After a long time I come home early; early means, when I reach home the sun is still there in the sky. It has travelled from east to west. Autumn has just set in now in Delhi. The trees seem to have not noticed the arrival of it. They still flaunt the same leaves; covered in dust they try to welcome autumn with some kind of urgency often shown by those hostesses who hurry up to tidy up a dishevelled home interior at the arrival of an unexpected guest. Sun rays pierce my eyes once I get out of my car. My driver offers to pick up the bag for me (perhaps it is salary day and he wants to remind me that he is really expecting money today). I walk freely into the compound bending my head at the side gate. I climb the stairs as if they were the stairs of a hospital or a strange building where I was not intended to enter when the sun was still up in the sky.
I ring the door bell. Before I could hear the scrambling of little feet inside, a familiar and welcoming sound of my kids, I hear the rustle of the curtain at the opposite door. Neighbours are vigilant as they want to know who has come to your home. They are vigilant as they are looking for gossips. When you are in trouble the neighbours’ doors remain shut. They look like the eyelids of kids who sleep off when adversities strike them or their parents. Someone has said children overcome trauma by falling asleep. It is not just children who overcome trauma through slumber; lovers and separated do the same. But unlike kids, the latter often say that they keep their night’s oil burn throughout as if sleep has ditched them the way their lovers have. So many songs have written on the sleepless nights spent by lovers separated by time, space and the wrath of others.
(JML and Annurag Sharma briefing the display team)
My daughter opens the door. She is just three years old. She prefers to open the door for me not because she anticipates the goodies that I bring along when I come back from work but because she has grown tall enough to reach the latch. When my son rushes to the door to open, obviously for the eatables that he knows that I bring for him, my daughter throws a tantrum. So what I do is I go out again and she latches the door from inside, I ring the door bell again and she opens it for me with a fresh smile on her face, with tear drops still waiting to break loose from her lashes as if she were a landscape where just a rain had finished and the sunlight had come back.
Today she looks different in her white frock with orange flowers splattered all over. I feel that she has grown up a little bit. Why I haven’t I noticed this change all these days? Where was I? Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you- I was doing United Art Fair, an art fair in Delhi to which I was the project director and chief curator. In May 2012, I had joined the organization and the task before me was to build up an art fair within five months. I had taken it as a challenge. The adrenaline rush was quite strong. So I kept working along with a team of a bunch of efficient beautiful girls. I had forgotten the dates and days all these days. I had stopped reading newspapers, watching television and even reading my favourite literary works. I had taken a plunge and I had to swim well. And I believe I did it well. As I was wading through the troubled waters of art, I never had got time to reach home on expected times. My children started feeling that I was a person who comes home at night with a couple of candies, then drinks a few pegs of whiskey, and sleep. They have been seeing me like this for the last five months. Even I have been seeing them as two little cute angels waiting for me to come in so that they can pounce on me like tiger cubs and get their goodies and go back to their television channels or youtube programs.
(Manali Deyondi, JML and Yanam Takam at the UAF display)
I look at my son. He is grown up now. Though he is just seven years old, he looks quite big for that age. He wants to be a boxer, a cricketer and a sportsperson in general. However, his primary ambition is to become a shop keeper. He believes that a shop keeper has the best profession in the world. He can sit at the counter, sell things and put the money into his box. His economics is based on dreams. When he grows up he would understand the real economics of the world. Then he would realize that for putting money into his box he needs to invest and to make an investment he needs to have something. As of now I don’t think he has something to invest in today. Sometimes my friends ask him, especially when I take him to gatherings (that I do very rarely), whether he wants to become a writer like his father. He nods negatively and I am sure to become a writer for him means too much of work; sitting at one place for hours and typing away furiously at the computer. He is restless at this age and he cannot sit idle. When I look at him I imagine he would become a property dealer who would sell a flat that looks at a barren land for a garden face and the one that opens to a stinking gutter for a spring face 3BHK flat.
One day night, as usual I come back and my wife, the mother of my kids, tells me that our son is grown up. She explains her conclusion into my tired ears that have been listening to the harangue of artists for the whole day. Even if you are chatting in the virtual space, you hear them. You don’t see words, you hear them. You hear the words in an imagined voice till you really speak to the person over phone or over a cup of coffee. You both try to impress each other with the best of your voice. You start with a grainy deep voice and once the falsehoods are shed you come to your own trebles and timbers. High octave is always kept for shrieking at each other; and you need to get married for experiencing such wonderful variation of voices that had once been virtual sounds heard with real ears.
(Kunnah at work)
My wife, the mother of my kids, tells me that she has seen my son watching something in youtube. He often does it and I wonder what is special in it. My wife, the mother of my kids, pulls down my arched eyebrows with a stream of words. She says that she has seen our son closing the door and trying to hide something in the computer screen. She has found out that our son watching a semi nude girl performing some kind of act. He seemed to be curious about her body, my wife tells me. But he was not just curious, he was really enjoying. I do not scold my son for doing that. It is too early an age to watch pornography or something related to soft porn. However, I realize that there is no point in scolding him. I tell him not to repeat it. Still on another day my wife, the mother of my kids says that when she showed a profile picture of her in the facebook, he did not see his mother’s face instead he wondered how ugly was a Souza nude seen just behind her in the picture.
I look at my son. He sits there dispassionately like a frog waiting patiently for a fly to come in. He is all dressed up and he carries a keyboard on his back. Once I come in he walks out without saying bye to me. He does make an eye contact which has full of smile and mischief. He goes for his music class and I memories flood into my mind. I had seen this child seven years back. The doctor had given him into my hands. He was opening and shutting his small little fists as if he were in a desperate struggle to go back to his mother’s womb. I had seen him practicing dance and then disappearing from the stage and putting us into a frantic search. Finally we had found him at the entrance of the hall where the dance program had held. I had asked him for an explanation of his fleeing. He told me that he was just bored of sitting and waiting for his chance to come. He had just thought of having some fresh air. I had beaten him up with his my belt that I regret even today. I vividly remember him sitting on a cement platform right in front of the crèche where we used to leave him during our working hours, and looking at each passing cars and going back to his innocent disappointment of not seeing his parents in anyone of them. I had gone mad when I saw my son sitting at the pavement and had screamed at the crèche lady. She apologized and that was the day we decided to have a full time maid. Today he has wandered into the realm of hidden sins; the adult world of perverted fantasies.
(UAF display in progress)
He is your son, says my wife for she has seen me wandering into pornography years ago. Those were the days of dial up network connections. You could have made tea and sipped it to the last once you switched on the modem. It took ages to connect to the ether world of internet. The fly that moved its wings, the dog that wagged its tail, the cat that preened here and there, the hourglass that shed sand particles took eons to finish their act. It was the time I got into the unchartered land of pornography. Today, my wife tells me my son was like me not because once I had taken interest in watching porn but because she believes that I have slept with so many women. I have not counted. I have slept with women. Or had I been fantasizing all these years. None knows the truth. The truth is that you write and you write on. And I cherish this secret happiness of my son becoming a writer only because he is interested in things that generally kids are not allowed to see at his age. I am not going to stop him.
After five months I see my home in day light. It looks different as if I have just entered in a cave where immense stories, treasures and dreams are hidden. It looks like a place where I had left long back that remains the same even once I come back but all clad in a different hue. Each object seems to have a contour of bright light. The maid servant pours tea at the dining table and she looks like a Vermeer painting with the light grating through the cane blinds. It looks like as if a long sheet of shadow was sliced by a shredder of lights and strewn across the air as if it were the doing of a magical spirit. I walk into the cave as if I were brought in suddenly here by a genie that has been waiting for me for five months. I have been in a jar made out of time and aspirations, virile energies and arrogance, secret ambitions and public posturing. I look around and wonder as if I were a stranger who has come to a familiar city that has been familiarized either through literature or through day dreaming.
(JML with Nishant Chawla)
I walk into my bedroom. The bookshelf opposite the bed has been changed completely. Where once I had placed my Foucault and Vaikom Mohammed Basheer has now become the abode of ‘Wimpy Kids’, ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and several magical stories of childhood innocence. One book tells me ‘Ask me Anything’ while the other cries ‘The First Book of Animals’. Elif Shafak’s ‘Black Milk and John Vernon’s ‘Let the Devil Sleep’ struggle to find a space between picture atlas and space encyclopaedia. Between two volumes of Pepper the Dog stories, there juts out a small leg still with a pink shoe on it. It is a dismembered Barbie Doll who has become victim of my daughter’s fury. A small little hair clip catches my attention and the minute floral designs on it bring tears into my eyes. An abandoned pair of goggles, a half filled bottle of savlon lotion, a Vaseline moisturising cream and so on randomly have taken their spaces.
The walls look strange and fascinating. Five months back they were cream or off white. Today I see them scribbled with the hieroglyphics of my daughter’s ancient memories that remembers in dreams but articulates in a jumble of cross hatching lines. I don’t think she would become an artist. I want her to become a musician or dancer. But children are not the translated versions of the parents’ text of aspirations. They are the original texts waiting to be interpreted by love and care. I see the small little towels and small little pairs of pink shoes that brought tears of joy into my eyes. I see a pair of blue gloves down under the wooden sofa with the marks of punches in its swollen memories.
(JML and Annurag Sharma on the final day press conference)
I walk around inside the home alone. My wife has taken my daughter to the park. My son has carried a small wooden cricket bat (from plastic bat he has graduated a fake willow) and gone to his friend’s place. On the way I see him enacting the acts of innumerable cricketers various acts of cricketing. Suddenly he falls on the ground and catches an invisible ball that has gone up in the air for a sixer. He enacts the action reply of him getting run out in slow motion. He waits for an invisible digital board to show red or green light so that he could remain the crease. When the light goes green a million invisible cricket lovers throw their hands up in the air from the gallery. My son soaks in the flood of invisible admiration and he takes his position in the imaginary wicket and faces the malignant Malinga. I look at his action with a smile on my lips; a scene I had forgotten during the five months of my United Art Fair days.
Memories flood in. I see the faces of thousands of artists. I see the crowd. I see a steady stream of people coming into the halls where the works are displayed. I see admiring eyes measuring my contours. I see loving eyes stencil cut my figure from the air and keep it in their sophisticated cameras. I see my confidence soaring like an eagle. I see things from the sky. I see another eagle joining in. I see them as if they were seen from a glass window. Two eagles fly in the sky for some time and then they vanish. I lie down on my bed. The sun is still bright. And I see an eagle feather landing on my forehead.