Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Unfinished Tales -1 (A Fruitless Existence)

(written sometime during 1980-82, Bhopal)
On Saturdays, the office gets over after lunch. Today is Saturday, and there is still almost half a day left before I can hit the soft oblivion of the bed. I dread these afternoons for their unstructured-ness. Sundays are somewhat more tolerable; I can always find a list of things to do to keep myself busy and useful, like washing clothes, stitching buttons, rearranging my room (and how many arrangements can you make out of a bed, two chairs, a table and an iron trunk), shopping for the necessities. But Saturday afternoons are different and dull. They place me with a large chunk of time at my disposal, and I am forced to take a decision about it.

I am one of the senior clerks in the office. If you go by my personnel file, I have twenty years of experience working this organization. The way I look at it is that I have one month of experience, which I have repeated two hundred and forty times. Two hundred and thirty eight to be exact. It is like the myth of Eternal Recurrence: every week I spend five and a half days in the office, and fumble around with the remaining one and a half. For the last two decades, this pattern has remained much the same, except for a few times when I had fallen ill, and once when I had gone to my native village to cremate my dead mother, the last of my roots. Of course, there have been changes. Nowadays, there are better photocopying machines, more educated peons, more frustrated bosses, more indifferent colleagues, and more arrogant customers. Over the years, the prices and disillusionment have increased, and contentment and intimacy have gone down. But these are only minor fluctuations in the looming background of my personal anonymity, which has remained perennial like some cosmic principle.

I loiter towards the Coffee House. A piece of sunlight is leaning against its door, ogling at the pedestrians like some street-side loafer. I push the door, and it falls flat on the carpeted floor. I enter, trampling over it, triumphant and privately delighted about my delinquency. Inside, it is dark, and a soft ubiquitous murmur pervades the room. I grope my way to a corner table, gradually getting accustomed to the darkness.

The room is littered with countless human islands, each characterized by its peculiar fauna.  There are islands of the literary people, engaged in their private battle of words and wits; of the city-bred intellectuals, gauging the trend of the contemporary world; of the disillusioned unemployed, struggling with their common sense of futility; of the young college-goers, enthusiastic about their frivolous exploits; of the young lovers, wooing each other in soft murmured tones. Beneath this heterogeneity of motives and directions, I feel there is a common striving for one's life and future. Probably, that is why I find this place so comforting, its involvement with life so very consoling. If so many people can be serious about it, then, apparently there must be something more to life than a series of ineffectual events bounded within the paradigm of periodicity.

The waiter passes by my table three times, feigning a busy indifference to my presence. I feel an affinity towards him and his indulgence in his contrived sense of purpose and importance. Since I am in no hurry, I abandon my fruitless efforts to attract his attention, and start scanning the room once again…

As usual, my eyes move towards the table at the far end of the room, just next to the window with the glazed brown glass. I realize that it has been so many years since I have sat there…