The United States of America

T
he guests burst in an eye-watering laughter. I do not now remember the capital joke that my father had thrown at them. I was only a mere boy then. All I remember of that meeting at our home, is that they had talked of the ‘glorious’ son of one of their distant relatives who was working in the United States. The presence of one such person in the family was celebrated as if a medal of honour had been bestowed upon them. In average families such was the case back then and perhaps is, even now, in India.

As a child, I knew nothing about America and had just gathered that it is the greatest nation on earth, on the news, in the papers and books, from ordinary men and wild imagination. I knew not of the American Civil War, nor of any of the scientific discoveries to a great extent, history of feminism nor the role of United States in the World Wars, its position as arguably the leader of all nations since mid 20th century. I hardly knew anything about the history of my own country why ought I care about a foreign nation’s?

But the spark I saw in my father’s eyes on the bare mention of this country that day made me resolve that I too one day must set foot upon this hallowed ground, the land of dreams. I too shall be a badge that my family proudly wears when they’re meeting other families. I too shall be the envy of someone else’s father.

United States is a mother with a billion teats. It nourishes her own children, children that have come to her from distant and foreign lands, and stops not there, but sees to it that poor children who do not even have strength to beg for alms receive vaccines, food packages and monetary help. It amazes me how people take its largesse for granted. What is it that obliges this country of abundance to share in its wealth and superior knowledge of trade and science? Despite leading the world in all spheres, it sits not quietly and complacently, but continuously harshly critiques itself and evolves. Such thoughts swirled in my mind as I headed towards a Mexican restaurant for lunch.

Two policemen sitting within the restaurant were muttering their complaints against the current government in low voices but their words didn’t escape my ears. The xenophobic and jingoistic wave, the conservative force inhibiting progress and fueling superstitions and conspiracy theories, the backward stance on climate issue, plain buffoonery and open threats in the stead of fine oratory, the prevalent greediness crossing lines posing danger to human lives; all such problems plague this great eagle today to a larger degree, which I formerly thought it was not susceptible to due to the presence of an intelligent populace. It wouldn’t be for the first time though that humanity is being pinched at places by regressive mindsets and it wouldn’t be the last. We must be patient. Whether the silence of the sea or the noise of the storm both must commence and both must come to an end. All the chaos I read in the papers these days bring to my mind an old aphorism printed on the door of my grandma’s house: “Truth can surely and easily be harassed, but can never be defeated.

© The Flowers of Art

 

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The Borrowed Son

 

Only gods, sages and monsters can escape the flames of attachment.

Bitter moments make you take decisions that you regret for a long time to come. In one such furious moment some years ago, he had decided not to play the guitar anymore. A childish and impulsive resolve, that he had to melt down five years later, now that her memories didn’t haunt him anymore and he didn’t care a fig what became of her.

Why did he have to make a sacrifice of music you ask? Because it is something that helps make a person become more sensitive; it leads to the weakening of the heart, fills him with foolish hopes, urges him to find innocence in others. It makes an idiot of him who day dreams. But it is this bundle of emotions though that separates the red-hearted from the blue ones. It brings a spring in our step, lets us see the bright color in the beautiful petals of sunflowers, sense the freshness of a fellow passerby, who probably had an hour ago taken a long bath, leads us to ride on the swings of intense passion, and see a gentle heart in a woman. Music is the alcohol of emotion and therefore he had resolved to abstain from it.

Moving in with two new mates in the month of September, he found out that one of them owned a handsome guitar. The moment he picked it up to play an old tune, strumming the strings gently downwards, playing the G chord, he felt as if the veins in his heart had twitched a bit. All the frost in his chest now started disappearing, as the warmth of music once again reached his cold heart. He latched himself onto Classic Rock and in the next months ended up learning many popular licks of The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Oh the joy you get when you are singing and playing the instrument, when time comes to a standstill and you for that period are in a dimension of bliss. He grew so much attached to this musical piece of wizardry during the winter, that by the end of it he started feeling as if it were his own; like a neighbour’s child who comes to talk to you and requests to play with you often, because he finds too much comfort and joy in your company, in your playful jokes, and your stories, here and there containing nuggets of history. You on the other hand grow ever so more attached to him forgetting he is not your child by blood.

One evening he was having his dinner in the hall, watching his flat-mate play Hotel California on it. His feet were going slightly up an down in response to the riff without his realizing it. What he did sense though as the music stopped, was that the guitar was about to fall down. It was because his friend after playing it, had not kept it in a proper upright position against the wall. It was sliding down with every passing second. Though it were not his guitar, like a mother bird who rushes in flight to catch the hatchling that has fallen down from the nest in mid-air, he almost flew to save the guitar from falling down, before he or his friend could understand what had happened. It was an instinctive reaction. There wasn’t even a doubt as to which would have hurt him more – a scratch on the guitar or a bruise on his knee.

It was time to move on. It had been two months since he had injured his knee. He had found a job in a new city for which he had to wait for a long time. He packed up everything and stuffed it all in his three heavy bags and ensured that he hadn’t left behind anything. He stared at the empty room for a minute. It seemed so spacious, now that not an article was left in it. Sunlight entered through the window and though it was a bright, sunny day, he couldn’t help but feel gloomy leaving his cave and this city of snow behind, forever. Night before his last day in the house, he had especially asked his friend to keep the guitar out of sight in the morning. He jokingly threatened that he’d steal it otherwise and run away with it. His friend, with a smile on his face reading pain in his joke assured him that he won’t find it anywhere the next morning. Now he went downstairs without looking back in the hall, went out the front door, headed straight for the cab he had ordered a few minutes ago. Seated in the car, he plugged in his earphones and turned on In My Life by The Beatles to get lost in the memories he had created here.

© The Flowers of Art

 

The Altruist

 

As the vapours of warm coffee entered my nostrils, I finally found my morning. We had just stopped at a coffee shop to take a break this beautiful winter day on the rise. The sun finally had gotten fed up of the hide and seek game with the clouds and gave us the first positive temperatures in weeks. Snow had started thawing and green had started replacing white everywhere again.

We were coming back from the Department of Motor Vehicle’s office where I had taken a test to get a driving permit. I was travelling with two men: a dependable friend of mine and a friend of this friend whom we fondly called “dai” (which in the Nepali language means elder brother). Dai had graciously accepted my request to drive me to the office which if I had taken an Uber to go to, would have considerably lightened my pockets. I’m not a scrooge but special circumstances demanded me to be one.

The smell of the coffee, the sound of engines starting outside, a light chatter in the shop, I suddenly found myself amidst a monologue in disguise of a conversation. Dai was speaking at length about his own life as a drunk would, late at night intoxicated with too much liquor. I found the common man’s lament against old life, dear life in his diatribe. I like listening to people. Unlike others who would order their synapses not to process a word they intake in such cases, I believe in patiently listening to others for I knew this that, many writers employ this technique of scavenging from the ordinary talk for valuables and succeeding in finding a gem or two. And besides, least I could do was listen to the man and pay for the coffee for us all in gratitude for their help.

My thoughts resonated with his when he talked of how it saddened him to see malevolence in the feelings of some of his friends towards him despite his having none towards them. How he was seen as meat to gorge on by his selfish connexions. But to not help the needy would have been against his nature. He then talked of how he was struck by severe depression for many months and had become peevish when he first arrived in the States. Nothing made sense here: the climate, the people, the strange solitude, the traffic rules. A man falling from the sky accelerates more speedily every second in his fall and the very same could be said of despondency. There is nothing to hold onto.

“A man may become richer when he is here than when he was back in his native country but somehow he ends up feeling himself to be of a lesser value here.” I nodded my head in acknowledgement but disagreed with him to a great extent in my mind on this. Nevertheless, the birth of his daughter he said brought back the sunshine to beat this many months of long, terrible winter of lethargy, querulousness and sorrow. His own flesh in another body had become the cane to help him walk again.

There are transformations in humans over time that are quite astonishing to watch. A troubled mind either perishes against the strong tide of the merciless world or sees himself become either a kind heart so as not to let another soul suffer in the same way or a cold heart that helps sustain the aforementioned tide. I was glad to know dai had turned into the former as per his own account of his life. It reflected in the air around him and my own observations confirmed the same. Who was I to him? Yet here he was happy to help me on account of my dear friend.

© The Flowers of Art