Thanks, Leonard Cohen for writing and singing the path-breaking song- ‘Famous Blue Raincoat.’
Thanks, Albert Camus for writing path breaking quotes which shaped Leonard, Jane, and Noor.
A short story by Shashi K.
February 1, 2016
Do you remember the way she used to make a bun of her hair and sit cross-legged on her favourite green couch, working dusk to dawn on her book; she has started doing that again. She has fostered her love for art; isn’t it a sign of love? Your wife is falling in love with me. She is naive and her elegance has touched my soul. She kissed me today when I was leaving for office, the way she used to kiss you two years ago. She was wearing a peach coloured night-suit, and her hair was falling till her shoulder like an opera curtain. Her kiss felt like a benison.
Her eyes are full of glint hunting for gumption. Last week, she told me about her new project in New Delhi. Yes! My killer, you read it right. She is sharing her life with me. I am enlivened by the idea of spending some moments with her in Delhi. Your wife is rising from smut to allure the world with her grin. She is mine now and I never want you to return to our lives. Bury yourself somewhere, cut your feet and be inert, away from us. Your sooty visuals still hound us. We have made our own small world away from you and if you want to see your wife happy, never come back.
Cut your feet!
Paper letters were Leonard’s key to success. Twelve years ago, he ran from his parents’ house and left a paper letter for them. He wanted to become an architect but his parents were pushing him to study medicine. That worked. He was an architect, living in New York at Clinton Street, heading a successful firm which recently designed a Gothic Art House near Central Park. He was enraptured by the idea of creating a Gothic Art House. Art rising from antagonism. Ah! Isn’t it wonderful, so imperfect and hence real. He was a firm believer of individuality, he read Ayn Rand and Plato to heal his soul and hated capitalism. But he sipped Starbucks flat white and erected buildings for corporate houses. That helped him afford the anguish he wished to have. A sadist, an artist, and a true blue lover; Leonard was not a man who a woman would fathom. His ideologies were stuck in multitudes and he thought that he was too big to not to contradict himself. He was successful and that really mattered to the world.
After writing the letter, Leonard kissed Jane who was sleeping next to him. He saw her and imagined her life two years ago, the same night. He wanted to take away the desolation she felt. He wanted to decipher his feeling for her but he is scared of promising the world to her and then breaking the same promise. So, he deviated himself from her, he rarely talked to her but listened to every single word she uttered. He was scared to break her broken heart and so, decided to build an ice wall in their relationship.
Next morning, Jane opened her eyes and realised that Leonard has still not left for the office. She chose to close her eyes again and faked sleeping. She wanted to avoid morning talks, that was too much of an effort for her. Faking a conversation without really talking about what’s veridical, that too right at the start of the day. She decided to stay in bed till the time he left. Leonard entered the room, biting an apple, in his brown business suit. He looked mesmerising, like those corporate tycoons who have everything in place, a well-shaped body with trimmed hair, and a clean-shaven square face. Any women would fall for his blue eyes. He left a note for Jane. The note was a reminder of their flight to New Delhi at 21:00 hours on that day.
After Leonard’s exit, she stretched her body and decided to treat herself to a cup of Davidoff Americano. She sat on her favourite green couch and felt the warmth of the sun coming from the french window slightly covered with yellow curtains. She felt apricity in the lock of her hair. Winters were her afflatus; it enhanced her melancholic gratification. The solitude justified by nature, a world full of delectation and despair. Jane’s art was a reflection of her identity; so the reason she was dormant from past two years but her aesthetic sagacity was burgeoning again.
She pulled out a brown jute bag full of black and white photographs; her attention was stuck to a photograph impersonating a woman watching a cross dresser through a glass window. For her, the photograph was perfect; a woman so liberated, untangled, trying to see what she could never savour. She decided to make that photograph a part of her coffee book table and titled it ‘Ship of Theseus.’ She felt sudden bouts of nostalgia and realised that she forgot to plug-in her black iPod Classic. That was her ritual, every day till dusk she would listen to recorded lectures of her Liberal Arts Professor and work on her book. But today she broke the monotony and decided to pack Leonard’s and her bag for their five days visit to India. Jane was excited: she was invited to conduct a three days workshop on Midnight Photography by Kunzum Travel Cafe in Hauz Khas Village. She forced herself to develop a feeling of gratitude for Leonard, though she knew that Leonard was going with her to meet Cultural Department of New Delhi for a restoration project of his firm – she wanted to believe that Leonard’s only reason to travel was her.
At 6 PM, Jane was ready in her off-white floral knitted dress. She was supposed to pick Leonard from his office and go to the airport directly. Jane looked through the window and saw the taxi waiting for her arrival. Jane managed to pull down three suitcases all by herself and sat in the yellow striped taxi. After a while, she looked outside the car window and spotted the Gothic Art House which Leonard had designed: she felt lucky to have him in her life but after a moment, she felt something sinking in her gut. She plugged in her iPod and started listening to her favourite song ‘The Famous Blue Raincoat’ in loop.
Sipping a glass of his favourite Sauvignon Blanc in the business class of Emirates, Leonard read the letter he wrote last night. He was feeling a heavy cloud in his head. He wanted to post the letter to the recipient, in Rome, before boarding the flight. Jane was reading her favourite book, ‘The Golden Notebook’ by Doris Lessing, sitting beside him. Leonard wanted to hug Jane but the letter in his pocket stopped him. His consciousness was not allowing his body to indulge in her beauty. His soul was wrenched. Leonard finished his glass of wine, greeted Jane, and slept to open his eyes at Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi.
Though Jane researched about the weather of New Delhi before packing her suitcase, she felt she should have packed more woolens. Sitting on the balcony of Hotel Sheraton, she was looking at Leonard who was interacting with a FedEx pick-up executive. She was wondering why Leonard wanted to courier something so urgently to Rome. She wanted to ask Leonard but expected an answer without showing her inquisitiveness. She decided to give a miss to these thoughts and started getting ready for her meeting with the proprietor of Kunzum Cafe; the meeting was scheduled at 11 pm at Hauz Khas Village. Jane decided to wear her favourite red blazer with a white linen undershirt and a blue denim. While waiting for a taxi, she grabbed her DSLR and started taking photographs of random objects in the room. Leonard hugged and kissed her neck from behind, she was slightly hesitant to reciprocate and turned towards Leonard.
“How am I looking?” She asked consciously.
Leonard was confused. She had never asked such questions before.
He unlocked her hair and replied “Liberated.”
Jane felt gumption. She wanted to tell Leonard how nervous she was. The last time she had had addressed a gathering of more than five people was during her masters’ thesis, five years back. She found it difficult to step into the ‘whoops and blahs’ of civilisation again. Perhaps, she was sure that Leonard would not understand the worded version of her feelings. She boarded the taxi sent by the cafe proprietor, plugged in her iPod and started listening to her favourite song ‘The Famous Blue Raincoat’ in loop.
Contrary to what she was told, Delhi seemed to be a safe place. She reached the cafe at midnight. Before stepping inside the cafe, a graffiti on an adjacent wall caught her attention. It was a fervent human face showing different emotions if seen from different angles; the moonlight was beaming on the eyes of the giant face. She was impressed by the art. It was her moment in the moonlight. She took her camera and positioned herself to capture the shadow of moonlight cutting across the graffiti. It was alluring, a face of human emotions, half enlightened, half doomed. So imperfect yet / and so real, she thought. After couple of clicks, she was welcomed inside the Cafe by its proprietor.
The place had a character of its own, Jane felt amiable to that placeFragrance of brewing coffee, travelogues, books, walls full of photographs, and tables full of exquisite random objects. It was the kind of place where a person can sit for hours and be pensive.
The concept of the cafe was simple yet unique; travellers from all around the world would visit and write their travel experiences on handmade merchandised papers. There was no price menu, every visitor was welcomed with a brewing cup of black coffee and Italian biscotti; while leaving the place, visitors were free to put any amount of money into a small box as a token of gratitude. The cafe housed photographs shot by travellers and sold them to raise fund. Often, the cafe indulged in storytelling sessions and photography workshops. Though Jane was not alien to the concept of cafes, she felt galvanised after reading memoirs by travellers; the idea of leaving your experiences in perpetuity, in a land far away from yours. It was like a flow of energy from one source to another; an impeccable feeling of solidarity. Leaving a part of your life for others to read, without any fear of judgement or question.
Jane was then introduced to the participants of the workshop. The workshop focused on taking natural photographs in the moonlight. There were around twelve people from different age groups. Jane greeted everyone and introduced herself as an artist from New York willing to learn from this experience. She felt confident while conversing with them. In a land far from hers, she found people of her breed. Without interacting much, she requested everyone to step out of the cafe and click a photograph of the graffiti. She was looking for answers to her inquisitiveness about human variabilities on one tangible constant. She was trying to understand them through their interpretation of that graffiti.
From a distance, she was analysing participants, all of them occupying a different space and clicking photographs of that graffiti. After a while, she spotted a boy who was standing away from the crowd and positioning his camera to a different wall which had nothing but an impression of bricks on it.
She stepped towards him, touched his back and said
“Hey! The graffiti is right behind you.”
“Wish I would have never made it on that wall, the vision of this graffiti profounds my existential crisis. That wall is inappropriate for the mood of this graffiti,” responded a tall athletic boy with long messy hair. He was wearing a white linen Kurta with blue denim paired with leather sandals.
Jane was taken aback by his answer: the artist of the graffiti disapproving his masterpiece.
“Why.” asked Jane.
“Because that wall harbours moonlight,” he replied restoring his position.
“Your art has nature’s approval,” she replied.
“The weak looks for approval, the only inquietude I shall savour is to lose myself; my art is my reflection,” he smirked.
“Inquietude… do people of your age use this word to converse?”
“Yes! Seldom to impress a woman like you.” He smiled.
“To cut the slack, I am Noor, 19 years old, studying English (Honours) and currently mesmerised by your presence in this moonlight.”
“Be cautious of moonlights in winters. It often gives a false phantasm to artists.” she replied and left the space to attend others.
February 3, 2016
By every letter I send, it makes me feel that I am pushing you away from our lives. I know you must be buried by your sins now, but why are you still in my psyche. I am in India with her, she has gone for her midnight photography project. I am sure her talent will be seen by the world soon but I am scared, scared of her being famous and do the same mistake which you did to her. I am not insecure but, vengeance is alluring. I don’t want to lose her. Your shadow shall not fall on our budding relationship. Today, while leaving for the café, she craved for my opinion on her appearance. She has never asked for approvals like this before. Things are changing now. She is into arts again. She has started smiling. She looked mesmerising in the red blazer, which you gifted her on your wedding anniversary. My killer… your wife will be mine soon.
I am sure in these five days I will be able to win her back and we will be happier than what you both were. I don’t want to rush and break the ice wall between us, but when this ice will melt, I am sure there will be an impeccable love between me and your wife.
Cut your feet!
Next morning, Leonard was hustling to attend his meeting with the Cultural Department of Delhi. Jane was still in bed, fast asleep. She was wearing a white night-suit and her hair was tied up with a purple ruffle. Leonard leant towards her, opened the lock of hair and kissed her forehead. He left a note proposing to meet for lunch at Lodhi Gardens. He left for his work with a hope of getting a reply from Jane.
After thinking about Leonard’s proposal, Jane left him a voicemail, accepting his proposal. She dialled 400 and requested the hotel reception for a drop at Lodhi Gardens in four hours. She plugged in her iPod and began listening to lecture number four of her Liberal Art Professor. The podcast discussed the concept of ‘liberation.’ The lecture was Jane’s favourite. Her professor explained ‘liberation’ as a concept of freeing oneself from any bondage without any fear of self-consciousness and installed morality. The professor based his lecture on the hypothesis that the concept of liberation cannot exist without individuality. Jane was left astray. Her nerves were twitching with a moment of existential crisis. She thought she was liberated and that she could move across continents to discuss her form of art, but then she wondered if liberation requires a constant effort. The fear she buried within her was rising again. Was she liberated with Leonard? Even though they were living together, she had to make a continuous effort, every day, to fit a square peg into a square hole. She contemplated if the efforts she was making would ultimately liberate her. But, what if this process takes a lifetime? She might spend her whole life in making efforts to fit in with Leonard. Jane paused the lecture and decided to let the thought pass by.
It was a typical winter afternoon, Jane and Leonard were sitting in an open space across a brown wooden table. Leonard was in his black corporate suit and a white shirt with a loosely knotted blue tie. Jane was wearing a red frock with a waist belt and black bellies. Her hair was open, complementing her shoulder blades. Jane ordered Gnocchi in pesto sauce with a glass of Chardonnay. While eating the last portion of her meal, Jane looked into Leonard’s eyes; he reciprocated with a smile. Jane felt it is the right time to ask Leonard.
“Are you happy with me, Leonard?” asked Jane.
Leonard started fidgeting with his mobile phone. He was scared of making conversations on emotional tangents. He was insecure as he thought that these conversations would end up drifting them apart. He was not sure how to tackle these confabs.
“Ofcourse… My happiness is yours; I am happy with you if you are happy with me.” replied Leonard, his hands sweating making him appear nervous.
Jane was not comfortable with Leonard’s reply. While going back to the hotel in a taxi, she wondered how could Leonard risk his individuality over her happiness? Was it possible for any man to be happy only by the idea of others happiness?
She looked outside, the day was dusking. Her car stopped at a traffic light, she saw a street dweller struggling to pull down a flex banner from a wall. He was trying to pull it down, holding a stick in his hand. The moment he dragged the banner down, he rushed to his street-dwelling. He lifted the infant who was sleeping naked on the street and placed the four-folded banner between the infant and the ground. The women sitting next to him smiled. They seemed to be happy.
The light turned green, the car rushed to reach Hotel Sheraton…
The charm of old Delhi in midnight was mysterious. Jane was thrilled to see the diversity of the city, the cultural monuments: a modern city with traditional values. She was conducting her workshop at Delhi-6. Noor was wearing a grey cardigan on a blue knee-length kurta. For some strange reason, he was smoking cigarettes like a chimney that night. He shifted the fuming cigarette in his lips and grabbed the camera. He took a photograph of Jane who was looking into her camera, with the tomb of Jama Masjid in the background.
“Hey Jane! Have a look at this one” Noor shouted from a distance. Jane saw her photograph and felt weird, she was not looking her usual; it was not elegant yet not ugly. It was raw.
“I don’t know what made you click this picture.” responded Jane in a snappy tone.
“Never seek reasons in art, let the art be random and artist be abstract.” replied Noor releasing fume from his mouth.
“Well! Albert Camus said, ‘Abstract does not liberate, it binds.’” said Jane, taking few steps back.
“Aha! You caught me! I am a Camus-maniac. Well, if you ask me to give a caption to this photograph, it would be a quote by Albert Camus.” Noor replied in an excited tone.
“Interesting! Which one?”
“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”
Jane had nothing to reply. She was pensive and wondered why Noor, who hardly knew her, made such a strong statement about her individuality. She was disturbed but was unable to deny what he had uttered.
“You seem to be high on philosophy. Just to remind you, Camus also said ‘To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others,” replied Jane smilingly.
“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” Noor replied referring to another quote by Albert Camus.
“A cup of Coffee, Mr Camus.” Jane laughed.
“I always wanted to discuss Albert Camus’s philosophy with someone like you…”
“This sounds strange to me, but I am actually impressed by your proposal,” Jane replied without taking a second.
“Your place or mine?” asked Noor
“Coffee should be black and place should be nearby.” Jane smiled.
That was Jane’s quickest and quirkiest decision ever. She felt something strange as if she had found a part of herself which was strategically dormant. The mere idea of bibliophilic conversations with a stranger excited her. She thought it is a risk worth taking. She left a text to Leonard saying that she would return by 6 AM and sat in the front seat of Noor’s red Polo.
Noor was living alone, or perhaps with literature. His room was full of books ranging from Salman Rushdie, Dona Tart, Murakami, Jack Kerouac, and many others. He lifted the laundry from a wooden rolling chair making space for Jane to sit. It was a small room with clean walls and a huge rack full of books, arranged alphabetically. By the time Jane glanced through his collection of books, Noor was ready with two cups of Americano and then there were conversations. Jane sat on the rolling chair and Noor on a red cushion lying on the floor. Two souls indulging in wits of philosophy, layering down the meaning of existence and linking it to individuality, and liberation. The room was echoing Albert Camus’s quotes. There were discussions, contradictions, interpretations, but never a dull moment. Quotes like ‘Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre’ were repeatedly used in the discussion with no agenda to achieve. Perhaps, there were a few more references before Noor rolled a joint and offered it to Jane. Jane, without any second thought, smoked it in and they resumed their conversation. The conversation was real, without any weight on their souls. They conversed till dawn but never for a moment did they discussed their personal lives. Two individuals, conversing about their common muse, without any judgement or conclusion. A conversation which rarely found any relevance in their monotony was the recurring motif of that moment.
It was 6 AM and Noor dropped Jane at the entrance of Sheraton. Jane smiled and hugged Noor. She walked away from Noor and then turned back to thank him. Noor was confused. He saw a bewildered spark in Jane’s eyes. It was gumption. She seemed free; if not free, then liberated. Noor sat in his car and drove back to his dwelling.
Jane entered her hotel room to find Leonard in deep sleep. She sat beside him and kissed his forehead. She took out a piece of paper and started scribbling on it with her black eyeliner.
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
Leonard Cohen, I am freeing you and me from the guilt you carried for two years.
February 8, 2016
It is your guilt which killed your relationship with my wife. She has left you because your guilt was caging her identity. She pardoned what I did to her, but it’s you who carried my guilt. How can a woman survive with a man who lacks conviction? You got an opportunity to keep Jane happy but you spoilt it by getting into this vicious circle of guilt. Yes, I fell for the moment two years ago and slept with a 15-year-old girl in Rome. She was beautiful, and I was blind. I was unable to bear the guilt and confessed it to her. February 1, 2014, she cried, wept, and was broken. But she reconstructed her identity and decided to continue her life with you but you never left me behind; you dragged me along. The same night you decided to start your life afresh… and you started afresh but by harbouring an alter-ego within yourself. When you decided to move ahead with life with Jane, you should have gone alone; but you dragged me, your past, along in the form of an alter-ego. Lest she knows that I am nothing but a manifestation of you. You were haunted by your past; you were haunted by me, and hence were always scared to love her again. You were too scared to break the ice wall in your relationship because that ice wall shielded your guilt. This is my first and the last letter to you and it’s time for you to stop sending letters. It’s time for Leonard Cohen to shed us and sleep.
Amoolya Jain: Thanks for proof-reading the story, we are glad to have a grammar-nazi on-board!