“That fatal knife, Deep questioning,
Which probes to endless dole.” – Meredith.
Mysterious were the meandering ways whereby Dogg was often led to discoveries concerning the human nature. And the materialities of communication made matters much more complicated.
Relationships. Do they begin with the personal or the impersonal, with the locking together of two pairs of eyes or an e-mail? Where does the personal begin and how does it end in the void, the impersonal?
Dogg felt that the new materialities of communication were impersonal. Using them, however, he would find himself drawn into the realm of the personal. Then, he was not so sure which side was up and which side down.
The restaurant was called Koshy’s.
It played the role of a cafe for Bangalore’s burgeoning tribe of businessmen, intellectuals, artists, theatre-folk, journalists, software engineers, film-makers, other assorted rascals and the like. The coffee, beer and liquor served, combined with the palatable, sometimes even interesting, menu ensured that the place was mostly crowded, buzzing with conversations and full of cigarette smoke.
Dogg didn’t mind the place, but then he wasn’t there to savor the Old World decor, the near-antique chairs, the stylish folks. He was there for a purpose.
Seven months ago he had sat with some journalist friends of his at this very same table. A waiter had laid a chequered cloth, pink and white, upon it and they were drinking beer.
B. was holding forth on the NATO offensive in Kosovo against the Serbs.
“We need to organise protests against this blatant interference by the Big Western Powers in the life of tiny independent states,” she said. An anchorwoman for a leading TV news show, she was passionate in the cause of democracy, human rights and anti-imperialism.
“Fuck it all,’’ Dogg thought.
Her husband, a clinical psychologist, sat listening and dropping intelligent comments about the situations she kept talking about.
Intelligent conversation bored Dogg who, of course, had a different kind of intelligence working under his skin, the animal kind.
Dogg had to sit through it all. He was in a difficult situation.
He was unhappy with his job as a journalist. He was working 15 hours a day for his newspaper that was caught up in a do-or-die circulation war with an upcoming sensationalist newspaper. He was thinking of changing jobs and there was an offer before him to join as faculty in a school of art, design and technology.
His friends were sympathetic, even helpful. But his mind was elsewhere, on the pain of his struggle, the absurdity of choice, the family he had left behind and the beer buzzing inside his head.
In Koshy’s, most people know one another. And those who were unknown came in there in the hope of meeting the known and becoming known in turn.
A film director and his retinue occupied the next table and pleasantries began to be exchanged. Dogg noticed the young woman with the director. She had pale skin and her hair was cut short in the contemporary fashion. Her nose was patrician. She was tall, long-legged and had sensual, thin, even cruel lips.
She reminded him of S.
S. had sent him email shortly after they had become close friends saying: “I have to let you go because I can’t have you for myself. I have to think of my marriage. I am selfish, am I not? But I will continue to love you like I have always loved you and long for you as I have always longed for you.”
As soon as he received the email, he rang her up. In that instant he loved telecommunication technology and one of its simpler devices, the telephone, more than women. Now he could turn the personal into the impersonal and become just a ghostly voice echoing down the wires.
S. worked in another local newspaper.
“You will never hear from me again. Consider me dead. There is no use in telling you anything anymore, is there? You cannot understand,” he raved in his hurt. S. had often claimed she loved him intensely. But recently she had been systematically tormenting him, treating him like a pariah dog, putting distance.
“Why are you calling me here at work?” she asked.
Was there a trace of anger or was it agony in her voice?
Perhaps she had hoped that he would meet her one last time. Perhaps she wanted to be gentle with him one last time and try to convince him of the futility of their relationship.
He was not going to allow that.
He did not want sympathy or pity, not from one who had tortured him when he was bleeding and limping along.
He was Dogg, the stray who could survive the stones hurled at him by street children.
“I want to tell you that I can’t bear being hurt anymore, I can’t let you hurt me anymore. Consider me dead. Your problems are over,” Dogg said wearily and put the phone down.
“Broken hearts are for assholes, broken hearts are for assholes,’ the Frank Zappa refrain hummed in his head.
When Dogg looked at that other young woman in Koshy’s, it was S. whose face and features swam into mind through the beer’s haze.
Maybe it had nothing to do with S. or A., the girl with the film-director.
Maybe it had to do with a particular form he had in his mind, a form he was obsessed with.
Every time he encountered that form, something in him recorded the occurrence and a desire welled up in his heart to know, explore and experience it.
Now who could A. be? A. for Anybody. A. for Asshole? And S.? S for Serpent. S. for Schemer.
B. introduced A. to him.
She smiled. It was a warm and wide smile, her even white teeth glowing. She smiles like S., he thought to himself.
Another Sunshine Girl who would bring clouds into his life? No more.
“And what do you do?” B. asked A.
“Well, we are just readying for the launch of this web zine for women,” A. replied.
And then she made her cardinal, unintelligent mistake.
“It’s not like we are feminists, we like men too,” she said.
B. sneered. “Of course, you don’t have to be apologetic. We feminists like men too,” B. said, sarcasm dripping from her every pore.
A. turned pale, as a 22-year-old does in the face of an older, experienced woman who has seen the world, made a name for herself and didn’t pull any punches. A. remained silent for the rest of the evening.
Month later, in mid-August, Dogg found an email in his box.
“Where are you? I got your email address from one of your colleagues in your newspaper and just heard that you had quit journalism. How is your new job? Ciao,” A. wrote.
Yes, Dogg knew the colleague from whom she had gathered his email address.
P. had joined the newspaper as a gangly trainee. In newspapers, your worth is often judged the very first day. Often, the judgement made was wrong and superficial. The other seniors despised P.
Dogg’s post was next to her. He talked some to her and discovered that she had suddenly discovered an interest in writing. He read a short story P. had written. It was quite good. He tried to encourage her, both in picking up her journalistic ropes and in developing her interest in writing during the short period he was with the newspaper before he left to join his new job.
A. had tapped P. for his address.
“I am busy, much too busy in my new job,” Dogg replied to A.’s email. “But I would like to keep in touch and meet you if and whenever it’s possible.”
In October, when Dogg was out with friends on a tour, he sent A. an email.
“Maybe we can meet in a week’s time once I get back. I have some spare time. In the meantime, let me tell you that topwritecorner.com, the writers’ web zone, has accepted a story of mine which will be up on the website in three weeks’ time,” he wrote.
Interestingly enough, when Dogg went back into his mailbox and looked up his saved, old mail, he discovered that A. had told him in August itself about topwritecorner.com. Its significance had escaped him then. He really had been too busy and perhaps his mind was more interested in the fact that A. had mailed him than in the contents of her letter.
When he surfed into topwritecorner.com, into the poetry section, he found a poem written by A.
“I liked your poem for its simplicity,” Dogg wrote in his comment under the poem.
There was a link at the site to a story A. had written too, but it was a dead link.
Back in Bangalore, Dogg mailed A. for her telephone number. It came the very next day.
“I think my poem is cool too,” she replied.
He rang her up. They decided to meet at Koshy’s the next evening, a Thursday.
“And maybe you think you’re a lonely guy, or maybe you think you’re too tough to cry …broken hearts are for assholes…”
That Zappa refrain again. What did it forebode, Dogg wondered.
He was there a half-hour earlier because he wanted to observe the people and down a beer while he waited for her. And then she was suddenly there, with another pretty woman. They walked in past the swing doors, two young, confident-looking, modern young women. At a table near the entrance was a crowd of theatre-people and they made small talk with them. A. kept looking back over her shoulder at Dogg. He was indifferent to the time they took laughing and exchanging pleasantries with the theatre-folk.
Finally, they came and sat down at his table.
“This is K. and she is my editor,” A. said.
“How old are you?” Dogg asked K.
She had done her bachelor’s course in writing and publishing from an American college. So, was one supposed to bow and scrape before her? Dogg wondered. He was wary of those who flaunted their foreign degree or pedigree.
“You girls are interested in writing, huh? What kind of stuff do you write?” Dogg asked, downing some more beer and lighting up a cigarette.
“I write a lot of essays,” K. replied.
“I’ve surfed into your site. Do you edit the material you get?”
“Well, hardly much.”
“Some of the best writers were made by their editors, you know,” Dogg offered.
“Yes, but we leave things be or the pieces might lose their spontaneity,” K. said. A. sat there quietly.
“I guess you are also not allowed to touch most of the pieces written as they are by some of Bangalore’s bigwigs,” he said.
“That too,” K. replied.
AM came by just then and sat down at Dogg’s table without invitation. A leading journalist with the aforesaid sensationalist newspaper, Dogg had known him since he was a cub reporter. Now he was dressed up and acting cool, a mobile phone in his palm. He talked about a meeting he wanted to set up with the Chief Minister, wanted to know where Dogg worked. Obviously AM had no clue about the art school he taught in. It was an invisible institution.
“I would like to come in there sometime,” he said.
“Oh yeah,” thought Dogg, “you would like to crash into a crowd you have no access to, right?”
“And when were you part of THAT crowd; how did you get in?” AM asked, a nasty barb from his usual bloated self.
“Well, I’ve always been there,” Dog replied nonchalantly.
“For fucking Christ’s sake, piss off, man,” Dogg wished.
Surprise, surprise, surprise. AM left, handing over an invitation to K. to a party in a fancy restaurant where an underwear company was touting its latest wares. Care to model panties, K.? Dogg wondered. She too left having downed a coffee.
“I hate his likes, corporate carpet-crawlers,” Dogg told A. “But tell me, have you been writing more poetry?”
“I’ve written just that one poem. I had written some other poems but gave them away to people,” she replied.
“And short stories?”
“Well, I’ve written just one story,” she said.
“Are you a writer, deep inside? When did you start writing?”
“When I was 20,” A. said.
“What do you write for the web zine? I haven’t come across your byline.”
“I use a pseudonym,” she said.
“Oh, I can’t tell you that because I like to remain invisible, I don’t want any attention,” she said.
“Is it that or is it that you are worried about your work? A writer ought not to fear what happens to his work. If it is good, it can stand up to the severest tests of criticism,” Dogg said.
“No, it’s not that. I just don’t want to be noticed. I prefer being invisible.”
He pressed her for it. She would not disclose her pseudonym.
“Well, it’s not as if I can’t find it out. I can ask somebody else or I can just keep reading the stuff on your site and identify you by your style,” Dogg said.
“Suit yourself,” she replied.
“You see, one can remain invisible. That is a good strategy if one employs the Joycean precept of silence, exile and cunning. And all the while a writer like that is honing his craft and building up a body of work. But if it is fear…. And there are these terrifying factors of chance, error and failure. ”
She smiled out of her grey eyes.
“I am a writer, I have a passion for it. Circumstances are against me but I keep writing. Do you have a passion for writing?” Dogg said.
“I haven’t written anything for a while,” she said.
“An idle pen rusts like a sword,” Dogg quoted Czeslaw Milosz, “I keep my sword sharp and polished. Yet unpublished and invisible I am for the present.”
She listened intently. She was a good listener and often laughed gently. Dogg asked her about her family and got some details about her sister who lived in the USA and how her parents had gone to visit her and so on and so forth.
“Why did you send me that first email?” Dogg wanted to know.
“No reason,” she replied.
“I don’t really care to mix with those who don’t have a passion for writing, you know. I love the craft,” he said.
Dogg sensed a sudden wariness in her, as if she suspected that he was dismissing her.
They discussed the books they were reading at present, how he had written his first short story at the age of five and won an international prize, how she had read her father’s collection of books and suddenly decided to start writing at the age of 20.
He told her anecdotes, some tricks of the trade he had learnt, of his decision to work slowly but steadily on a collection of short stories, his struggles after he had to leave his family and take up the job in Bangalore, how his work schedule was eating into his ability to sit down and write, etc, etc.
He spoke of writers and artists who had pressed ahead in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
“To be born again, one has to die,” he quoted the Spanish artist Antoni Tapies.
Artists and writers had paid a price for following their vision and vocation; and some had made it and some had just died unknown or despised.
“In the end, after he had mastered his craft, Van Gogh asked himself ‘What’s the use?’ before putting a bullet through his head. So too, Hemingway. Virginia Woolf drowned herself. Sylvia Plath gassed herself. It is torment and ecstasy and hard work that may result in nothing when you are alive,” Dogg said. “If you are not willing to cross borders in this business, you can’t be a writer though you may deceive yourself, and others may deceive you too, into thinking that you are a writer when you are not one,” he continued.
“You like to help others, don’t you?” A. asked.
“Yes,” he replied simply, remembering S. and him working on her first manuscript. It had been published even as he had been sure it would be. He did not see it in print, however, when it appeared. By then S. had nailed him to his cross, driven the spear deep into his side.
“I like to help,” he said. I let myself be used like a prostitute who is never paid, Dogg thought to himself.
She stared at him.
He felt words and images rushing through his head, heiroglyphics.
It was as if a god or gods were speaking through him, an oracle.
The smoke, the alcohol, adrenaline, the smell of her sweat and perfume, the buzz of conversation.
He was alive, living, burning.
Experience counts, it makes all the difference.
Reading is the coals in the ring of fire.
The first reading, the second and the third, the associations, the interpretations, the mystery…
The fucking mystery of it all and the carving of the alphabet into the soft porous paper …
The indent of blackening words into the white light of a computer screen ….
“Look at these automatons,” he told A., pointing to the people sitting at different tables. “Visions come to many of them, and dreams and the road that might lead to revelations. They have an inkling, a glimpse of mysteries. But then they are gripped by fear and flee from themselves and the daemons. Fucking robots, aren’t they?” he spat out.
As for relationships, the Titans of the Word never had it easy. Their women hardly ever understood them, hardly ever stood by them in their worst moments.
“Their personal lives were turbulent, they saw, they heard, they listened, they dreamt visions, they slaved and nobody understood. They were hurting with your hurt and mine and hurtling through unknown spaces and tunnels. They learnt to suffer in silence, to keep the truth hidden so they would not be lynched by that which they loved – humanity and the human condition,” Dogg said.
“Have you been hurt, really hurt? Do you bear the scars in your hands? In your breast, in your breath?” he asked. “Joseph Beuys, the sculptor, says every artist must have a wound, and it must be a wound that’s on display.”
You have the most piercing stare, he heard D.’s voice resounding.
Please, please don’t hurt yourself anymore. You always attract those women who don’t care enough for you and they tear you apart, he remembered D.’s words as he lay with his head in her lap, his tears running down his cheeks.
And I won’t be here to help you or comfort you, I have to go you know, she had said.
She had not lied to him or hurt him.
Yet Dogg knew he would ignore that gentle voice seeking to enfold him in a soft blanket of security.
Or he would not be able to tap the power of hurt, the power of goodbye.
“Yes, I have been hurt,” A. was replying through the haze.
“Ah, it must have been men. And how?”
“It’s my fault. My passion. I chase men,” she said.
“Not too many men though, just two so far,” she added hastily.
“And they all run away. They are scared of me. I want to give them everything, all of myself. I give and give.”
“And still they run away?”
“Because in the end I get bored with giving,” she said.
Dogg felt the anger rise within him.
He had seen this shape before, this form.
“Ah,” he sighed. “It is the same. It’s because in the end you are selfish and live lies. I knew this woman who thought she was living the truth about love. In the end she became a liar like so many others. All those words, and she wasn’t a writer either. She quoted sections from ‘The Notebook’, that sentimental romance by Nicholas Sparks, to me. It seemed to confirm her undying love and her ever-giving nature. In the end, she was just another liar. When I speak of lying, I am not speaking of the lie that secret lovers live. But I speak of the inability to live up to one’s confessions of undying love. That is the only lie.”
It began tumbling out. How she had broken the love covenant. It was easy for her to hurt him. She did it calculatedly, daily.
“But it is alright. I know the craft. I turn it all into a story, a fucking fairy tale. I write, therefore I am. I hurt, therefore I am. I don’t need a fucking pseudonym like you. I am.”
“Neither of your men ever satisfied you, did they? You made love to them, didn’t you?” Dogg asked.
“I did. But it always seemed to me like a joke, like there was this part of me which was always watching and it all seemed amusing,” she replied.
“Ah, an un-awakened woman,” he said.
Un-awakened to love’s passion or the passion of writing.
A spider stalking her prey.
S. for Spider.
“Aren’t you bored?” he asked her.
“No, it is like I have found a guide. As if I had so many questions in my mind about so many things and, in meeting you, all the answers are falling into place,” she replied and a wonderful smile lit up her face.
“What S. didn’t realize was that the writer always has a guardian angel who brings him suffering but also balm of Gilead. Even as a woman drives a spike through her writer’s heart, there comes the angel. It was not as if I had planned to have any backup. I wanted to go through it all by myself. But an angel was sent to me, healing me, helping me through it. The evil she did to me was exorcised, circumcised by the angel. Strange, but it is the story of my love for S. that made the story reach topwritecorner.com! And it doesn’t speak well of her!!!! Ha Ha Ha.”
Dogg began laughing. He couldn’t stop laughing. Beer makes the belly shake.
“I love her still. But her lies can hurt me no more. I only pity her because she has to live with her lying self all her life. I pity the men there will be in her life. ‘Manderley must burn’. She quoted D.H. Lawrence once to me. ‘A woman can give herself to a man she does not love.’ A truth Lawrence discovered. But when she does it, she will burn in that fire,” Dogg said.
“But you have many women you love and how do you excuse yourself when you say you love her and yet feel the same way towards a myriad others?” A. asked.
“I have no excuses. But there is a question that always haunts me. Can one love two? I love. I am. And perhaps it is good it all ended that way because I was saved from more torment by her lies. Imagine if she had led me on further and destroyed my entrails? Anyway, what do you know about my women? And what do you know about my wife’s love? It is true, real, patient with my follies. There is no lie in it.”
The conversation turned to the relationships several writers and artists had with the women in their lives.
“You know it is hard to find a woman of virtue, meaning a woman who means it when she says she loves a man. So spoke Solomon. I have found one such woman. Why would I jeopardise my love towards her? Writers like Sartre discovered this truth after his long journey with Simone de Beauvoir. It was only towards the end of their lives that they got married. Both had their lovers, both were writers who would not sacrifice truth and honesty. In the end, their experience was that the only person each could return to was the other. There was no lie in the essence of their love for each other. The same with Beckett, he married his secretary late in life when mutual love had been tested in the fiery cauldron of art and living. And Joyce, he had a barmaid for his ideal mate. They are sometimes more understanding and sensitive than these educated ones. They had finished with lying,” Dogg said.
It was getting late and the waiters were closing the restaurant doors.
“Would you like to meet me again?” Dogg asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Saturday evening?” Dogg suggested.
“Indeed,” she replied.
“You take yourself seriously, don’t you?” she asked.
“I can laugh at myself but I take my experiences and my writing dead seriously,” Dogg replied.
The bill came to Rs 280. She had had two coffees and a plate of vegetable cutlets. He had drunk three beers and eaten a plate of cutlets.
Outside Koshy’s, Dogg hailed an autorickshaw.
“You will drop me home, won’t you?” she asked.
“Of course, it is too late for you to be travelling alone,” he replied. They got into the vehicle.
“Why are you looking out of the corner of your eyes at me like that?” he asked her.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“Are you chasing after me?” he asked.
“Wait and see,” she replied.
“Do you chase after women?” she asked.
“I never chase after women, they just happen or they don’t,” he said.
She noticed him observing her.
He was silent.
“What?” she asked again, insistent.
“I like your profile” he said.
“Would you like to meet me again?” Dogg asked.
“That’s the second time you are asking me that. I said yes earlier, didn’t I?”
“I just wanted to be sure whether you had got it right,” he said.
I think you are a liar, Dogg said to himself and sighed.
“I don’t know. The Watcher in me will decide,” she said.
“The Watcher? Oh, the Watcher. Like your mother or something? How long has he been with you?”
“Since I was a child. He teaches me to see all things as a joke and to laugh at them.”
“Must be a possessive spirit or some kind of split in your personality that will not allow you to integrate yourself,” he suggested.
“This night. It has been the weirdest conversation I have ever had in a long whiles,” she said.
The autorickshaw stopped outside her house.
“I want to pay part of the fare,” she said.
“I was the one who suggested that we meet, I’ll pay,” Dogg replied.
“Goodnight. God bless you,” Dogg said, shaking her hand.
She seemed to want to say something. Then she turned and entered the gate to her house. She turned back and waved and he went on to his apartment. The autorickshaw ride cost him Rs 160.
There was an email from A. in his box.
“I don’t want this to sound right,” it said. “But I don’t want to keep in touch with you. You make me uncomfortable.”
Dogg felt supremely happy.