It was a failure. Not him. It.
Your room was in its usual orderly state. You liked it that way. The possessions that you loved the most — your books — were neatly decked in a bookrack made of rosewood. You peered through the glass, the transparent barrier that separated your world from another. The six parts of the English translation of Kalki’s famous Ponniyin Selvan stared at you bluntly. “The Tamil patriot who cannot read Tamil”, it mocked at you, echoing your friend Raja’s sentiments. Human hands opened the brittle barricade and dark fingers passed over the book covers, accumulating tiny particles of dust in the process. You picked up Thus Spake Zarathustra and opened a random page. “Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings who think themselves good because they have crippled paws!” The philosophy of joy and damnation went back to its resting place in the shelf. “There is no one like me in this family,” you thought. Kavya was talking to someone on the phone outside. “There is no one like me in this neighborhood.” The call would come anytime now and the cellphone is charging. Today was an important day. “There is no one like me in the world.”
You stepped away from the book rack and faced the clock above your bed. It was 6 PM and you have not eaten since breakfast. Hunger was replaced by apprehension and an elation that filled you. You were sweating. You lowered down the temperature of your air-conditioner to 22°C. The room should be better in a few minutes. “Where was that bloody call?” The room was spacious and one of its walls was painted red. You sat on your bed and placed your palm on it. “Red is good, black is better.” You liked certain luxuries despite feelings of guilt that arose now and then. Kavya and your mother were talking loudly outside. You strained your ears to listen. “Amma! Don’t say that! Prithvi is so cute! You should see him in…” Her shrill voice never failed to annoy you.
“Idiots,” you thought. Cinema, college, placements, marriage. Your family seemed to know of nothing more than that. What would your father think? He may have joined them in their chatter. Or he may have kept to himself. Who knows? Idiots, the whole lot of them. Your family, your neighborhood, and the people you saw jogging in the streets outside. Tamil elites, a disgusting rot that has all the vulgarities of a bourgeois class but none of its virtues whatsoever. No sense of culture, no sophistication, no quest for the spectacular. My flat in South Chennai was full of them. Suffocating. Tonight things will change. You got up and moved towards the window that overlooked a fairly broad street lined with trees, buildings and fences. You alone will do it. Still waiting. No call.
“I, alone, will do it.” But will these people appreciate it? I am doing this for them after all. The Tamils. The whole bloody lot of them. The fools outside discussing Malayalam cinema. Raja, doing his PhD on Tamil Nadu’s economic growth at Delhi University. The inmates of the open prison called Jaffna. Janaki, the exotic and elusive Janaki. Those dead in Sri Lanka’s genocide. The auto-driver on the other side of the road who appears to be having a quarrel with that lady who lives on the ground floor. Vaishnavi.
No call yet. Janaki must have returned home from work now. I was aroused. Two months since I last met her. Vaishnavi below. I was aroused and I should go now. You stood at the window staring at the street, at Vaishnavi. You watched her till she got into the auto. You stepped away from the window and looked at yourself in the mirror. You were wearing only a blue jeans pant. As you scratched your left shoulder with your right hand, you wanted to call Janaki. And tell her what? Confess? Silly, really silly. You would put her in trouble. No, she will get to know eventually. She would be proud. I think so. I see my broad frame in the mirror. How would my face appear on the papers? You hoped to make it to the front page. I wonder what the caption would be. But will Janaki understand that I am making a point here? Black shirt, black shirt, where is it, my black shirt? Under your pillows. As I fasten my buttons, I glance at Sartre’s No Exit lying on my table. I am glad that I finished it earlier today. I might never get another chance to read it again. I might never get another chance to read any of my books again. Is there really no exit? You have time to call it off — it is all on you. But you still wait for the call. You who has been eternal. Who encompasses the past and the future in this moment of indecisiveness. The fleeting moment of question fades and the next second takes you to a memory of a field sprinkled with dead bodies. No regrets, no backing off, no exit. No exit.
I place the book back in my shelf. I am sure Sartre would have approved of my actions at this moment. This moment, negating the past, annihilating the present and leaving the future open. Yes, he would have. I switch off the air-conditioner and the light and there is darkness. My eyes slowly adjust to the dark and I fiddle for a while, trying to find the door’s knob. As my fingers encircled it, there was that heavy feeling in my stomach, something of that kind I got on that night sitting close to Nisha in my room at Jawaharlal Nehru University, drunk, knowing that if I made the move that I desired, something terribly good or something disastrous would happen. There were no in-betweens, only extremes in such circumstances. I felt aroused now and I had done nothing then. Today is no time for playing safe though. I open the door and step out into the corridor leading to the bright drawing room of our house.
“I am going out for dinner.” Mother asked me to return before midnight. Kavya was glued to the television, slouched on the sofa. She did not even turn to look at you, the shining star of your family, as you set off for your great adventure. Things will be different after tonight. Your phone weighed heavily in your pocket as you still awaited the call. Maybe you should call him? No. You would inspire the awe that you deserve. Not just from your sister, but from your whole neighborhood. All those who exist would know that you alone live. “Live,” I said, stressing on the “l”. Janaki would know too. I alone live. I live alone.
I got the call from Vasanth as I made my way to my motorbike.
“Comrade, only 15 will be there.” You felt like a schoolboy facing a blank answer sheet in an exam-hall where everyone around was busy writing, who neither could figure out the problems in the question paper nor could copy from a friend owing to the lack of talent to cheat. The guttural voice on the phone continued to speak. “It is end semester time. Can’t expect more. Should we cancel?” I wanted to spit. “Vasanth, this is our first move. It is a record for history. We must take this step!” After instructing him to tell the others to assemble at the planned location, you set off on your way there on your bike, passing green coloured buses, yellow and black autos, cars, so many cars. There weren’t this many cars in Chennai five years back. Nor so many high-rises. Clouds had gathered. A storm was coming.
10.27 PM. Back home.
As you went to bed, you thought of the beautiful Janaki Ramanathan. Only three comrades turned up. She was with you now. There was unusually heavy traffic on my way back. It rained in Chennai today. She held you tighter to herself. What can I do with three comrades? Just the thought of cuddling up to her, of finding succour in her arms, of receiving warmth from her body was enough for you. Vasanth did not turn up. He did not even answer your calls. Your love for her was much like the faith of those who martyr themselves for causes they have no clue about. No more talking to Vasanth, that incompetent ass. I will have to start from elsewhere. In your mind, and in your mind alone, she was yours. A new organization, with new activists. And it was important that reality did not interfere with your illusions. There was always the future. But there was no storm. Only a feeble and pitiless rain.
He drifted off to sleep and dreamt about feral dogs chasing him on a dimly lit street.