N. was trying to remember the Name.
A book of poetry in Tamil lay before him. The contents were modern. He bent over the pages. He reminded me of a mishapen yet beautiful Giacometti sculpture.
Someone once said it would have been good if memory was done away with. He meant psychological memory. But then there would not have been Art, captured by the slash of the brush and the stab of the nib.
The cover of the book was white upon black. There was another Giacometti-like sculpture etched upon it. Two gnarled hands wrenching wantonly at space. There were several poems therein. Black on white.
The poet was there. So too, the readers and critics. Many friends had gathered together.
Charts were drawn and words inscribed in boxes with arrows pointing this way and that. Auto-shapes.
“These poems are good,” someone said.
“Some of it makes no sense.”
“It does, depending on what is within you. There is a key. A door. One enters.”
N. was there, bent under the words.
“After you have written something, put it away. Come back to it. It works beneath the skin, beyond the bones, inside the marrow,” he always said.
The introduction to the book of poems put it thus: It is all in the DNA, in particle physics, in chemical reactions, where cells meet.
I am a cell, I am in a cell, a cancer, a canker.
N. could not remember the Name.
Nor could I.
There is not enough information, G. wrote in his introduction.
Or there’s too much of it! Chart after chart.
They don’t help.
Is there a method? In the empty air? In the two hands seeking to shape the empty space?
V. came by one evening. He had borrowed N.’s books. He sat down and asked for a cup of coffee.
N. called out to P. She understood.
The coffee arrived. V. peered at us. He would not mention it either but talked of other things. Mostly he rambled on about the assault upon his individuality. Police brutalities.
When I sit down to write, the words do not come, he said.
So he talks of other things.
U. also comes there. He is a lecturer in English Literature in a local college. It had been a long time, a long break, since we had seen him. N. and I had wondered about it.
Now he told us his sad tale. Girl trouble. He was in love with a student of his. Her parents disapproved. He was an Ezhava Hindu. She was a Christian.
Her parents met U. and told him: Let her go.
But she won’t let me go, he replied.
They persisted. Persuaded. Threatened.
I want to marry her, he said.
Why can’t we convince her not to marry you, they wondered aloud.
Yes, convince her that it’s not worthwhile, he replied.
None of it was lost on N. Yet he could not remember the Name.
U. had brought her to N.’s place sometime ago. She was nervous.
Don’t fuck her here, N. warned U.
I managed to kiss her when you went to the toilet, U. boasted to N. later.
U. has no scruples, I said.
When E. undressed before me that first time, she was like a bud opening up. There was a rose between her open legs. A week later, I began noticing the undergrowth, the weeds, the thistles, the thorns, the fading petal-lips. There it ended.
The Name was there, I was looking for it somewhere within the tangle.
R. and H. came there too. One had a liking for liquor.
V. was back here when you were not there, N. said.
The Name was still missing.
V. believed there was a political conspiracy to finish it off.
They are all in it together. The leftists, rightists, moderates, fundamentalists, all of them. I point this out in my journalistic articles and so I have become a pariah, he said.
How do you know all this, N. asked.
But he did not know exactly. So he kept quiet.
I analyze, therefore I am.
How do you get your information? N. asked.
That is a trade secret, V. said, fixing him with a baleful look.
Can you tell me the Name, you are an investigative journalist after all, N. countered.
It must be here somewhere, V. put up a brave front.
N. leafed through the poems.
The linkages are not, he said.
That is my language, not yours, G. snarled.
The West is more spiritual than the East, N. suggested. They have elicited certain principles during the process of inquiry. They have built a system. This is an attempt to use that mode of thinking, to apply it to us. That is why this introduction to the poems fails. All those quotations, all this jargon, the charts … Does the writer himself understand? Or is it just book knowledge? He must be a voracious reader. But I have my doubts. He has a copyright on this material. By the way, I still haven’t figured out that damned Name. What is it?
N. paused and sighed. G. gave him a vicious look.
Nothing matters, I said.
Art is deception. When you see through it, you have read well.
H. was there too. He wanted to be a lawyer, a successful one.
Will you lose certain values if you become a good lawyer? N. probed.
But otherwise, how can you succeed? H. asked.
Will you refuse to take up a case if you know the one you are called to defend is truly a murderer?
Do you want me to be a failure?
Nothing succeeds like failure!
It is a mystery of sorts. One wants to forget. One can’t. One wants to remember, one can’t.
Isn’t there a case for learning by rote? N. asked.
That might get you a first class. Will it get you understanding? I asked.
These are times when I feel fragmented. I cannot not hold my thoughts together. I was dissolving. It got to be so frightening, I tried to clutch at straws. Hell, what was I talking about?
It’s all right, I too lose the thread when I drink, N. said.
I nodded. N. took over.
All our students do it. They are herded into the classrooms. If I ask them the meaning of a word, they don’t know it. They won’t think about its meaning, connotations, nuances. They know nothing about words.
When I clutch at straws, I begin to be, I said.
What was that? R. asked.
To get to the Center, I began memorizing the Book of Psalms. There are a hundred and fifty of them. I reached Psalm 119, the longest one. I memorized it halfway, till verse 88. A strenuous task. I had thought it was beyond me, but I managed it. I never got through all the Psalms though.
How did you do it?
Each morning, I’d get up at five a.m. I’d have a bath and settle down with my Bible, the King James Version. Thee, thou, thine … I’d read a Psalm verse by verse a couple of times. Then I’d close my eyes and repeat the verses to myself. I kept a notebook. I’d put the date down, close the Bible, and write down the verses from memory. Then I’d check them for mistakes, correct them and write the Psalm down again from memory, accurately.
Can you remember the Name, just now?
No, it just has to happen!
Keep talking! Keep interpreting!
When I went about my daily chores, I would suddenly stop doing them and run the Psalms over in my mind. As their number grew, I took more time each day – remembering. For instance, when I made some spare time for myself, I would go through the Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 … And back to work. Later, I would take up where I left off … 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 … and so on. Now I have given up. Still, the Psalms remain. Several verses are inscribed in the grooves of my brain.
A pretty girl passed by the house. We watched her from the verandah.
To remember the Name, N. said, I tried out a mnemonic device.
He began with the first letter of the alphabet.
A. Apple. Arthashastra. Argo. Auricular. Ahab. Anus. Abort it!
B. Breasts. Bhima. Bilingual. Brahma. Brahmin. Bum. Bah!
C. Cunnilingus. Cain. Cow. Cush. Cat. Christ. Cradle. Can it!
D. Dildo. Desdemona. Devil. Daemon. Desperado. Divine. Damn it!
E. Esperanto. Evolution. Envy. Erasmus. Escape. Excuses, excuses!
F: French kiss. Fear. Fish. Fellatio. Francis. Faithful. Far from it!
G. Groin. Gun. Gita. Gravity. Gospel. Give it all you’ve got!
H. Horror. Homo. Hieronymus. Hunger. Hamlet. How am I doing?
I. Israel. Ishmael. Isis. Irish. Indian. Icon. Image. I. I am!
J. Jelly roll. Juice. Jews. Jacob. Jericho. Jesuit. Jesus. Judas!
K. Kali. Keywords. Krishna. Kinky. Kalki. Kill the word to find it!
L. Lesbos. Leela. Lingam. Lazarus. Left-of-centre. Lose the thread!
M. Mahabali. Moses. Maitreya. Media. Mum. Messiah. Madness!
N. Namaste. No-where. No-thing. No-one. Nun. No!
O. Onan. Om. Onomatopoeia. Oversoul. Orgasm. On and on!
P. Pimp. Pump. Priyathama. Pattern. Paradise. Publishing. Put it in!
Q. Questions. Quality. Quim. Quixote. Queequeg. Quark. Quit !
R. Rishi. Randy. Rabid. Rebel. Rembrandt. Rhino. RAR. Risk it!
S. Satan. Sin. Sex. Suckling. Shoba. Sibyl. Saviour. Still it evades!
T. Time. Tears. Tirukkural. Tyger. Terror. Thinking won’t help!
U. Umbilicus. Universe. Urvashi. Utopia. Uncoil!
V. Varaha. Vimana. Vishnu. Vincent. Variation. Virus. Veil come!
W. Woman. Werewolf. Watt. Wit. Wheel. Wisdom. Worm’s eye-view!
Y. Yin. Yang. Yeats. Yellamma. Yentl. Yoni. Youth. You are it!
Z. Zigzag. Zipless. Zero the Hero!
The bookish method does not work, does it? N. asked.
Should we try it by numbers? The computer is waiting. Or should it be by formulae? Or should we just wait it out? It seems a futile exercise. This whole damn affair.
What’s in a Name?
If you can’t remember it, so what? Nothing matters.
Everything matters, N. said.
Some of us swim against the tide, R. said.
It is the enduring that makes a good story, I cut in.
What about the toll it takes, N. asked. How much can one bear?
I looked at H. He looked at R. He looked at N.
Science will show us a way out, its methods are tried and trustworthy, R. began.
There is something else going on. On the surface of it, learning by rote is a form of conditioning, N. said.
Yes, yes. But there is more to it. Sometimes, when I remembered the verses, I would enter a hidden dimension. Thoughts would be consumed. I could see the poles and cross between them, I said.
So now, where has that Name disappeared?
Between the legs.
In the space between one alphabet and the next.
In the title and the last sentence.
In the passages that make you pause.
In the repetition and the silence.
The talking was done.
It had shaped itself.
N. looked up.
I was leafing through my diary and caught a glimpse of it, he said.
A few days later, I was there again.
The door was unlocked.
His room was empty.
N., I called out.
There was no reply, only a stirring of the breeze in the trees outside.
The listening air.
I looked around. Strewn about the room were hardbound books, paperbacks, magazines, letters, notebooks, notepads filled with scribbling and doodles. It was as if a whirlwind had hit the place.
N. was gone.
“It is finished.”