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Thursday, 30 April 2015

THE LAST PORTRAIT. Part 3

Love is the courage that stifles our muscles with rage, for one last fightback when all else had failed. It is an emotional strength that we choose to derive from our heart, sucking at our feelings, to get back onto our feet when reality had cracked up our bones and left us limp. It is the sweet, ineffable hope of kissing the face of the women we love that tightens our fingers to a hard, unforgivable fist, ready to blow up everything that stands between us to destiny and attempts to conspire against us. It is at once the alarming touch of sympathy that would make the devil crawl out of the human shelter, and just for that, for love and its completion, for desire and its sensuousness, that one wouldn’t feel shame drowning human instincts in the bloodshed of redemption and hold up a gun against the very world to win your lady in the wrapping safety of your arms. Love, for everything else, at the edge of attainment, needs a human soul inside a devil’s body.   

Satyjayeet wonders, standing beneath the black-baked sky of Peshawar that drizzles over him with pellets of snow as he struggles to get over the images of last evening. The shatter of the saucer. The guilty Nawaz, pressed against the table. The loading of the bullets. And the spark of fire that he had seen flicker in Rukshar’s eyes, the moment his finger receded on the trigger. It incessantly rolled before his eyes, like a sad Ghazal on repeat in a broken lover’s music retreat.  And today, no sooner than the light of day rose up the morose sky to engulf the night, that he had set out in his rubber boots, walking into the mist to the bus stop. A part of him knows, like the truth that had stared from her eyes and stayed unblinking the other evening in the backdrop of a loud fire of a bullet, that Rukshar would come and together they would board a bus back to their destiny, they wrote twenty eight years back.

He is standing beneath the shade of a crumbling bus stop, listening to the hammering of ice crystals that rained on the roof, as gusts of strong winds swept down from the far end of the terrain, swirling in clouds of mist and rattled the dilapidated stand with a shudder. Endless stretch of land rise and unwind on either side around him, immaculate beneath heaps of snow, guarded at the distance by the mighty range of Karakoram, as the chain looms high at the horizon, eating away the vision of sky that towered beyond. Leafless tress stand across the terrain, bordering small villages as thick smoke rise from above their huts and sail into the dim sky; their bark cracked, their branches dripping snow.

He is wearing a striped, woolen sweater draped over by a button down leather jacket and a woolen scarf that is held by a lazy knot at his throat, the hem beating on his back in the wind. He has his hands tucked into a pair of brown gloves, the material at the tip of his fingers thinning from the hard washes as he leans ahead, looking into the hazy drizzle of snow for Rukshar. His vapored breath splitting through his mouth in dense fumes. He stood there for quiet sometime, biting onto the dazzling flames of hope that he imagines enkindled in the snowy pastures of his reality and feels warm, until soon he sees her approach him through the downpour and felt the belief that he had stayed clung to, beat in his chest with the ferocity of a drum in an orchestra. He watches her stiff, sturdy walk down the uneven terrain, the heel of her boots ploughing through the snow and a briefcase held in the firm grip of her slender hands. He had walked down her way and have lend his arm in an unsaid possession of love, lifting her briefcase that she had packed heavy with all the necessities of her life and have come along his way to embark on a new journey, they had been longing and dreaming for every single day of those cruel twenty eight years of their lives and led her to the wait stop.

Suddenly he feels the warmth in his heart die at the touch of hatred that seems to rise in his gut. His eyes narrowed beneath a trifle shade of anger and his body contracting like a leopard behind the bushes eyeing at his prey, when he saw Nawaz trailing behind Rukshar. He has his shoulders flung over a crutch that digs into the snow laced earth, leaving tiny potholes that is soon surfaced by the restless downpour. His left leg plastered in white with visible stains of blood that seem to ooze from the wound of bullet last evening, adding to his walk a strangely twisted gait, all the while leaning over the crutches. Satyajeet lifts his face to Nawaz at once and he looks away from him, averting his eyes towards the lurking chain of mountains that rose quiet and jagging across the horizon, like a monster in his siesta.

It was when Rukshar and Satyajeet have boarded the bus that shrieked to halt on the thin asphalt road rolling down the terrain, that the grimace across Satyajeet’s face have relaxed to a calmer expression. They walked down the aisle of dozing passengers wrapped in thick woolens and took their seat in the last row. Satyajeet pushed the window aside and a stream of icy wind blew in, brushing past his face like the edge of a blade being dragged across his skin. He squinted to the agony and looked at Nawaz who stood beneath the ratting tin shade, hunched over his crutches, and it was then for the first time he saw in his eyes, the burden of shame. His steady, unwavering stare fanned by thin grey lashes, seem to plead before him a mercy which he himself knows he is undeserving off and in that subtle moment of deciding to let go a grievance or sticking to it for a lifetime, Satyajeet remembers Rukshar’s tears on the mirror from behind the doors of the mosque and he couldn’t gather himself to submit to his plea. The day comes back reeling before his eyes, clawing his heart with an unbearable ache accompanied by hatred as he withdraws his eyes from Nawaz’s face.

The bus starts with a gurgling noise, stuttering awake the passengers and started to roll down the steep slope across the face of Karakoram. Rukshar didn’t look back for once and as he pulled the window shut against the pelting of snow, Nawaz started to recede from the window. The grey sky and the mountains and the snow, drowning in the swamp of shame in his eyes as they picked speed and everything outside started to blur in their eyes, dissolving away into the mist that hung low. It was when they rose up the steep roads cutting through the frozen neck of Karakoram and Habotabad, floated beneath them, going deeper into the suffering and snow of winter, that Satjayeet had given away in his heart the grievance for Nawaz and still knew that he is not after all freed. For Rukshar’s mercy won’t find his soul ever - be it in a slice of sunlight on his grave or a drop of rain.

*****
“Were you sure that you will recognize me when you came to meet me after all these years?” she asked him.

“Love does strange things to our recognition and somewhere behind our eyes, in our heart, we secretly know how the other person looks after all these years.” He had said. “Despite the distance that prevailed, there was always a part of us that stayed with the other. A part of your soul stayed with me and a part of my soul stayed with you. They looked after us and kept note of how we grew and changed at the turn of every single day. It woke us up, fed us and combed our hair when we were too broken to do anything. And likewise, we were aware about each other through the length of time and lived as a whole despite being apart and alone. Love, you know, Rukshar, is this simple act of living with the soul of your beloved when you cannot touch, feel and kiss the body.”

She had squeezed his fingers on her lap and smiled at him with her head tilted to the side. The incomplete world of Satyajeet for the first time then felt the epiphany of completeness. She had then shown him the very painting he had gifted her on his birthday, sitting atop the windblown dune by the river Ganga beneath a fading evening sky. Rukshar lying on the grass. The poetry book propped on her chest. And a butterfly hovering over her head. She had asked him to promise her that he will draw another sketch of her and Satyajeet had broken his stare, looking away beyond the window and the passing trees, faltering to give her his word as that fateful night in New York comes rolling back to him, fifteen years after he had been there and settled himself as a sketch artist. Rukshar holds up his face in the hollow of her palm as he delves into the agony of that cursed night.
His face pressed against the cracked windshield of the car. Blood gushing from his skull. A savage pain rising from his back, wrecking his nerves, his bones. A blinding light dimming in his unconscious eyes. And his mangled body being carried away on a stretcher, soaked in blood.

Rukshar weeps quietly as tears fall from her eyes and collects on the pink of her palm, like still white drops of morning dew on rose petals.

*****
Stabbed with the knife of hatred at the heart and left bleeding with loss for a lifetime, Satyajeet hardly talked to his father after that day at the mosque. He finished his schooling and his interested in art having reached its zenith by then, applied for his graduation courses abroad and much to his admiration, he was picked by one of the best colleges in New York. Each day in that house with his father was like accepting the reality and moving ahead with it, as if nothing wrong had happened, as if his life was still the same beneath the dreading quiet of the house. He couldn’t stand that. He couldn’t keep numb and absorb the aftermath and the chance to get admitted in a college abroad for his further studies, was the best that he could have asked for to lessen the impact of the present that was slowly and gradually hammering him to pieces. Who on earth would keep quiet to the loss of his love and accept it like it was the just right thing to be done? He did, but then silence is a tortured man’s revenge and as his flight took off from Calcutta that day, he pledged to himself to never forgive his father.

He graduated as a scholar and started establishing himself as a sketch artist in that enormous city throbbing with life. He bought his own house in Manhattan and worked hard, studying and exposing himself to the knowledge of various art forms so as to further develop his skills. Everything was just at the right place, yet he couldn’t surface in his life a deep void that seem to draw into its dark depths every bit of prosperity that he worked to attain. He somehow couldn’t free himself from the pain of a wound, only he knew existed. It bled forever, all the while swelling to an infectious sore in its place, every time he lied alone in his bed and cried through the night. He did receive calls from his father on Sunday morning but then the moment, he heard his voice he quietly lowered the receiver into the cradle and got back to work. Rings followed one after another but they all died unresponsive, echoing between the walls of his foyer, like his love that wore away into the silent acceptance of the wrong beneath the grudge and scowl in his heart.

One day while he was driving back home from work, a trailer speeding against a one way lane had ran into his car with a shattering roar. The impact threw him off his seat onto the dashboard. He had smashed his skull open. Blood ran in rivulets down his body, soaking into his cloth as his legs twisted into a knot in the arch of the steering wheel. He lay there smashed and bleeding till the ambulance had arrived and pulled out his distorted body, lifting it to the stretcher. He remembers the agonizing pain that tore through his back before he closed his eyes to the sedative and passed away beneath the shimmering night sky of New York. It took him a couple of surgery to resurrect his crushed spine and shattered bones as he regained consciousness after a week in the confines of an Intensive Care Unit, breathing though a life support. His limbs strapped in plasters and a multiple drips connected through needles pushed at his wrist. Even though the doctors said that he will back to work in mere two months, he strangely felt something odd about himself. Something disturbing. Something unfulfilling. And somehow he did not feel the same person as he was, before the trailer had ran into him.

Months later while he sat down by his desk to work, he felt he couldn’t grip the pencil. Every time he lifted it up and had pressed the nib against the paper, it had spilled out of his grip and rolled down the page. With several attempts when he could finally grip the pencil firmly, he had attempted to pull it across the page in long straight lines and it was then he had discovered the strangeness in him. He had consoled himself believing it to be an aftermath of a near death experience and that a meet with his doctor will fix the issue. But then, day after day as he had sat down at his desk and held onto his pencil, dragging it along the paper and it had only given rise to squiggly, curly lines rippling across the page against a straight, flat stroke that he intended to draw. He saw his doctor and he had said, it was due to a heavy injury to his lower motor nerve and that often such injuries take a lifetime to heal unless the person is lucky enough to be blessed with some sort of miracle. Satyajeet had sat by his desk, sorrowed and dejected, months after months only to succeed at the squiggly lines. Every time he had tried to steady his hand, strengthening his grip over the pencil, he had felt an invisible force dragging his arm to the left and a numbness creeping up his muscles, forcing him to stray away from the path of his stroke and soon he knew that his career as a sketch artist had come to its extremely fateful end. It was then that he had applied for the job of professor in the Hastings College of Art and helped himself on its way.

*****
 Calcutta.

Satyajeet is standing at the courtyard of his house, gently leaning against the barren compound wall. A dribble of moonlight is caught in the sliding curls of his hair as he raises his head to the sky and blows into the dark, a thick puff of cigarette smoke. It rises above and catching the glide of the wind, drifts apart like an opening ripple, lending to the night air a pungent smell of tobacco and tar. The sky above his head is bisected by the branches of trees that rise in the courtyard. The dome of night heaven shimmering with the adorning starts, visible through the roll of the leaves, as if a celebration have erupted up there and everyone, each of the stars danced in their shoes, waving the torch of frolic. As he stands there gazing at the festivity of the celestial bodies, his eyes dragged into their sockets, sore with the wounds of truth and trauma, he feels an indifferent completion within himself. He closes his eyes, the twirl of smoke rising above him and imagines himself at the heart of one such celebration and drifts along the tide of happiness. He remembers Rukshar in this very courtyard, lying beneath the overlapping canopies of leaning tress, the brown of her eyes majestically gleaming and awash in the blue of inspiration while she reads from the book on her chest. And the next moment, he watches her innocent frame, sleeping quiet in his first floor bedroom and the wave of her hair spilled back on the shore of pillow. He watches the contours of her body, rise and dip in filling breaths beneath a cotton sheet. Her face, straight and aglow, even in the sleep, like the crystal waters of a handsome river with moonbeams splashed over it. Satyajeet remembers of the years that had kept them apart, of the time that had crawled out of its bosom, minute by minute, day by day, and had split his heart and soul with the pain of longing. He recounts fate as the untimely downpour that eroded the earth of his love at once and left it gathering its shape for three decades, before finally saplings of contentment have pushed up the soil, watered by hardships and the stretch of the field dazzles, for the first time in many years, in a shade of lively green. He ambles up the stairs in the dark and standing at the door of her room, admires her in her peaceful sleep. Calm as a forest at night, aired by her long deep breaths. He at once wishes to lie down beside her. Wrap her in the width of his embrace, like winter mist pressing two mountains together in the sky. Hide his face in the folds of her neck and taste the night sweat on her chin. Breathe in the sweet smell of her breath and drink the succulent juice of her lips. Look into her eyes through the night and watch the sun take the sky through the valley of her brows. Set sail in the tumultuous wave of her charcoal hair and lose his way in her - his dreams, his destination, his everything and be each other’s on the lap of a distant shore, where the ocean breaks on the sand into froth and the city rises in glamorous monuments through lanes and alleys.  
   
There was a power failure across the city and men, awoke from sleep, hurdled on the narrow lanes beneath. Their shadows overlapped on the pavement, as they walked in the dark, talking in loud voices with cigarette smoke spiraling above their pressed heads. Their chatter nudged by the howl of dogs from down the lanes, as they scampered down, chasing distant voices and lights that came floating along with the calm of the night. Satyajeet soon finds himself in his father’s room, staggering along like a somnambulist, knocking against a shelf in the dark and thick books, toppled onto the floor with a thud. He lights a candle and pulls out from the drawer, the plastic bag containing the chopped pieces of his father’s last portrait. He then stretches out a blank sheet across the table and plasters it with liquid glue, smearing the borders with the press of his fingers as the flame of the candle gleam in his eyes against the sticky wetness. He then fondles through the pieces in the bag and starts aligning them, one after another on the blank sheet. Each stuck piece, picked and pressed against the sheet, was like a shard of his shattered dreams, once again claiming completeness of the otherwise blank horizon of his life. He goes on with it, slowly, piece after piece with his translucent night shirt clung to his back in sweat. It was tedious work and why wouldn’t it be? Acclaiming your dream and building wishes on the heart of ruin takes a whole lifetime to be done and here he was trying to put the shambles of three decades together between the passage of one dark, humid night. He is bent over the table, the portrait walking towards a tattered completion, the night wind whistling through the window and the candle slowly wearing away, blobs of wax hardening at its foot as the flame reflect in a muffled shin across his sweaty face.

He murmurs beneath his breath, “I knew it then. I know it now and I wish to tell you someday that it was but the anthem of our relationship.” He slips up the last piece in its place, remembering the day Rukshar had asked him to repeat the poetry after her and rambles in a dreamy voice, the last three lines of the poem that took him all this while to understand and read with the lips of his heart. “And then, we don’t know why they cried, And then, we don’t know where the laughter dissolved, Only the earth below was flooded with their pain.”

He succeeds now and in the demure light of the candle that warms the room in a soft, dying glow, he watches on the table for the first time, the very portrait of his own life. A young couple leaning into each other, their hands locked, her one leg raised behind her in the air and his eyes on her face, in the backdrop of crisscrossing lanes and a mosque at the far end. That was all his life was, like the very portrait, complete yet broken, a beautiful mosaic, the pieces un-united from each other by thin lines of crack, supposedly of fate and destiny, of shame and agony, of longing and love, of what happened eventually and still feels like it didn’t.

*****
6 months later.
New York.

It is a bright summer day and the university is closed for its scheduled vacation. The skyline glitters like a mold of gold with the light emerging and disappearing between the splendorous rise of buildings across the belt of the city.  They, Rukshar and Satyajeet, are by the shores of the Hudson River for a day out together. Sail boats cruise along the water, swaying with the wave, like butterflies fleeting across a fragrant garden. A dozen more is moored by the side, their deck ablaze under the sun. Kids run around chasing each other on the golden-white strip of sand that slips away beneath your feet like velvet moss in rain. Their parents stretched out on beach chairs, sipping cold beer from Styrofoam cups, tanning under the sun, ocassionally, lazily, flipping through a book which they slept open with on their face, shielding away from the sun’s glare.

Rukshar is right by the water, sitting with her legs stretched out in the front. Her hands flat by her side, gripping onto the wet sand that rise through her fingers. A wave seem to approach her from the distance, triggering an innocent uproar amid the kids, as they laugh and run towards it. She is quiet and unmoved there. A slice of the sun on her nape. The wave crashes at her feet with a gurgle and rushes in, pooling around her hips in a puddle, before receding back, carrying from beneath a palm a sheet of loose sand as she trembles and balances herself, letting out a gentle laughter with the Hudson ringing in her voice and the brooding heaven, accomplished in her drenched eyes.

Satyajeet is at the back, hunched on a boulder, all the while watching her heave back and forth with every tiny bits of emotion. He lowers his head once and captures the sand her jovial frame in the backdrop of a gold sky and the blue water that seem to kiss her toes and recede in its journey. He draws with his finger, turning the sand beneath his nails in long, flowy lines. He draws for the first time in fifteen years. First, her hair that drops down her back, the silky sand caught between the strands. Then her eyes that possess all the seasons of the planet. Then her nose that rise on her face like a soft, straight hill. And lastly her lips, whose thin stretch of smile can light up windblown towns in a moment. He smiles at the drawing for a while before drifting off to calming sleep beside it. He smiles at how the waves won’t reach up here to wash it away. He smiles at how his love will remain as a shining emblem upon the sands of time. He smiles at the eternity that he now sees waving at him, summoning him from behind the clouds. He smiles and he smiles at the wonders of all.  

--THE END--

Author - Sobhan Pramanik

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