It drizzled in the morning, as I sat on the wrought iron bench in the garden in my compound. It was an unexpected shower and I looked up at the sky to welcome its unseasonal gift. If only for a few seconds, the ground beneath my feet cooled down, as the drops settled inside the cracks, and the lovely scent of wet earth permeated the air. The koel went on a cooing overdrive. Rain does that to some. Makes them delirious. I sat there with my eyes closed, surrendering to the patter of the falling drops, which wet my hair, washed my face, and made a tiny puddle in the centre of my palms. It takes so little to smile spontaneously.
The kids in my neighbourhood were waiting for their school bus to arrive. Two little girls had their noses buried inside their books, their faces flush with all the mugging up done last night. ‘Last exam,’ they chorused ecstatically, looking up to greet me, the guarantee of the impending relief lighting up their eyes. I remembered the several ‘last-exam-days’ of my childhood, when I drew up long lists of things I would do, only to realise after writing the last sentence of the answer, that all I wanted to do was to rush home, snuggle under a warm blanket and sleep. Play could wait.
Today, I have to make a difficult choice. How does one choose between Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard? Toss a coin? That too, when I’m already thick in the middle of reading Pervin Saket’s Urmila, and have my first Kindle edition of a Marathi book, Shrimanyogi by Ranjeet Desai, waiting in the wings? Not to mention Half of What I Say by Anil Menon, one of the most easy-going, and affable writers I met recently at an unusual book reading by Pervin, which was complemented by a scintillating dance performance, which depicted the narrative of Urmila. The dancers blended Kalaripayattu, Chhau, Odissi, and contemporary dance seamlessly, weaving a tapestry that gave me goosebumps. Lakshman’s suffering spouse would have approved.
On my way back from the performance with my dear friend Harvinder, discussing a few aspects of Ramayan, and setting aside symbolism, I couldn’t help thinking that Ravan was quite a lucky chap really. With his ten heads and ten pairs of eyes, he could have read ten books at a time, placed on a specially designed book holder. Imagine Ravan, with his central processing system, that is the head fixed to his neck, resting on a large pillow, four heads on one side, and five on the other (that’s what probably created the mental imbalance), resting on as many pillows, reading. What would he read apart from the Shiva Purana? Well, considering that the Ramayana is surmised to have happened thousands of years ago, the question of books in the form we see them now, obviously doesn’t arise. Even if there were any, had Ravan been a reader, perhaps he wouldn’t have embarked on his several misadventures. But, if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have had a wonderful epic to ruminate on. That brings me to my nephew’s innocent question, when I told him Sita’s story and reached the part about the Agni Pariksha, her trial by fire: “But, didn’t they call the Fire Brigade?” Innocence and presence of mind. Ram was probably too pulverised by the earth opening its mouth wide to embrace his wife, to react.
I look at the line-up of books and remind myself that I have one head, one brain, and one pair of eyes. Thank heavens for that. Imagine ten mouths to feed, ten scalps to shampoo, ten heads of hair to comb, ten times the thoughts to assimilate! Calls for one more note in my gratitude journal. So, instead of hopping greedily and aimlessly from one book to another, it’s best to continue engaging in a conversation with Urmila. She has captured my imagination already. I’m not deserting her.