One fine Saturday afternoon, I was standing in the doorway of my kitchen. My eyes were fixated on the bowl in my left hand, while my right hand clutched a spoon and was whirling it inside the bowl, trying to grind a brown mixture. A minute of whirling converted the dark crumbs into a thick ochre paste with a few small pieces of sugar cubes still lying around.
This whole exercise meant a big deal to me in those days. I had learnt the art of making coffee at home recently back then, and couldn’t resist practising it daily to feel the aroma waft through the kitchen and light up my mood. After pouring hot milk and drinking the resultant delicacy, I sat down in my hall, leaning my back against the wall with my legs up straight on the bed. I browsed through a few headlines on the day’s newspaper with an uneasiness creeping up at the back of my mind — what next?
Such is the dilemma that engulfs an empty mind during hot summer days when one doesn’t have much up his sleeve. There were items on my todo list, sure, but they were not of a very urgent nature, and thus commanded little attention. Reading the newspaper is generally an excuse in such times to let the hands of the clock make their daily pilgrimage on top of that dial, each moving by a carefully measured angle and indicating the passage of time, and do nothing much of interest at all while still being aware of their passage. The hours would go by, and I would do nothing but think deeply about matters that didn’t concern anyone else around me (and ideally shouldn’t have concerned me) or fall asleep when my mind would be too tired or, more often, too bored of these contemplations.
I lamented the loss of 10 lives due to tremors on the Japanese coast, marveled at the technological prowess of the only world superpower, and failed to empathize with the people behind a protest in a certain state of my own country due to issues of subsidy on gas cylinders. After passing some time like this, I became sleepy again. I wondered where the caffeine had disappeared in my system, and made it a point to get up and get something noteworthy done. After all, how long could I have asked for the reader’s attention without throwing in any adventure on a dry Saturday afternoon?
About a quarter of an hour later, I was seated behind the wheel of my mom’s car, revving up the engine to go in search of some adventure. I shouldn’t have spent the afternoon at home, I told myself — it’s a waste of time on a Saturday. One never gets anything done, because one seldom has pressing needs on a Saturday. If one worked on Saturday, what was one supposed to do on a Sunday? Sunday afternoons are, of course, different. They have the urgency of getting things done before the beginning of the next work week, and that is motivating enough. Saturdays, well, have always been meant for leisurely afternoons.
The car was out of the house, and I, out of my induced boredom. It hadn’t been long since I had learnt driving, so the activity still held an element of cautiousness, but the adventure part of it had been catching up pretty quickly. I rolled down the window and put my arm on it, slightly protruding out. The afternoon was turning into a windy evening, and nothing used to seem more naturally fulfilling to me than the air ruffling through my hair, as if waking me up from a slumber, inducing a fresh flow of blood through my face, making it glow with a slight smile stretching across it in response to the weather. I used to think of this small excursion in the car as the beginning of a new day for me — on the evenings when I set out on this journey, I lived two days, the second always more energetic and fruitful than the first.
In about ten minutes, I had reached 10 no. market, a highly unimaginative name for a marketplace if you ask me. I parked the car like a bug taking its place among a dozen other bugs, and walked straight up to an old stationery shop.
Amar stationery had been in place for the last two decades at the least, and had quite a reputation for an enthusiastic shopkeeper dealing in items that hardly roused any enthusiasm. Unbranded registers, copies with pages as stiff as cardboard, old pencil boxes, years old engineering services preparation books, and other uninteresting stationery items lined its shelves. I’ve always felt that stationeries host important items, but should have at least a few of them that are there just for attracting attention — the kinder-joys among the erasers, the colorful bouncing balls among the compasses and dividers, the odd all-in-one pencil among a stack of staplers. This shop had none of the glamour, but for me, there was one saving grace. That’s why I used to visit it, time and again, and release the demons of boredom.
Amar uncle, as he was called, also kept second hand books that he sold for quite a bargain. And not just the Poes and the O’Henrys — his diversity of Indian authors could dwarf even the stores of big name booksellers in the city. The books were kept at the back of the shop, some neatly arranged in shelves, and others scattered on a bed, just as they were picked up and thrown away by other readers like me who came there looking for a new author or a cheap edition of a traditional one. Amar uncle was not too keen to put them back in place — he probably understood that the haphazard nature of this dispersal of books added to the appeal of a book seller whose books had obscure authors, low prices and shoddy covers. Many even had shoddy writing styles and plots, but who is to say that even those didn’t command a readership of their own?
I began browsing through some of the recent stock, discarding books based on a clichéd title or a boring back-page synopsis or a small font size. “The dark side of the satellite”, “the rogue philanthropist”, “dishwasher delight”, “my pain my gain” and the like came and disappeared from my sight within a few minutes. After sifting through all of this clutter, my eyes finally found a book worth a second glance at — “the delicate designs of dark dormitories” by Shweta Gupta.
I took the book, leaned back on the driver’s seat of my car, opened the window and started reading with my legs on the window sill, one over the other. It was a collection of untitled poems, written in a crisp language, describing emotions and situations I was all too familiar with on paper, but had never experienced to the fullest extent myself. Now that I have written the previous sentence, I wonder if that makes me a lesser human. Does it?
Regardless of what the reader thinks of the previous question, I must confess that the book of poems was an insightful journey into my past as my brain conceived it, and my then present self as indicated by the titles I scribbled on top of each poem. Contrary to how I had begun, after the fourth poem onwards, I started assigning a title to each subsequent poem before I had read it — that seemed more in keeping with the way the author had titled the book. Yeah, none of the poems seemed to have anything to do with the titles, so I figured that probably the title came first and the poems later.
Or maybe the title was forced by the publisher, as the author didn’t want to title her collection of untitled poems. And possibly, the author wasn’t the name on the front at all — she may have chosen to change her name completely when she was told that the book shall be named, something she was definitely opposed to. Or maybe …
In a matter of an hour, I was back at home, my mom’s car parked neatly in front of the house, and my mind considerably refreshed and eager to spend the evening watching football. Saturday evenings are far more entertaining than afternoons. I took a bath and prepared another cup of coffee.
Before turning on the TV though, I wrote a poem about my day in my diary and could not think of an appropriate title, so I left it just as it was.
(Featured image originally at http://bhopalcitybus.blogspot.com/2017/07/bhopal-smart-city-public-sharing-bike.html)