Gotam was least concerned with the heavy words uttered in his praise. While sitting on the chair of the chief guest, he did not consider the unusual enthusiasm of the people. The speakers were uttering very provocative words: The Pride of East; the Genius of our Land; the Glory of the World, etc.But he had lost those pleasures of being a celebrity of the world. Rather, he found something dying in his soul at every word. Many years back he had begun writing for the newspapers, stories and revolutionary columns that made his reputation as a bold, free spirit. He remembered how excited he was after the publication of his first story. Then he kept on writing another one warily in his dark room. Now once again he wanted to be enthused like that. He wanted to get back that radiant flush in his cheeks. How madly he had chased that arrogant deity of fame, and how madly he had had to suffer to win her pride. Now when she was in his possession, hugging him tightly and kissing his lips fully, he was thinking what it meant to bear such torture. He had forgotten how he used to dream of becoming famous; he had forgotten the meaning of everything he wanted and had fought for. He wanted to run away from the reach of those lustful eyes of that captive queen.
Very long ago, once, he had met the famous writer of his country and expressed his desires to become famous like him. The old, dying writer looked at him sarcastically and said, "But for what? What is the outcome of this tiresome endless effort, only that many people know you and you don't know them? Oh, we thoughtless mortals, ever blind to reality! Name for what? --soon these honours shall be snatched away by the victorious hands of immortal death" After so many years he found the meanings of those words of the famous, but mortal, writer.
Amazed and confused he again looked into the eyes of the crowd. He wanted to run away; he was sick of that. In that meaningless state suddenly his eyes stopped on a face.
"Sophia?" he whispered to himself.
He recognized her.Though the years had left imprints on her face, he found tranquility of grace in her personality. She was looking at him with pride and happiness. He could see the sparkling tears in her eyes. He felt as though he were inhaling fragrant air after a long, steamy suffocating summer. He heard the melody of joy in his soul as the sand of deserts sings during the unexpected summer rain. Now he felt himself alive, the tears of those bright eyes put life in his dead soul. He felt pleasures in the words of his fans. Those sparkling eyes worked as an electrical shock works for the patient of relapses. For a moment he felt inner turmoil, but it also related him to some meaning. In that loud voice of clapping he came on the rostrum and started speaking in the flow of emotions.
"Once I determined to live above common mans life as a cloud above the sky. Since then, I am in another phase of deception and absurdity -- the punishment of living above from the cheap life of common people. Only God can afford such torture of unending loneliness. What is the ultimate achievement of an artist, except isolation from the rest of the world? He can neither be God nor man, but in between, a very ridiculous creature of solitude. The artist is the most miserable creature. He creates art with the ashes of his soul and finally is condemned to the eternal silence. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot afford this burden of greatness; I want to be an unknown and full of pleasures like others."
After his short but meaningful speech, he came down but people could not understand the real meaning of his speech. They considered it his wise saying and there was the louder noise of clapping again. Among that scattered crowd, he started searching her face as though struggling to identify her. Too many emotions were at play, after too many mistakes and misunderstandings of years. He wanted to tell her that how he lived without her; it had been one long wait for her, from that sad evening of her departure to this evening and all the thousands long lonely nights in between. She walked toward him out of a crowd of strangers. He recognized her familiar gait, years had graced her. She stared.
Her pace slowed.
After many years. The sound of her uttering his name?
She searched his face quickly and read the glance. He saw her blushing face and was lost in the beauty of her eyes -- the past did not count anymore. He had forgotten all the pains of her disloyalty; he had forgotten how exhausting her memory could be.
"Gotam, come home, we will share the long memories of our very short mutual past."
She still governed him.
"Yes", he replied as though he was waiting for that since long.On bearing the complexity of emotions; torn between the feeling of superiority and being humble, his perplexity soon turned into his reckless acceptance of her invitation. Thus his acceptance carried the sustainable meaning of both consent and defiance. She turned and walked away. Yes, she was still the ruler of his heart; yes, he was still her lap-dog, hurriedly falling into the wreath of her seductive smile.
At night he excused his fans and friends and went to bed, but could not tolerate the languid night and decided to have a solitary walk. It was autumn and he felt the painful fall of yellow leaves.
When was the last time I had an autumn like this, he thought, Was it perhaps in the late seventies?He used to ride his old bike along the bank of the canal. He was starved for the new sights of the season. I would fall in love again with this old city -- the canal leading to the house of Sophia, the wailing of those old days of awe, the tears of my young eyes. On my rides I could hear the melody of joy that seemed to come from the pleasant hiss of rubber made by my bike tires swishing through the loose soil of road. He'd left the city many years ago and now he was walking on the road that for years had played a starring role in his dreams. He kept on walking throughout the whole night, until the dawn forced him to go back to his room, He could never develop a good relationship with the light.
In the evening he went to her home. Sophia brought two cups of coffee, a warning that he would be changed. Once it had been the tranquility of tea.
"Some things don't change," he said.
She looked at him with a sad smile. As they took sips of tea, their mutual past soundlessly reopened. Young friends, sharing a life, bound by the rope of love, almost twinned by intimacy. They came to share tastes, interests, and even politics, as much as it is possible for two friends to share inner thoughts and desires. A celestial finger seemed to select them for transcendence, forerunner of the majestic hand that shaped their young lives toward some gorgeous purpose. But as it happens usually, their extreme intimacy separated them before the wedding. The Gorgeous relationship eventually brought them minor differences and finally led them to the breakup, all initiated and finished by Sophia.
Gotam remained stuck to those beautiful memories. He could never know the cause, and she never tried to contact him again. There is sometimes unspoken hatred.
"Gotam", I read everything which you wrote. There is not much I want to talk about. Just one question: Why didn't you ever hate me?"
She broke the silence.
He knew that if she ever met him alive again she would have to ask that question.
" Because you never loved me, this is negation which leads one to more love," he replied.
She comprehended the torment he must have endured.
"Tit for tat?" she laughed. " But now I love you my dear writer."
She soothed him with added affection.
"But I can't believe after several years of separation a person might have those desires"
" A person, yes a person, but not lover --- the benefits of love".
Gotam whispered, " She is still unable to distinguish lover from a person."
Dewblured eyes. Only before his Sophia did he ever weep.
Neither mentioned nor asked about the years between, they were again in the same phase of old love, sharing everything. He saw the radiant flush in her eyes and cheeks. When he told her how the asses in hot season would stand before him, flapping their tales as they waited for him to mount them behind, as though he were a donkey burning with pent-up desire. Her blush deepened when he confirmed the truth of his story in which village boys make love to demanding asses. She talked about one of his characters, Hussani Powely, who was notorious for such acts.
They kept on talking during dinner. It was late night now. They felt as if they had been living together for years, as if nothing had happened in between. There was silence again, they were now exhausted enough to go to bed. It was dark. Everything was so natural. They both felt a physical urge. She held her hand and drew him to her bed. He willingly clung to her and together they found the bed. He had not even had to lead her to it.
"Gotam," she said in tempting voice, "Beautiful Gotam." She closed her eyes and leaned back.
He leant over her lips. But, before kissing them, he stopped. She was in his possession and terribly beautiful, for this moment he had had to wait for years. He saw her glistening eyes and burning lips, but suddenly her flirtations of the past made him upset. He remembered the day when she'd walked away, saying, "Gotam, you are not worthy of my love." This memory of insult burned in his soul, the end of revived love. The excitement of love turned flat and he felt the bitterness of rejection. Now that meeting had no meanings for him. In a glance through the past, Gotam saw the ghost of the woman he'd lost. He remembered his hopes of love but how thoughtlessly and cruelly she had rejected him. He saw her lips again searching for him. Tears fell from his eyes and entered her slightly opened mouth. He suddenly jumped out, quietly opened the door and walked away.
He heard her saying, " Gotam, Gotam."
"Too many inappropriate emotions, too many
desires, too many misguided physical urges, and in the end,
insult and hurt. Bloody love," Gotam whispered to
himself in that ultimate recognition.
© 2002 Nasrullah Khan, all rights reserved
appears here by permission