05 March, 2011

Blue Phosphorus

He had got used to just one table now, because he had made a workable hand and a complex muscular practice. He brought out now, from within the table itself: his personal bones, a soiled handkerchief, a full packet of cigarettes, dull creativity, a packet of Sunlight soap, a major part of Surama – which was in fact no more than 3-4 places and was something marvelous – and a book of hand-made paper, its cover torn, made an era ago, in which what-he’d-think had all been written down.

He used heat much like blue phosphorus, like metallic indifference, which was actually a protest against personal restraint, full of pauses. If anyone asked, hey, how do you survive all by yourself, then, in reply, he’d say, ‘look at this profile, made of plaster …’; or he’d say, ‘this white colour, which is so abstruse that it can’t be held in one’s fist …’. If you were thrown into confusion by the reply, if you kept looking at his eyes, then, after a while, somewhat indifferently, he would take a huge white sheet of paper and draw a dot on it and display it and say, here’s a dot which is actually merely blue phosphorus. It was white all around it then, a condensed and formless protest. It may not be comprehensible to everyone how a dot on a sparkling sheet of paper like this became mobile, how the death-like white congealed all around it. But that did not matter a whit to him. Whether in the next 36 hours there was a possibility of thunder-showers accompanied by lightening; when the Jaynagar moa would turn stale; how far the submerged mud-flat near the mouth of the river was; whether the tigers in the zoo were suddenly becoming agitated – irrespective of all that, he’d just sit and keep shaking his legs, and go on smoking cigarettes, one after another.

He had got used to many things now. He could stand up all by himself. He could extricate from within the deep blue colour a whole severed human leg, a brass candle-stand and, for that matter, even unmentionable human flesh. Where was that doubtable location from which the stream of heat began? Sure, he didn’t know about that. But he did know for sure that digging the earth yielded: lumps of flesh; water mixed with of lumps of flesh; stairs within water; walls within stairs; from the walls love; and from within love, lots of blue, blue fluff. He had seen that, emerging. In life or in something-like-that.

In practical terms, could a journey that began from a dot really be a journey? Because, quite plainly, no doors anywhere could be opened. Or the speed was so great that identifying any particular trajectory of this speeding object was completely impossible. If instead of the term impossible the word meaningless was specified, then its magnitude would be quadrupled: one man = one point = blue phosphorus = movement = existence.

This familiar hand. Or let us give it a somewhat living form: a familiar woman’s body, some three of whose parts were very earthy, which are placed one after another in uniform intervals, and a useful cavity thus made. How that would be: feeling like that. Was this useful cavity the wheel of happiness according to tantra? It could be too. But he was not at all concerned about that, or its elaboration. Because the elaboration business itself was a lot like negotiating stairs in darkness, the earth beneath which shifts according to the elaborator’s wishes. Or like, if there was a rush in the rear, clear passage being found in front.

Without saying such improper things now, some causality-related things could be said about him. For instance - what the person who came from Bavaria said. Or, all that a future mother should do before her baby was born. And so on. And if it was possible, or worthwhile, then issues such as whether civilized man’s sexuality is systematically moving towards abnormality could also be raised, so that people at large could become interested. But he wasn’t at all concerned about that. He’d just continue sitting, half-sprawled, shaking his legs, smoking cigarettes, one after another, many, numerous, innumerable.

And won’t he work - what’s called profession in decent language? He definitely would. It was work alright: a large sheet of paper, on which he would draw a dot, all around which white colour accumulated, death-like, which he’d then lay down, caringly, until the next morning. And in the morning of the next day, he’d find that the point had found elongation in an entire line. That blue phosphorus had become long-lived. He’d be surprised, he’d try to think, although he had been through the business of being surprised a long time ago. It was meaningless. Yet he’d think again and again about how in the space of one night the dot he’d drawn had been transformed into a line by the morrow. He’d think, not to reach any conclusion, he liked to think now and that was all. Thinking for the sake of thinking. Like a hand for the sake of a hand, a leaf for the sake of a leaf, a mole for the sake of a mole, sorrow for the sake of sorrow, the use of glycerin for the sake of the use of glycerin. Like that, thinking for the sake of thinking. People would make fun of this self-indulgent thinking. Or they’d say, oh wow, that’s great – you’ve made a regular habit of thinking. But that did not matter at all to him. He’d see, he’d see again and again, that yesterday, in the evening, he had made a dot on a huge sheet of paper, and it had grown into a line today. A line – which was actually merely an elongation of that blue phosphorus. He’d laugh a bit, he’d also feel a bit sad. Because if one tried to survive one had to laugh a little and be sad sometimes. Because that’s what survival consists of: at times, whether it was untimely or otherwise, dipping the soles of one’s feet under water. Everything like this had been written in that book with a torn cover.

The table would steadily grow dark, the use of lumps of flesh would become difficult. Rationalistic thinking would sparkle. A slender line of cranes would fly towards the river. Swinging back to himself, he’d gather together the pieces and recognize the boundlessness – which was formless, and existed specifically because it was formless. And the lanes and alleys devoid of one’s own. There was no one anywhere. Only a dry leaf would flutter away over the entire evening. The whole earthly terrain empty. Nothing anywhere. But where was he? A dense accumulation of white, like death, in every direction, but he was there alright – because he smoked cigarettes, shook his legs, was taking in good, bad, joys and sorrows in the incredible cold. Despite everything he was there. A young boy’s lost scarf lying in the playfield. Him. What could be said with such conviction? An empty field, thrown into confusion in the middle of the night. Because the formless point on the huge white sheet of paper grows into a line, bluish phosphorus, by the end of the night. The employer of language. Does the line have an existence? Is it feminine? The desired one’s brisk dilapidation? Where was it now – that line? He looked, it was growing rapidly. Amazingly, it grew and became mobile, continuously advancing towards him. The earth’s inhuman atmosphere steadily turned beastly and advanced towards him, steadily coming closer, steadily purposeful. He heaved a sigh of relief. The still mud-flat all around, and close to the centre walked a fat ant. Imperforated air and a purple time, within whose spacious perforation fluttered a dry leaf. There, in that terrain did the line grow. The blue phosphorus spread rapidly. As it grew, it raced towards him. Kin-void crowds – inequality – sleep – dreams – liberation –contentment. And if, after a while, it, the line, which in his dreams he had made as a dot on a huge white canvas, if this became completely real, the core particle was scattered, the hot-from-fission bluish hue of if it came racing – and his hands, feet, shoulder, chest and even his lungs were all swallowed up – if it wanted to do that, then what would happen? He himself would become identified, he would be instructed that he was there. He. Isn’t it?

He had got used to just one table now. Fixed within a dot’s confinement. Within the limits of a square outcry. Does he want the line to grow more? Grow and overwhelm him? Identify him like a suggestive set made of plywood? Like a constable standing atop a drum – the one who raises his arm and regulates the traffic?



This is a translation of the original Bengali story, “Neel Phosphorus” by Subimal Misra (b. 1943). The story appears in Anti-Golpo Songroho (Anti-Stories Collection), Bitorko, Calcutta, 1999.

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