs of Talat Mahmood and SD Burman in Bimal Roy’s Sujata. And you can’t but remember the Dalit girl raped and dead, her young 17-year-old body being carried on a garbage tractor in a municipality in Bikaner by the police; or the tears of Rohith Vemula’s mother. Tears. One drop, photographed. My student Saurav Roy Burman, an accomplished reporter now, he would say, her one drop of tears will defeat the establishment. She has defeated the establishment. Not only like a Dalit mother, but as a resurrection of Dalit liberation. And no damned Sanghi fascist dare tell her to shout this slogan or that in the praise of the motherland/fatherland to prove her patriotism.
And yet, the heat has arrived like sleeping snakes. Waiting to unmask all the black and white and sepia colours of darkness we love. White, nasty and brutish, unforgiving, the Hindi heartland heat is unique. And yet, the flowers are refusing to admit it, as in lush green and spring revolution JNU, as in Lutyens’ Delhi, as in Santhal Pargana and Assam, where the rain arrives and heals with unpredictable inevitability. Many years ago Jayant would just call me on the landline from Assam and say, listen: I would listen, to the torrents of rain on his courtyard, or in a booze shop near Kaziranga, his Old Monk bottle wrapped in a newspaper with my article inside it. Do I miss Jayant, my best friend?
Days come and go and I walk as usual across the mapped mappings, crossing the street like a comic strip of desire. I can hear the sounds of streams and distant tides on a full-moon night and the slow burning of the fog inside my soul. I can still smell yesterday’s February chill inside my loose cotton shirt, holding it like a rose leaf inside a book. Life is a leaf storm. A magic realism Marquez story. Or, is it, like a sublime woman in a graveyard you first met with Maupassant, who, with her first glance, has already cheated you. From grave to grave, it was lucky to meet her. Or else, what are we?
They are asking the flowers and the trees to prove their nationality and masculinity. They are picking on young people whose faces remind us of birds and petals. They are picking up people. They are threatening to behead people. They are lynching and hanging people in villages. They are looking inside our refrigerators. They are condemning all those who don’t agree with them as anti-nationals. They are re-writing the Holocaust, which they glorified. All history is the history of barbarians, Walter Benjamin would write.
And yet, rebellion is a priori. It arrives like a whistle in the dark. It arrives like ghost stories on summer terraces across small towns where young kids in cut-piece dresses, would share night-time raw mangoes under a mosquito net. At that time we did not know that Jibononda Das would one day write a poem where ‘she’ will arrive, like Bonolota Sen, and offer you an orange in the middle of the night inside the mosquito net.
The mustard flowers must arrive soon, like the Kash flowers in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, and we must listen to the flowers. We must wait and listen to the sounds of the first steam engine train which crosses the Bengal countryside, while Durga and her little brother chew a stolen guava, waiting, like scientists, for the first murmer of the magical monster on the railway tracks. This is the music which summer will bring again, this is the sound of the waters of a pristine river, the gurgling, rippling sound: I touch you and you ripple like a river, Pablo Neruda would write.