From a Green Book


Srini reclined in the dentist chair and I inhabited a corner holding a National Geographic Magazine. The nurse walked into the room and handed Srini a box of clips for his braces. Then she pushed the seat back so he faced the ceiling. The corner where I sat housed an assortment of wires and a large vacuum tube with a toxic gas warning above it. The doctor arrived and began his pinching and thrusting. Srini's mouth looked swollen. The nurse came back into the room and stood there impatiently before the two, pressing one tennis shoe into the other. Various patients walked groggily back and forth outside. During a lull in the teeth tightening the nurse said, ‘you'll have to check my back molar as well. When I bite, I'm biting into skin and there's a bad taste in my mouth always.'

‘Yes, we'll have to look at that,' said the doctor who revealed his own double row of braces when he spoke. I myself might have confided that I was in the early stages of periodontal disease and placed myself at their disposal.

(excerpt from the dentist)


I sought to eliminate all superficiality and flimsiness from my life, naturally I had first to contend with the stronghold of this in my society – women. For a while I tracked the gaze other women would convey. I understood that my affections occurred only in imprecise and incidental bursts, not in what everyone else could see. Women I wounded once, twice, three times would just roll over and die. I would have wanted them to spring out of their beds and seek retribution. But my experiments continue. When someone attractive appears at the bustop or the movie theater, I always look the other way. When someone famous or important walks in, I usually walk out. Perhaps my mother must be exempt from such specimen, for she raised me, however unevenly brought up I am, I can at least attribute her good intentions to my general disbelief. I admit that my relatives say I was very cute back then, which I suppose is like admiring the shiny coat of an ostrich egg only to have the egg crack open and finding the offspring of a duck.

(excerpt from the office hour)


We gaze at the hologram in the portico. ‘See how it bears a symbiotic relationship to its room,' says the surgeon.

‘His expressions are more alive than many humans I have seen,' says the painter.

‘It is inorganic, it does not have that spark of divinity, of Him,' says the missionary.

‘He seems like he is about to cry,' I say. When we left I saw that he had reverted back to his uniformity.

The painter immediately departs from us, walking upstairs. ‘Not long, not long now at all,' I say.

The power goes out; the rain pleats the windows. I feel an oily finger prick against the inside of my left nostril. ‘Where are you off to in such a hurry?' I ask the missionary.

‘I see a light ahead,' he says.

I walk after him silently. Under the candle we gaze at many medieval frescos, he reading the inscriptions. ‘If the West had not alienated him, he would have made fine figure in your crusades,' I say. The missionary clears his throat as if he agrees but does not wish to speak.

‘That print is too obscure,' I tell the surgeon who starts to read a book.

‘Yes, I do not wish to tamper with it just now,' she replies.

The surgeon wears her hair on her shoulder as she were to wed death. Scalpel like fingers leaf through a page . ‘Do you have the time then?' she asks, pointing her fingers at me.

‘No, no,' I mumble, shrinking back.

(excerpt from the louvre)


And when you walked downstairs, I was moody because I already knew that I was going to do what you asked. But you didn't know, and you walked back upstairs thinking it was all for the worse. But I returned didn't I? I extended each meager day into the next. I slept until 6:00 and then I walked to library and around the empty campus late at night. I may be the king of memory, but there is something about memory that downgrades the quality of the immediate moment. I was half bent over laughing at the spectacle of your grief, why? Because there is something about being alone that makes unbalance seem appropriate. I had asked to look into you; I looked. Mostly I saw constellations and solar systems inside. And you lying there after you had given birth to all the children you did and did not want.

(excerpt from the walk)


Before a collision there is that second of stillness; movement continues to occur rapidly around us; yet it seems absurd that any impending body or object can hit us. In that second before impact, in the elimination of the external world, a close concentration to the passage of time can be felt, which may be used as an exercise when practiced.

(excerpt from the highway)


We were of tedium height, kneeling down to say
My how those pictures are epicene!
From the window the radio frayed five candle sticks
But I had to take out the rash so you glistened on your own
I leapt into the louse when all bell broke loose
After you hurt me I made you start frying
I made you start frying everyday

(excerpt from experimental poems)


I used to know a violinist who liked the sound of opening soda cans. Whenever we would go to his home we would always ask for Coke or Sprite and allow him to open all our cans. He must have learned something from that sound, his violin playing is known for its crispness.

(excerpt from the everyday life of sounds)


You wanted to eat meat at 1 am so we drove to the drive thru at the corner, which I had been avoiding because I thought they used animal fat. We sat on the chairs outside and surveyed the empty parking lot. ‘Is it safe around here at this time?' you asked.

‘Extremely safe,' I said as a car drove up and idled in the parking lot with its lights on.

‘Until now,' I added.

The area seemed suitable to some of my notions of the romantic, the soiled seats and chairs, the trashed out billboard above us, not a voice to be heard for miles. We sat around and ate our separate selves. Then we drove for a while trying to capture some old feeling on the radio. We parked at a park and you said, ‘we'd better lock the doors.'

‘Yes, your right,' I answered.

‘You know, I just washed my hair today,' you said and let it fall. I refrained from replying.

‘Look, why don't you feel it?' you asked. I ran my hand up and down your hair.

(excerpt from the drive-thru)


I like the song Birana Brova except for the fact that I associate those words with biriani (rice pilaf) and the notion that a Karnatic music song can be eulogizing biriani escapes me. I have wondered whether if I told others about this association they too would be plagued by this idea, and a perfectly good song would go to waste. Perhaps they would not be affected because they do not have the particular structure of experiences attached to these identities. And that is the reason for this ballot, where I can gain voluntary feedback, and which I plan to include in a series of bi-weekly surveys dealing with other such mundane topics.

(excerpt from a series of surveys)


I have observed his habits for several weeks now. He often rises late, but it seems even later because he spends a few hours reading in his bed. His first activity of the day is to take a long piss facing the neighbor's window, which all of us do. One particular morning he told everyone he was going to lock himself in his room for three days and he did. He had long ago stopped talking with people in order to converse with humanity and in this I saw symptoms of myself. During those days several people tried to contact him but I knew he wouldn't answer the door while anyone else was around.

On the third day after everyone had gone to bed I knocked on his door. A slip of paper was pushed under the door and I reached down to pick it up. The paper slid out to reveal several sheets taped together on which obscenities were scrawled. ‘You idiot--' I said, ‘is this what you have been doing? I thought you had been building a bomb to blow us all up.'

No answer.

‘No one is out here you know,' I continued. I heard some shuffling in the room but then nothing.

I brought my homework into the lounge and began to work there. Sure enough, after 2 hours, I heard his door open and soft steps pattered out. I followed him into the bathroom. The back of his hair looked tattered over a freckled neck. He begin to urinate in the stall. ‘Would you like to play some chess?' I asked.

(excerpt from the roommate)


We strung the light up in the trees and from the balcony and on the step rail, opting for the plain white glow rather than the colored bulbs. We brought the tree from the trees selling in the corner of the lot, a Douglas Fir, I think, from a family of ruddy Washington lumbermen. ‘Merry Christmas,' said the man shaking my hand, his face more red than white. Medha helped me decorating the stems and branches with trinkets and ornaments and gold wire, with an angel on the top. Later Raghu and I sat in the living room by the light of the tree and the stiff pine smell emanating from the needles. We talked of intellectual things. ‘You must understand the duality of Indian philosophy,' Raghu said. ‘Tagore was not only a poet, he lived his poetry. Politics and religion are entwined in a way that many mistake.'

‘I am not sure how this duality works,' I said.

‘If you are really interested, you should read more,' he said and gave me A Man to Match His Mountains . Soon I quoted, ‘The evil is already done. You have seen our country.'

(excerpt from the christmas tree)


Billy Kwan and I are similar because of our repetitious shirts and the idea that words can signify wounds when spoken. Billy's ‘chinaman,' can be my ‘hindu,' but is probably more closely aligned with ‘poetry.' Studying and manipulating the people around him reveals his own invisibility. Either he realizes his failure in affecting events or a lack of a life in observation. It may be more honest to be perpetually changing ones opinions. I relate to the father of Agnes, who chooses to stay on the sinking ship rather than fight for lifeboats with an angry mob. I like the idea of avoiding expected confrontations and disasters by preserving the unknown.

(excerpt from the characters)


I stayed away for many years, a beauty only to myself. When we met I did not ask you how you had arrived or what you had been doing. I took you to the expanse of Chikrata, where the trees had been lovingly tended for ages. We could grow enough food for ourselves and live like monks. I showed you some of my newfound powers.

But you flew back to where you lived. I stayed there a few months and moved elsewhere. We never met again, but I have found new cities you would like.

(excerpt from Chikrata)


The men arrive dressed in black. They are in implicit agreement about the front they present to the opposite sex. Scholars and sportsmen will never break rank and wear something different. The women come dressed in isolation, even the reds they wear are in different shapes.

(excerpt from graduation)


It has been more difficult to write up to now than I thought. I usually go to bed when I am tired but not always sleepy. How many times, lying there under the sheets, has the compulsion to write something down made me rise into the cold air and follow my footsteps to the desk? When I forget something I am lost for days. I collect these writings in such a way, never attempted to stray from what is submerged and cannot be brought forth at will. Each is an excerpt of a grander scheme of thought, each would have been a story in itself, but the whims of my youth gave more importance to accumulating rather than completion.

(excerpt from the end)


We do not attack in conventional fashion. We will not wait for the dark or when you are alone. We are not interested in murder, torture or blackmail. Do not think because you are powerful we will find you. We do no wish to evoke sympathy.

We are what is cosmic in revenge. By wishing us harm, harm will not come to you. We do not acknowledge cause and effect. We are not wholly devoted to our purpose because we do not die.

(excerpt from the communication)


I read the autobiography of Elias Canneti when Mel suggested it to me. Fanny said my essay reminded her of Rilke's Malte Brigge, so I discovered that book. I checked out Ninety Minutes with Wittgenstein from the library when you brought him up in conversation. I cannot see how any of this advice has done me better. Yet whenever I advise people they never seem to listen to what I say.

(excerpt from the advice)


Just after 2 am I lay down on my bed exhausted and pulled the covers over myself. It was early for me to go to bed and gradually I heard the sound of a dog barking. It grew louder in my head. Where is that barking coming from? I thought and concentrated on the sound. Is it our neighbors? No it sounds more distant. Nevertheless, I couldn't go to sleep for that sound and lay there listening to it for almost an hour. The fact that I couldn't rest surprised me, as I had often prided myself on being undisturbed by even the most extreme annoyances. But I had noticed this change in me, such as on the freeway where I had never used the car horn when people cut me off or drove recklessly. Now an overpowering wave of irritation grasps me on such occasions and I have to wait a few seconds to let it pass. I could easily start snapping back at people under ordinary circumstances, and recently I have very much wanted to and this I know has been a change.

I decided to walk outside and inform the owner of the barking dog how they were keeping me awake. I pulled on my clothes again, my jacket and slippers and walked outside. I stepped into the green belt and from the barking realized that the dog was located across the fence in another complex of houses. This was not a problem, as I had often climbed that fence swiftly during high school in order to get to Timothy's house. I walked towards the noise until I stood directly against the wall where the barking emanated. I suddenly realized that I was walking alone in the green belt at 3:00 am and standing near someone's backyard. Locations having seemed to surprise me recently, I am motivated to do something and only later do I realize that I have arrived at that location. I ask Where am I, or more importantly Why am I? -- and the coldness of the new circumstances begins to sink in, but already I am formulating some new phrase and can't be bothered. I stood beside the wall for 10 minutes pondering the soft grass under my feet and the crisp air. It was evident that the owners of the house were not home, as I could not understand how anyone could sleep through that loud barking. I stretched my arm and found I could touch the top of the wall, and I put my foot in a crevice and launched myself up until I could peer over it. At such moments I enjoy being inside my body so much. Free from the wall the full landscape of the barking hit me in the face. I realized it was just a dog and it too would change the nearer I approached it. I lowered myself and stood there for another ten minutes. It was so comfortable there that I felt I could sleep now regardless of the noise. I liked the way my clothes fit around my body, pleasantly creased from the day's wear. I kept thinking about what other people would think if they saw me standing there in the dark, as if I was up to no good. I walked back and found myself inside again.

(excerpt from the green belt)


I feel my ancestors and the people I have known exist invisibly around me, but they can never help me because my discomforts afford them a swifter path to deliverance; we are all connected in some way, no one will be content until that very last shred of cotton on the earth becomes mixed into our skin. And everything will be forgotten, and we will be fulfilled by the forgetfulness.

Each day when I wake up it is already the next one. I walk out into the street where we have lived for a number of years and contemplate the new neighbors who have just moved in. There are a young family and I comment to someone in the vicinity, ‘Does anyone with such young children live anywhere near here anymore?'

Inside the house I am looking for my glasses and see the sari on the bed in several shades of blue. I sit down on the bed by the crumpled cloth and stay there for a while trying to imagine all the events leading up to the discarded sari. How could a women, or anyone for that matter, wear so many colors?

Afterwards I go outside and paint a picture of a moon arranged in jest followed by buxom clouds. It makes me want to drop everything for a week or two to think about it, but I would always have to come back, I would always come back to the dinner tables and the conversations that flip flop inside my head for days.

Like that women I brought into my room once and for whom I played my favorite tune. The music consisted of only four notes. One above, one below, one further below, one further above. We sat on my bed and I asked her what she thought of my room. She allowed me to place my head in the shallow tray of her hands and my shape gave her an explanation like a womb.

I cannot recover from her gaze or those of others, watching, waiting, anticipating my future before I had grown, and protecting me with their facades, cradling me into their corruption. I can often hear the leaky stopper of the toilet where we used to walk around upstairs. Even the mirrors then used to surprise me, hanging between silk flowers and pendants, I would try to creep up on them but it never made any difference; inside, the pillars leaning close by, a mixture of thunder and words, the spring lights outside laughing joyously and piteously, the distinctly female voices crying out and ready to silence the morning like a dog.

All the people in the house, the ones who stayed and went, I know most the wiry beards of poets and the sharp exclamations heard from beneath a floor. The young girls who woke up shyly to take a shower before I did and the old ladies with long trailing hair, whose numerous rings and bracelets would shine more brightly as they aged. They would all try to buy things for me, to involve themselves with me, to embrace me, to shield me from hardships. I know that the poets were just counting off the intervals in the great epochs of their lives, adding my time to theirs; but the others, I can still see them sometimes, through the disasters they would cause me, their heads hanging so expectant with love.

(excerpt from the order of things)