Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Open Sesame

Betrayals during war are child-like compared with our betrayals during peace. New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything. For the heart is an organ of fire.

My father had his birthday a few days ago, and for the first time in twenty-three years, my parents and I were in different cities on that day. As I was making the familiar long journey to class, I remembered how, when I was barely two or three years old, I'd eagerly wait for Sundays, because those were the only days Baba would be at home. I still remember how I'd leap with joy when Baba would say that the next day was a holiday because it was so-and-so. Every Sunday morning, I'd snuggle up to him, and we'd watch the Doordarshan-staple Rangoli, have luchi-cholar daal for breakfast, and then he'd tell me stories. I was three when Baba narrated Gulliver's Travels to me, and I could never get the size of the lilliputs right. When he told me the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, I'd cling to him in fear, afraid that Ali Baba would be caught in the cave and ripped apart by the thieves. He'd narrated the story in Bangla, and for a long time the phrase "chiching phaank" had mersmerised me. The magic continued when I grew up and read One Thousand and One Nights in school, and learnt the phrase "Open Sesame". How wonderful and romantic it'd sounded then--the hope that a cave full of riches would open if one only pronounced the name while standing in front of it.

Nowadays I feel helpless when I realise that even Baba does not have answers to my questions anymore. I had heard stories about how after I had barely learnt to speak, I'd point out objects in the room and ask him what they were called and why they were called so, and Baba, adding a dash of his imagination, would explain them all to me. Now, every time I have a heart break and call up my parents to ask them why people we trust the most betray us, and why is love so painful, they have no answers. The other night, a friend and I were comparing notes about our childhood, and we both accepted how strong a role the olfactory sense had played in our lives. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still smell the wonderful heady mixture of perfume and talcum powder from twenty years ago, that my father sprayed on his chest, and that I would smell when I would climb to him every night after he came home from office. When he'd visit Calcutta, I'd take one of his vests to bed and smell it and cry on it, because despite the repeated washing, the heady smell would remain, and that would make me miss Baba all the more. Nowadays when I open my parents' wardrobe here and rummage through the contents, I cannot smell the smell any more. I then feel a terrible pain inside, knowing that slowly, all the things I held dear is gradually slipping from me. Often I have this mental image of walking from the sunlight into a dark tunnel, and as I walk, the light behind me has dimmed, and there is no sign of light on the other side. I think, this is precisely what growing up means.    

Often these days, I think of the times when I first joined university. I was angry and exasperated at the poor administration, but now I often miss those days. After class, I'd stay back for hours in that long room filled with broken benches and read Divine Comedy before leaving for German class. Now I miss the hope and the anticipation of a bright future, that that solitary figure reading Dante on that broken bench believed in; the defiance that always accompanies confidence; of promises to oneself about things to do and dreams to fulfill; of the charm of innocent dating; of being simply haughty; and of not having every sniff and every word deconstructed and misconstrued till you gave in just because you were tired. As I walked down College Street today, I knew every thing around me had changed. The footpath was in a state of disrepair, and the person who stumbled upon the slabs of stones in her new spectacles was a different person from the one who'd bought second hand copies of the three books of Divine Comedy three years ago. Even P. T. Kaku, the ubiquitous Santa for all English Literature students had scarred his face after an accident. I'd planned this visit as a sort of farewell for at least three months or more (who knows), but I refrained from completing the walk down the familiar road. I turned back from the Coffee House because I didn't feel confident enough to walk further with my affected vision. I am now slowly learning that "open sesame" does not really open all doors, or heal all hearts, or cure all scars, or make parents young again. Sometimes, one just has to stop walking and accept that the familiar, reassuring smell is lost. Sometimes, as my best friend S says, one only has to wait and let oneself get accustomed to the pain. 

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