Monsoon Muse8 mins 718 8 mins 718
I watched as a fly circled around A Christmas Carol and slowly settled on the nose of the Ghost of the Christmas Past, looking down on a trembling Scrooge. No one here but the flies and I, I thought to myself as the rain drummed its incessant rhythm on the roof. I could see nothing through the cascading water whitening the window panes, but I was sure no one was out there on the streets. The gutters were overflowing, carrying the debris of the city to Garbage Oblivion.
Good thing the fly didn’t decide to choose to sit on my nose. In the highly frustrated state I was in, I would have greatly enjoyed sending it to find a permanent resting spot on the nose of the Ghost of Christmas to Come.
For this is how it had been for the last three days. The monsoon had driven everyone indoors. Not a single customer had come to the Manuscript Bookstore - that claimed to offer First and Second Hand Books at Dirt Cheap Rates! Free browsing, doing its best to hold its own against the better staffed, better-stocked bookshops situated on the same street. The other shops, owned by corporate book chains, could survive a couple of off days, but not Manuscript, which was the sole source of livelihood for Yours Truly – Manoj Prabhakar, B.A (English Literature), aspiring writer and struggling entrepreneur.
All I ever wanted to do was write. And my parents, to their last, tried to ensure that I would have the freedom to do just that. They were proud of my juvenile outpourings, encouraged my hesitant efforts to enter the vast, unforgiving world of literature. The cooking gas may have run out and the grocery man demanding payment, but they would make sure that I got my daily fix of book reading, come what may. They greeted each minor publication I managed with an enthusiasm only doting parents could attain. They wanted their son to be a writer.
When they both passed away within months of each other, I opted for the closest thing to being a writer - I started a bookshop with whatever resources I had. If I couldn’t actually become a writer, I reasoned, at least I could spend my waking hours with those who had, and their words. And among the Micheners, Roys, Kings and Rushdies, I felt right at home.
Being a salesman of a product you are ecstatic about, goes a long way to achieving customer satisfaction. Most purchasers of books welcomed being shown around by someone who actually knew what he was talking about. I had a set of faithful customers, who would accept my verdict on whether a book was good or not before buying it. Even though the shop didn’t prosper, I did make a good living.
At least good enough to waste good money and energy in trying to get my writing published. In the ample spare time that I had when business was slow, I would sit before the computer at the counter and try to summon forth the words from my inner being. It didn’t work all the time, but at least I was writing. No one seemed to be interested, though. The pile of polite rejection letters was growing by the day.
I didn’t realize that someone was in the shop until that someone stood dripping in front of me. And when I raised my head up from my PC to look at that dripping someone, I couldn’t take my eyes away.
Don’t ask me to describe her. I cannot. All I can say is that she was the most captivating thing – woman, painting, creature, landscape, statue, scenery, whatever - I had ever seen.
Where did this angel come from, I wondered, as my paralyzed brain searched frantically for something intelligent to say.
She solved the problem by asking me where she could find My Story by Kamala Das. A book after my own heart. I led her through the packed shelves to the correct spot and watched her, scarcely breathing, as she leafed through her selection.
We got to talking, about her favorite authors and books, and mine. Outside, the monsoon kept all intruders at bay. The clock ticked on, but no one was looking at it.
And then she asked, “Sorry, but I didn’t want to startle you, so I stood there for some time before you looked up from the computer. What were you busy writing?"
No customer had ever asked me this before. No one had, other than my parents. Not even my college buddies who dropped in infrequently, whenever traveling allowances permitted.
It was like a dam bursting inside me. I told this lovely stranger, whom I had met not even half an hour ago, all about the plot I had in mind, the characters I was trying to flesh out and my worries about whether anyone would find it interesting. She wanted to see what I had written so far and contrary to anything I had ever done so far, not even with my father and mother, I showed it to her.
She sat there in the strange twilight cast by the monsoon clouds, smiling at times to herself as she scrolled down the pages. I watched her face in the light cast by the gleaming monitor, watched fascinated at the way she would brush her long, still damp hair out of her eyes once in a while.
I had never been in love before, I realized. I had been in love only for the sake of being in love, because it was expected of me, as a young man - and with various unsuspecting targets at that. All good for yarns of heartache with the friends, over fast emptying glasses, late into the wee hours of the night.
And suddenly with this girl, I knew what love really was. That love did exist, that it did engulf the heart and mind of its victims with a longing that was unbearable pain and sheer pleasure at the same time. And I didn’t want a single soul to know about this. This feeling was mine. I was jealous of it. I didn’t want to share it with anybody.
"That was so good," she said and got up, stretching her arms in a smooth, graceful motion. She paid for her book and thrust it in her bag as I murmured my thanks, heart bleeding, wondering if I would ever see her again.
She turned back to me as she got to the door. “Write more. I will come and read it tomorrow", and vanished into the swirling rain.
I rushed to the door. I couldn’t see anyone at all on the street, couldn’t hear any vehicle starting up. And I hadn’t noticed her carrying an umbrella.
But somehow that didn’t seem important at all. I sat down where she had a few minutes ago, a faint scent of her scent in my nostrils and began to work.
The next day, I prayed that she would be back. And just as the monsoon played out its tantrums and emptied the streets, an instant after the last customer who came into Manuscript hurried for home, there she was, like a thousand glowing candles.
Amidst the whistle of the wind roaring through the neem trees outside the shop, to the ceaseless drumming of the raindrops on the tiles, she would point out how a lot more could be said using far less and apter words, how I could achieve the real mood I wanted to create, what was lacking in a character and what was redundant in another, it was as though her hand was on mine, guiding me through the keyboard, releasing the right words, erasing the wrong.
Throughout that Monsoon, I never thought of asking her who she was and where she came from. I was content just having her there with me and knowing that she would come again the next day. And it didn’t seem strange to me how she would just disappear every day, without a trace.
And as the rains ebbed, my book slowly came to a climax. And a week before it did, I had received a letter of interest from the publisher she had asked me to send a sample to.
She never said goodbye to me when she left that last day, when the rain was just a drizzle and the streets were looking fresh and clean, when the cars had started their task of filling up the air with smoke once again, until the next Monsoon season.
I didn’t rush after her to the door that time because I knew I would see nothing, that she would have just gone off into wherever she came from.
I do not grieve for her because she has not said farewell to me, nor I to her.
I know, because she has told me, that it is time to rest, because now what we created together – our child, really - is going out into the world, to sink or to swim as the Fates have it. It is time to wish it well and see what Fortune holds in store for it.
Till then, the Manuscript will provide me with the words I want, the words I crave to fill my world – empty now without her.
And in the next Monsoon, I will write again and she will come.