Saturday, May 22, 2010

From Life and Times of Michael K by J M Coetzee: the end

He is like a stone, a pebble that, having lain around quietly minding its own business since the dawn of time, is now suddenly picked up and tossed randomly from hand to hand. A hard little stone, barely aware of its surroundings, enveloped in itself and its interior life. He passes through these institutions and camps and hospitals and God knows what else like a stone. Through the intestines of the war. An unbearing, unborn creature. I cannot really think of him as a man, though he is older than me by most reckonings....

...He could not sleep. Against his will the memory returned of the casque of silver hair bent over him and the grunting of the girl as she laboured on him. I have become an object of charity, he thought. Everywhere I go there are people waiting to exercise their forms of charity on me. All these years, and I still carry the look of an orphan. They treat me like the children of the prison camp, whom they were prepared to feed because they were still too young to be guilty of anything. From the children they expected only a stammer of thanks in return. From me they want more because I have been in the world longer. They want me to open my heart and tell them the story of a life lived in cages. They want to hear about all the cages I have lived in, as if I were a white mouse or a monkey. And if I had learned storytelling in primary school instead of potato-peeling and sums, if they had made me practise the story of my life every day, standing over me with a cane till I could perform without stumbling, I might have known how to please them. I would have told the story of a life passed in prisons where I stood day after day, year after year with my forehead pressed to the wire, gazing into the distance, dreaming of experiences I would never have, and where the guards called me names and kicked my backside and sent me off to scrub the floor. When my story was finished, people would have shaken their heads and been sorry and angry and plied me with food and drink; women would have taken me into their beds and mothered me in the dark. Whereas the truth is that I have been a gardener, first for the Council, later for myself, and gardeners spend their time with their noses to the ground. In fact, I am more like an earthworm. Which is also a kind of gardener. Or a mole, also a gardener, that does not tell stories because it lives in silence....

...And if some old man looked at where the pump had been that the soldiers had blown up so that nothing should be left standing, and complained, saying, 'What are we going to do about water?,' he, Michael K, would produce a teaspoon from his pocket, a teaspoon and a long roll of string. He would clear the rubble from the mouth of the shaft, he would bend the handle of the teaspoon in a loop and tie the string to it, he would lower it down the shaft deep into the earth, and when he brought it up there would be water in the bowl of the spoon; and in that way, he would say, one can live.


Saturday, April 17, 2010


"Is there anything else you would like to tell me?" asked Dr. Mary.

"Our office is on the platform facing the tracks. We shifted to this one a few months back. There is a glass window between our desk and the platform. Its a one-way see-through tinted glass; so, we can see the passers-by on the station but nobody can see us. Most travellers used the glass pane as a mirror to see themselves. When John had joined the office, he used to get startled by the sight of the onlookers but with time, like all of us, he got used to it. And recently, he even started gazing back at them. I just remembered this because when I saw his picture in the newspaper, the staring eyes reminded me of how he used to stare at the travellers. He was a gentle, reticent and good man."


"How is Rita, Dr. Mary?"
"She is doing well. I have succeeded, after a long time, in making her write. She has kept a diary and every now and then she writes about her past."


He never spoke much. He had a rigid routine and his needs almost never changed. After so many years of living together, it had become completely unnecessary for us to talk. I knew what he wanted at any given second of the day. He seemed content with his life. He never made any attempts to improve it and never complained. He had no friends.

The stares began a few months back. I woke up one day to see him sitting beside me and staring intensely at me. I was completely shaken. It was an icy cold lifeless stare. I shrunk away from him and got out of bed. His eyes didn't move, he didn't budge. I slowly walked to him and shook him. He looked at me, smiled like nothing unusual had happened. I asked him what the matter was and he just said "I was lost in thought."

Then slowly it felt as though he became completely oblivious to his surroundings. He began staring at people as though they didn't exist. When my friends visited us, he would not notice them entering or hugging me and even after they sat down around us, he would be mute and staring at the wall or at the door. He had to be shaken out of his morbid reverie.

So many times, I spoke to him for five or ten minutes thinking he was there talking to me, but he was not. Only after he was shaken and explicitly told that I was talking to him, would he listen and participate.

He looked stoned (he wasn't). He only drank a little and perhaps it was only then that he was merrier than usual. When I asked him about it, he said he didn't feel any change in himself. It was as though people around him had stopped existing for him and he had to be consciously made aware of the fact. Movement, sounds, smells - nothing could reach him any more.

I couldn't stand the eerie transformation. He was a dead body, a zombie. He was inert, motionless. And his eyes, that vacant stare was the gaze of death. It had an unchallengeable, callous stillness that chilled my bones every time I saw him.


Rita Anthony, a 45 year old woman was found sobbing in a pool of blood in her house at 34, Lessing Gardens, this morning. Beside her was the hacked body of her husband, John Anthony, an officer at the local Railway Station. Her neighbours had heard her screams early in the morning and informed the police. The police forced the door open to enter the house. Rita surrendered herself willingly and when questioned, said "Yes, I cut him into five pieces with that", pointing at the axe that was found beside the dead body. When asked for the reason, she said "I couldn't stand him any more." She refused to speak further and has been silent and morose. Sergeant Edward King and Dr. Mary Thomas have been assigned to the case and Mrs. Anthony is in solitary confinement at the Sherwood Psychiatric Centre.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

from 'Istanbul' by Orhan Pamuk

I love the early evenings when autumn is slipping into winter, when the leafless trees are trembling in the north wind and people in black coats and jackets are rushing home through the darkening streets. I love the overwhelming melancholy when I look at the walls of old apartment buildings and the dark surfaces of neglected, unpainted, fallen-down wooden mansions...When I watch the black-and-white crowds rushing through the darkening streets on a winter's evening, I feel a deep sense of fellowship, almost as if the night has cloaked our lives, our streets, our every belonging in a blanket of I watch dusk descend like a poem in the pale light of the streetlamps to engulf the city's poor neighbourhoods... night fell over the city it would erase the third dimension from the houses and the trees, the summer cinemas, balconies, and open windows, endowing the city's crooked buildings, twisting streets and rolling hills with a dark elegance.

To see the city in black and white is to see it through the tarnish of history: the patina of what is old and faded and no longer matters to the rest of the world. Even the greatest Ottoman architecture has a humble simplicity that suggests an end-of-empire melancholy, a pained submission to the diminishing European gaze and to an ancient poverty that must be endured like an incurable disease; it is resignation that nourishes Istanbul's inward-looking soul.


Sunday, January 24, 2010


Darkness has spared a keyhole, a jagged circle of light.
The peeping light touches the wood around the hole.
The darkness carves dusty wooden grooves around the keyhole.
The light is blocked. An eye appears.
Light struggles to enter the keyhole from around the eye.
A brown circle, black dilated pupil within, jelly white surrounding - moist and alert.
The eyelids blink: long, rich black, feathery lashes cross each other and return.
The black ball floating in the white sea squeezes itself quickly into the left end of the eye.
An orangish red appears at the right bottom and disappears.
Sight floats back to the right end and returns.
Blink. Stare. Hear the darkness. When will it strike?


Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Speaking Tree

My restless, jittery mind has picked up several distractions in the last few hours in vain.
I have tried and discarded most of man's toys available to me.
What remains is pain, listlessness, a stark desolation.

The covers of several books stare at me from my table.
One shows a tree, its long ramified branches shorn of all leaves.
It stands in dark desperation braving the onslaught of a powdery wind.
The wind wears a blanket of snow and marauds the land.
It shows a shadowy glimpse of other trees far away,
'Are we rooted so deep that we can never come together?,' I hear the tree speak in my hallucination.
The land ahead is white but not white enough to conceal the withering decay of its soul.

The inertia of my moribund existence is terrible.
I look and I do not want to see.
I hear and I do not want to listen.
I think and I do not want to live.
My memories and my dreams meet, clash and destroy each other.
There is nothing behind and nothing beyond.
The weary, frightening path that joins the past to the future wants to fall apart but goes on and on.
'O spring, O sun, where are you?'


Friday, February 27, 2009


Meetings greedily sought
Few and far apart
You linger in between
Wistfully caressed in thought

In moments filled with fear
With hopes and dreams and tears
I look for you in vain
And revive you from memory lanes

You touch me with your voice
An absurd reality fades
A glimpse of the enchanting smile
Carries me through another day


Tuesday, January 06, 2009


M. walked out of the university and looked wistfully at the large gate. He had taught there for 40 years and had retired the previous day. He planned to leave the city to spend the rest of his days in the warm, anonymous solitude of a sea-side town.

That day he decided to take a last walk around the city. An hour later he found himself, inadvertently, on the road he had carefully avoided for the last three decades. His eyes leaped to the small white house surrounded by a well-maintained garden. Painful memories that had been suppressed forever rose from rusty corners of his mind.

He saw Lila, 30 years back, with a tuft of hair falling over her forehead, her slender limbs flitting around her careless gait....When their eyes had smiled at each other, he knew that his love for her was deeper than anything he had felt before. He was incomplete without her and why was that so obvious to him when he held her hands....He saw himself kissing her and still remembered the strange feeling he had had after - that everything in his life before that moment had been a mistake. The life they both yearned for lay in each others' arms and everything else felt absurd.

Flashes from the past flew around in his mind threading the story of their lives. He froze for a moment when he saw himself so clearly that night, long long ago. The stars seemed to twinkle despondently between the passing clouds that were being pushed by a pleasantly chill wind.
Lila: I have to go back now.
M: How can we live like this without each other Lila?
Lila: I have to leave him. I have no other choice. I feel very sad for him, he has been so good to me. But he has to understand what I feel for you.

M. saw himself, the very next day, staring at the small painting of a child hanging on the hospital wall. He could have painted that picture himself even today for he had stared at it for so long. Lila was beside him in tears. She was narrating, fitfully, the events of the previous night.
...they called me and asked if I was his wife....he is paralyzed....he may be able to speak and think....
M. was silent and was looking at the painting gravely. Lila began sobbing.
....he was not fully conscious last night....he held my hand and said don't leave me Lila....

M. heard a creaking sound and quickly hid himself behind a tree. He saw a wheelchair emerging from the door and wrinkled hands that were intimately familiar. He turned his face away and walked back.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

from White Fang by Jack London

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean towards each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness - a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Many fall

With a strident yell, I fell off the edge of a cliff and felt my heart thumping out of control as the air pushed me, with increasing anger, miles downward into a thick darkness.

My eyes were closed and limbs were outstretched on what felt like curved surfaces. My head, turned to a side, was flattened against a sphere. My eyelids shivered and opened a little and shut again. Consciousness was around me, not inside and was about to leave but it felt like I woke up too soon, caught it by its trailing strings and was swallowing it back into myself. I became aware of my body in parts. My arms and legs appeared slowly. I could see that I could see again. It was white all around, everything was still.

Sight and movement felt novel, exciting. For a long time I just moved and observed my fingers and toes and all the joints of my body. I looked around and found gigantic white spheres all around and found myself in the gap between six spheres - two above, two below, one ahead and another behind. There was space between the spheres for me to walk - as though a path had been created. My mind was completely blank. I had no thoughts, no memories, no knowledge. Feelings - strange and new - were emerging.

I began moving in the world of spheres. Each touch felt the same curvature, the same glassiness of the surface and the same bright white rays from every sphere. I was walking on spheres and the path went on endlessly, jumping from sphere to sphere always finding more on every side.

After a while I saw a blurred image in the white light. I strained my eyes to see clearly. Bit by bit, the image grew to completion - large and alive. The creamy white light carved out the image of single female breast. Above the breast was a big, uneven forehead of a woman. A man was making love to the breast and the forehead. I went closer and saw the man from behind. The breast was as big as the man and the man was lying over the breast and kissing the forehead. I went closer and bumped into the surface of a sphere. I realized that the man, the forehead and the breast were inside the sphere.

I moved away and saw that inside each sphere there was an image occupying the entire sphere. The whiteness of the spheres all around were getting replaced by the colors inside. A bright red sphere drew me closer to itself. I saw a small black oval bud that had not yet blossomed. A swarm of bees was hovering around the bud trying to open the flower. The swarm formed a cylindrical shape and started attacking the bud like one single log of wood. Fresh red blood, dripping from every bee, had filled the sphere.

These sights were pure images and I could not identify what I saw with any system of concepts or language. I didn't know what I was seeing - I just knew that I could see. My mind was slowly buzzing into a state of convoluted activity. Images dug up memories and sounds. I started uttering sounds, meaningless sounds. I was still staring at the trickling redness when I uttered "beeeeeee..." and the sound of 'e' revolved around the spheres and kept hitting me as the bees were rhythmically trying to force into the bud. A vague, rusty associative memory between the image and the sound I just uttered was forming.

Every image was different and yet every image was inherently spherical. The world filled with so many different colors and objects seemed to have just one shape when touched: what I felt with my hands was just a spherical glassiness everywhere.

I walked ahead and saw more and more large images within spheres - a tuft of black hair dropping to one side with a few white strands, the legs of a farmer ploughing a barren desert, waves of the sea lapping the striped back of a woman, a glowing yellow sun setting itself behind a razor's edge, nimble fingers caressing a pair of hands, a small dark umbra of darkness and a penumbra filled with skin stretch marks, lips locked into each other kissing and starving and putrefying into a pink gangrene, a window of a bus intermittently flashing lights on an enchanted face, a slimy snail shaped like a human ear in orgasms of joy, foam filled hands scrubbing and laughing, a spine tickled into jerky movements, a mouth being fed pages of a novel, large eyes surrounded by blackness and filled with tears, two shadows walking in circles around the moon, blind eyes absorbing endless expanses of throbbing skin......

Words were rushing into my head and I was yelling them out in a nonsensical stream of babble. I ran between the images and yelled "haaaaaaaaair", "leeeeeegs", "feeeeengers", "peeeeeenk",... stretching out the vowels and reveling in the formation of my mental associations as they emerged from my clouded mind.

Suddenly I saw someone looking at me - was she inside a sphere or outside? The word 'mirage' flashed in my head, I yelled out "meeeerage" and pursued the figure. Catching glimpses of her now and then, I kept running between those images inside the spheres trying to find the image outside the spheres.

Then, with a roaring sound, the spheres started melting. The images inside started acquiring life. The sounds from every sphere filled the air with a deafening noise. At the same time all the spheres also started coalescing. The entire world was melting and fusing around me. I was at the center of a tremendous vortex. The woman I was seeking began to form from the melting and coagulation of everything I had just seen. She had been inside each one of the spheres. And now she was congealing inside me. I was also melting and fusing with every image.

I was not outside anymore. There was no outside anymore. There was no inside either.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

The wait

Dull movements of an endless strife,
Hazy visions of an asymmetric time;
Life vacillates between
The ridiculous and the sublime.

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