Saturday, October 11, 2008
Yugoslavian Rum and the Flavored Cubes of Memories
In the dimly lit hotel room, we meet, three friends, K.M.Madhusudhanan, Jeevan Thomas and myself. Jeevan Thomas, the sculptor has come all the way from Trivandrum to Kochi only to attend the opening of K.M.Madhusudhanan’s solo show at the Gallery OED, Kochi. They were batch mates during the most turbulent times in the history of Trivandrum Fine Arts College. It was mid 70s and the atmosphere was charged up with revolutionary ideas. They once drank from the same cup, which was filled with the intoxicating thoughts of social revolution.
My mobile phone rings for the nth time and I pick it up with some kind of impatience.
“Where are you?” someone roars from the phone and without a moment’s thought I make out it is the voice of Jeevan Thomas. “Come over, I am in Madhu’s room,” he tells me.
When I enter the room, I have a guitar hanging from my shoulders. Madhu and Jeevan look at me with amusement.
“Oh….I bought it for my son,” I just explain to dispel their doubts regarding my prowess in music.
“May be people will think that you are a guitarist,” Jeevan teases me and what he says is right.
After getting out of the musical instruments shop, I hired an auto-rickshaw. The traffic was too much and I was feeling bored. To kill boredom, I took out the guitar from the case and started strumming it to my satisfaction. I could see people from other vehicles and wayside gazing at me with some kind of admiration or scorn in their eyes. Soon I was pretending myself as an accomplished guitarist.
I don’t find Jeevan’s teasing offensive. However I remember the day he really teased me, perhaps offended me.
I used to be an aspiring poet, while doing my graduation in English Literature at University College, Trivandrum. I enjoyed spending time with Fine Arts College students, either in their college, or in their library or in the famous public library. Whenever I had a poem ready, I recited it for my close friends from the Fine Arts College. We spent our evenings on a granite slab, drinking endless cups of tea, smoking weed, discussing art and wistfully looking at the setting night.
One day, while discussing art or literature Jeevan Thomas appeared from somewhere fully drunk. He waited for a moment to get the direction of our discussion and then without any provocation he started abusing me.
“I know you, you are a sentimental poet who writes sentimental bullshit in third rate magazines,” Jeevan roared. His mane flew in the wind and he really looked like a lion against the setting sun. I was deeply hurt.
I was deeply hurt to such an extent that I was totally numb. I did not know what to do with him. Crestfallen and hurt, I took my bicycle and left the place.
I could not sleep the whole night. I wanted to wreck revenge on him. Hence, I started practicing some fighting techniques at home. My reference was popular films and I started imitating the action heroes of that time. I plunged the kitchen knife into the trunks of several plantain trees, tried to push my finger into burning sand, tried to break a few tiles or bricks with my fist. And in each attempt, I was getting more and more hurt physically.
After the martial art preparation for a week or so, I went to the Public Library campus and waited for Jeevan to make his dramatic appearance. I studied the angles, vantage points from where I could spring on to his body. I was constantly looking at the neck of a friend who was sitting next to me. There was an urge in me to strangulate this boy so that I could catch hold of Jeevan’s neck without failing an inch.
Finally Jeevan came. He shook hands with everyone. He held my hands and smiled at me as if nothing had happened between us. Some of my friends knew that I went there that evening to take revenge on Jeevan. They were waiting for the dramatic events to take place. Jeevan was cool and my throat dried up. I wanted to confront him and hit him. But he was not offending me.
He offered me the cigarette, which he was smoking. My fists throbbed in the pain of one week’s intensive martial art practice.
“Shall I take a cigarette?” I ask Jeevan and he readily offers the packet to me. Jeevan has grown old. But his enthusiasm for life, social revolution and art is not diminished a bit. Now he gives classes for the children of Sree Chitra Poor Home in Trivandrum. He invites people from different fields to give classes for these orphaned kids. When a van is available, Jeevan takes these kids to galleries in Trivandrum.
“I would like to come and see these children, when I come to Trivandrum next,” I tell Jeevan. He is extremely happy.
“I just cannot get out of that feeling…” pitches in Madhu. He is talking about cinema.
“The paraphernalia of watching a movie in a local theatre…oh my goodness…that is intoxicating. The songs, slide shows, news reels, forthcoming film trailers, advertisements, the darkness, the aroma of local cigars, the occasional cat cryings and whistles, the breaking of reels, the light of a forty watt bulb, the iron buckets filled with sand as if they were fire extinguishers….oh…for me film is that…the ambience. Now with the multiplexes the feel of watching a movie has gone…Still I cannot get out of it,” Madhu ruminates.
Madhu makes a very strong black tea. While drinking he says it is Yugoslavian rum and he offers it to me. I tell him that I don’t like East European liquor and we all laugh.
“When I listen to some old songs, my childhood comes back to me,” Jeevan picks up the thread of the talk from where Madhu left it. “These songs were played in the local theatre before the actual show. And these songs decided our daily rituals. Pain, pleasure and lot of pleading for a few coins to buy tickets…” Jeevan is silent now.
Sipping his Yugoslavian rum, Madhu remembers Marcel Proust and his ‘Remembrance of the Things Past.’ The flood gates of memory were opened when Proust dipped a piece of cake into his morning tea and he followed those memories to write his magnum opus.
Then Madhu remembers Louis Bunuel. “He was a reluctant film maker. He never wanted to part with the stories within him. His associates used to give him flavored martini and with each sip, Bunuel remembered the scenes and recounted it as if he were in a trance. And his associates noted down all what he said and those were his shooting script,” Madhu says.
I tell them about the first film that I watched as a boy, the first piece of film that I got from the projection room of the local theatre. I talk to them about the projector that I made out of an old cardboard box, a fused electric bulb, a piece of mirror and water. I remember the remarkable movie, Cinema Paradiso.
Above all I remember the stunt scenes of black and white Malayalam movies, which I had imitated to wreck revenge on Jeevan Thomas.
I look at Jeevan Thomas and Madhu, and then decide not to talk about the wounded plantain trees and unbroken bricks.
(Illustration: Work by K.M.Madhusudhanan. Title- The Tent Silent Horse, Medium: Acrylic and watercolour on paper, 28”x20” 2007)