By Achyut Dutt
The message came into his message box quite innocuously. It lay there shimmering like a chimera.
Wait, what the hell is a chimera? Hang on, I’m checking online in Websters. Okay, I have it. And no, it’s not the right application of the word. A chimera is a mythological creature with a lioness’s head, a mermaid’s tail, and a bra-less Malayalee farm girl’s torso.
Theorem: Malayalee farm girls have no idea what bras are. QED. It is a theorem that leaves Pythagoras lacking in self-esteem, so comprehensive it is and so divinely profound in its simplicity. If you are taking the NH47 from Nagercoil up to Ernakulam in a KSTC bus, you will understand that geometry clearly, even if you got an ‘F’ in math in high school.
I just wrote ‘chimera’ because I suddenly felt like it. The same way I mentioned the Malayalee farm girl. It happens to me all the time. When I like a word, I roll it around on my tongue for a while and, then, I scramble to use the word in my next post. And if there’s even a remote context, I put it in. The word, silly, I put in the word. Jeeze, you really do have a one-track mind.
I was telling you about the message that came and lay in wait for Arjun Das to access. Arjun had no idea there was a message waiting. He’d been a bit preoccupied lately and hadn’t checked his mail in a while. No one interesting ever wrote him anyway. He was at a cusp now. Think ‘cusp’ is the right word here? I’m looking it up right now, don’t leave. Here, Websters says ‘cusp’ is an erect, pointy end to something, a sort of projection. Christ, he hadn’t had a cusp in a while, Arjun thought and giggled to himself.
When Arjun saw the ID of the sender, his heart started pounding: firstname.lastname@example.org. He instantly recognized it. Shyamrao, twisted to Shamrock. How long had it been since they’d first met on FB? Six months? And their last correspondence? Four months. He’d blurted that he dreamed of scooping her up in his arms and she’d replied in a shocked tone…“I really don’t appreciate your talking to me this way, Mr Das”. But she’d made it known in an indirect way that she was perfectly willing to go on with this virtual friendship, if he would please stop saying those things.
He had agonized and fretted. Shalik had found out but she had managed to see the brief tumult through quietly, till it had receded and the dust had settled back and life had moved on. And since he couldn’t trust himself, Arjun had unfriended Nandini. She’d responded with one final message that had sounded more like a sigh of relief to him.
Before you start wondering what in the world I am talking about, here’s some background. This is about Arjun Das and his erstwhile FB friend Nandini Shyamrao. He, a hotshot architect, married to Shalik Das and father to 11-year old, Sparsh. Nandini, a vivacious writer-gourmet-sitarist, married to Sukumar Shyamrao and mother to 9-year old Dharam. Nandini had found Arjun old-world, funny, charming and somehow very different from anyone she’d ever met.
And he? He was simply blown away, man, outaxed, figgleditooted, tinglisnooked. She disapproved of his message…he unfriended her…end of story. She didn’t unfriend him, he unfriended her. Doesn’t gel, but that’s how it actually happened. He unfriended her because he didn’t trust his emotions and he was scared things would snowball. And she didn’t unfriend him first since she was just about the nicest human being in the world. Unfriending people was something alien to her. She was the kind of person who’d wait for the other guy to log off when they were on chat, even if the house burned down. Under that lovely mass of curly hair, was a woman who didn’t hesitate to reach out, a woman of unparalleled vivacity, and her innocence easily mistaken for an invitation. She must have decided to let things rest and move on, for she didn’t write him any more messages.
Things settled, life went on. Fortunately for him, Arjun had always been high on self-esteem, so the rejection didn’t crush him. He didn’t go join a correspondence course on how to make knots and loops with oil-slicked ropes and sling them over the rafters. Still, when Arjun dreamed of Nandini, the dreams invariably happened in Cherrapunji. Arjun went back to his work, to his Shalik and Sparsh.
There, how’s that for a background? Now let’s get back to the story.
His pulse having just filed an affidavit for a name change to Usain Bolt, Arjun gaped at the screen and devoured the message.
“I just wanted to thank you for asking after D and S,” she wrote, “though I must admit that the thanks are a little belated. What with all the friending and unfriending that went on. Thought I’d tell you that Dharam just had his tonsils removed and is now back home. Hope you are well.”
Fingers barely able to keep steady, he tapped back, “Oh no, why must Dharam have to go through this? Anyway, a tonsillectomy is a minor procedure these days, as I understand. He’ll be fine. And you’ll be fine too. You’re special”.
Arjun wanted to say so much more…that he wanted to order a platoon of kisses to plip-plop their way down to those slim bracelets on her ankles, making R & R stops on the way. He had spotted the ankle bracelets, half-hidden under a skirt, in one of her profile photos. Ankle bracelets turned him on. Discretion made him hold his right index finger firmly with his left hand, to prevent it from running amok. He just clicked on ‘send’.
This was a while ago.
Then, last month, there was another mail waiting. It was Sparsh’s birthday the next day and this time the message read, “Best wishes to Sparsh on her birthday on the morrow.” He loved that adorable writing style. She couldn’t say ‘tomorrow’, she just had to make it ‘on the morrow’.
Arjun had managed a feeble “Thank you” in reply. Once more he had fought to restrain his feelings. He had fallen back on his seat, feeling drained and at the same time, excited at the promise the two latest messages held. The promise of what? A renaissance?
Then came the third message. This time it was a public one, posted ten days back, on Nandini’s cover photo, superimposed on a picture of her and Dharam seated at a picnic table by a lake. Someone who had access to her account had posted it, probably her husband, Sukumar. The message read, “Nandini was involved in a traffic accident while on her way to run an errand. She did not survive it. She held all her facebook friends in high esteem and considered them as an invaluable part of her family.” There was a logjam of condolence messages below, on her wall.
That week went by in a blur till the next Monday, full ten days after Nandini’s passing. It was two in the afternoon and Arjun had been at his desk at work. He stared out at the plush green of St Luke Park for some time, from his 15th floor office. After a while, he rose quietly and walked out, telling Marge, his secretary, that he was stepping out for a sandwich.
From the Delmar building, it was a short walk across the 5th Avenue and along the lake. Soon he was walking along the pedestrian path on the Champlain Bridge, high above the St Lawrence. He walked on till he’d reached roughly the middle of the span. He looked around to see if anyone would notice and, then, having assured himself that he was completely alone,he skipped over the divider and came abreast with the girders.
Arjun stooped over the rails. Two hundred feet below, the river was in spate. Far away, in the haze, a massive container ship was slowly positioning itself at the Queen Elizabeth quays, coaxed in by a flotilla of tugs on both sides. Even further, almost near the horizon, he could discern the Mont Royal, the mountain from which Montreal got its name. It rose majestically up, dwarfing the high-rises that were bunched around it like weeds. At its apex stood the magnificent basilica, the St Joseph’s Oratory, where the Catholic saint, Brother André, had had his pulpit and was canonized, to Saint André, in 2010.
This time, he waited till he saw a cyclist approaching the bike path that ran along the length of the bridge. He wanted his death to be witnessed. He did not want to make Shalik and Sparsh suffer the agony of not knowing, not having a closure that would help them move on. When the man on the bike was twenty yards away, looking straight at him, he climbed over the railing, turning once more to check if the man had noticed. He had. He was biking furiously toward him, waving one free hand in alarm, screaming, “Hey! Hey! Attention!” (In French, ‘attention!’ pronounced ‘atongsyong’ is like saying ‘watch it!’).
Arjun Das teetered over the cornice for an instant, before he let go and went to join a woman he had never actually met.
Oof! Ouch! No! Please! Ugh, that hurt! Okay, okay, you want an alternative ending where the two don’t die, right? Oh, you mushy thing, you. I’ll get cracking on it. But there can be no union, can there? Both of them have loving spouses who did no wrong, remember? I would feel like such a heel if Arjun and Nandini got together. Extra-marital affairs should never be rewarded with happy endings, come on.
Wait, maybe I could kill the spouses. Shalik could get lymphus acoma of the intestine and Sukumar, let me see now, how about cerebral tumor with strangulated ganglia? Sparsh could become Dharam’s step-sister. Nah! Sounds nutty, like Manmohan Desai-meets-Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
Hmmmm…Aliens abduct Shalik Das and Sukumar Shyamrao? Huh? Just sayin’, no need to be rude.
Achyut Dutt, 59, builds jet engines at Pratt and Whitney Canada. To read more about his take on life, just google ‘spunkybong’.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Here and There: The Diaspora Universe”. Edited by Bhaswati Ghosh, author & translator, Canada. Read and Discover a group of extremely talented writers sharing their experiences of living between multiple worlds.