I had not been wearing my spectacles. So the world was a blurry entity, the edges of objects all dissolved. Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms, on the bed I saw a silhouette that I can recognize even in profound confusion; that of a book. So there is a new book in this house, albeit rented from a library, and I have not yet been alerted to its presence? I was not as much angry at this prospect, than amused at the thought that books come like the compartments of a train, like the succession of seasons, into my life. It was only last night, around eleven, that I had closed Mohsin Hamid’s ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’. I turn a back page and there! A new front page beckons me! But unlike seasons, which are of only four flavours, each book comes with a palate of its own. A new author, with his own principles about how he wishes to exploit the language he chooses to express in. A new group of characters whom I have never met before, set in a brand new place. Now this part thrills me the most. Last book, I was transiting between Lahore and Manhattan. I was in Lahore for the first time. Before this, I was in Alaska for a while, but that journey was left incomplete because Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into the wild’ did not belong to me, and I had to unexpectedly leave the place where the owner of this book makes life.
Anyway, as I went closer to the bed, I got a better view of the book. A Prussian Blue cover page. It is a coincidence that this shade has been steadily seeping into my day to day life for a while now. Several conversations, several chains of thought, several connections have been influenced by Prussian Blue. And so it was easy for me to imagine the level of the pigment inside me pull me closer to this object, of the same shade, wanting more of itself. (Coincidentally, there is a full moon on the cover page of this book. But that makes sense, because Prussian blue is the shade of the midnight.)
Neel Mukherjee’s ‘The lives of others’. I vaguely remembered reading about this book and wanting to read it. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2014. Yes. That was why, and that was when. It has finally settled in my palms now. Excitement arises in me, there is a considerable probability that this entire book may be set in..I turn the book to its back, ‘Calcutta, 1967’. It has been long, terribly painfully long since I’ve been to Calcutta.
On the way downstairs, I stopped, and perched abruptly at some random step, read the backside as well as all other unimportant details of the book. Then I picked my mug of morning coffee and sat down on my reading chair and turned to the front page. It is Bengal, indeed. But it is 1966. And it is a famine.
Severe anguish was spreading through me with each line. A farmer is returning empty handed from a landlord to his family that has not eaten for 7 days. My coffee is getting cold. But I can not pick it up and sip on it as if it was the most natural thing to do, while this frail man is contemplating on killing his three little children and ending his own life to save everyone from the wrath of hunger. I see it on the screen in front of my eyes; a father becoming an animal as he heinously slashes the neck of each of the plantling he had himself grown and nourished, and killing himself by consuming pesticide. At the end of this prologue, an obscurely familiar sickness returns to me. I trace it back to 2013, when I was in Dominique Lapierre’s Calcutta.
I turn towards the mug. The still surface of my coffee stares back at me. This piece of writing has affected me enough to leave me crippled for minutes, unable to touch a delicious cup of my favourite liquid.
At present, life is uncertain. Life is full of confused people and confusing circumstances. At a transition stage like this, I should be working hard on making my next footing a reality. A stable one. Is this a good time to sit reading? To hell with it! When is it ever a wrong time to start reading? In Calcutta.
A twenty something feeling her way through life.