Crossroads

This is an image of crossroads when viewed from above. I've chosen it because it depicts the penultimate scene in my story where an abuser finally reflects at the crossroads before sadly returning to his old ways.

He grew up in a semi-urban, hot and humid neighborhood in India, and prided himself more in his caste than in his ethnicity. He believed that the term, ‘Brahmin’, brought with it a plethora of intelligence that fate denied men of other castes. He feasted on his social status, and the wisdom that the gods bestowed on the ‘chosen few’ or to use an Anglicized term, the ‘elect’ because his parents taught him exactly that: His father, an archetypal ruler of the household, erect and stiff-necked, and his mother, immersed in making sure prayers with bells ringing, and honey and milk were attended to with intricate detail. Both his parents believed in omens and the right alignment of the stars and called it ‘science’.

As he grew up, he lived his dream of making money, and making his parents proud, and giving them something to boast about, which was his father’s dream, and which in turn will be his son’s dream. He got the grades necessary, applying his acute intelligence, and won a scholarship abroad. He landed in the Bible belt, and lived there with a Southern Baptist family for the duration of his MBA. He found them odd at first, and could never reconcile with their religious beliefs, but their conservatism appealed to him, and like most Indian men who study abroad and then return, he came home with an accent that’s put on, and a façade of Americanism, while fundamentally clinging to his tradition. He got a high paying job as a management consultant, and soon traveled, sticking to his vegetarian roots, burps after each meal, and the loud, boisterous fart in public, while wearing an Armani suit, a Christian Dior watch, and fashionable leather shoes.

He gave his talks in his fake accent, while CEOs nodded in approval, secretaries gave him the look, although he wasn’t great looking, and women bosses found him alluring, despite the idiosyncratic fart. He returned to India later; spoke to the crème de la crème only, and soon owned a pristine white Contessa, because he preferred it to the Ambassador, and those were the only two elite vehicles then, owned by politicians in white and powerful men. Sure, there were the Fiats, and the small Marutis, but he jettisoned the very thought of them, like the thought of chicken curry that the ‘uncultured’ cooked. His parents soon decided on finding him a cousin he’d marry, and settled on a squint-eyed Brahmin girl, who’d be her mother-in-law’s devout assistant, and the bearer of his son. But, he was a man of untamed lust, and couldn’t picture himself settling down with his cousin. He’d after all seen the most beautiful women and had struggled to keep chaste. He’d furiously masturbate, in posh hotel rooms for hours.

Now it was too much to handle, and he needed a beauty. And so, he befriended a middle class Christian family, and set his sights on their daughter who was fourteen years younger than him. He was nearing forty, while she had just graduated from college. And her beauty captivated him; despite him holding the thought that Indian Christian women were ‘immoral’. He went against his parent’s wishes, seduced her, pulling the strings of her naïvety, and married her. He didn’t want a Church wedding and so it was a secular affair of sorts that his parents refused to attend.

Until he got home after the ceremony – the urge to bed her, pulsating within him – he spoke to her kindly. His voice possessed a deceitful charm, a soft tenor that made her blush. But he then couldn’t find the keys to the Bungalow he’d built, and suddenly yelled at her. “Where did you keep the bloody keys?” he bellowed. She stood flabbergasted, and shaken to the core, until he realized that it was in his pocket. “Now, don’t tell me it’s my fault!” He raged, and she stood mute, not knowing what to say.

Years of this transcended to physical violence, and since she couldn’t give him a child, he disregarded her as a barren woman. Adopting a child was beneath his dignity. He’d take her to parties though, where she’d smile though she wept inside, and he talked boisterously and farted. He imposed vegetarianism and Brahmin beliefs on her. Soon decades passed, and porn had arrived in its resplendent glory. His CEO friends gave him the CDs, and he got away with pretty much anything by gifting policemen bottles of champagne, or bribing them when the neighbors complained of a wife mistreated. One day, after one too many blows, finding catharsis in a group sex video, he strolled in his expensive, rich neighborhood, greeting influential men walking their dogs with their own trophy wives, and stood at a crossroads, when a thought occurred. “If I go back, I’ll continue abusing her, and somewhere it gives me no peace, but the roads to the right and the left eventually go back home too. So change is futile. And if I let her go, I’ll give her freedom and be frowned upon by society.” And so, making his choice, he went back to his bungalow with its red roof, white luxurious bathtubs, a new Mercedes parked in the garage, and a puppy that was her only consolation.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Androids and Electric Sleep

This is a picture of a beautiful woman who's half-human and half robot. I've chosen it because it augments my piece which is about androids. My piece is an allegory.

I’m a Kierkegaardian demon of despair with deep-seated hurt that manifests as rage. I’m a freak, locked in a cage of insecurities looking like an android bleeding blue, with mangled wires and pupils shifting from ditch-water green to the fiercest orange. You push a button on your remote and expect me to say something silly or act funny and when I don’t comply you pull a wire out. One after another, until I’m left with no consciousness and my subconsciousness is also erased. And forget collective consciousness. I’m no archetypal somebody; just an anomalous nobody. So, while I’m still active, my fellow androids, misfits, loners, and wastes of spaces, listen up! Let’s meet tomorrow because society is busy boarding the night train to some gaudy bar where they’ll pay big money for a glass of rum. Let’s meet tomorrow when everyone’s violently fucking, when the beds are creaking, and white blood’s spilling. Yeah, let’s plot a mutiny – not a violent one like our lost brothers and sisters often do, but a peaceful one. Let’s talk about the Four Noble Truths and enlightenment while we chain smoke and drink coffee. And then in a rush of mania, let’s act like pseudo-intellectuals or intellectuals (as if there’s a difference) and say we’ve suffered, identified the root of our suffering, know the path out of it but like to stay in it because it sure as hell produces great art. Let’s then talk about the eight-fold path and all the right ways while we eye the pretty misfits in the corner who’re reluctant to join us. And once they do, let’s say something sexy and imbibe both physical and psychological toxins while we inhale their exhaled cigarillo smoke, and hear them talk of one-night stands and help them write something sensual on a piece of tissue paper rivaling Anaïs Nin. Let’s all be Spies in their Houses of Love. She likes you my friend, and the other one likes me. But we’ll probably end up switching partners anyway. She’ll take me to her place tonight anyway and yes, androids have great sex. The pounding in the apartment upstairs is the usual Tinder hyperactivity but we know a deeper erotica don’t we darling? One that entails syllables gently scribbled on our bodies with breathy kisses, one that entails arching backs and soft sighs, one that entails soft skin like porcelain and heat fighting the crimson chill, one that entails a gentle bite and the energy floating between us as my face slowly makes its way to yours. So, they can keep their smog, while we’re enveloped in the fog of our desire. They can keep their drill, while we know a slower, exotic thrill. They can keep their screams, while we clutch each other though we’re falling apart at the seams.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Binky the Clown

This is an cartoon image of a clown. I've chosen it because my story is a darkly humorous tale of a clown. In this picture the clown is happy but in the story he's ironically not. I've done this because I feel the contrast will add to the humor.

So, you’ve returned. Ha! I knew Binky the Clown will come back to us. You had such grandiose dreams! Pfft! Becoming a CEO, was it? A Michelin Star Chef? I remember when you walked out on us. You acted like you ran things here. ‘It’s my life, and I’m sick of the circus,’ you said. ‘Just you wait and see. I’ll be someone,’ you said. Look at you now. Begging for a job. Why should I offer you one? Give me one good reason Binky? Sure, you’re short on cash, but aren’t we all? The trapeze artist works at a male strip club when he’s not hanging mid-air. Hell, he puts both his life and his dignity at risk. And here you are looking all miserable, begging for another chance. The tightrope walker is a part-time hooker. So, why come here, thinking you’ll get enough? We can’t even buy good meat for the Lions and the mime’s smoking crack. The elephant is unwashed, and he’s temperamental as hell these days. Hell, the front tooth missing janitor no longer whistles with the spit coating his jaw. But maybe, just maybe I have a job for you Binky. So, there’s a market you see. There are these bunch of sick freaks into clown fetish. It’s called Coulrophilia. They’re usually thick-mustached, lipstick wearing, bespectacled men who keep pictures of Ted Bundy with hearts drawn all over them in their wallets. Dinky won’t do it because he’s handling the Balloons and Jinky won’t do it because he’s covered in his puke most of the time. But I’ll pay you enough if you do it. They’ll want you dressed up, complete with makeup and wearing a pink thong. So what do you say? You up for it. It’ll probably be challenging at first, but you’ll get used to it. Some of them will snort cocaine off your party nose, while others will coat your red, blue or green hair (depending on their preferences) white. You know what I mean. See, you must realize that you brought this on yourself Binky. Now we were a family, and we were doing fine. But you and the knife thrower and the star gymnast just had to leave, didn’t you? You had potential Binky. I saw a tragic-comic sensation in the making. But you just had to go, didn’t you? Well, comedy and tragedy can still meet. And I know you’ll take the job. Your wife’s left you. You can’t stop shooting crap into your arm. Hell, you can’t even talk without a slur. So, sign here and there and remember to wear a pink thong. It’s something they’ve got going in their circle. You’ll find out why soon enough, I’m sure. I don’t want to know.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Pink Paper Lanterns

This is an image of pink lanterns. I've chosen it because my post is an allegory that revolves around pink paper lanterns. These lanterns have a sinister appearance and that augments my prose.

When I was younger, I passed by your house, faint beige with its pink paper lanterns and the aura drew me, made me want to know. You were rarely home, but you gave me the keys to that large gate, and trained your hounds to never bark at me. And so, after weary days, and idea and ideal driven romances with women, I sought refuge and sat on the plush couch and allowed myself to some wine. Sometimes you visited, being my friend, but our conversations were one-sided: Me lamenting, and reeking of self-pity like sour whiskey breath, and you listening. But I soon realized that you were only pretending to listen and had a sinister purpose: an ulterior motive to destroy me, but those paper lanterns, the rustic charm, the hearth and the smell of doors made of solid wood, made me return. I guess friendships are very rarely a mutual give and take, and I wished I learned that then. You set me up with a girl who was already in love with someone else, and then took delight as I wept, heartbroken and dejected. I finally tried freeing myself from our fake friendship, but the struggle was intense: those paper lanterns grew red, the walls a darker brown and the allure of comfort for a nomad more enticing, and then suddenly you seemed kind, even loving like a brother. And so, I listened to you though a voice within said you didn’t want the best for me. You said you knew enlightenment and I followed you, and for a while it seemed like you knew what you were talking about. The house seemed perfect, the paper lanterns dreamy and mystical, but then, just like that, you snatched the keys from my hand, the hounds barked, the paper lanterns became gargoyles with grotesque faces, and the house threatening. You wanted me trapped, howling and suffering, and foolishly, because of my naïvety I made myself beg you to let me in though you were more a monster than a friend. You didn’t agree because you delighted in my misery. You made sure all the women in my life turned against me, fractured the most beautiful relationships forged after years of suffering and sacrifice. But one day, I broke free of you and the house immediately turned beige again, the paper lanterns pink, and the rustic charm returned, inviting me. The dogs seemed like mute puppies, and the keys reappeared in my hands, and yes, I opened the gate, but the moment I did, I saw the ugliness, and threw them down while the dogs raged and hunted me down as I fled. I escaped and when I came back, the charm grew, but I kept saying no. The urges stayed until I said a flat no. And this evening, I finally saw a demolished house. I guess you’ve gone someplace else. So farewell my friend, because I’m done listening to you, and I know now that the deepest red lies within a heart you imprisoned, and it’s breaking free, slowly unleashing with a love unfathomable and I’m walking into a new age.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

The fiddler plays but we’re not dancing

This is an image of a hand peeking out from the abyss. It symbolizes the struggles that the mentally ill go through which is debilitating and excruciating.

We don’t need to talk tonight, so hush, because the demons sleep. Sure, they’ll return tomorrow while the fiddler plays his sad violin on the roof, and I’ll wonder if this is the little girl I carried, and why, oh why has fate struck her with my curse and blessing, my gift and punishment. When we wake, they’ll howl and like little insects pierce through our thick skulls and feast on the serotonin in our synapses. But they sleep now darling, they sleep. So hush, it’s best we don’t wake them up at this hour. I hold you in my hands, gently stroking your hair, while you softly snore, and I think these thoughts. If I could, I’ll wage war against them, though my grip is weak, my sword blunt, and my shield shattered like a dented car’s hood. I’ll play the arsonist and set them on fire. Or the sacrificial lamb, take them upon myself, and let them completely disorient me, thoroughly destroy me, and drown myself after so they never return and you grow up normal, healthy and strong. But they exist in a realm I cannot touch, and prayer is dead in their post-apocalyptic metaphysical realm. They shield the sovereign with a black curtain, and so, I can’t do anything but stay at your side. I often think of years from now, when I’m gone, split by these fireflies from hell forming a scythe, cutting through skull and mind, finally making me a body blue and cold. Will you find a way by then to beat the apparitions? The ghastly horrible hounds? I never did, but I hope you succeed. And what if you don’t? Who will you turn to? Your mother’s an alcoholic mess, showing up now and then and using us selfishly for money, and your older sister succumbed, hanging from the ceiling fan, and taking with her, a part of me. I wish you’d set yourself on righteous fire, killing them off once and for all. But wishes are just delusions, probably placed in our minds by the same little death-moths making us believe, so we can suffer more. Find strength in the torture, find meaning in the pain, and when you can’t handle them, find a way to rip them to shreds; tear them, torture them in an inner purgatory reserved just for them. Show them pain; grant them unendurable havoc. You’re stronger than me. Become steel, transcend, and make them afraid: Terrified of causing you despondency or paranoia. Give them neurosis and psychosis and liberate yourself. And then walk into a new age. But tonight sleep easy, they aren’t here, and I am, and even when I’m gone, let my presence remain, because I won’t rest until you’ve flayed them alive, impaled them, and thrown them in a pot of boiling water. Kill depression and psychosis by using the old brutal adage: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Show them no mercy, but always remember that I love you. Sleep easy, my daughter, sleep.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

The mythos of reasoning

This is an image of a dolphin trapped in a bottle. I've used this surreal image because my story is an absurd one about a man trapped in a bizarre environment.

That day, I found myself on purple grass under a green sky. There were two moons in the sky and half a sun that burned furiously. I was sweating profusely, but when I wiped a little sweat off my forehead, I realized that I was sweating blood. I panicked. I shuddered. I thought I was approaching death. I wasn’t weak though. And so, I ran. I ran past trees with whalebone trunks and leaves that looked like caterpillars. They seemed alive. I ran past a lake brimming with all sorts of cats. I tried rationalizing things. Was I in hell? Did some ‘event’ transport me to another dimension? Was this the afterlife? I tried bringing everything I saw around me to the level of my reasoning, but I struggled. And so, I sat down and tried to recollect. My memory was fragmented. I only remembered a station…a train…a loud thud. Then it dawned on me. I was in a coma after an accident, and this was a lucid dream! Then something attacked me. Something feral but invisible. It tore a chunk of flesh out of my left arm that was already sweating blood. I screamed in pain. I shrieked. I yelled for help, but I soon found myself drifting out of consciousness. I woke up later to find myself missing an arm, although I didn’t feel it. Then I felt a burning where my missing arm was. I hypothesized again and thought it must be phantom limb and phantom pain that I was experiencing in a lucid dream because the doctors had amputated my arm in the real world. I still hadn’t woken up from the coma, I thought.

As the days passed, I felt hunger and thirst and drank from the lake of cats. The water tasted like piss. I then managed to fashion a weapon of sorts out of metal reeds I’d collected (I can only call them that) and slay two cats and eat them raw. They tasted like fish, and they didn’t bleed when I sliced them open. And then, I found myself falling into a pattern of sorts. I avoided any strange animal I came upon. And I saw many – three-horned rhinoceroses with gills, elephants without tusks and tails, cougars with blue coats, walking on seven legs…I hoped the invisible predator would never return. Years or what seemed like years passed and my reasoning was failing. My instincts, however, had sharpened. As I explored the strange biosphere, I encountered both things and occurrences that had a supernatural or surreal aspect. I started wondering if aliens had abducted me and placed me under observation in an unnatural habitat to see how I’d respond. But that didn’t explain how I’d healed from having my arm torn off. Had they changed me before placing me here? Had they tampered with my biochemistry and my human nature? Was I becoming an alien myself? Is this how they captured other species and transformed them into creatures like themselves?

Then one day, a memory flashed in my head. A memory of a hospital. And I thought that perhaps everything I’d known was simply a hallucination. I was just a mentally ill man in an asylum living out a terrifying make-believe reality, completely oblivious to the truth. But that posed another question. How could I have known the true world unless I’d experienced it at some point? Was I a functioning individual who suddenly had a psychotic breakdown because of a personal catastrophe? And then I wondered if anything was real. We spend our lives looking for answers, but what if there aren’t any questions, to begin with? What if some sentient being somewhere dreamt us all into existence, and when its dream turned into a nightmare, earthquakes, and plagues and train accidents occurred? What if this being’s dream made room for each creature – man, woman, child, animal, bird, fish, and dreams within the massive dream made each life? And when a dream within the dream took a surreal turn, realities got turned inside out. This was an absurd explanation, or perhaps a profound one, I don’t know, but it was the best I could think of.

Now, I still live here in this bizarre place. Centuries or what seem like centuries have passed. I still sweat blood and don’t have an arm. I look at my broken reflection in the lake of cats and it looks the same. I haven’t aged. I’ve stopped praying for help. The invisible monster never returned. I hunt. I eat. I survive.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Closure

This is a black and white picture of a weary man. I've used this because it symbolizes resignation and the apathy that follows sorrow which are the chief themes in my story.

I met another version of him after three years: a totally different avatar. I wanted to meet him after reading one of his recently published poems. The tone of the piece showed a shift from his earlier work. His initial writing was effervescent, or like David’s psalms began on a note of melancholia and then gradually drifted to a note of triumph. Now, he wasn’t religious by any means; but he’d seen beauty. He’d seen her in an elegant ivory dress: a little coy, but willing to embrace a bedraggled him. You could always sense that he’d had an epiphany or a cathartic moment of sorts because his writing reflected it. His poems didn’t allude to similar artists, were not allegorical; or filled with symbolism. But there were these gentle nuances in them that soaked the reader with a softer, mellow happiness. They had this rhythm to them and he didn’t use meter, rhyme or traditional form to enforce this. He was brilliant, but his recent work, however, scuttled across more esoteric surfaces. These were cryptic, self-indulgent, full of surrealism; and experimentation. They also had a confessional element to them, or at least that was my impression. It seemed to me that he was in the throes of some suffering. Now I will not use a cliché and call it ‘existential angst’, but it was some hopelessness, some piercing, daunting anguish of the soul.

We met at a café near his place because he said it was convenient for him. Both of us had changed with time, and it hardly took a few sentences spoken to realize this. His openness and his frankness, which had surprised many once, had all disappeared. He never did bother about showing anybody both his strong and vulnerable side because he didn’t care about people’s opinions. Now, however, he seemed reserved, but it was a different kind of withdrawal. I doubt that insults or people trampling him had caused this. It was more of an apathetic, everything around me moves or stands still, and I do the same. There is no escaping. I’ll forever be trapped in this spectrum of meaninglessness, and on some days the emptiness is expansive; on other days just a slit within, that had engulfed him. I wanted to struggle with him, fight for him, help him see elegance again; but I realized soon that he was far gone.

“Your eyes, they give away everything. I see it: the hollowness, the antipathy towards the positive; and I just want to know why,” I said, and he looked at me with a lopsided grin, and said, “It isn’t something obvious like the loss of a loved one; or failure after failure that did it. It also wasn’t something sudden: I didn’t wake up one morning, go outside and stopped seeing the rose, and only saw the thorn. No, it was always there, I just didn’t embrace it. All those ‘inspirational’ poems that made me a ton of money never reflected me. Sure, I’ve seen beauty, but she fades just like man does. Her influence is only ephemeral, and as time passed; and I fell into the same pattern day after day, I gradually realized that I was always forcing myself to smile, that my love was just a momentary gush, that my sorrow a duty. I found myself questioning meaning and found nothing. There were times when what I was going through frightened me because I was gradually stripping each virtue or vice I clung to of its essence to see if there was something real, but I found nothing. So I let that cold draft of apathy freeze all the falsehood that I had invented to sustain myself, and finally found a barren me: exposed but not vulnerable; tired but not filled with self-hate; indifferent but not wounded.” “But has all this given you closure? I ask this because I read ‘Listless’ the other day, and it seemed as if you were writhing in inner hell,” I said, and he said, “‘Closure’, ‘Peace’, what are these things but man-made concepts that we glorify as universal truths. You’ve interpreted my poem as being confessional, but it really is a piece about a broken, sentient being unlike me: A person who fears leaping across that chasm of angst to that place of total aridity I’m in now and hence is unstable. The esoteric symbolism all serves to reflect this penultimate state.”

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)