Somehow, it’s February already. And we’ve just confirmed a second coronavirus case here in India. This month definitely carries the burnt, acrid smell of its predecessor. As a sceptical look-behind-the-sky realist rather than an it’s-always-sushine optimist, I’m not so sure this was the year February should have chosen to have an extra day.
Also, I have hardly written any poetry. Am supposed to be compiling a new chapbook. Instead I find myself watching the same news over and over again, hoping for a different ending each time. And writing snatches of goodness-knows-what which will never see daylight and on one strange occasion, a bit of flash fiction. It is a brand new genre for me, and it was fun while it lasted. Will it replace poetry? Now, like I said, there’s always some grey to find, if you look hard enough on the other side of the sun! No?
After the Party
The city’s literati had turned up in their customary khadi and kholapuris, the conversation through the haze of smoke and a mirror or two had dropped a few banal points, the new twitter-trending novelist who had just published a chest-thumping, decibel-shattering novel was on his fourth whiskey, his political counterpoint was sprawled on the floor rolling joints in two thousand rupee notes with the hostess, she who read nothing but reviews that she paid for each week. No one wanted to talk to the pretentious young woman with the new exposé who was trying to will her phone into calling itself. Near the bar, a poet was having an extended verbal orgasm, his rhyming couplets now declaimed from the top of the Makrana marble counter, the punch line delivered in a fiery expulsion of alcohol breath, theatrical flourish and appeals to an alternative god. But all this was a moment ago, before a reporter had got into a squabble with an old professor in a goatee and madras checks. There had been some cursing in back-street Hindi, the academic had been accused of something, no one was certain, it could have been plagiarism or something more fundamental, but a bottle was smashed, punches thrown and a scream or two later, the poor man’s rather ponderous body lay in a pool of blood and Old Monk rum, ice cubes refusing to melt around his already cold body.
In the morning, it was a scandal. By afternoon, the reporter was arrested. His employers had to bring their news website down for ‘technical reasons’ and there were whispers of insurrection, of adultery, of debauchery, of suicide. A month later, everyone had forgotten the professor’s name. Six months later, they were forced to remember it as the pretentious woman released a video from the party. It was from her cell phone, the audio was muffled, the images barely visible in the dim light but it looked like a battle and it sounded like a war and the professor was branded a spy and a lowlife, definitely a radical, so they rooted for the reporter. It had to be self-defence. A year later, the reporter was on TV panels talking about international terrorism, populism, education, economics and climate change. His syndicated column appeared in forty newspapers and he was writing a book about his time in prison. He said it was a sacrifice the country had demanded of him. Someone suggested he should run for office.
The hostess had new flooring put in. It looked like green granite. It could have been black. The twitter-trending writer had a new girl on his arm. No one would later recollect the name of the girl or of his book. The loud rebel was lecturing to anyone who would listen about the need to turn vegan while drinking something green from a copper bottle he had brought from home. The pretentious woman had a new phone and had learnt to make it ring on command. The poet was in a deep debate on the structure of the ghazal and the subliminal effects of repetition. He was rewriting Shakespearean sonnets as ghazals or so he was proclaiming for the seventeenth time. The reporter had not been invited. Word was his book had not recovered from the reviews it had received from the culture press. A few hands had been shaken, a few backs rubbed and more people and parts cajoled in most agreeable ways to keep him out of the literary circuit. And certainly out of the party of the year. Someone suggested he should run for office.
The hostess rolled another joint for herself and left her house in a big black car that pulled up to the door. It had been a success. Last year had been forgotten. The floor shone. She stared at the onyx ring on the finger. The professor had been laughing in all seriousness the night he had gone down on one painful knee to present it to her.
Flash Fiction #1