Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rain and lost penguins

Rain gentle, rain slow,
On dusty petals and the death row.

Rain whispers, rain screams,
On dirty frilly misshapen dreams.

Rain sway, rain pour,
Wash away poets in righteous uproar.

Rain cry, rain weep,
On every castle, every keep.c

Rain fast, rain anew ,
On speeding trains' strained sinew.

Rain cats, rain dogs,
Drown little ants under logs.

Rain riot,rain ruin,
On that desert bound penguin.
Rain rain, rain rain

PS:Rhymes are for fogies. Remember, you are a fucking Imagist.
PPS: Ok.Whatever.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chapter 1: Wednesday Evening 4PM

It was a cold day. Late winter. Early spring. Not freezing ,just cold. Enough to make him want to reach into his backpack and retrieve his well worn fleece jacket. The cuffs of which were beginning to fray.There were coffee stains on the breast pocket from an ill timed sneeze .The kind that comes on suddenly. Without warning
He had caught the train(the only train) from Kirishima early in the morning.  The station master had told him that it would depart at 9:39 in the morning when he ran into him closing the ticket window the previous night. He spent the night in a ryokan amidst a wooded enclave upon a hill with a steeply winding gravel path. The tatami was spotless and he slept soundly through straw flavored dreams in a town where time ceased to matter. Except for the little matter of the only train out.
But that was a long time ago.He had boarded the train which, true to the station master's word, departed at the appointed minute and slithered down the mountain side in a breathless run. Quite unlike the restless diesels from his childhood at home, a long way away.
Now he was at the coast. Kagoshima. And he could see the Sakurajima across the straits.The volcano was silent. No ash belching fissures. Not even a steam trail. He felt cheated. 

His three weeks in Kyushu were drawing to a close. Three weeks of slow trains, mountain huts, naked bulbs, moonscapes, freezing (not just cold) nights, and hallucinations involving Fibonacci series, prime numbers and mythical sea gods of ancient Japan. This was as far south as he intended to travel. He needed to find a night bus out of Kagoshima to Fukuoka. He would thus save on the night's stay at an antiseptic urban inn with hand sanitizers. Monogrammed towels too.

It was close to four in the evening. The bus station was a mile away . In spite of the chill, a stubborn film of sweat formed on his forehead as he followed the signboards to the bus stop.

“Evening. Do the buses to Fukuoka depart from here?”
“Yeah. It’s a good six and a half hours away.”
"Six and a half hours you say?", he confirmed with the face at the ticket window.
"Yes. The next is at six and we have one leave every three hours hence"
"Do you have any seats left on the midnight bus?"
"Let's see", he said, adjusting his bifocals with his gloved right hand and gingerly typing into his console with one finger of his left. "The bus is mostly empty. I'll recommend the aisle seat down by the emergency exit. More room to wiggle your toes there.", he said with a practiced furrow of his brows.
"Thanks. That would be my seat then".
"For 4800 yen it is all yours"
He paid up.
"That's your ticket.And it departs at 12:05 to be precise".A gloved hand pressed the ticket and the change into his.
"You have a lot of time to kill before you are warm inside the bus".
"I'll potter around"
"You could try the pachinko joint around the corner"
"Too noisy for my tastes.Thanks anyways"
"Well good evening to you then" ,he said with an air of disappointment. Mildly aggrieved.

On his way down from the railway station, he had passed by a cinema. It had been a while since he had been to one. He headed back in the general direction of the cinema, this time taking a longer detour keeping to the coast road for most part. An old street car rumbled by on well worn tracks. Gulls and people fluttered past.

The cinema was one of those which had been built in a hurry in the bubble boom of the nineties. Three screens and a 24 hour Denny's. He went into the diner.

"Pancakes and maple syrup, please"
"Good choice sir", the waitress chirped
"Cant go wrong with pancakes.Can we?"
She smiled awkwardly.
"Coffee to go?"
"There is a dispenser by the slot machine. You can help yourself. It's free .Your pancakes will be served in 15 minutes"
"Take your time. I am in no hurry"
She smiled awkwardly again. Like she had something more to say. She hurried back to the counter and punched in his order.

The cinema schedules were on a crumpled flyer weighed down by a salt shaker.   
He had two choices. A movie about a bunch of tiresome school kids swimming from Kagoshima to Sakurajima (the trailers had been running on NHK for a while now) .The second was My Blueberry Nights(took a while for him to figure out the katakana for Blueberry). Norah Jones and Jude Law. Not much of a choice. There next was a show at nine. 

Towards the end of a long journey, time expands. It wasn’t even half past five yet. He fished out a book . Soon he was lost in painfully little details about life in Sorbonne, Sartre, Beauvoir, Paris. Another tome penned by another American trying to ascribe allusions of literary respectability to his sense of self worth in the backstreets of St.Germain living on a wired allowance and cheap pernod. He had picked up the book in a sale at the Blue Parrot Bookstore a few minutes’ walk from the Takadanobaba station on the Yamanote line in Tokyo. He left at eight and headed upstairs to the booking office. He left a larger than usual tip.
The elevator had seen better days. It shuddered as it rose up the shaft. Someone had scribbled “Tanaka for Emperor” and someone else “Akita women are best” on the inside. He had been to Akita. He had no reason to agree. Or disagree. The door opened and he walked into a foyer with a “Ticket Counter” sign pointing to the left.   

He turned left into a carpeted corridor and walked past movie posters before reaching an unnecessarily placed revolving door.

Pushing hard at the glass door he walked in.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Of Hand Written Labels on Second Hand Records

July was drawing to a nondescript close. Like a short story, skimmed over after a couple of paragraphs. That the writer was famous and usually quoted to mask one's own literary shortcomings did not matter. The rain had stopped beating down an hour ago. There were little pools in the gutters which waited for the sun to liberate them at daybreak.  For now, they sat there rippling silently, reflecting the glow of speeding tail lights of tired cars.

He walked alone. Occasionally, droplets shaken off leaves by a mild but persistent wind and blown his way settled in a cool spray on his face. A movers' truck trundled by, weighed down by old teak furniture and collective sighs and memories of a family moving to a new city and a new home. The warm engine only made the late evening chill hit harder as it moved away and around the bend onto the busier roads. He hunched his shoulders up and shivered briefly and uncontrollably.

He was now walking past the rows of government housing. Identical boxes differing only in door numbers. The pavement had been pushed right to the walls of the houses in a recent road widening exercise. He passed a bathroom window with shadows playing on frosted grime coated glass slats. Someone was showering. The water gurgled down into drains in a steady flow. Steam mixed with scents of a cheap familiar soap poured out of the window lit hazily by a low wattage naked electric bulb struggling to penetrate the translucence. He walked past taking care not to stop and look through the gaps in the slats through which he could see the moldy damp roof which hadn't seen a painters brush for a long time.

He wiped the dampness off his beard with his palm and quickened his pace. A hot shower and a drink would do just fine, he thought to himself. He rarely drank alone. Today he would.Like one of those people in Hemingway's Men Without Women.But they were all better men than he ever hoped to be.

He reached the gate and fumbled in his pockets for the key. The land lady locked the gate at 11 every night. The Great Dane was loose. It was big but harmless . He never really trusted it or it him .  He tiptoed past the dog onto the stairs to his lodgings two floors above. He walked past the open bedroom window of the couple staying on the first floor.The window was open, and the curtains were flapping gently. The ceiling fan creaked familiarly. They stopped whispering when they heard his footsteps coming up and they started again as they heard them going away upwards.

After the shower, he sat by the window with a bottle of dark Caribbean rum on his teak rocking chair. Caramel infused rum. The rain had resumed when he was in the shower. Sometime later, one of the couple switched off the ceiling fan. He was not sure who, though he guessed it was the man. He seemed to have an unhealthy pallor of one who was always on the verge of catching a cold or a whichever fever was the flavour of the season. He poured some more rum into his glass.

He switched on his record player. He had picked up a scratched record in a garage sale with a red colored label on which with a fountain pen someone had carefully written "Recitations of poems of T.S.Eliot". The E in the Eliot was smudged by a drop of water, probably condensation dripping off a glass of single malt whiskey and ice or a silent tear of a once pretty woman slowly and irreversibly going to fat. An anonymous but a now familiar voice flowed out of the horn, as he gently placed the needle on the tracks. As the rough voice intoned "The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock", he sat back staring into the dim streets and distant silhouettes sipping his rum. He sat there remembering the nights when one realized that it soon would be daybreak by the uncertain first light of dawn creeping in and gently outlining the contours of the fall of her back. And when she turned over, her chest gently rise, gently fall.

He fell asleep with an open bottle, a glass with dregs of the last drink and distant voices from a second hand record mingling seamlessly with more real ones from a not too far past.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Istanblues - Haydarpaşa version

 Haydarpaşa had been sleeping for longer than he cared to remember. It was that kind of day. He stretched on the ledge and then rubbed himself against the earthen pot of thyme. The mild fragrance of fishes and spices emanating from the pot made him purr quietly. Bayram liked his potted plants. He watered them  twice a day in summer. Once at noon, once more at nightfall. 
Once every seven sunsets Bayram walked down from Beyoğlu to the Eminönü seaside market. He always walked right down to the farthest end of the market, where the fish was freshest.  When the fish was eaten he would pour the basin of water with which he had cleaned the fishes along with the leftovers into the pots. He was always  a little partial to the thyme. 
Bayram was older than the other humans he saw every day.  He was also a lot quieter than them.  The only time he remembered him talking at a little more than a whisper was when many full moons ago, Bayram missed his visits to the Eminönü market for two full moons. Bayram lay in bed hot as a freshly baked Simit. A man in a white coat came every two sunsets to check if he had cooled down yet and gave him vile smelling syrups which Bayram steadfastly refused to drink.
It was one of those nights when Bayram had screamed as if his soul was leaving him and then for one entire day, he kept up a steady stream of loud and frantic monologue until the man in white coat put him to sleep with a mysterious needle.  
The worst part was that he, a housecat had to, for entire two full moons, scrounge in the litter bins that lined İstiklâl Street with the other destitute cats, who spoke a crude and vulgar version of the Cat tongue and had no names.  It was horrifying to have to live on what they refused to eat.  He knew better than to pick a fight with them when more than one of them sneered and hissed at him. He, who had mastered two human tongues as well as any other cat in living memory had mastered, silently glowered as he skirted their territories.
Then at night as he lay on the ledge with a barely filled stomach, he fantasized about strutting majestically with his flowing black mane into a gang of those stringy and mangy cretin  and letting them know in no uncertain terms why they would never know what it was to listen to and understand whom the humans called Johnny Cash. What it felt like to shudder everytime he heard Bayram play Folsom Prison Blues and hear the prisoners primal cheer when Cash‘s baritone rang out  “ I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” . He sometimes wondered if even Bayram understood Cash. 
Bayram’s umbrella was by the railing. He never left home without it. He probably was sitting by the window in the bedroom in his ancient rocking chair, his shaggy brows furrowed and his eyes closed. Haydarpaşa jumped down and felt his joints shudder with a dull pain as he landed on the hard stone.  He regretted not having stretched some more. It was still a few shadow lengths to sunset.  He decided to head down to the quieter stretch of sea south of the Galata Bridge though the lanes of Cihangir. He could see the lights of the Aya Sofia in the distance and the minarets of the Blue Mosque as he walked steadily downhill keeping to the lanes without cars and children. The cars could kill you and the children could do worse.
Haydarpaşa rarely made the journey to the other side of Istanbul. Eminönü was as far as he ventured on his own on most evenings he wanted to learn more words of the human tongues. Some human words were prettier than others. His favorite name was Dolores ,his favorite word was tinkle and he hated pulchritude. He remembered almost all of the days he actually did cross the Galata Bridge.
He remembered the last cold winds ,what the humans called winter (another word he liked), when the streets and rooftops had turned white, like in the fairy tales from a distant land called Simricina .Sirckeci, his uncle, had in the ancient cat tongue of Amezaara ,with an occasional cursory translation into Cimranza which cats in this part of the world spoke, in a trancelike state, described to him the mountains of Simricina on the last day of the growing moon, where the ancient cat king Izmirana went to pursue Axamandreu, the kidnapper of his beautiful salt and pepper maned Parmarin queen Elara . Haydarpaşa did not remember the words but the staccato images had stayed in his head. Amezaara had probably died with Sirckeci ,who was allegedly pushed off the Galata by a human young. Are you surprised that the Cat fairy tales are no different from the human fairy tales? I wonder why?
Coming back to the day he decided to cross the Bosphorus on one such cold day when it snowed for previous three sunsets without respite. However on this winter day, the sun was out and everything was sparkling. He had ventured into a side street with a café where humans with narrow eyes spoke in a strange tongue he failed to place. New languages were difficult to pick as one grows old. Next to the café with the strange race of people there was a hotel with two people,a man and a woman with a cigarette and a glass of tea.  He gingerly stepped into the snow and crossed the street to where they were and the woman patted his head and went inside and then in a while reappeared with a saucer of cold milk and placed it in front of Haydarpaşa. He drank it in evenly spaced slurps. A passerby waved and the woman said hello. He could see that she was just learning the language. It was thickly accented. The woman said she had to go to the Police station and patted Haydarpaşa on the head and threw her cigarette butt into the snow. The man said, she would be better off staying until the snow cleared. She said, she had made an appointment and pulled up her parka and left. Haydarpaşa quickly finished his saucerful and followed her at a safe distance. She seemed to know the place well. Haydarpaşa would have picked exactly the same turns she took to get across the bridge. She walked past the simit baker, turned at the coffee store where people were still lined up inspite of the chill, down  what seemed to be a dead end alley, went down a flight of stairs which opened into the Galata tower courtyard and then down the walkway to reach the Eminönü side of the Galata bridge. She crossed the bridge her head held close to her chest and her parka pulled close. The sun had disappeared behind a tuft of cloud and the Haydarpaşa wondered if he should turn back home. He continued to follow the woman. She crossed over to where the Spice Bazaar was and then turned up a hill skirting the main streets and turned into a street leading to the Topkapi after crossing the tramlines. A couple more turns and she stood there transfixed staring at the sky. Haydarpaşa keeping to the shadows cast by the trees and moving as only cats can move unseen was soon at the same square. In the evening sun, he saw for the first time, the snowed over dome of the Aya Sofia, bathed in a golden light . The minarets were refusing to let the snow settle on them, and at the foot of each, a mound had accumulated. The dome however, massive and gently curved, intricately textured held the snow together and the crystals refracted the evening light into splinters of color.  Axamandreu  may as well have been holding Elara hostage in one of those minarets.  She looked for a place to sit down, but did not find a bench nearby. Where she stood in the snow, a little slush pool was starting to form.  She reluctantly walked towards the Police station and then disappeared into the brick building.
Haydarpaşa waited at the square. Many people walked out, but she never did. He waited until his shadow was so long that it would soon die away. Maybe she was Elara and Axamandreu was indeed holding her inside now.
He turned around and walked back to the bridge and down to the Eminönü, where he watched the sun set behind the skyline and walked back to Beyoğlu the same way he had come earlier in the day.
But this was many moons ago. He occasionally visited the hotel next to the café, but he never saw her again. Haydarpaşa continued to walk down to the summer sea through Cihangir and then in a wide circle returned to his favorite ledge where surely Bayram had placed a saucer of milk. As he did every sunset.
Bayram was playing an old scratchy record of a man known as Chuck Berry. As he did every time he was happy.
Haydarpaşa went into room and leapt onto Bayram’s lap and purred. And as he purred he thought to himself.
Bayram has no secrets. Haydarpaşa has many.