Saturday, July 23, 2005

The monologue in the ice cream parlour

It was hot in Alibag and I was feverish. So feverishly I set about to find an establishment with an air conitioner or a big enough meat freezer for me to rest my feverish self in. Maddeningly, there wasn't a single air conditioner I saw. Most were tantalisingly close (on the first floor) and turned the wrong way around. But there were ice cream shops. Or shoppes. So I found a cool enough one and ordered a large ice cream. Just then, someone tapped my shoulder.

"Good morning sir," said a well-turned out man with shiny hair neatly parted down the center, at 3:35pm. With a flourish he pulled out a box of sweets and indicated that I should help myself. Wondering why I was doing so, I did so. With a warm smile he withdrew from the shoppe,down the street, and out of sight. Too hot to be anywhere else, I read a book below the fan. Outside, the town had begun to wake up from its siesta and take its place behind the counters of grocery stores. A gang of weekenders appeared and cussed their way through the flavours menu until they were satisfied. Appeased, they licked their ice creams silently in a corner. This quiet was preferable for reading, so I reopened my Pankaj Mishra book.

"What do they think?" came a roar from somewhere just above me, a foot away and, going by the spittle bubbling and bursting on the pages of my book, directed at me. It was not a question. Not that kind that could be answered, anyway. Slowly, with every fevered neck muscle straining, I looked up to see the friendly sweet-man had come to collect his due. His arm, violent in its rigidity, stretched outwards, pointing toward a shrub outside the shop. He spoke with a vehemence that was rousing, hypnotic, and barely sensible. His eyes, black with (Fury? Humour? Angst? Calculation?)...(perhaps they were just black)... in any case, he held my gaze, and only when he blinked did I look elsewhere for help, first to the shop keeper and then to the group, who were admittely licking their ice cream very slowly with eyes wide open. He kept talking, shouting, motioning and thrusting his body at someone who wasn't there, and had he been there his quota of lives would have been up. He offered me a jack knife first and later a sword to help cut open the gangsters (there was a sizeable underworld involvement), and then he offered to do it all himself; land was stolen; it involved chipped plaster and moisture in the paint. It was a great monologue, fearless in its intent, unpredictable, and utterly physical so there were no questions about the violence involved. Not a word was spoken by anyone else.

And then, having reached a pitch that stopped passersby, he stopped. His eyes were wet. No one asked a question, no one said a thing. His shoulders fell, and he turned around and slowly walked through the path left vacant by the crowd outside. The departure left a doubting silence. The watchers turned to one another and then slowly dispersed. Madness would have been an easy diagnosis, but a good monologue can be convincing.


Anonymous said...

What? A madman offers you sweets and you eat them? Just like that? without a hint of suspicion? Without asking him or anyone else? what if he had put the HIV in it?

Rahul Bhatia said...

After he left I chucked it into a bin.

HIV in mithai? How does it taste?

hemangini said...

Probably sour?

I had a lot to say too about "accepting sweets from strangers" but figured the list had become long enough.

Rahul Bhatia said...

We're missing the point here. Accepting sweets is alright, but eating them is another matter.