Friday, December 23, 2022

Shades of dusk

As the light fades across the western sky, I sit immersed in silence that is yet not quite silent. Home at an unusual hour, before the December day has dimmed entirely. I revel in the shadows and the peace. The silence is accentuated by a faint thrumming from the kitchen, the tiny scratching of claws in a cage, a bird indignant over some small avian disagreement. Through the long windows the light laps at the feet of my living room furniture, washes over curtains and cushions, dresses the corners in long strokes of shadow, touches the everyday with the brush of fleeting mystery. In what passes for winter in my tropical town, smog has risen half-way up the sky and veiled the sun well above the horizon. So much for flaming sunsets. 

“Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets 
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes 
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…” 
“While some people take the party with them wherever they go, Prufrock brings the loneliness.” But is that such a bad thing? Perhaps Prufrock only shows us the emptiness that sings within. Perhaps the party is a masque to cover up the quiet and the dark that wait and wait for the doors in our minds to open. Then again, must I be lonely when I am alone? In quality, in the richness of flavour, there is a difference between loneliness and solitude. The former brings pain, anomie. Solitude is the luxury of the free mind. 

As the light fades further, the noise of traffic homeward bound frays the edges of the velvet silence. Small lights prick holes in the rising dark. My recliner seems to stretch out of its own volition. The smell of incense wraps me in memories – long evenings long ago, with the tinkling bell of my grandmother’s devotions, or my yawning room in Delhi back when I waited for my life to turn the corner. On cue, the neighbouring muezzin sings his melancholy notes. A kite floats past my balcony, late to her waiting nestlings. A pair of flying foxes, great Indian fruit bats, flap homeward to the fig tree in the ashram to the north. Now the French windows frame the last of the dusk, the room fades into softer dark, my subconscious seeks the strains of massed violins, my memory resurrects my great-aunt who loved me more than anybody else and her strong smooth fingers that stroked my head until I slept. 

From the dark vale that undulates softly between the light from my laptop screen and the salmon shades of evening, I seem to rise beyond the detritus of the working day and float into a great domed hall of silent solitude. 

In these moments, I am free.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The simple pleasures

He retired from the Indian Navy many years ago. He says we last met in 2011, though I seem to recall meeting him later in my (then) office on the other side of the river. Be that as it may, he took the trouble to drive over from Fort William and spend some time just catching up. Such a delightful conversation, ranging from the basic principles of Shinto to the effect that the scent of cortisone secretion has on animals, and covering in between the translated version of Buddhadev Bose's Raat Bhore Brishti and the difference in the stroke timing in swimming for sprints and long distance. Like books, some few people are also to be savoured at leisure. Or, as the Man (whose short stories also came up in the conversation) put it, "Apnake toh cultivate kortey hocche moshai!"