We’ll just agree to disagree (to a great degree!)

I met him a few weeks ago, in that café which had this strange ambience. The walls and tables possessed a graceless charm, the same clichéd pictures of revolutionaries and swing musicians who we’d both forgotten, but they did play some great music there. I liked the fact that it wasn’t genre-driven or a same old same old playlist. It kept shifting color like a person’s identity often does, first soft blue Sixpence None The Richer, then multi-hued avant-garde Mammal Hands, and then red straight edge Minor Threat, before something I’ve never heard before. And then something uncanny struck me. It paralleled his writing. But I was the one who chose the place! He’d never heard of it. And it shocked me when I saw him after five years. I knew a few dark places in my life myself and so I always read him, even though I didn’t necessarily contact or call. I always kept him at a distance. Something about his expression could set beautiful solid grey satin on fire and still make it look beautiful. But I was afraid of going near the flames. They just had to parallel his life. It couldn’t be anything else. But then he walks in, wearing a checked shirt and jeans, looking nonchalant, smiles and warmly shakes my hand. I didn’t know how to pry and get into his mind a bit. And a part of me wondered if I must. But as he sipped his coffee and talked about the music, it just burst out of me. “Everything you wrote, it’s true, isn’t it?” I asked, perhaps a little fiercely. And he smiled, and that convinced me. A breeze of relief coursed through each vein. Okay, so he’s definitely twisted, I thought and smiled back. But then he asked me something that caught me off guard. “Do you think the tortured artist is a myth?” and I responded, “I guess not, I’ve read you.” But then he said something that blew me away. “Did you really think I wrote confessionals, or was it some other torture that made me write something that only sounded like confessionals?” and I said, “You did tell people that things in your life weren’t working out, that you were flawed, that your memory fails, and wrote hate poems, grisly poems about death, ones about drug addiction, inscrutable ones, and poems that strangely sounded vaguely inspirational and yet too real.” And he looked at me, smiling though his eyes seemed a little distracted. “Did things not work out in my life? Yes, often. But the only drugs I took were under a prescription, and I haven’t seen death yet, and I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve hated people. That’s only because they go on and on, trying to counter what I say with words just as acidic as mine, but strangely say that their lines are pure with no biases. And I tried getting the true confessional to stop having conversations in her head, the love poet who knew pain to stop suppressing it because sometimes there is no inspiration, the realist with an aphrodisiac passion to stop stereotyping people, the transcendentalist to give room for doubt, and the culturally sensitive feminist to stop and think. And so, I’ll admit that there was a going back and forth for a while, and it did get to me often, but then I got rid of them, and found myself. And as far as the torture is concerned, connect Van Gogh to William Cowper to Christina Rossetti to Emily Bronte and you might just find a thread. But then I realized that dogma needs unraveling, and that doesn’t take a day. But I slowly operated on the unconscious with the finest blade, unlike the scythe I used often when I wrote, and I guess some themes exist still, but I’ve realized that there is so much more to do than sitting, brooding with bloodshot eyes, smoking and provoking,” he said. “And what is there to do?” I asked him. “Well, I’m presented with two choices now. The first is to either go back to the country I once lived in. I guess it’s more idyllic than this place, and now that I’m older, I can meet a few people and keep writing. The second is to stay here and write about what really matters both for a blog and a newspaper that isn’t run by jingoists,” he said. “Do you really want to take the second route? You know what fighting them will cost you,” I said, a little stunned. “Well, some people bark the moment some fat Bob-head of a man delivers a post-apocalyptic speech with quasi-Christian tones, but you and I know how the real deal works. The slow monitoring; Big Brother slowly creeping in, and words backed by actions winning the educated morons with complete lack of insight, the post-colonial sycophancy creeping into the books published, and the legalism that the knowledgeable idiot loves: raising cigarette prices, closing bars in the name of bringing back worship, banning meat of a particular kind that a minority eats, and the blood that a false rain washes away just quickly and swiftly, the peace ties with other nations so that there is no reaction once the system is in place, and the macro-level elimination of corruption of only the opposition, but the micro-level stain that haunts even when I have to renew a Passport. So what do you think?” he said, smiling. “You’ll be fighting a Winston Smith war,” I said, and he said, “Yes I am afraid. Often terrified, but Room 101 might just save me in the end!” And I got up, shook his hand and said, “Count me out. I have a wife and a son!”

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2017)

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6 responses

      • I’ve realised that prose is so much harder to write than poetry. At least that’s the way it is for me. Prose takes a lot of intent, clarity in thought and purpose to hold the plot tight right through. And you do it really well. I wish I was even half as close to what you can do.

      • When I first broke through as an artist here on WP two years ago, I wrote prose. Prose is my strong suit. Poetry is just something I do, and I’m not really that fond of it because it often ends up being provocative, or too depressing. Prose allows me to step into a nice comfortable zone and just be myself. And thank you very much.

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