Old, but ageless.
Vigorous, but gentle.
Divine, but natural.
The journey never stops.
It goes on and on.
This was how the girl from Pondicherry looked at the sea back then, in 1972. And that’s how she keeps looking at the sea now, in 1993. She doesn’t age. If she had continued to age, she would be close to 39 by now. Maybe not, though. Maybe she has two children now. Maybe she has gained a lot of weight. Maybe she has tanned a lot. Inside my cassette, of course, she’s still the same age. When I put the cassette in the cassette player and press play, there she is, swaying with the music like back in 1972.
The music starts to fill my ears, and I get transported back to my school corridor. I don’t know why the girl from Pondicherry makes me remind of that school corridor. It has absolutely nothing to do with her.
The corridor was loud and smelly, some tiles were broken, and there were cracks on the wall. Though the windows were not blocked by the hill, like on the other side of the corridor, it was still dark. I think because the school owners spent less money on the windows and thus the windows turned out to be really small. I don’t know why I got reminded of that chaotic and badly lighten passage. There is no connection between the music and the smelly corridor. May be the girl from Pondicherry went deep into my consciousness and invoked certain memories in her own way. May be she is not from this world.
Anyways when I think of walking pass that stained concrete wall, when the noise of my footsteps gets lost with the noise of students shouting while playing football or when running after each other, I think of pita bread, chilies, wild rockets, hummus, cottage cheese, spinach, cucumbers, bell peppers, and a sour cream dressing. Not that there was a hummus bar past that corridor. Ahead, there was just a door leading to gymnasium and an indoor badminton court.
So why does the corridor remind me of hummus or pita? These two have nothing to do with each other. Somehow they just seem to come together like an unlucky man running away from a person, thinking that he managed to run away, but a moment later he bumps into that same person.
The hummus and the pita remind me of a certain girl whom I knew back then. This one is a logical connection as all that girl used to do, was to eat different kinds of pita sandwiches. This is the kind of conversation we used to have.
“Have you finished [munch, munch] your assignment?” She asked.
“No. [munch, munch] I’m still working on it.” I replied.
“ [Munch, munch] You need to work quickly. [munch, munch] There’s hardly any time left.”
I was fond of hummus and pita bread too. That was something unusual for both of us back during school days, as eating pita sandwiches wasn’t common, in fact we were the only two, who ate that sandwich. Whenever we met to complete assignments or just to see each other, we both used to have munching conversations. She was a girl of strong judgment. For her if everyone ate healthy food, everything will be all right. The world would become a better place to live in and no one would have to fight. She wasn’t a fan of reasonable explanation. For her the world was how she imagined it to be and that was it.
“In memory everything seems to happen to music” wrote Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie.
The battery runs out and the music stops. I’m back on the beach under the umbrella resting on a comfortable beach chair. The beach is vast and long, it’s mouth bordered by the white sea. The sun is burning hot and so is the sand. Everything smells of the sea and I see the girl from Pondicherry still walking while looking at the calm sea. I remove a cold bottle of lager from the cooler that lays on the table, open it and take a sip.
After a while, I gather some courage and try to talk to her.
“Hey, how’s the sea?”
“The sea gives me peace.” She replies.
“Want some lager?”
“Sure.” I remove a bottle from the cooler and give it to her. She gulps down half of it. May be the burning sun made her feel really thirsty or may be she was walking since 1972.
“So what do you do for a living?” I ask.
“I just do what other humans do. I work.” May be she doesn’t want to talk about her work. May be it was too early to ask her that question.
“I see you aren’t satisfied with that answer. I work for an organization about which I can’t shed more details. So tell me more about yourself. How do you spend your time?”
“Well, currently I’m on a sabbatical.” I reply with a hesitant voice. Somehow I wanted to burst out. The way she was staring at the lager bottle, (though it might seem ordinary to other people), it felt like it was something unusual, something transcendental to me. It was like she was reading my life and she wanted me to confide in her. I did talk, but it turned out to be a rant.
“To be honest I don’t know what I do. I want to write movies and books. I want to make up stuff. I want to brew coffee and I want to cook exotic food. I want to open up a café with a small bookstore in it. I want to live in Europe. I want to drink espresso with a French girl but after all that I still don’t know what I want to do.”
“Everything will be fine.” She replies that with the calmness of a snail and gives me a perfect smile back. She knows exactly how many muscles to move to make that perfect curve on her face. To make me feel assured of myself. There has to be a reason she hasn’t aged all this while.
“Do you mind if I light a cigarette?”
“Not at all, but those things kill you and other around you.”
“Let it be then. I won’t light it.”
“No, do smoke. I’m just an abstract girl. It won’t affect me. Nothing affects me.
I should ask her, why is she calling herself an abstract girl? But somehow my mind is just ready to accept such things. She hasn’t aged in two decades now. She knows how to give a perfect smile. She knows how to delve into my consciousness. Questioning her wouldn’t help, as her answers wouldn’t adhere to logic. They will be abstract as well.
“I don’t know if you remember, but I’ve seen you at the same place, at the same time back in 1972.”
“You say back in 72? Umm… may be we did meet in 1972.”
“You haven’t aged a day since then.”
“Because I’m an abstract girl.”
“You didn’t notice me though, you kept on gazing at the sea.”
“Didn’t I? May be I didn’t notice you then. May be I didn’t notice anything other than the sea.”
“You want another lager?” I remove two bottles of lager from the cooler.
“No, thank you. Too much lager won’t let me walk further. I need to keep on walking.”
“Don’t your feet hurt? Don’t they feel hot? Don’t they get burnt?” After blurting out, I realise I shouldn’t have asked her those questions, I know what her reply is going to be.
“No. I got abstract legs. I told you I’m an abstract girl. Want to see my leg?” I nod. She points her left leg towards me, her sole shines like the moonlight. I touch it. It feels like touching something numb, like when one touches a part of the body that has got pins and needles.
“May be you’re an abstract girl, may be you’re not from this world.”
“Yes and no. I’m from the same world you’re from. I just have different goals set for me.”
“Alright, I won’t argue with that.”
Should I tell her? I ask myself. I glance at the sea, I close my eyes for sometime, I open them, it felt like just a moment had passed, may be not even a moment, may be time had stopped when I closed my eyes. I glance again at the sea and this time I decide to tell her.
“You know, whenever I think of you I get reminded of my school corridor, hummus and pita bread and a girl who loved eating pita sandwiches. I have no idea why I travel back in time.”
“Life is like that sometimes. The beauty of life is in its mystery. If you have answers to all the questions you have, there would be no point of living anymore. You wouldn’t strive for anything. You wouldn’t keep on searching and when one stops to search for whatever he might require or need or want, he doesn’t live anymore. He just exists.” She gently tucks her hair behind her ears revealing her perfect ears. The ears are so perfectly formed that they feel like they are a whole instead of being a part of her body. Her ears are so powerful that they can send me back on another nostalgic trip. I need to control myself. I can time travel on some other day. She notices me staring at her ears, but doesn’t say anything about it.
“May be we are connected on another level?”
“Huh, what?” I had completely forgotten that we were discussing about my memories.
“May be we are connected in some strange distant world. May be our memories might be interlinked there. May be whenever you see me, you are bound to be reminded of your younger days. You do remember I’m an abstract girl. We might know each other in some abstract world. Anyways if I knew the answer to that question I would have definitely told you about it, but I don’t know and I want you live your life and not just exist. So go on and live. I need to continue my walk. Thank you for the lager.”
She stands up, waves me goodbye and walks off while gazing at the sea. I lie there thinking for a while and go back home.
Every once in a while whenever I see her, she smiles at me and I smile back but we have never spoken after that talk on the beach. Whenever I see her again, I feel like we are somehow connected. Connected in some abstract world. But when I try to find that connection my mind slips into that corridor again, I get reminded of that deconstructed pita sandwich and that girl of strong judgment. Some days I do go further than that, I feel like that girl from Pondicherry is from some distant world where I will end up. A world where it will be warm and there will be lots of cold lager. A far-off world where I might just meet myself. Till then I’ll heed to her advice, rather than just existing, I’ll live.
WORDS: ANAND JHAVERI
For more of Anand’s writing, read about his travels in Leh and Ladakh