We find a tall young guy sitting with his arms rested on a raised high table in an generic airport lounge, waiting for his flight. He seems to be trying to pass time by reading a book placed near his palms which rest on each other. But gauging from the number of glances he has been stealing on the hustle-bustle around him, it seems that his attempt has been largely unsuccessful.
In midst of one of these excursions he takes with his eyes around the corners of the large waiting hall, a woman of slightly older age takes a position on the opposite side of the table, at an diagonal angle. As he notices her presence, she starts fiddling with her bags, placing her boarding pass securely between the flaps of her purse and puts the purse inside her bag. It seems there is some time to kill before her flight too. In the same motion of putting the purse deep within the bag, she takes out a book and starts reading it.
All this while, the guy has been occasionally observing her assured but smooth and agile movements and he thinks to himself — two people in same situation of lonely boredom, trying to counter it by reading a book. Book by the same author mind you . In this age of smartphones, most people just try to forget about their loneliness by being occupied on this attention seeking addiction. The fact that both of them chose not to give in to this modern disease made these two all the more similar.
Still given all these similarities and possibilities it opens up for these two, they both won’t talk to each other. Sadly thats how the modern world works.
“Is that the new Murakami novel?”- the boy suddenly decides to look up from the book and ask this cooly from the girl. One can only wonder how long has he been gathering courage to ask this.
“What?… Ohh you mean the book. Yes. I was browsing the airport store for books and saw this for the first time. You can take a look at the store below the food court if you want to read too”- she starts answering hurriedly, but maybe comes off as too hurried, as if trying to feign surprise of the fact that some guy is standing just on the opposite side. And that he can talk. To finish off her act, she closes her sentence in a most matter of fact way and decides to look again into the book.
“Yeah. I think i should get it for the long flight. Mine is almost done. Thanks.” — he says while nodding his head and ends it with a stifled smile with lips pressed onto each other, again drowning his face in the shadow of the book. Well tried but some other day soldier.
The girl politely smiles back and keeps quiet for some time.
But then she starts feeling restless and snaps back with a mischievous smirk — “So you mean to read two Murakami’s back to back? Are you sure if this is good for your mental health?”. She too has noticed what book he was reading and this thought, although banal and obvious made his heart giddy.
“Yeah. You are right. Maybe it will be too much. Or maybe i will realise that is how they are meant to be read, in pairs-with worlds of one book merging and enhancing the other. Like mixing two drugs. Creating something magical.” — he starts pensively and as the thought gathers in his mind, so does the speed of his speech gain speed. By the end of this thought, he has forgotten about the uncomfortable tightness that has gripped him from the start of this whole situation.
“Or it could fry your brain. like mixing two drugs. haha”
“Well…true …My poetics aside, i am pretty sure i would not survive it. I should save it for some other time.”
“Haan. Good call…. Also i feel you should relish these novels for a long time. They are limited in number and you will run out of them quick if you are greedy with them.”- as she finished her sentence, she raised both her eye brows as if suggesting it is upto him to accept this advice but he better should.
“Haha. Yes. Totally. Every time i finish a Murakami novel , i feel pangs of sadness, for i know there is one less Murakami novel left for me to read in this world.” — the boy could see the possibility of the possibilities i was talking about just few minutes ago.
“It is rare to find a fellow Murakami fan in this busy airport. I too love reading this guy. Man he gets to me.”-She remarks and falls silent. There is a silence hanging in the air, ripe for picking.
“So, What is your favourite book?” — He asks to fill up the awkward silence. We can pardon the cliched response on the account that this silence had to be broken. Otherwise there is no point of me telling you this story.
“Kafka on the Shore. Hands Down. What about you?”-she replies as soon as he asks this question.
“Ohh so surrealism haan.”
“Yes sir Surrealism. A world that is so unlike ours, alien and yet feels very much like ours.”
“Nice. For me, i loved all his books but i found Norwegian Wood the best. All the modern anxiety aside, it has the most weird but fun romance that i have ever seen.”
“So you liked those parts of Murakami. Got ya..!” — she sarcastically suggests she has got his tastes down.
“No. No. I mean that is also important.” — he laughed and continues a bit more seriously. “But i was able to connect so much to the coming-of-age story of Toru. And all the while i was wishing such weird escapades happened to me too. I know a bit strange thing to say, but thats what Murakami does to you i guess.”
“You are right his protagonist are the best. They truly convey the inexplicable void that modern life makes us feel. I know its a bit pretentious to say this, but i feel i am like the protagonist trying to makes sense of a Surreal illogical world.” — she says assertively. From the inside, she is not sure why is she saying all this aloud. To her it feels a bit contrived at both ends.
“While I totally agree to your sentiment. I mean, i have felt the same in each book. I think its part of his trick, to write generic protagonist that anyone living in a chaotic modern world can identify with..”
“Then?”-She asks as she senses a “but” incoming. Who would have forseen a debate on Murakami would be the cause that alleviates her boredom. Not bad.
“Hehe.. No no .. i mean its just a personal thing but .. i think Murakami and other writers like him are trying to spread a disease” — he fumbles as he tries to say what is on his mind. Well, you can’t say everything on your mind, so fumbling has to buy some time to figure out the correct words, right?
“Carry on ..”-she leans in while carefully listening. She hopes he is not really bullshitting now.
“I mean all his protagonist don’t speak much. They just try to get along whatever is happening to them and respond in non-committal responses. I get they are not able to make sense of the surreal events happening to them and we identify with them because of this very fact — but he is encouraging a bad habit. He wants us to quietly acknowledge the world and pass through it. Without engaging it and — especially when it comes to other people, without really conveying to them, their true feelings. He feels a mutual silence in face of absurd events is the only way to connect deeply given the inexplicability of the events. Here is where the translation to our world misfires … “
“Wait .. So you are saying that there are words that these characters can speak that can allow them to be happier and understand their world better?”
“I get your point but hear me out … The inexplicability of the situations makes it impossible to really convey what one really feels but this difficulty rather than invoking a silence, should inspire a more nuanced and determined effort to communicate. If it is really difficult to talk normally, they you should just put in more effort. The responses of his protags really goes well with my angsty self but i really think in real world we ought to put in effort rather than accept defeat”
“But but … they are communicating. Inhabiting the same strange surreal world equips them to understand these non-committal floating words. It provides them a vocabulary, or lets just say the cultural reality of modern life makes them understand each other silences.”
“Well said .. i see my criticism is not exactly valid”
“aha .. so i win?” — she lightly but quickly taps the table as if asking the opponent to admit defeat.
“Hehe … Not so fast … I still stand by my criticism. Even though these inexplicable emotions are appropriate for the Surreal novel, it should not inspire our real world actions. Or even condone them. It makes sense that a surreal novel would leave things unexplained and words unsaid and feelings unfelt. But doing so in real life would be doing yourself a disservice.”
“I know. Real worlds and imaginative worlds are different. I totally get that. But then what is your point?”
“No.. i see that in this fast paced meaningless modern world, we have stopped communicating our feelings. And we have invented philosophies to justify this approach. We have started celebrating our malaise rather than treating it. It is becoming rarer and rarer to have a heart to heart talk — just because we know that it is impossible to know others heart we have stopped trying. Camus says “I rebel therefore we exist”. He missed the part of communicating the hardships of rebellion, of being an outsider, to others for such an solidarity to emerge among people.” — he was almost sweating even in the air-conditioned interiors from the excitement of delivering this soliloquy. For once someone is hearing him out, albeit a stranger and he wont stop before he says it all aloud. She indeed is listening closely, leaning on the table towards him, getting pulled in by the ideas
“Wow heavy stuff man. And Murakami and now Camus. Well i dabbled in existentialism when i was your age but that age has gone. It seems like you do spend a lot of time thinking about these things. Maybe its about the age.” — she speaks with a nostalgic sigh and then leans back in a straight posture.“ I don’t think Murakami means to promote this behaviour. For one, the fact he is writing these books means he is communicating with his innumerable readers, what he really feels. What more, his readers, like both of us today, can connect using his books. They can employ the feelings and characters of the book to say — ‘i cannot tell how i feel but it is similar to how Toru felt for Midori’ for example. In that sense, he is the very prophet against remaining silent.”
“I see.. i never thought this way” — he nods slowly while trying to understand the whole weight of the argument presented before him. As usual, talking with others helped him discover new things.
“Yeah, spend some more time on it and i shall commend — nice thought process kiddo.”
“Hehe thanks. Sorry if i got too passionate in between”
“No no .. it has been a pleasure to see a passionate outlook towards life.” — she speaks as she begins to gather her belongings after looking at the watch. “Chalo , It is time for my flight already. It was nice meeting you. Have a happy time reading Murakami”
“Yeah, i did not know how the time passed. Thanks for the discussion and ideas. Nice meeting you too” — he speaks as she rushes towards the gate and he can only see her mouthing a sorry for suddenly cutting it short. She missed her boarding call twice and its better that she hurries.
He also did not speak or think after that. If he spoke more words, they would have not reached her. The readers may want these two to talk again and discuss about more wonderful topics. What a tragedy that they did not think to exchange numbers. They could have gone to discuss about life and literature and art and music and technology. Explore all the other common interests they may have in common.
Still given all these similarities and possibilities that are open for these two, they both won’t talk to each other again. Sadly thats how modern fiction works.
“Ding-dong. Ding-dong” — We find the guy outside the gate of his home. Home home. Where he grew up and where he still resides truly. He is back at home after long and he waits patiently for his Mom to open up the gate as always. The click sound of the inner lock is enough to fill his heart with love and warmth. He missed his family so much and cannot bear the wait any more. As the Mom opens up the gate, he greets his mom — “Assalamwalaikum”.
“Walaikumasalam beta. How was your journey. Did you eat?”-his mother ask him softly as she takes into hand one of the smaller baggages. She has been lying in wait knowing her son would be her anytime.
“Yeah it was fine. How are you? Feeling well” — he has been worried about his Mom’s health and wanted to know all about how she was doing.
“Haan its better now. Feeling much better. Khuda Khair.”
“Mama. Can i have a cup of tea?” — of all things he could give warmth to him, nothing comes closer to cup of tea made by his mom.
“Sure . I already put up the pot on stove in your anticipation. In fact, tea is almost ready. You just get changed and i will get you tea” — sharing a cup of tea is the closest thing you do in this household.
He changes his clothes, washes his face and goes into the kitchen to get his cup of tea. Along with his mom, he walks to the drawing room and they both sit on adjacent sofas. It has been months from when they last met and yet he sits silently as he holds the steaming cup of tea in the cusps of his hands and sips it slowly. The slurping of the tea breaks the blissful silence in between. There are few enquiries about health and weather and food on the way. But it stays there, never entering the sentimental area.
He wants to say how much he missed her, how much he just wants to sit there and share this cup of tea always, how good the tea tasted, how the even the cold damp air of this house fills him up and how lucky is he to be his son. All they talk about is small stuff and jokes about small incidents. Maybe some things are inexplicable.
He starts thinking about the conversation at the airport and starts smiling to himself, his eyes looking downwards towards his feet, his eyelids resting lightly on them.
Observing this smile on his face, his mother quizzingly asks — “What’s on your mind? Why are you smiling?”
“Nothing. The chai is made really well bas.”