The lemon slice floated near the rim. The vodka was more potent than I thought it would be. These were dredges of a trip to a city I knew well enough not to like it. I was with a new friend who had still to grasp what I wanted out of life.
There was a man across the table drinking beer. He was alone, so he started watching. A group of hip youngsters was on our left. They were mindlessly shaking their heads to music from the 60s. I don’t know how it happened but I started quoting Eliot:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
I was in a trance-like state. There was a montage on the wall, its thick ink drawing curiously about what Eliot spoke. My friend and I decided to find ourselves in there. I pointed out one figure and said, “This is you…now tell me who I am.”
He found a face, alone, observing, but lost. I had chosen another one for myself, the woman holding the man as they danced, but she was looking beyond his shoulder not at someone else but into nothingness. “This is what I feel like.”
“But the other one is more poetic.”
I don’t think I said anything. Poetry is a state of nothingness.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is no Wasteland, but it spills out of my mouth as syllables are measured out in coffee spoons and existence froths out of the cup staining the saucer.
We made our way out. It was not too late. A little boy was peeing against a wall, the bottoms of his trousers rolled and frayed and dying a slow death. We reached my destination and sat in the lobby. I started speaking about jerky memories of a life stopped several times. He got a call. I spoke to one of his friends.
He asked, “What is your name?
“Charulata,” I said, naming a character from a Tagore novel and a Satyajit Ray film, a character whose life is full of desolation and wonder, who looks out of her house with opera glasses.
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
“Oho, and where are you?” asked the man.
“In Jalsaghor (the music room, the name of a Ray film),” I said.
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
I handed the phone back to my friend. He had to listen to the whole conversation that ended with, “You know, I must meet this girl.”
I laughed. I did feel like a girl then…
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
Weaving a chain with drops between the unrelated and the intangible, I was overwhelmed by water.
- - -
All italicised portions are from 'The Love Song...'