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Man and The City

I am not a rich man.

Maybe I am blessed with a stability and comforting smallness to my life. I live my days in structured simplicity; xeroxed days with their repeated battles and the expected turbulence of middle class. Nothing major, only a slow eating away of flesh. I tell myself that flesh will regrow and the spirit replenish.
 
And it is true.
 
I become a window in time, losing and gaining, losing and gaining in the drift. By changing constantly, I remain the same. My marrows may drain, I may walk in hollowness but it doesn’t matter. What matters are the extensions and continuations. And conformance. And family. And sacrifice. I teach my children to make the same mistakes, which my forebears made. Be deaf to the same cries of the spirit. Wear happy, conforming masks till they fuse to your face…
 
Every morning on my toilet seat, I think the same thoughts. I brush my teeth and I shower using the same brand of toothpaste and soap. And it will be exactly 7:46 in the clock above the mirror, when I come out of the bathroom. The CD player will be on the same note of Kevin Kern. The morning tea and the toasts taste exactly the same. I exchange the same courtesies with the old lady who has stopped aging since the four years I have been seeing her in the lift. She wears the same clothes and carries the same smell of medicated oil. In the office, I attend the same meetings, look at the same plans, make the same comments, write the same emails to the same people. I eat the same home-cooked lunch my wife packs for me, while my colleagues praise her for being so loving. I nod in acknowledgement.
 
My kids are asleep by the time I return home. For dinner, I eat my night’s quota of chappatis. I pretend to listen to my wife’s complaints, the day’s gossip. I nod and grunt at the right places. She knows I am not there as I know she knows. In bed I reach towards my wife and she pushes me away telling me how tired she is. I stare at the ceiling as my eyes accustom to the soft glow of the city lights. And when the hollowness stirs in my marrow, I put it to sleep with the lullaby, “Constancy is Happiness” and I think of a snow capped mountain far away, a picture of which is stuck on my office wall. A picture that takes me from one day to the next, like the pickaxe of a mountaineer…
 
I am not a rich man, yet my life, so carefully mapped out by my prudent wife, has allowed me a few luxuries without the bite of debt. My recent acquisition was a car. Yesterday the passenger door hit a post as it was being opened. It left a minute but noticeable dent. It created a bigger wound to my mind, which kept brooding about it the rest of the day. Then, later in the night as I lay staring at the ghostly shimmers of a shuttering-down city, I realised that I was no longer upset about the dent. But the more I thought about it, a feeling of disappointment began to grow in me like an unpleasant after-taste. Until then I never thought of myself as a materialist. I have never worked hard for a pay raise; nothing in the endless shop-windows of city have caught my fancy. Except for a strange fetish for DIY hardware (toolsets, electric drills etc) and computer accessories, I have had no major urge to splurge on toys. Yes, sleek notebooks and palmtops have seductively called at me from newspaper advertisements like Russian prostitutes in the shadows of a traffic light on my way home. With hardly an effort, I have resisted their calls. And here I am brooding over a scratch.
 
And then it hit me.
 
This small incident was like a blip in the featureless radar of my life. A kink in this eternal present that reminded me that there was still hope. For some reason I concluded that the city was to blame. The heady musk of money that pervaded the city in every sickening cranny sunk into the very marrow of its denizens trapping them in a recycled time, a repeating history. They do not realise the immortality of their misery; a misery itself cloaked in the garb of comfort, of convenience. They do not realise that on death they will return to relive this illusion of contentment. By stealth, the city becomes a deathless addiction. I realise that even the endlessly repeating days and nights are its respirations—inhaling light, exhaling darkness. And in its bowels, we, little minions, tirelessly work for its preservation and expansion.
 
This was my revelation. This will be my rebirth.
 
That night I resolved to make changes to my life: spice up my future with risk. I know it is a cliché, done by many before; people take up bungee jumping or other extreme sport to enliven their existence, but I wasn’t prepared for such physical changes. Yet I too needed my watershed. And if providence did not provide, I will carve one myself. The mountain was seductive, but the mountain must wait. I have thirsts I must quench first…
But routine and guilt are twin sisters, and I instantly thought about family and responsibility. Like some programming that was hardwired in my brain. In my mind a weighing balance seesawed—one pan held my family and in the other was my form afire. And my deathless ghost loomed large. That was it.
 
With the single-mindedness of a torpedo, I shot down my guilt and logged in. And I hummed the “freedom” mantra to deafen the cries of my pesky conscience. The lonely hearts internet forums like friendfinder, craigslist, match.com all carried my profile. Among a million others. The world was such a lonely and miserable place.
To make mine standout (or so I thought), I described myself through a poem, under the fitting handle of “Man_of_Rhyme”. I must warn you that I am no poet, yet I assumed any verse, however mindless, would standout. This was the “poem” that I posted:
 
 
I have too much love to give
But no one to receive,
So many stories to share
But no one to pair
 
In all honesty, I have a wife
And kids too, but a wretched life
In lonely passionless existence,
A dreary robotic subsistence
 
Now you might give me some advice,
(Which, I agree, should suffice):
“In family, find happiness”, you say
“Else you will be led astray”
 
I wish it was as simple as that
Happiness, I have really worked at,
Yet my home is a constant battle zone
It’s like living in a raging cyclone
 
About me, you may now ask,
I am honest; without a mask,
A middle aged, simple man,
To make a living, I plan.
 
I also write these terrible rhymes
Mainly to fill my lonely times,
I am healthy and quite fit,
And do have a sparkling wit.
 
Maybe I may need just a friend,
To whom I will surely extend
My hand, my heart, my mind
In platonic ties entwined
 
Perhaps we can have coffee & cake,
And share a joke, soothe an ache,
Talk of things that come to an end,
Urm, will you...be...that friend?
 
As you note, I was honest about my familial situation, at least that much of my conscience was undisturbed. But as the poem unfolded, I wondered whether it was a relationship or an experience that I truly sought. But it was no time for such spirals of introspection. Perhaps an experience comes out of a relationship, I consoled myself. To further add credibility to my profile, I attached a clear photograph of myself in decent clothes and in a casual setting. It was not my best photograph, but it was the most recent and I looked sincere and moderately attractive though a trifle geeky with my intellectual eyes sparkling behind rimless spectacles. I thought I detected a dreaminess in them that I instantly liked.
Taking one last look at my profile before I clicked the submit button, I was hoping that it would attract someone as lost as myself in these dark labyrinthine veins of the city.
I was not concerned that someone I know would come across my profile; as a matter fact that only added to the experience. To this quiet rebellion against the city.
 
I ignored the responses from hotbabe198, sexmeup, tasty_tranny and kneel_gayman. In fact I did not even open their emails. But the handle verse_venus piqued my curiosity. And her (or his?) email too was interesting:
 
My dear unhappy Man of Rhyme,
Your profile, I found quiet sublime,
Like a boy lost in this big city,
You clearly have its infirmity.
 
I call myself verse_venus
I feel we share the same genus
Maybe we could be a pair
And share our stories of despair
 
I welcome you to my profile
I am sure it will be worth your while
To know me more, my love and likes
And there perhaps a friendship strikes.
 
Her profile indicated she was young (twenty one) and extremely attractive. There was a photograph of her sitting daintily in a sofa, in what looked like an expensive restaurant. Slim and fine boned, she was a picture of elegance and poise, with her hands gracefully crossed on her laps and a light smile on her lips. To me she resembled an anachronistic Audrey Hepburn in her fine china delicateness. But today, in the world of Flickr and Photoshop, your eyes are the least you can trust.
 
Apart from that single photograph there was little else in her profile other than a single cryptic quote in her bio, which read:
 
“Remember, remember
the fifth of November.”
 
The date held no meaning to me. But in this age of Google, information was the least of your problems.
So it was a quote from a movie called “V for Vendetta”. The pages of IMDB told me that the movie was about anarchy and violent rebellion. Maybe the date held some special meaning for her. Was it her birthday, or an anniversary of some sort? I noted from my calendar the 5th of November was just two days away.
I decided to respond to her—what have I got to lose?—and invited her to a chat line.
 
ur profile was 2 cryptic. hardly anythin there… so my imagination went haywire—I lied about my imagination. I thought it was a good way to start the conversation.
 
what did you imagine? —was her reply.
 
nothin… I thot maybe ur some anarchist babe out to stir trouble in the city—u kno with dat quote from dat movie… —it was meant to be a joke.
 
do you like the city? —she asked.
 
well…I live here… dis is my home…
 
which is a box in the sky. a single cell of the beast.
 
what beast? —I asked. I was uneasy and did not like how this conversation was turning out. Maybe this was not such a good idea after all.
 
don’t act daft. you know what I am talking about.
 
so ur saying de city is a beast… an interesting idea… one that I myself have held
 
so you agree.
 
well… yeah… sort of… in a soulless sense…
 
I thought you would agree… I almost sensed it when I read your profile.
 
well, there’s nothing we can do about it, is there?
 
that’s where I don’t agree with you.
 
wat can we do?
 
many things… the question is not what can you do, but whether will you do it
 
depends…
 
…on what?
 
depends on wat is 2 be done
 
simple things… for example, if we tell you to deliver a few packages to some places in the city on a certain date and if we convince you that that would help in killing the beast, would you do it?
 
Cold sweat broke on my temples. Who is this I am chatting with? My fingers trembled over the keyboard.
 
Are you there, man of rhyme?
 
We? —I finally typed.
 
There was a pause on the other side before my screen flickered with the words: Oh. I meant V… as in Venus
 
I logged out instantly.
That night I couldn’t sleep. Was she for real? I tried to convince myself that I am making too much out of this chat. Maybe it was just a bunch of kids trying to scare me. The following day I clicked on the link to her profile that was in my email. The webpage told me that it had been deleted. A trial email that I sent to her also bounced, telling me that no such account existed. Maybe it was all just a prank after all.
 
On the sixth of November the newspapers had the biggest headlines I had seen in a long time.
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