In the evening, I dream the city from my window. I feel the dream all the way from my bones to the river bank, the way the grandfather clock feels time. I find the dream in the black-and-whites on the walls. The dream lives in those cheerful faces, their laughter, those fine delicate legs. I dance with it in lithe steps. It whirls with me. Silent as the gramophone, where are they now? These chairs, leather strapped, still wait for them. How the floor heaved when they danced! These shiny wine glasses still clink for them, ‘Drink me, drink me!’ The food sizzles, the laughter tinkles.
When I scratch my nails against the dull cream walls I see pink, ultramarine, green, orange. These walls are so thick. I need to see the sky. These walls – why can’t they find some other colour to live in?
In the evening, like those nights, the banana skirts and shorts are out pirouetting. The young ones are too busy catching each other’s eye.
I am the grandfather clock, with the Roman numerals – I am here.
There you are, among the black-and-whites! Don’t hide now! Here you are, gently painting with your one able hand – ‘The Tree of Life’ you called it. The banyan roots towards the sky, dancing into the heart of the green leaves, pitter-patter.
I trundle down the old passageway looking for you. I find a strange man holding a banana, staring at me. Here I search for you and there he throws me a ditty: “Turn me back, high and low, I exist and so I show.” Then he bends forward and whispers in my ear, “Fill my glass with the old sweet dream, tomorrow, it may not be.”
I turn around and find the darkness turning. Dawn is on the other side. When I sleep, I find you walking and when I awake, I need to find you.
“Really?” you ask me.
There you are, back again. You startled me!
Let’s pry together. Keep your ears close to the walls. Shh. Walls might hear. Listen to the music. A distant hum – it’s that boatman song again – ‘oh le chal paar, mere saajan hain us paar.’ Even I know that one. It’s Nutan in Bandini.
For a while, nothing happens. Then tears start gushing out.
You need food, not music? There’s nothing in the kitchen, dear. We need to get something fresh and hot – a Chole Bhature soaked in oil, once the shops open. Let’s go out. Get out of the kitchen. The world is bigger out there.
Wait, wait, hang on, wait! Not now. Not yet. It is too early now. The shops haven’t opened. Wait. All right, all right, have it your way, I am coming. Quiet. Everyone is sleeping. We need to tip toe!
The sun will say hello now. Good! Walk with me dear, don’t scurry away.
Do you remember where you lived before we met? Yes, that cottage by the river. I would wait outside. You could see me, couldn’t you? From those dark latticed windows, you did see me. A peep! I always knew that! I would come in my Sunday best and wait by the river, looking busy, looking away, waiting for you. You would come out, no you won’t. You would look at me, no you won’t, yes you will!
One day, you laid your tiny feet beside mine in the waters. There was a low silence to the river that day.
Let’s go to the river! Let’s look for our faces in the water. You can find your face in a rainbow even when it isn’t raining. You said that.
Why, shouldn’t we be sitting on a park bench? Lovey dovey, lovey dovey!
No, see the guard outside, gun slinging on his shoulder. He has a moustache like walrus teeth. Doesn’t he look menacing? Hello there!
He is shouting at us. Oh. Park is closed. Fine, we will go away. Don’t bother us and we won’t bother you. Go away walrus. Walruscal! Nothing, nothing.
It will not do, it will not do at all.
Wait, wait! Where are you going? Wait dear. Not so fast. I am getting on. I know, I know.
Oh you are hungry, yes I forgot. Sorry, really sorry. The jalebi shop has opened. Let’s go there. Garma garam jalebis and samosas! Yes, two samosas and two jalebis please! Good. Look at him take it up and pour it down. Garma garam jalebi. Now our faces will be as round as gulab jamuns.
Stomach full, we are free to roam again. Where do we go now?
Yes, let’s find that man. Yes, the shaven headed, dark fluteman. He was blind, wasn’t he? He would play the flute and tap his feet outside the dazzling HMV shop that sold colour televisions and cassettes. Yet we liked the fluteman more. Why?
Because he would tap his feet and tilt his head and play his tune.
Where he had stood, an old woman sits, selling oranges in a tokri. Her twig basket is full.
Where’s the flute player?
Fifteen rupees, a kilo? Old woman, all wrinkled. Her eyes light up when I want to buy a kilo. Juicy, sticky oranges, sticky as the hands with jalebi!
How do you just keep going on and on? Don’t you tire? Let’s sit. Let’s see the sky, the colours changing, blue and orange, purple and red. And then all black.
Let’s rest a while.
It is turning, this sky. It’s going black. Where are we?
The lights hurt my eyes. Oh the traffic honks, they hurt my ears so. I am tired, tired, tired. My breath, oh so slow, so slow, I wish I could walk on like you do.
Yes, let’s go home. Which way do we turn? Left or right?
That shop looks familiar doesn’t it? Yes, that’s Das Pharmacy. It has the wooden door planks. You can fold them like clothes. Then you can open them.
Of course, of course, we know him. Let’s say hello. Remember, that’s where we took our injections. Yes. Das, good ol’ Das, with that cream shirt never tucked in, that bald head. He never hurt me, remember? His injections were like magic. They went straight in and you didn’t even know.
‘What, father?’ The man inside looks at me as if he has just seen a ghost! He looks like Das, doesn’t he? Only younger, see his black hair gently fraying? Is Das growing younger?
Shh. Yes, look at him. Don’t laugh! Shh. Don’t giggle now.
‘What brings you here? Time for your shots?’
Why does he look so worried?
Looking around, yes, the familiar furniture, the dry smells, the medicine reek. This is like a hospital. No point talking to him.
No, he looked differently at me now, Mr. young Das.
Come, give me your arm. Come, let me take you home, come.
Hey hey, don’t hold it so tight. It hurts. I am not running anywhere. Heh heh!
Where are we going? I steal a glance at your dark black eyes, kajol lined. Beautiful. Where are we going?
Inside the car, music is playing. It’s not Bandini. It’s not even Hindi. I don’t understand it.
What music is this?
Hip Hop, they play hip hop here.
There we are. Our house, the old house with the cream coloured walls!
I hear all kinds of voices, noises, shouts, crackles, laughter, tears, sighs and finally, silence. Then I see the snapples and the tin cans. ‘Eat me, eat me!’ Who said that?
Turn away all clocks? I said that.
We were looking all over for you. Where were you? Oh father, don’t ever do that! Who was that? Where did you go? We were so worried. We we we. Wollopollopollowollowweewee. So many voices.
I look around for you. Where are you?
I go inside. There! Your paintings! All fake Rembrandts, Vermeers, the Tree of Life too! There is a Van Gogh as well, so fake it looks true. There you are, hiding in one of those stars! Stars thick as street lights. I see you there. A clear eye is all it takes.
You look so beautiful. Your eyes deep and hard, you dancing inside the moonlight, you, smiling with the kids, you trying a new dance step. What fun! What fun! Where do we all begin? We do not have to go far. It is all here. A party right here – the jalebi wallah , old Mr. Das and the orange seller are all here, all inside. Even the flute man, see him rushing with his flute. He is coming too! See how I do it. Put a finger to it, that’s all! See my fingers touch your painting, see me fly, see me on the street, see us dancing. There we all are! The house is turning green again!