By Prashant Bagad, translated from Marathi by Shanta Gokhale
After sending off a variety of applications and appearing for a couple of interviews, one day the result came. It was the result he had wished for. He felt relieved. Now he was going to be packed off to the castle. Now the time when he would be happy was very close at hand. “I will be happy now,” he said to himself as Pandurang Sangvikar had done.
The following day, around six or six-thirty in the evening, he went to Manasi’s place. She had just come back from work. She looked tired.
“Good time,” he said to himself. “She won’t object too much at this time.”
Manasi asked him, “Tea or coffee?” He said, “No.” Then she asked him again a few minutes later. Again he replied, “No.” But this second refusal was firmer, stronger. Manasi thought, he looks quite happy today. She asked, “You look brighter today. What’s up?”
He just sat. He stared out of the door on the left. Then he began to tell her, his eyes wandering over the photographs on the wall, “I’m free. Finally something I want is happening. At least partly. I’m going day after tomorrow. To the castle. Now we will meet only through letters. That is, if you write to me. I’ll be all set by tomorrow. The following day I’ll leave. I feel free. I also feel that I was trapped here. I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to. I was in the grip of circumstances, turning into garbage. Now I will live as I wish. I came because you too would feel good about it. And this will also end the uncertainty between us. I really do feel brighter as you said.”
Manasi sighed deeply, laughed and said, “Good! Congratulations! If things are going your way, it is happy news. Of course I will write. And also come to meet you if I can.”
“No. I will belong completely to that place now,” he said quickly.
Manasi looked sad. She leaned back further. She wasn’t going to fight. He saw the white dove of peace flying over her head. He took it as a truce, rose, shook her hand and turned towards the door. Slipping on his chappals, his attention went to the kitchen. There were half-a-dozen bananas on the cooking platform. You could imagine their reflection in its sheer black granite. The curtain swayed about casually. Glancing at it, he looked long at her. The next minute he was out. He took the stairs down. He left the building and came out on the road.
Then he went to Rajaram. Rajaram had also just got back from the Institute. Watching television, riffling through the newspaper, leaving the shoes he had taken off on the side, keeping his socks on, he was sitting easy, lazily. Rajaram did not get up etc even after seeing him. He entered. The door was open. Rajaram smiled at him. He sat down.
“Have you begun to pack?” Rajaram began.
“Begun? I’m almost through. Tomorrow’s my last day here. Then I go.”
“Right. Are you carrying enough clothes? Shoes? And you are taking our special stuff from here I hope.”
He was bored. You could converse with Manasi. There was an aura around her. It might or might not exist. But you sensed it. Moreover, uncertainty threw its shadow on conversation. Uncertainty imbued what you were saying with density. Even as you said it, something happened. Here it is random nosiness. It is impossible to converse with Rajaram.
“I’ll leave my carton with you. I told you about it the other day.”
“Good. I’m off.”
“Still many things to do. Must go.”
“All right then.”
“You’ve been a great help.”
“Are you going to thank me and all that? Then please go.”
“Of course not.”
He glanced once, carefully, around the flat which had a superficial air of scholarship and which belonged to an acquaintance with a traditional name, who could not quite be called a friend. Then he left, muttering in his mind the farewell that Rajaram had not understood.
The traffic had enough power to shame the atom bomb. Its stomach, swelling with the deaths that were not happening every second, would soon checkmate the ultimate void. Thousands of headlights produced, reproduced and re-reproduced Gandhari’s eyes, threw new light on sightedness. When you tried to cross the road, cyclists riding along the side constantly obstructed your way. Antlike people were returning to nearby villages on their cycles. Their faces were lost in the darkness. Taking no notice of them, he walked on.
When he returned after dinner from his regular eatery and washed his hands and feet, he pulled out the cardboard carton from under the bed. He had bought the carton from a grocer’s a couple of years ago. He had not acquired a cupboard then. And all his things were piling up. So he bought the carton. One, it had space for all his stuff and, two, pulling it out and pushing it under the bed was going to be a simple operation. He had decided the carton was more conducive to his wellbeing than a cupboard. It was as though, in his peripatetic life, he had the blessings, the support of the carton under the bed. He was not of the opinion that blessings came or should come from above. Sleeping on the bed at night, he found it reassuring, life-enhancing, to think that all his important possessions, his documents, lay in the carton below the bed, perfectly at ease like him. After all, even the sun dips into hell at eventide. A vibrant thing like the sun finally sinks into the river of the netherworld, the Patalganga. The strange world of dreams rises out of the very bottom of our consciousness. Why look up at the blank sky waiting for blessings? Life begins down below. Steam rises from below and forms clouds and rain falls and what is dead or dying sprouts living leaves. The knowledge of true intellectuals is deep and in English all best wishes come from the bottom of your heart. If you stub your toe down below, you go haywire up above with aches and pains. When all is well down below, it is time for joy up above.
He had begun to live in quite such a time of joy ever since he had bought the carton. In time he discovered that the things in the carton were not classified into categories. They came to the carton simply as his things, emerged from it only to serve him and went back into the dark of the carton entirely in accordance with his wishes, convenience and time. The notebook was no different from the clothes hanger. It lay beside the hanger quietly. At times the hanger would be on top of the notebook. There were times when he even put in foodstuff that could be stored in the carton. For example, if he bought a tender coconut, he would put it in the carton as soon as he got home. A couple of days later he would suddenly remember it and when, after many attempts at breaking it, he managed at last to succeed, he would imbibe the sweet water. He had a stainless steel tumbler in which he would catch the water. The tumbler too came out of the carton. “If he could, even Shekhar would live in the carton,” his companions said.
Some of these people were students, some had just found themselves jobs and some did not have a clue about what they could do. Of course it was entirely possible that any one of them might notice the carton and want to pull it out and take a look. He was not so much afraid of these people themselves as of their urges. The carton could not be locked. The carton had no doors. The carton was not a cupboard. The mouth of the carton was open. The two flaps that closed it could be easily opened too. The carton had an open nature. However, the supportive presence of the khaki carton in the lower world struck some people like the kick of a cart horse in the forehead. But that could not be helped.
He sometimes wondered about the gender of the carton. It could be it or he. But language revolted at the idea of a she carton. Talking about the carton to Manasi one day, he had observed that the “r” in Shekhar also figured in “carton”.
Pulling the carton out from under the bed, he dusted it with an old, dirty cloth. A spider had woven a web between the flaps of its door. A puff of wind came and the web took a swing. He flicked the web off. He set to work with the idea of taking all the stuff out of the carton, dusting it, keeping the things he would need for the castle out and returning the others to the carton. The first thing to come out was the pile of books. Immediately, a pen from the heap next to them fell into the empty space. There was an old calendar. He promptly threw it into the wastepaper basket. Then a watch gleamed. It was a good watch, but had temporarily stopped. It was no different from the calendar. With a vague idea that it should be kept rather than with the thought that it might be useful in the future, he carefully put it back in. Looking at the stainless steel containers, the dictionary, an empty packet of scented fennel seeds, his school leaving certificate, he was overcome by exhaustion. He rose, thinking he would leave all the stuff where it was and sleep soundly. He washed his hands and stood outside the room in the balcony. There were trees, roofs, stars and darkness in the dense heart of sleep. The city floated like a ship. Coming back into the room, he returned the carton to its original state. Almost all the things rested, once again, within its depth.
The following day he made arrangements for the carton at Rajaram’s place. Rajaram’s father was at home. Rajaram was not. He was not to have been. He put the carton in the middle room, said goodbye and left. He returned, went in and closed the cardboard flaps of the carton carefully. As he was leaving, Rajaram’s father said, “Had you forgotten something?”
“I had to close the carton door.”
“The carton door?” Rajaram’s father laughed.
“Yes. In one of Kusumagraj’s poems the river flows past the village door.”
The journey was good. Shekhar came to no harm. He did not talk to anybody during the journey. Perhaps he was travelling alone. He could not say. His sleep was like drugged sleep. But he reached the castle.
A man stood behind a glass wall. A bottle of orange-coloured juice stood beside him. The man looked grim. Shekhar stood before the glass wall in a friendly manner but with enough appropriate seriousness. The man asked for the papers. When Shekhar handed over the papers, the man said, “Are you literate?”
“Yes, of course, Sir,” Shekhar replied respectfully in English.
“Please speak in your language. You know your language, don’t you?”
Shekhar heard this. He felt despondent. Meanwhile the man shoved all the papers towards him roughly. “Now get three new forms from that young lady in the cabin far back, fill them up and bring them to me. Shekhar picked up his luggage and went to the back. He passed all the other cubicles and reached Martha Eagleton’s cubicle. Two people were already in there. So he stood hovering outside. The sound of people talking and arguing heatedly emerged from inside. Shekhar could not make out a single word. He only caught the general thrust. Even if he had been one of the group of seven blind men, he could not have as much as sensed this elephant of meaning. The air was filled with a coffee-like aroma. Shekhar began to crave clean, cool air. He was making his way to a balcony that he could see in a corner when a tall woman came out and led him inside. This was Martha Eagleton. She was friendly. She said, “I had a word with Bob. You needn’t fill up forms again. We asked all those sticky questions because it’s your first time at the castle. Otherwise our approach is friendly. But formalities have to be completed. It’s part of our work. Here, in this castle, great importance is attached to discipline. Every inmate is a devotee of discipline. Even the trees and bushes here observe discipline. Seasons are one thing, natural instincts are one thing, discipline is one thing, you see. You just do your work. You’ll get your own space for that. When you enter the castle, you’ll be given more detailed information during induction. Wherever you go, carry your mind or your notepad with you. The mind is with you anyway, but I said it just like that. My sense of humour is rather poor. Everyone says so. But let that go. Give me your photograph, will you? Good, good. Nice. Nice handwriting. Will this weather bother you? Bob visited your city last year if I remember right.” Shekhar was listening. Magically he had begun to understand what this woman was saying. He felt clever realising that he had, by his own wits, overcome the earlier lack of understanding. All he needed to do now was to sprinkle the cool air over himself. Now he was happy.
He emerged from the office after leaving Martha and waving a generously grateful hand of greeting at Bob from a distance. He could see a tall slope before him. There were many steps. Halfway up, they bent sharply at an angle. Things were clear up to that point, but he could not even guess what lay beyond. How exhausted he was going to be lugging his luggage up. But this was the last bit. At the end of this climb was the castle. I will be in the castle. Around me will be the castle. I will wander around the castle. Autumn in the castle, heartfelt art galleries in the castle, cascades of wind in the castle, coursing storms, careering bats, the special cassia-like trees of the castle. Now a new mind will sprout in the castle. Now my own space. My own well-being. Only I and me in the castle. The strings of the castle will strum morning, noon and night. It is as though the entire castle, not merely the map, had been in my pocket through all time. Only, I had forgotten it. Now truth, like a dream, lay at the distance of these steps. Now I must climb the steps minus the mind. Then the castle itself.
He had climbed up the steps and was now on top. He was panting. He leaned against the wooden railing on the side. He was sweating profusely. It appeared to be that time of day when afternoon inclines into evening. Or was it? It was difficult to tell. He waited till his breathing became regular. Then he thought to himself, or in fact told himself, that he was young, and walked on. The air up there had turned mild. He sat down on a stone bench. Even as his body heat returned to normal, a cold drop dribbled down from his sweat-soaked hair onto his neck. That felt good. Before him was a large stone building. Its upper floor was held up by magnificent wooden columns. On its long, gracious steps sat a bunch of people. They had nothing to do with each other. They too had climbed up the steps a while ago. But they were not sweating like him. Perhaps they had previous experience of the climb. Some amongst them looked as if their only aim had been to climb the steps, as if they had turned their backs on the castle. They sat there as though touching any part of the castle was like touching the whole castle; the ocean in a drop of water. They had no desires. As Shekhar sat looking at them, the clouds of an allegorical tale began to wander through his body. And he began to feel increasingly hopeless.
Evening had begun to lean towards night when he was given charge of his room. The castle was multi-storeyed. Shekhar’s room, or rather the room that Shekhar was given, was on the second or third floor. Every floor was equipped with facilities like a swimming pool, gym, recreation room, dance club and library. Let me inspect the facilities on the other floors as well, Shekhar said to himself. The brochure said that subtle differences, noticeable only to the sharpest eye, had been deliberately made in the facilities on the various floors. Several people played a guessing game based on these differences. The organisers had told them during induction that visitors to the castle generally came in groups big enough to play guessing games. While his field of experience was being organised in this way, the fatigue that Shekhar had felt after being put through his paces on the climb up the steps and observing the people on the steps in front was gradually beginning to fall away. He slept soundly that first night.
On the following day he went out after tea. Nothing moved on the road. The discipline-loving trees were still. The road flowed smoothly. It too had its own system. He too did not want to go where the road led him. He began to observe the hives of youth homes, webs of what looked like buildings. The houses in the castle were referred to as youth homes. The men’s homes were Yhomes, the women’s homes were Xhomes and the gender-neutral homes were Solohomes. Shekhar grew dissatisfied when he thought he should have applied for a gender-neutral home. But at the same time he was genuinely happy that he could now think in tune with the castle. Telling himself, or an angry corner of his mind, that he would prove himself yet, despite living in a Yhome, he remained calm.
A little while later he returned to his room. By now he had begun calling the room home. Next to his bed in the room stood an enormous white vessel, inscribed “Niagara”. There was a tap in it with three branches. He surmised that one must be for hot water, one for cold and the third for a carefully balanced mix of the two. He turned on this branch, and lo and behold, out came water that smelt like tea. His guess was completely wrong. This branch produced water that smelt like tea and the other two produced hot and cold water. It made Shekhar’s heart burst with happiness that, although he had not outraced time in the castle, he had outraced the tap. He lay in bed pronouncing an angry expletive in his mind, acknowledging destiny in depriving him of the pleasure of balanced hot-cold water even in the castle.
He stood at the confluence of three streams much like the three-branched tap. Around him was a sky of orange red. Everybody was looking for the middle stream that had suddenly disappeared. It was as though the water had turned into a moth, circled round and flown away. No sun shone in that place. Neither the lightless one, nor the faithless one. He too began to look around desultorily. Had he seen that white line? He could not remember. The question of straining his tidy memory did not arise. What then are these people searching for and on the strength of what? What do they remember? Taking care not to let the world turn into a dream, he opened his eyes from the darkness of sleep into the darkness of night and turned over. The earth too completed its circumambulation and celebrated the gleam of dawn.
He woke up, had his bath, drank his tea, paced the world with his eyes through the windows and vaguely set to work. He sat at the table. He aligned his chair properly with the table. He placed his elbows on the flat brown surface of the table and tried turning both hands with a circular motion. He made sure that his back made a friendly connection with the seat back. Then he suddenly stood up. He took a huge suitcase, which he had bought two days before he came to the castle and which was now pregnant with his stuff, out of the cupboard. He put all his clothes on one shelf. He put the books of the language, maps and information regarding the customs of the castle on the upper shelf. He put his shoes, rain-resisting chappals, socks, handkerchiefs and such stuff on the bottom shelf. He let his towel lie on the bed. He thought hard but could not figure out which place he could assign to the towel. He sat at the table again. He thought of Manasi. He got up immediately. He rearranged his stuff, transferring the books about the castle to the clothes shelf and the clothes to the top shelf. He sat down at the table again. The phrases “a smidgen of”, “a soupcon of”, “a speck of” began to run around in his mind like deer. Chasing them he arrived at the cupboard. The cupboard was the same colour as the table. A little taller than him. The cupboard had depth and space. It had the capacity to hold many things systematically within itself. Shekhar opened the cupboard. He saw the expanse of white inside. He noticed that he had filled up the left side which had shelves but had left the right side empty. That side had no shelves. It was impossible to slice up that whole blank unity. Shekhar slipped out of his slippers and entered the right side. Facing the door he pulled it with both hands. The door closed. The cupboard was still as it would always be, but now there was Shekhar and his stuff. The room was outside. In the room were a table, a chair, a bed, books, toothpaste, toothbrush, mirror, window, window panes, dim reflections on the glass. Shekhar stood there doing nothing. Then he sat down. Then getting up and making an unsuccessful attempt at touching the top with his head, he stood with stark or staring eyes. He came out after ten minutes or so. He had begun to feel suffocated inside. As soon as he sat down in the chair he felt tears welling up. After he had finished crying, he noticed in the mirror that his eyes were wet and red. In order to feel better, he left the room and went out.
A Solohome beckoned to him. He hesitated at the entrance. Just then an individual came with a quick stride, opened the door with a rod the size of a finger and allowed him to go in first. Shekhar said a polite thank you and entered. He caught a whiff of a tightly packed, bitterish smell like coffee. Once again Shekhar lingered, reading the notices. Somebody called out “Hi” from behind him. Confused, Shekhar turned in the direction from which the voice had come.
“Hi. I’m Galaxy. Glad to meet you.”
“I’m Shekhar. Nice to meet you.”
“What are you up to?”
“Nothing much. Loitering. Roaming.”
“Exploring the campus, right?”
“You sound like you are a shy girl.”
“Sorry? Shy? No, no. Oh… I don’t know.”
“Anyways, would you like to come in and have a cup of tea?”
Then Galaxy opened the door to the room. This room was twice the size of Shekhar’s. Shekhar felt as though he had entered a large home. The window too was large and let in a lot of light. It formed a kind of fissure in the lingering smell of coffee. Galaxy had arranged the room beautifully too.
“Did you not find my name unusual?”
“Yes. That’s my name.” Saying so, Galaxy looked at Shekhar closely for the first time. Shekhar noticed the ring in his ear.
“Why are these homes called Solohomes?”
“Are you the type that hits at the roots? It’s just a name.”
“But why this name in particular?”
“Solohome. Nice name.”
“Yes, it’s nice.”
“So how do you find the castle? How are you feeling?”
“My impressions are still forming.”
“Let them. Let them. Then write an essay about them. You sound terribly studious and reclusive. Are you?”
“No. I mean … I don’t know.”
Galaxy handed Shekhar a mug of tea and sat lolling in an easy chair and talked. “Shit happens when you come of age. I call what happens then shit.”
“Shit?” Shekhar countered, laughing.
“Hey. Excuse my language.” So saying he continued talking.
Shekhar was listening, of course. But after a while he noticed that the words that came from Galaxy’s mouth or the meanings he meant to convey were not getting to him. Shekhar tried desperately to reverse this lack of understanding. It proved futile. But this disappointing beginning brightened a little.
One human being likes to make a connection of any kind at all with another. Need and liking are different. It is one thing to pursue someone to satisfy sexual hunger, and quite another for Shekhar to brighten in conversation with Galaxy. It is not quite correct that food, clothes, shelter, companionship, sex should be described as needs. Calling them needs is correct only because human beings like to eat, dress, build houses, converse, have sex. These likes give life to living just as a poet puts life into common words with the touch of his creative talent. Shekhar thanked Galaxy and returned home.
When he and Galaxy met again, they waved a hello to one another from a distance as though it was the two hands that wanted to meet in another world, a part of this world. Galaxy’s face looked tired and drawn because he had been out. Then his eyes met Galaxy’s in a bus and at the gym. Galaxy did not notice him on both occasions. The fact that eyes meet but do not notice does not always carry the smell or colour of politics. Very often it is a purely innocent, innocuous occurrence. That is how this was. Poles, trees and everyday people had become familiar with constant seeing; the roads and environment had become familiar with constant walking. They were like free-floating fish untrapped in the net of consciousness. This entire castle, unknown and strange, was facilely frozen into a box of indifference and Shekhar, involuntarily sniffing the familiar fragrance of the air, began to feel at home there.
When he was restless, he wandered about the castle. When he noticed the laughing sunshine outside, or saw the wayward wake of aeroplanes in the sky through the windows, he would be filled with waves of happiness and, stepping out, he would keep walking. Walking is a clear blue line and the world gets written on it.
One day going from a place of religion to the main road, he turned into a small by-lane. The tiny lane was exceptionally quiet. When he rounded a bend, he saw a father and daughter, both equally serious and quiet, who had stopped at the side of the road to put on their raincoats. That sight had the strength of a butterfly. He walked on without making a sound. When he emerged from the lane, the flowing main road was there before him.
One day a surging crowd had gathered in a maidan. Shekhar went there. It was as though, like everybody else, he too had come out with the purpose of going there. A yellow signboard carried information and pictures. It was a plan. The lake that had been created in accordance with the plan was nearby. Shekhar made his way there and peeped in. When he stood still, the water seemed to quote the whole sky to him.
But neither of the two illusions had interiority. Shekhar found it very difficult to convince himself that the signboard gave information about the lake and was therefore post-facto. And he found it next to impossible to decide how that father and daughter would see or hear or dream all this.
Once, after nightfall, Shekhar’s restlessness grew. He could not decide what to do. So he stepped out, carrying his shoes, clothes, warm coat, umbrella, wallet and key on his body. He stepped out as though he had decided to find out once and for all. He passed all the Youthhomes, folded his hands to the doormen in greeting, endured the squeak and helplessness of his shoes, and stood quietly in the dark. If you turn left from here and keep walking, you come across a bridge, a tunnel and a colony of tiny workers’ dwellings. Beyond that is a prayer-house. There is practically no traffic there most times. He had decided that day to see this place. Thinking of his eyes as two glass discs floating on top of black water, he began to walk. He reached the prayer house. It was as it always was. He was not coming there for the first time. Glancing around him, he lunged across the Lakshman rekha in the beam of a torch. His feet began to float lightly now. The cold had almost fled. Only his palms and the tip of his nose were still slightly frozen. He switched off the torch, put it in his pocket and began to make swimming movements in the air. He had become light as a feather. Till a while ago he had been pure frog. His mind had been crude. Now he had become like a fortunate prince who could defeat gravity. He tried circling round the turret. Then he went floating to the bastion and attempted to lean against the circular wall of its well. But he could not manage it. So he pretended to go towards the back. His five senses had grown slack. But now he was experiencing the warmth and fun of floating with his entire body. His entire body had turned into a strange and wondrous faculty of sense. He felt deeply happy. Quite suddenly he came upon a round, radiant white piece of sculpture. His hand fell on a figurine. He stepped aside instantly. He moved back. Now he was at the right vantage point. From here he examined the circular sculpture. A tall, sculptured woman had unfurled the sails of her arms and filled the sky. Her loose dress, filled with the wind, billowed, scattering its embroidered motifs around her like moonlight. Her face was full of love and as full of sadness. It was a shocking sadness; one with no tiny, tidy centre. It was difficult to fathom that sadness from her arms stretched far into this emotional desert and the beauty of her dress. But he believed her widened eyes were safe. Shekhar touched her sadness. He was thwarted because it was difficult to stay still for too long when you were floating. Despite that he struggled to take the torch out of his pocket and somehow focused its beam on the figure. But he heard a voice in that brightness. “Your nocturnal adventure will not go in vain.” Shekhar started, came to his senses, grew fearful, became sceptical and indifferent, became wary and began to gauge the situation. There was nobody around. Only gossamer-white clouds. Shekhar did somersaults, flailed his hands and legs, drifted and reached the Lakshman rekha. He was thrown on the grass on the side of the road. He scraped his left hand a little but he was safe. Then he returned.
Looking back at these events he began to doubt his imagination. Nothing substantial came to hand. But he remembered the days in the city. In those days serious elderly people would urge each other to read the Dnyaneshwari and serious young people, GA Kulkarni’s short stories. Around that time Shekhar would be busy walking hurriedly from here to there or rummaging through the carton.
For many days Shekhar had been hearing the words The Creation uttered. Shekhar had little interest in news that came flying through the air or that was whispered in the ear by the proverbial little bird. He understood fully that such news floated freely and had the sweet attractiveness of a Dashavatari show. That is why he did not encourage it.
Shekhar had a theory that belonged to this stream of thought. We have a space. Our time filters through us. Our time meets our space. They meet repeatedly. When we wake up in the morning, we know whether we are in our own home, country, geography, words of the heart, or our empty, vacant time has exchanged looks with our crowded and overflowing space. Then they fall in love. By afternoon this union of time and space grows old and cold, like a couple who have spent many years together after marriage and have become habituated to one another. Evening brings a tender moment and then it is as though this union of time and space thinks of or sprouts or remembers another time and space altogether. Then the indivisibility of time and space weeps. When night becomes dense night we gently move aside the garment of space and allow pure, cloudless time to break through the rock of sleep and bloom elsewhere like a lotus. We are perhaps not we then. With dawn we are the medium of our space and time. Now there is everything in our space, including a tourist sight. It is not part of our city but it is present in our space. The tourist sight comes into our ken, our scope, because we endow the time that is flowing through us with the content of space. It is simple. If we were a planet we would not have risen and set over the same city repeatedly. That is why Shekhar passionately loved the time and space of which he was the medium. That is why he had no interest in tourist pleasures. He was convinced that he would become very shallow if he went in pursuit of a thing, it could even be The Creation, which belonged to the castle in which he lived and was very inferior.
But Joseph from the neighbouring PS, personal space, had been to see The Creation. Many in this Youth home had found The Creation incomprehensible. Some said, “It is not something you need to comprehend. What’s important is appreciation, joy. That is the most serious thing.” The people in Galaxy’s Solohome said, “Things like The Creation are conspiracies. In both the good and the bad sense.” Some were “stunned”. Others were “disturbed”. It was as though now, the air itself was cutting through the maze of news and becoming breath. Shekhar would think about this before he gave in to sleep. That is why, in accordance with his own favourite theory, he woke up in a space that was touched by The Creation that he had not seen. His vast, blank space would then instantly sink in anxiety about The Creation. Shekhar became mentally disturbed. Now all the solitary urges of his personality felt the pull of The Creation.
One day early in the morning he boarded the escalator bus to The Creation. He ate two bananas, two sandwiches and a bit of chivda on the way. He had come with a full, healthy mind determined to focus his attention on The Creation. His very gaze remained undeflected since nothing was visible outside.
Needless to say, there was a crowd. An enormous pile of stones was visible from a distance. Black and white stones. The kind you could call boulders. Some glittered occasionally. But only the top was visible from a distance. A spire does not make a temple. When you entered the precinct, you noticed a number of people sketching on paper with pencils. An individual who looked like Galaxy had raised his phone as high as he could to make The Creation more photogenic. After a while this person either failed or succeeded, it was difficult to tell from the expression on his face. One group of people was drinking water from bottles. The condensation on the bottles stood out. Passing by them he overheard that they were parched because some parts of The Creation were very hot. But the similar looking grass that grew freely everywhere was joyous. Mounds of grass and canopies of grass and The Creation, visible through the angles created between them, looking attractive. This was not a decorative or exaggerated statement. There really were so many paths running through the grass that it was easy to find one that you could go down alone, quietly, humming to yourself. This was the special feature of the castle. Whatever you saw when you walked along one of these paths was The Creation. On his way Shekhar had thought, “The Creation is the very sanctum of the castle.”
Stone and stone and the water that played through stones and the burbling of the water and somewhere, stones forming an arch, and a cave, and somewhere a stone overgrown with down and somewhere the steam rising from heat and the stone animal holding an abstract meaning close to its stomach and the square dejected face of the stones rising skywards and the stones tumbling through the scale of do-re-mi to dip their feet in the deep red-earth hollow of water and somewhere stone balanced on stone and the profoundly solitary, almost invisible statement rising from them.
Shekhar stood still.
He possessed only one word now: wordless.
There was only one language that remained to him: as though, it appears that, it seems like.
He was not free now.
Now he could not remember the place from which he could liberate the anchored ship.
It was now time for him to turn inwards, he who, sitting on the cool veranda of a temple, had run through grassland and forestland.
No sun was going to rise now although he had done his duty of clarification.
Shekhar stood still.
The command he had had over a million descriptions had come to an end.
After a while Shekhar, shadowlike, lowered himself on a bench. Sound sparrows flitted around. Somebody had offered a red flower to one stone in the creation. Its colour was vivid.
All these stones have the intellect of their innate qualities. But what is that illusion which rises from the arrangement and returns to rest on the summer harshness of the stones and looks very beautiful there?
Shekhar merely sat still watching the drowning sun.
The original Marathi short story titled “Ek Dwija Sthal” is included in the collection, Vivade Vishade Pramade Pravase (Shabda Publication, Mumbai, 2010).
This translation was published in July-September 2017 issue of The Indian Quarterly magazine.