06 December, 2015

The real detective of the mystery beneath the skin

Holding his own male member in his hand, he points at himself –
what part shall I play tomorrow?

 Ami[1] had developed a kind of bodily relation with the books, which was both gradual and incessant, and just after that, problems arose. They survive now by eating each other’s flesh. Violets are blue, because another body emerges from the body and walks in front of mute Grushenka[2], in the vicinity of Khalasitola[3]. As it is the girl was beautiful, colleagues flatter her calling her a ‘paragon of beauty’, right from her college days she had been seeing only entrancement in men’s eyes. Perhaps it was this girl who came to meet Ami. He said spontaneously: Come, come in, I was just thinking about you. But the girl has interpreted this in a different way, the eighth colour of the rainbow was about to be discovered. Girls are extremely possessive, for sure, but he was of the opinion that boys were even more possessive than girls. Now Ami says he is very tired, an infinitude of tiredness. He had been tired for the last three decades, it had gone on for even longer than he had been alive. And just then, after talking about this and that for about an hour, as he’s leaving, he hugs Grushenka. She does not resist, releasing herself slowly she says: You’re a rogue. He laughs: And you’re a treasure trove. What rubbish – Grushenka says – Tell me, why do you come so late – don’t I suffer? Good and evil are one, evil is merely the wrong choice at the moment of truth. If the life I used to lead is a dream then this is a nightmare, until it’s transformed into complete insanity the nightmare isn’t concluded. Ami had just turned forty then. Double the girl’s age. A face covered over by a red beard, two weak legs, a short, fat body. His female friends smirk, they say: the kind of appearance that’s eager to establish bodily relations. When he has no other work he makes models of bones. Doing that on and on he had made a complete human skeleton. And just the same way, whatever he wrote, over an entire year, page after page, one night something got into his head and he tore everything into shreds and let it blow away in the wind. Even before an incident is prepared one must reach another incident, and from there to yet another incident, perhaps with diametrically opposite thinking, all of which would be made with another arrangement, unconnected, hence ambiguity is created, is bound to be. Because, perhaps, Ami, in a particular sense, was a writer, just like some other writers, but also the end-writer. He began to lose touch with the external world, he was also steadily losing his mental balance. He stopped meeting his friends, he used to say that he didn’t have clothes to go out in, didn’t have shoes. And when he did get some money he called all the people from the streets and organized a grand festive feast of food and drink. Towards the end Ami lived all alone in a one-and-a-half-room flat. His body had come to resemble that of an old man, although he was only forty his face bore the stamp of age. And when idle, immersed in dreams, he could see Theodore[4] staring fixedly at him through the darkness. He had sent people to kill him. Theodore was passing off the pages of writing stolen from him in his own name, one day he said that a maidservant had mixed a sleeping potion in his tea and stolen some pages from his new work in order to sell it to Theodore. But the funny thing is that the man who is visible has almost reached the flyover by now. The boy is consoling the girl, just you wait and see – everything will be alright. The car waits. The girl says: You must help me, I beg you, Alyosha, help me. Ami leaves. The girl stands gazing at the door. And then she goes and lies down on the bed that’s wrapped in darkness. The sound of a motorcycle starting and then going away can be heard. Who was it that had said that life was full of surprises – who used to say that, Theodore or Alyosha – or was it both of them? Grandma used to say that when I was a little boy I apparently used to run around with my arms spread on two sides like a bird’s wings. People say, when you dream about flying it means you’re growing up. Ami used to fly even when he was awake and yet he could never grow up. Leaping off a mountain – flying along over the ocean – Ami sees such dreams even now. Snatching his words, Theodore says – How amazing, I too was thinking of exactly the same thing at this moment. At one time, here, on this bed, there used to be a youth, whose name was also Theodore. Everyone used to call him Alyosha in jest. When he was asked he used to reply: I’m floating over the clouds. That was quite normal for those who had a problem in the head, as soon as they wished they could lie beside clouds. Many people ask questions about sending Ami to hospital and the subsequent incident. Was it at all necessary to send him to hospital? Even if he was sent to the hospital once, was it correct to keep him there for the rest of his life? Erasing the difference between the selfness of future and present, I constantly reconstruct myself anew. How can I become what I have not yet become – all my hopes and desires are only a ceaseless attempt at this rearrangement. This circle will never be complete. My separation is eternal, Ami’s nothingness-like unbridgeable distance. Within my existence there is always a distressed scream of nothingness, but this void is the kind of force, the force within one’s existence – which makes man dream of being elevated to a certain and well-knit future from an incompatible and uncertain condition. Many of Ami’s friends used to declare that Ami did not behave like a lunatic at all. Yes, he was paranoid, but one often comes across people suffering from persecution mania who live with their families without causing any damage, leading regular lives. Maybe his neighbours had raised objections about him because he was not like other people. Ordinary people are bound to express their doubts about a man who only goes out at night, just scribbles something all day long and then tears it up, who doesn’t talk to anyone. It is love for people that makes Ami anti-human. Perhaps because of this, Ami exacted a great revenge on himself. Conformity means death, only protest gives a hope in life. Yes, Ami saw that a man constantly gives him company in the course of daily life, enriches him, sometimes more than a woman. Together with this, he creates a certain madness within me as well, because I too am a man. I had to ascertain whether I was really a man in various ways. I ascertain that by placing myself beside a man, and not just beside a woman. Through this, I understand his way of thinking too. Trying to know oneself without being too clever. But, being alone, continuously, gradually, going on being solitary, did not merit blame. After spending the night with Grushenka, the wild-mannered Ami – then, in those days – became endowed with some human qualities. In thought and feeling, another dimension has become manifest. And unlike in his youth, when he used to physically win over many women, he constantly stays beside the girl. In his earlier writings, a specific dimension of power, courage and madness used to be expressed, he had a wild exultation regarding man’s aboriginal tendencies. After Grushenka’s arrival, a lot of it becomes gentle. There is restraint at the perverted presence of flesh, a self-orientation enters his thinking. And the veiled melancholia in the later stage attains a much higher level than before. Towards the end Ami started living with the girl. That’s why a melancholy countenance enters his final writings, concealing everything else. The two of them lived together then – Grushenka and Theodore. The gossip was that she bore his child in her womb, but the girl had just not been willing to having an abortion. Having changed into a sari, Grushenka comes and says, tell me how I look. … Lets go, where shall we go? He suddenly holds her face with his two hands and says: Do you know something, Grushenka – do you know … Notwithstanding her married life with her husband for so long, these words of the man who was her lover make Grushenka’s whole being giddy, but she says: I’m not that great-looking. Ami looks at her and becomes serious: If you were a man, you’d understand the fire – the fire you’re playing with, Grushenka, standing between father and son. The other layer beyond this first layer, where he had tried to reach, where there’s no compromise, was sexuality. Here you can never be successful with pretence. That means you want to experience the worldview of that layer through your instincts. Your instincts tell you about your ordinary experiences, which are outside the world of the mind, through those you enter the world of the mind by means that are bestial or anything else like that – you realize the worldview. For this, every now and then you must sleep with other girls too. You have to sleep with them both actively and positively. Only then will you find yourself. Actually I liked this too. I liked it with utmost honesty. I stayed back. I was trying to search for something, I’m still doing that even now. In such matters, we either become slaves only to our joys or accept the girl’s happiness as the final word. Both of these are a kind of lie. And lies do not lead to any investigation of truth. I am able to take this risk. Through the very girl you can enter another secret world. Do you know in what respect you are different from everyone else – Grushenka says – you know how to listen. Men never listen to what women say. They only think about going to bed. I don’t mind going to bed, but that you heard me all this while, that’s what’s amazing. The truth cannot be realized through words. It’s correct to say that the moment of pure truth cannot be expressed in the language of any specific person, but it’s also possible to create new kinds of signs, which are not used by people, through which the individual in the moment of pure truth can be identified. It is this that can be called, in Ami’s view, characteristics of the self – meaning, one reflects one’s own characteristics. The characteristics of the self, or looked at in another way, non-characteristics – whose form cannot be expressed in any language in currency. Perhaps only that part of our logical method of arrangement, which people cannot easily accept, is the real truth. He lies in bed, away from Calcutta, unwell. He muttered: I want to see the girl. His wife was beside him – his wife of twenty-five years. Those who were near him said: There she is, right beside you. He got annoyed: No, no! Not her, Grushenka. I want to see Grushenka. Bad times have begun for me, brother, I was just recovering from kidney inflammation and now I’m writhing in spinal pain all day. For over a year now I’ve been unable to sleep in bed. All day and night, I sit with my back resting on a pillow, the hour or two that I sleep for is by resting on the pillow. At first a lung X-ray was taken but nothing was found. It’s a week now since the spinal X-ray was done. A collapse of the third dorsal vertebra was detected in that. Ami comes and stands at the door. He stands with his head raised high, towards the sky that had become dense with darkness. Down below, the road going up and down the flank of the mountain recedes into the distance, keeps doing so. Dogs supposedly eventually start looking like their masters. At one time, I used to think that this referred to a resemblance of nature or character. But later I realized it was not that – gradually the dogs began to look as ugly as their masters – the insides of the mouths of both were terribly filthy – a horrible, red, gaping mouth. In this way, Ami died one day. According to the hospital records the cause of death was an apoplectic stroke. After Ami died, when his desk was opened, a large envelope bearing Dostoyevsky’s name was found. But it was completely empty. At least Ami’s case was different. He was merely a trapeze artist. Dressed in gleaming red satin, Ami floats around – swinging on one hand and then the other – from one end to the other end – even when he frees his hand, emptiness, he is held by an invisible bond. He does not have the capability of severing that tie, no one has. And as he floated in that momentary emptiness, he saw his own defeat with his own eyes. His writings condensed and took over his life at some point, it was the blown-away pages of the writing that determined how far the writer was there or whether at all there was anyone called a writer. Or the term writer was actually nothing but an imaginary notion, which has no existence in reality. The unexamined life is not worth living. The only way to deny everything that was absurd in the world was to lead one’s life in an absurd way. With every new thought, Ami knows, he has to attain death again and again.



This is a translation of the original Bengali story, “Twoker Niche Rohoshyer, Ini-i Ashol Goyenda”, by Subimal Misra. Translated by V. Ramaswamy. The author gratefully acknowledges the Ledig House writing residency. The valuable assistance of Nilanjan Bhattacharya is also acknowledged.

[1] “Ami” means “I” in Bengali, and is also used here as a character’s name.
[2] The names Grushenka and the subsequently referred to Alyosha bring to mind Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
[3] Khalasitola is a country liquor bar in central Calcutta, also known for its association with a section of intellectuals, poets, writers, film-makers, theatre-persons etc.
[4] The same as Fyodor.

No comments: