She looked at them curiously. The one who wasn’t driving was short, seemingly absent minded, irrelevantly thoughtful and awkward. The one who was driving on the other hand was lively, short haired, well-built and confident. They occupied the front seat in the car, leaving for her the only space which she had comfortably occupied. They oscillated between feigned confidence and immense awkwardness. Used to being confident the driver was far better off than the shortest one, who was now looking out the car searchingly. She thrust her head forward from between the seats and began talking about a boy who had been bothering her. She said he had been a bitter mess up. He was trying to flirt with her; and in doing so he was ending up constantly talking things she didn’t like at all.
“At one point I had this desire to punch him on the nose”, she said, disgusted with the memory of her tormenting time with him.
“Why didn’t you?” the shortest one said.
She laughed. The one driving looked at her for a few seconds, smiling. The shortest, looking at the road ahead, gestured to the one driving, who was now looking totally at her, to attend to the road. Disturbed, he turned to the road, cursing the shortest in his head. The car in which they were travelling belonged to the one driving the car, who drove it as if it were his bike, which was far better than the car he was now driving.
She looked at them curiously again. She started to say something about the hotel in which she was kept when the one driving took a sharp turn for no reason, and she fell back, for a moment appearing to be performing a serious isometric exercise. No apology came from the driver; and both of them began looking at the road for the reason of that sharp turn. There was none.
“You were saying something”, the shortest said, looking back.
“Yes”, she said, both the legs up in the air, trying to collect herself.
Saood spat a few obscenities at fellow drivers, who according to him were driving recklessly. Jasmine looked back. Srikant looked sideways.
Srikant was the eldest among the three and Saood the youngest. They had both looked forward to meeting Jasmine from quite some time now, and so had Jasmine; now all three of them were at a loss of words. Jasmine would from time to time discharge a flurry of compliments, most of them directed at Saood, a careful few at Srikant, who bowed on account of being free, unlike Saood whose hands and legs were tied to the process of driving; he still managed to steal elongated stares at Jasmine every few minutes. The moment he looked back at Jasmine in response to a compliment that apparently seemed to have touched him, the other two panicked; those seconds in which his eyes, bathed in tremendous delight, looked upon every aspect of Jasmine lovingly, the car drove itself. They were on the highway; the car was given a will of its own on moments of love. Everything else ceased to matter. When Saood was touched he was touched. Srikant tried to communicate to Jasmine through his hands that she could compliment him in the restaurant. It was too dangerous here. She misunderstood him and asked Saood to stop the car. She thought Srikant wanted to piss. Srikant went out of the car, cursing Saood, and bought a packet of cigarettes from a shed. Srikant and Jasmine began smoking while Saood inhaled the leftover smoke. They had come to the restaurant now. It was 6pm. They decided they had come early. Saood suggested, in an amphigory, that there was a bookstore nearby. Jasmine’s eyes widened. Srikant seemed to dance. They decided to go to it walking.
They dispersed as soon as they entered it, each their own way. Something seemed to pull them and they gave in to that force. Jasmine wasn’t to be seen. She must have gone to some remote corner. Saood could see Srikant sitting clueless in front of a rack. Saood called the guy from the bookstore and asked him for certain books. He got his list out. A few seconds later the guy began marking his list with a pen. Then they went somewhere.
Srikant started reading the preface of a book. It was a costly classic. It was about a man visiting an asylum to see his cousin. For the first few days he keeps getting, at a rapid rate, signs of something having gone wrong. A strong premonition of disaster pervades him. People in the asylum, sane ones, don’t take to him kindly. They look at him questioningly. They see him as a peace breaker, someone who destroys balance. When he asks about this to his cousin, who is recovering fast, he doesn’t understand him. He asks if somebody has misbehaved with him. No, he says; maybe because everybody has. But anyway he is made to feel extremely uncomfortable. Every night he questions the relevance of his stay there. Every day he faces refusal. He cannot sleep. He finds everyone maddeningly polite. His mental health slowly declines while his cousin is a couple of weeks away from getting out. In the end, he goes mad. He doesn’t want to come out. He finds his home in refusal. He starts seeking refusal, and talk of leaving fills him with rage. In the end he comes to terms with his condition, with everyone around him disturbed.
Srikant never understood why the narrative touched him some vague but totally gripping way. A feeling of suddenly being left in a barathrum made his head spin. But every time he came here or to any other bookstore he felt attracted to the book. It called him; and he went to it. He felt it page by page, layer by layer, fascinated, and enchanted by its aroma of demolition.
He closed the book. He looked up; there was no one about. Saood wasn’t where he had been a few minutes ago. He stood and began looking for them; he couldn’t find them.
Jasmine went straight to poetry. Poetry as a form, confined and challengingly acute, appealed to her more than prose. Even when she was reading prose she looked for poetic elements in it. She was wearing a green sleeveless top, which emphasized her bosom. She bent to pick the books and perused them standing. The collection bored her. There was nothing new there; besides the bookstore had taken her by surprise; she preferred going prepared. She for the moment picked a random book and began reading the summary. The narrator arrives at an asylum to see his recovering, young cousin. The narrator himself is young and healthy. Once they’re together, they plan to go home together. The cousin, still weak on his feet, shows encouraging signs of improvement. The narrator’s worry is that his recovery might be delayed and he would have to stay longer than he can afford. He has taken leave from his office and cannot extend it; what’s worse he’s ambitious too. All this goes on in his mind while he’s taking the long journey to the asylum. Meeting his cousin, who has come himself to pick him up, allays his fear to a certain extent. He doesn’t like the asylum though. He doesn’t talk to the people there. He considers them mentally ill in some way or the other. His cousin’s effort of trying to get him involved with a few of them fails: a meeting with a doctor, who’s considered wise and engaging. He’s got nothing to do. He has brought a few books but for some reason cannot go beyond a few pages. As time passes he’s only thinking about why people around him are so despicable, worthless and lifeless all the time. He has fuelled in himself so much hate that he begins to see things. He imagines a plot against him. Someone wants to kill, he repeatedly tells his cousin, who’s almost completely recovered. The cousin is worried. The narrator stops eating and coming out of his room. He doesn’t allow anyone but his cousin to come to his room. He threatens to burn the whole room if anyone forced in. he doesn’t sleep.
There wasn’t anything specific written as to how it ended. She closed the book. Something about it gripped her. For a moment she felt lost. Then she began looking for Saood and Srikant.
Saood was talking to the guy from the bookstore. He knew him and respected his opinion. They had both searched in vain for books in his list. They hadn’t found them. Casually the guy noted the name of the books and authors in his notepad, and promised he would have them the next time he came. Saood had long given hopes that he would own the book. He had visited all the bookstores in the city. None had revealed the now magic book. He could have given three times its marked price. He put his hands on the guy’s shoulder and said:
“Get this next week please.”
“Sure sir. We’ll try our best. I’ll call you if we find it.”
“Yes. Sure.”
It had become a joke searching for this book, he thought. Nobody seemed to have it. What maddened him was the fact that the book wasn’t being read. His face turned solemn. He had read it so long ago. He had read it fast, at a small age, and found it plot less. It made no sense to him. But the memory of it now seduced him to no ends. He clearly knew he was wrong. And he wasn’t getting any opportunity to read it again.
Jasmine found them standing together at last. She asked whether they were buying anything. They nodded their heads. They headed for the restaurant.
The time in the restaurant for all three of them was awesome. They were discovering so much of each other; the drunken Srikant, the smiling, shirtless Saood and the tall, flirty, lovely, constantly talking Jasmine. They had not a single moment of awkwardness, boredom or embarrassment. They shouted, behaved well, talked about the love, possession, Saood’s nakedness and a world full of other things. It was a night to remember each other by for all the three of them.

Loss…it’s beautiful. One becomes vivid in passing away. In passing away of someone we see in ourselves an awakened form, beautifully structured, gathered from the debris of memory. Does loss make it vivid and give it form? Is passing away a little life evoked in someone else?
I saw tears in his reddened eyes, put my hand on his shoulder, and patted it slightly. The noise, the crowd, the mourners, the awaited rituals…..and one colossal absence looming before us blindingly. We followed the absence. In heat, chasing it, slapped by the constant birth compressed narratives in our respective minds, at times visual and then in words; we went to it. In chasing we found so much more of him-true, transparent, structured, suddenly prophetic; how did this absence suddenly swallow us? It had evoked such beauty in us, effortlessly, intimately, and in such perfect order that we went inside our pasts: staring at it, when visual, with disbelief.
Then rituals consumed us; they emptied us. Corruption then entered into order, while we were watching flames, and made it debris again. We were at a loss. We had lost. We didn’t know it but we had lost the ability to create that beauty from the debris of experience. We didn’t have the ability, we now saw. We were given it, and then the absence, which had now become inexistent, both inside and outside, took it away from us.
Mourn life!
Enter that debris; take out the absences from it. Give it form. Find structure in it. Isn’t our memory a graveyard of everything beautiful we have constantly failed to evoke?
Or too afraid to go there……………
Lie there my friend, look beautiful one last time.
Up you go as we watch you; we mourn your going.
We mourn life without you!