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from Streets that Smell of Dying Roses

by Prakash Kona

Streets that Smell of Dying Roses

I must dilute the essences of my body in order to tell a story. I grew up believing that the bathing of the body will not wipe out the sins of the heart every time the body experiences pangs of lust, the intimate encounters that happen when needles of ecstasy penetrate the flesh, in each encounter the body declaring its rights over the cosmos, the encounters that violated the walls of houses where bourgeois women lay protected in the arms of their fathers and husbands, I lay with those women, I kissed the feet of the men, with tears I washed their hands, my hands came together in the form of prayer, my eyes were open, it was sweat on the face not tears, I refused to weep, there was a juicy cactus on the table that in contrast reminded me of the emaciated faces of children on television, the sin of the heart was my body seeking to discover itself, thatís what I understood in the faces of the children, my lust for sleep, was this longing a romantic one I wonder, I gave my soul without believing I had one, I was fourteen.

Fourteen years. Two words. A classroom of boys. Fifty maybe. Sitting in that classroom I fantasized the textures of light that the street experienced with its brown dusty body at different moments of the day. I grew up knowing the smell of a boyís body in my nostrils. I shut the eyes of my soul and dreamt of another world in which there were no houses but streets and more streets, I dreamt with the morbidity of a sick animal who has lost all appetite for life, the street was a snake in the dream, I delivered a lecture to the snake on the theme of jealousy and art, jealousy is the fascination of the dreamer for the dream, art is the dream of the jealous one, midnight and mid-afternoon it was the same snake ready to strike sense into my bones, the snake who belonged to a dream, some tunes never leave the head, you grow up with them, the tune of the snake crawling on the street in a dream, how could I ever forget, my lust for a voice, when at the same time I lusted for the voice there was someone dying in a hospital, someone who was so young once that death seemed a dream, my body was in two halves, filling its lust with a voice and dying at the same time, in that classroom of fifty or so boys I was fourteen years old.

The blinding lust of sunlight piercing the retina of the eyes. Snakes that resemble dreams that resemble streets that resemble snakes. I never thought a street could be more real than the streets of Hyderabad. I became a man with that thought in mind. I donít believe that streets have a name. Streets are nameless. Not unlike life they refuse to be encapsulated in words. Those unruly streets of Hyderabad. The street is a voyeur who has seen the most elemental aspects of my nature. Upon these streets where I was not a child I became the man I think I am. I became the snake I thought I was in the dream. I was the street that kissed the feet of boy and girl who walked upon it. I was without a name. My name did not matter. In the glaring abyss of the colorless present as I write these words I recognize death watching me with transparent liquid eyes I find unendurable. I go blind in that instant.

Overwhelmed by the thought of clouds on a discontented journey from hill to hill forever changing shapes I recreated the streets of Hyderabad in everything I wrote. I saw those streets in spite of my blindness. I saw them with the blind eyes of mild despair on the verge of turning into a fever. I made theories of art and culture and life and death thanks to those streets. The only time I was ever understood was by a street. Bazaar Ghat. What made the street unique was that it refused to be exotic. It was more ordinary than life. Neither do I intend to celebrate the street nor describe it. The street had no spirit. In the daylight it gave one the feeling that it was there. But during late nights I had the impression I was walking on the body of a person breathing so quietly that I could hear it. Who that person was will be a mystery for the rest of my life. What I felt was that the reality of the dawn seemed to dispel my illusions. Fruits of heaven spilling drops of milk on my eyes. The illusions of the morning filled my heart with sadness.

Joy is finite but grief infinite. I woke up with this random thought in mind. The gardens of those who suffer are inevitably brighter than the natural ones that fade in the course of seasons. I read that in a poem. The idea of growing old in bed always fascinated me. To regress to the edges of being like children do. What is the edge of my being? The same bed that refuses to let me wake speaks through me. The old smell of decadence like wood kept in store for ages began to show itself in all that I did. I reeked of that smell. The shape that memory took in that smell of near destruction was a child struggling with the fluids of his body. We choose a segment of time and in turn that becomes who we are. I choose the fourteenth year of my life as what I am and what I will ever be. Having lingered in a bed forever I choose the street as the theme of my life. The intolerable heat of anxiety that the bed inspired in me was a coupling of my senses with a distance from which I could personify myself as an image. The knowledge that my body is the Judas who will betray my soul the Christ with a warm-blooded kiss turned me to write the song of roses that die on humorless streets.

Twisting and turning in agony the tree outside broke the window and choked my throat with its dry branches. The street on which I lived had this murderous look of a woman raped by a smiling soldier in uniform. God stood somewhere in the corner of the world helplessly gazing at his illusions. He knew not what they meant. He groaned while the wind swept his long beard. This street belonged to God before it belonged to the government. It belonged to the woman who conceived God and brought him into this world. It belonged in part to the man who desired the woman and inseminated her with the seeds of wisdom. The seeds root themselves in the earth, take the earth within their selves, the earth becoming the tree, the tree one with the earth, the earth injecting the tree with her life, life that swarms the street in the form of people, life that is the principle of the earth, the tree held by gravity, gravity that makes a mockery of the connection between the tree and the earth, the earth in my veins, children love playing in the dirt, I live a dirty life, I forget to brush my teeth, this love of a street is painfully adolescent, the sensuousness of a body in the throes of a masturbatory climax, words mean so little when flesh mingles with flesh and death is so unreal.

What was the point in being fourteen my body impatient to grow up with eternity drooling in the veins? It was a four-way street. Shops on one side. A cafť in one corner. A hardware store exactly on the opposite side. A road that led to the inner city. The street was pretty masculine for all practical purposes. Masculine in a very feminine sense of the term. Less than feminine. A subtle masculinity. A masculinity that acknowledged that it was no more a man than a man really was. There was no woman in this world. The street did not take easily to the idea of a woman. A woman was a strange thing as far as the street made of men though not necessarily by men was concerned. Men believed that the street belonged to them. It was the only existing proof of their masculinity. History acknowledges this proof as evidence of the truth. The truth mattered not to women. Men created history in the images of other men. Women offered the possibility that life could be different. The street witnessed it all. I sat in the cafes all day long. Sometimes I would watch the relieved faces of the men who pissed along the walls of a hospital nearby as they generously spat red liquid of betel leaves on the tar roads. The street had this feeling of a true sodomite deeply in love with boys in puberty. That street was my home.

No word has fascinated me more than the letter ĎI,í I who am the story of my life, I who lived on a street named Bazaar Ghat, I who am moved by the moments of forgetting and remembering, I who have a photograph in the mind of a yawning lioness with her cubs, living along a railway track I learnt to appreciate what a journey meant, forever separated from the thought of a house with green meadows, the energy of a pending depression consumes the soft parts of my brain, dissect this body into tiny parts and what am I, in a universe that seems to have no apparent cause what is my cause for being other than that I live on a street with not many trees left, how simply I talk about fourteen years of my life, the passages from being to non-being and vice versa, dreams that come out of the pores of my skin every time my body ejaculates, this dirty garbage-ridden street is central to any conception of life that I can offer to this world, this street ejaculates every time it rains, the waters of the rain soak my soul, the rain is the sound of death coming from deep within the sky, what is the sky all about, my loving street that has borne me in its recesses, only dead roses have recesses and the street smells of dying roses.

One street but one life. One time the heart beats the very time it seems to stop beating. The music that goes on. Dub dub dub dub and dub. One story. Not one beginning and so many endings. One life and one death. One cigarette I smoked one afternoon the smoke giving me the worst headache of my life. One love of my life that street as unromantic as a bag of potatoes. I penetrate the secrets of the street with words that are so foreign to that street itself. How will the street ever understand what my feelings are? Will the street know I am not a lover but a child looking for a mother? Have I insulted the street at a point that I became conscious of myself as an individual who stood apart from the street that in a way symbolized the collective lives of the men and women who lived there? I have never come to the end of the street. I never will. Loyal to a memory what have I gained except the comfort of imminent death. That was beside the point. That I did not betray this street is what made my death in a distinct sense meaningful. It was not a home that came to me by choice but one that took the form of destiny in order to meet me in the moment of conception.

The convulsions that words go through before turning into words. The words that this street dramatized took place at the level of the human eyes. Eyes met eyes. Eyes spoke to eyes. Eyes made love to eyes. Eyes parted forever. Eyes were sad. Eyes laughed. Eyes went through pain. Eyes made up stories that never ended. Eyes composed poems. Eyes sang songs. Eyes understood that in the end all eyes must fail. They must shut forever. That failing eyes must not give up. Eyes must believe in order to be. The faith of human eyes transcends the oppression of time that weighs on the body of the street. To look as if the look were the only real thing in life, thatís what the street told me in the darkest times of my life. The street whispered into my ears the sound of a kiss. My ears echoed with images of life on other planets, the earth melting into sunlight, the purer-than-the-purest of pebbles in the most anonymous spaces of the universe, how small are the eyes of death when compared to life, watching the actors on the giant screen of a cinema I believed that they were there. It was a pair of eyes that was not looking at me that became the theme of my fourteenth year. I could never look into them. The day I looked into them I was not I anymore. I said goodbye to myself. I did not deserve me. I took me for granted. Too much and too long. I developed a complex out of which I refused to come. In that complex were people. There were houses. There were cafes. There was a street too.

In one phrase I can say my adolescence was a cinema poster. The suffering hero at the peak of passion that reverberates in crumbling walls. His ill-concealed soul crawling out of his hairy chest. A woman was there. A woman who believed in the redemptive power of the man. The very woman whose lips seemed to come close to that of the man but keeping a logical distance at all times. Not to forget the knife that remained in memory. My youthful body was that poster. The poster in a sense trapped time for me. In the space of that time I lived far from the world of matter. In fantasy I defied the laws of physics. I created other laws that redefined visual spaces in such a way that the mind developed a self-sustaining mechanism with its own brakes to encounter possible intrusions of the material world. I hated every bit of the fantasy that had become part of my nature with the same vehemence that I rejected what seemed to appear on the surface of the world. Desire is unconscious. My desire for shadows. Love is an act of the will. I dream of waves so quietly they move on no-moon nights I canít see them in the dark my eyes strain I move my face close to the water what does the water do it is sorry for me the condition of being me I reflect. In unusual moments I willed to make things shadows that follow the maker of the shadows.

If only I believed that my life were more important than that of the street. Never did I. Now that I write it makes me believe that the street had chosen me to communicate its innermost needs to a complacent reader. The street smiled. Sorry. It was the reader of this line who imagined the street as a person. The apoliticality of the street lay in a devious strategy to conceal the personae of the ones that used the street. I could never imagine a street without a persona. Perhaps a non-existent persona or a persona that stood for non-existence. But not a persona that reflected the person within itself. The intrinsic music in the way light disperses in the dark. What was the person like? Suspicious as a scorpion he clung to the street with the force of a hammer falling upon the anvil. He was the person I feared within me. When I looked at minor boys who sold tea or worked at the petrol stations somewhere from the early hours of the morning until sunset I knew my preoccupation with the structures of the street was a classic instance of the lazy man absorbed in his corruption. I knew my evil was not a persona. Imagining that persona that might not have been evil wore me out. My language carried this evil in it of having opted out. To what extent this opting out was a conscious decision on my part I will never know. I do not want to.

Thus spoke the street. This is how I understood. I who have never been understood. Not even by me. On exile in a street without a dead-end. What I understood was tremendously simple. I must pass this way each day through seasons and various moods of the sky while the life of colors in the atmosphere undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a spectacle for the rejoicing heart. A vain superstition came over me when I was not too watchful of myself that my leaving was connected to a predetermined set of events. This street could have been one such. My life on the street constantly proved otherwise. Needy as I could be I wanted to be understood by the street that my life might cease to move in circles. Today stands before me with a cup of sugarless tea in hand as the same ghost that woke up with me in the early hours of yesterday and that perhaps I will see tomorrow. I wept on the shoulders of today. I forgot yesterday and I hugged tomorrow with all the might of my frail temperament. Long hair affects the brain especially when it is hot. Some nights the street turned into the long hair of a damsel.

I could never tell the story of a person out of fear that I might forget so much of the person that my story would be incomplete forever. If I could write the story of a single person even with the little knowledge I have of myself the story would be the realization of my highest self. Only an incomplete story is a story. It is a street that leads to other streets. The street did not come out of vacuum. It evolved from the muddy ways of the villages. The villages did not have streets. What the villages had were ways of life. The story of a street goes back down the ways of history. I belong to the story just as I lived on the street. I do not choose to tell a story. The story chooses me as a mouthpiece to speak just as the spirit used the prophets of old. They were neither prophets nor inspired men. Their disharmonious body constitution along with a badly seasoned childhood made them combine words in strange ways that fascinated the ones that watched them. The words seemed to reveal. They were words of an actor who forgot that he was acting. That sugared forgetfulness made it more real than life could ever be. The prophets used the streets as platforms to ejaculate sensual phrases. The street turned into an arena where contestants of power staked their claims. When a politician with his convoy of cars backed by a couple of police jeeps stops the entire traffic so that he can go through it the street becomes an exhibition of power where some stand privileged against the many. It is the cheapest form that patriarchy assumes in the context of a third world nation. This is a story about decolonizing the street from the outside as well as the inside.

Who knows what a person is like? I was fourteen at some point in my life. Is it true that I was fourteen? Who can say it for a fact? The street is not a constant and neither is a person. We intersperse one another, the street and me. The street becomes the page on which I discover footprints left behind. I am the pen that walks on this page transforming the marks in order to visualize another dimension that the street has continually denied itself. This dimension was the dilapidated wall of a hospital nearby. It had slogans of all kinds and posters on it from various political parties or sex doctors or some movie in a local cinema. Did this wall represent something more than what can be seen or was it just a wall like any other wall in any other part of the world? I quizzed myself. Was it a normal wall? By what parameters can you decide that it is a normal wall or not? Who decides it? At fourteen the street could easily have been a dragon to my eyes. The order seemed so convenient to violate. I stripped that order hanging like a garment on a mannequin. Despite the infection the order concealed an erotic thing within it. With violence I sought to move toward that erotic thing. Drained of sleeplessness I cultivated the habit of walking around the streets in the afternoon sun. I watched people as if that was all there were to this life. I never met a person whom I thought I knew.

What could I have known that was not already there? What could there be on this street that left in me the interminable feeling that I had not said enough? Was I betraying myself or was I betrayed by something I donít understand as simple as my social and economic condition embodied in this computer screen? At the level of needs the street interacted with me. If the language of history were neutral the history of language would be different from what it is. I write a neutral history of the street because that is the only way I can stop my body from aging away as all tragic expectations of oneself must do so. A pretentious line even if this were a page from a diary. Neglected and lonely a piece of flesh traverses the street. This flesh resembled the flesh of a lamb hanging outside the butcherís shop. At fourteen I cultivated a pastime which was to reproduce the sounds of bees in the language of the bees. Would that be neutral history? What if I paste a piece of my flesh on the wall and decorate it as an artifact of the past that was less than a minute ago? In the wee hours of the morning I accumulated a list of my lonely selves and entered a future without a past in it. In a quiet street on a quiet afternoon I returned to the space I called home. Between many silences is the sea.

Characters lived on that street where my home stood. To live with narrowness becomes a way of life. To understand what the bodies of others meant, the optimum use of lights, what darkness is all about, how in an extraordinarily limited space people can have such differences, what the differences are all about, reusing things already used in a way that made life easy, the erotics of the street that ran parallel to the economics of it, men standing at the paan shops and visually undressing the young to-be brides, college girls or married women with slightly flabby waists, the commission of incest, white roses that turn into dark purple, sin is only my failure in sex that repeats itself, sex to be swallowed, sex that comes out of water like a coin sustaining itself in a bottle of jelly, sex in the belly, sex in the bottle, sex in off-seasons when the body submits to indolence and plays with taboos, the arousal of the flesh when a taboo is broken like a pot of basil on the floor, sex in the tropical air, the pure pleasures of sex that stand out as illusions, the tragic pleasures of sex in memory that reveals itself to the writing finger, the moments of pleasure are almost all the time unforgettably short ones, the pain we seek to forget is in building up toward those few moments, those moments that turn into streets and those streets with the natural aroma of a perspiring woman who bakes bread at dawn.

Saturated with boredom I recoiled at the thought of a man or a woman on the street. Did I lack in faith? I am not sure. All I am sure of is that these streets are not fit for human habitation. I donít mind taking a walk though. Walking offers a perspective on the streets of life. There are hardly any trees here. Only people like ants and shops. Each of those people happens to be a person. I am amazed by that. Those shops watch me as I pass by. Men and more men. A man in love with men. A man that cannot overcome his manhood. Being a man is to be alive. I cannot betray my manhood. That would be a betrayal of my past. I look for the streets that I come from. I look for the man inside me. The man outside me. The men who look over the precipice for sweet potatoes or ladyfingers. That very street where I was mocked and humiliated my feet demand that I go back there. Will I find home there? I am sure no. I need that street so that I can make my death as real as possible. A loveless and hot street that devoured a womanís body as if it were not a body but a piece of elastic that seemed so edible and ironically refused to be eaten. Sex was connected to sickness. Both were a part and parcel of religion. I grew up imbued with a feeling of this religiosity deep inside me.

Religious to the core the street for me became the space of the sexual imagination. I preferred the word religion to sex. That made God the chorus of the street play. God remained the invisible commentator who stood in the shadows of the screens and delivered her lines with the aura of a transsexual. I loved God. She joined us in our autoerotic fantasies. She was the fantasy. Every time I masturbated I woke up in the arms of God. I came sometime during late evening when it was not yet dusk. I saw nothing. My soul loaded with dreams I continued to make my way through the crowds. I passed by music shops and restaurants along the way. I felt my body sink to the ground. I was not dreaming of death. Only the portrait of a suffering soul came to the mind. It was a mound of garbage open to the senses. Poor kids loitering along the streets. Some of them picking food from the garbage. If death had a human face it would be in love with the have-nots of the world. In my body remained this nagging restlessness. The street turned into a pool. I plunged in it to drown that terrible restlessness that pushes me to extremes. The extreme I recognize is a fantasy of daylight and not a dream of the night.

There are no real fantasies on this street. Or all there is to this street is just fantasies. Which of them is true I will not live long enough to find out. You can call one of the streets Govind. You can call another street Geeta. One the temporal masculine. Another eternal feminine. Complementary. Ridiculous. I call it the street of the ridiculous. Hyderabad unlike other big cities defines itself through the uniqueness of her streets. It is the streets that have an identity that they communicate to the onlooker. But to the ones who live on these streets life can be less than nostalgic. They may carry the street with them in the form of a gunny bag hanging to their shoulders. But there is a strange nausea about the street itself that can be more than discomforting. A person sunk deep in water need not necessarily be dead. That is the feeling that comes out of these streets. We share a certain closeness of bodies in our public lives that it is perhaps impossible for outsiders to comprehend. Imagine hordes of humanity looking for a way to escape. That is the image that comes to mind when I think of the space I call my home. The street doesnít belong to me. It refuses to be a part of my memory. I only get bits and pieces of it. Ownership is a technical issue that can be contested in the discourse of property. It is relative to the demands of the spirit in search of famished bodies that need a massage. I remember my motherís words that death one day will come.

Does the actress choose her role or was she born that way? Is the scene ready-made or did it just happen to be there? The street like a nail stuck to the flesh. I spent years of my life pulling it out of myself. With terrible pain in consequence. The nail stood in the flesh broken and showing signs of struggle in it. I gave up trying to pull it out. Life is cheap when people turn into crowds. While I had certain apathy toward these crowds they were part of my life as people. I am not good when it comes to recognizing faces. Faces move toward me like shadows. All shadows look the same to my hardly discriminating sight. The streets of Hyderabad were shadows to the naked eye. We walked on shadows. Lived upon them. Watched movies that pretended to recount the life of these shadows in the most superficial way imaginable. In the end the shadows were nothing. They were not even the prison-houses of the human soul. They were shadows. I would give anything in exchange to feel the flesh of a shadow. The rainbow is a shadow on the body of the earth. A fleshless one. I want shadows with flesh. I am inspired to encounter death itself in the process of finding a shadow in flesh. I see the shadow of death round the corner. I notice that death is a toothless shadow.

When evenings with a dramatic conviction give the appearance of mornings, spring covered with a thin cloth of snow, the unprotected spaces of the heart that are prone to speech, words of a poem written with lipstick on a mirror, the poem is an artifact that the producers of the lipstick coming together with the producers of the mirror made happen in the mind of the poet who noticed the striking connection that the writing on the mirror made possible, the poet is a worker too, she makes love the same way that she cooks a meal, that requires her to make images in the mind at the moment that the body cooperates with the mental function disclosing variations like the number of the strings of a guitar that do not change and the combinations of sounds vary forever the constant body produces images upon images, the street may be the same but the walker on the street reproduces countless impressions, she recreates those impressions while old memories are rewritten as if new, the working faces on the street, at the soul of all quietness is unbending chaos, my failures are my failures, my successes are how my friends look at me, will the streets remember me when Iím gone, will they recognize me if I return, what is real and what is not, when the door knocks in the middle of the night the heart jumps in the anticipation of seeing a friend of a long time ago, I often wonder if plants had life similar to human feelings as some people claim, do they rejoice when seasons change despite the fact that it is not an act of will for them implying that they might be acting unwillingly, the mountains are in the shape of long nights and dying roses smell of streets.

The title of a story is a line that resonates within the columns of other lines within the story. A watch is not a representation of time. It is time. No, it is not time. It does not see itself as time. A person could be time. She sees herself as movement. The lizard on the wall maintains a low sleeping profile in order to get the insect. Thatís movement. But the lizard does not see it as movement. I see it that way. What is the point in seeing things the way they are. Things will never be what they are. Things cannot be things always. I cannot answer the question whether they really need to be things all the time. Time may be a non-human thing operating in a universe that does not consider the person as presence. To die, not the process but the event itself must be a strange adventure if one looks for a passage into what is not time. A watch is not time. A person is time. A person is not time if she recognizes her belongings as hers in the waiting room of a train station. A watch is time because the watch cannot belong to itself. A watch in the middle of the desert is another time that I donít understand. I feel the heat in my loins. In the heat of the afternoon sun the street has the look of an outsider like the title of a story that watches the rest of the words with a sense of pain and detachment. Once in a way I come across a beggar. Most of the time I only see extremely poor people. I can only listen to them with no possibility of a pure understanding. Working class boys dream of sex in the bulge of their trousers that might attract the slight attention of men with a different view of masculinity. They are caught between the two worlds where in one they can be the men no less than women or the men whom rich girls would gladly submit to and redeem them of their passivity. There is no redemption in time. My birth does not necessarily entail that I must die in the knowledge of my death. Will that knowledge redeem me outside the memory of another person? Such memories are only particles of time and are still not time. If I can think of nothing as time there must be no time. What is it that I call time other than my endless boredom with being myself? I could walk on these streets forever in order to reach a room that could inseminate me with the forgetfulness of sexual love. That might have been a solution if only I did not wake up. Afternoon naps have a way of reviving my body. Evenings make me dizzy with excitement. I feel the mellowness of age in my bones. Life is still in the mornings. Change is a process that happens in the evenings of our lives caught in the breeze of returning home, darkness evenly distributed along the pavements, the bus stops crammed with anxieties of the future, the public toilets are actually used by people with such little means for a decent life, in pain I experience a loss of my humanity, the problem of an idea that looks like a banana fascinates me out of my wits, I pray to the creator of sand when Iíve a hair full of ribbons, in the end I might seriously contemplate the possibility of consuming local liquor along with hot chilies, I am invested with time that must bear fruit in memory, on these streets of Hyderabad people pawn their dreams for a livelihood, no condition is natural except the human, I dream of a white elephant.

Ordinary life. A very ordinary one. A voice is heard. A voice passes away. The dead spirit is a vacant one. Tremulous winds. Each word is a combination of characters and each character the onset of meaning for a life in quotes. When I cut my finger it bleeds but the words in my heart refuse to come out no matter how deep is the wound. I could never cut potatoes for fear that I would cut my thumb. Subtle as a scorpion life enters the bone marrow. Seeing the economic in terms of the erotic and the erotic as a consciousness of objects is the aim of all I write. I make claims some as tall as pine trees. I talk to streets when I am by myself. The streets respond with equanimity. We join hands. We are friends. In the mirror of my bedroom I see a girl far away playing with a table-tennis ball. From a historical perspective she might never know that I actually noticed her and turned her into a character in a story. What does knowledge mean in this context? How can a story actually break the stranglehold of uncertainty around its neck? How can the soul appear as one piece? Images of touch. The stones of this street. My feet know them. The air that smells of gas Iíve learnt to live with it. The thighs of construction workers rough and resisting at the same time is what I look at as I move. Leisure that is bought is not leisure. Somebody pays the price for it by working harder than me. Light hurts my weak eyes. Shades of light appeal to my imagination. The sun sets at the end of the street. Minor boys in the cafes wait for midnight when everything begins to close down and they can let their bodies crash into the fantasies that anaesthetize the pains of the dayís labor. I am not a boy. Less a girl. I follow the fashions of the street. I call that fashion heat. Heat is the fashion of the day. Iíve a general fondness for heat. On cool nights I withdraw from the world. Heat brings out my other selves. In heat I visit the palaces of the sun. Heat multiplies my body with infinity. Infinitely hot. In the absence of heat time would be an unbearable weight on the human soul. Iím engrossed in heat. The virtues of heat. Testing the waters of heat. Heat does not generate more heat. Heat merely makes you believe that you are not hot anymore. Passion can never be heat. Passion is a grudging emotion. Passion is jealous. Heat is giving. The heat waves often take a toll on the poor especially those who must work because they have no other choice. So close to heat the experience of near death must make heat the most touchable of images for those who bear the brunt of the heat. Heat is a friend of the street and enemy of the system. Heat never intends to turn into passion. That would be a rather vulgar way of looking at heat. Heat is a principle. Passion is only a feeling. The principle of the street has nothing to do with passion. Only in heat I discover the true meaning of the street. Streets must die. Roses. Heat above all heat. Pigeons gurgle in that strange pigeonish way on the building rooftops. On those roofs I learnt to fly. My life is less useful than a burnt matchstick. This heat destroys me. I could easily do with less of it. I canít. I need this heat in order to write. I will absorb this heat returning it to the potential state of the matchstick or let myself be consumed by it. The street exists in order to find that room where I can be who I am. I see no crime in one who seeks to murder time. Our days are broken with heat. Our nights exist in the anticipation of the day. In heat I will know that the bodies of garbage pickers smell like dying roses. That body makes love to me. That body is the state of my death. Even walls that crumble have stories to tell. I curiously attempt to listen to those walls. Through walls I make holes that I may see what is on the other side of these walls. The eyes of the voyeur receive the heat of the day. The eye and the wall act in a sacred communion. The ones who built these walls have been denied the credit of memory. In the course of things memory is the sound of a word. Memory denied is the present lost. The anguish of the body must be real after all. If all persons must share in nature I give up this heat to find bridges that support the variations of the human soul.

For the runner it is the last round that tests the force of the will. Having lived upon streets I cannot help asking what streets are all about. Will these streets outlive me? There is something about the streetlights in Hyderabad. I notice that whenever I return from a visit. That dimness touches the heat in me. I donít wish to weep. Only to find the hand of a beggar. To hug and kiss his lips. The uncertainty of living on a street. Being on a street. How do I identify my friends? I never belonged to a circle that I could refer to as my own. I unlearn the needs of my flesh. I transform into the soul of the street. I wrestle with words day and night. Meanings hurt my pride by refusing to be what I would like them to be. My graying hair when you see it through the eyes of a mirror. The mirror reproduces the heat of the body in the eyes. What is the logic of the street? Do streets speak the language of beings or objects? Such a distinction is farcical outside the space of language. My pants are wet with excitement. My words will make sense only when I write as if Iím dying. How can I die with my breath hot as vapors from a sauna? In the saunas of my soul I see naked boys with cloves in their mouths. I can count their teeth. Taste their tongue with my tongue. The homoeroticism of wolves that take care of human babies. My mother and her mother, my father and his mother together they constituted my world. The world of the street is more than my world. Children play cricket on these streets. They wait for the traffic to pass by and they are back on the streets. All they need is a ball and a wooden piece that can be used as a bat. They make the streets worthwhile. Scores are settled on these streets. Men in becoming men expose their manhood to the glare of girls who know better. In the game of exhibitions the stage falls and what is offstage becomes the stage. Running with the speed of the cheetah I was breathless. Everyone is entitled to the pleasures of life. In a warm monsoon rain my hair turned wet with hopes. Life came into my skin and whispered the secret of eternal joy. Things took the shape of moments and each moment went down my throat. Wet streets formed the background to our lives. To beat a theme to death was the story of the street. It involved cruelty to oneself. Forms desperately looked for objects in reality. The street became a form where I placed the contents of my life. The dying rose is a form in which I place the map of the street with its roads and inroads. To create form is to give a poetic logic to space, to let space have the consciousness of spatiality, space blooms in the rose, the dying rose is space redefined, funerals have this intoxicating air of flowers, one day it will all be over, the dream passing before the waking eyes of the dreamer, was I a woman before I was a child, did I play barefoot on these streets, who was the boy who found the room he looked for in a little house far from the streets, the virginity of the soul at all times transcended the loss of bodily innocence, the body pleasured does not necessarily imply that I dumped the load of my chest into the sea, the swollen chest cannot comprehend the broken glass, the mirror sighs like a lady in distress, why do these streets have the look of hungry snakes, if I can hear the silence of the night through the heavy traffic it must be death assuming the form of void to absorb my latent energies, forms obey the principle of heat, old forms sleep within the new, like all endangered species the new forms seem to need protection, I cling to my adolescence, I refuse to let age touch my heart, I teach my soul the art of allowing the quiet to enter her doors, I suffer in love as in life, I write stories about streets, I imagine how roses must look at the point of their death, I try to connect roses with dying streets, I stretch my own disbelief as a reader of this story, quietly so quietly something nibbles at the bottom of my bed, at this rate I will sleep on the floor as time goes by, the bed recycled into another form in the belly of this something, the streets I refer to are more than forms, life before language entered the world, the word form filled a space in a formless state, sleep cannot be anything but an interruption of a long process of awakening, the word that means you love a girl or a boy and youíll do anything to hear that voice, your heart believes that life is sweet despite all that is to the contrary, you write poems that are so far from suffering but only true suffering could have produced that distance in the soul, these streets spell out the word injustice in terms that could be nothing but human, these highly stylized streets accost me in nightmares, a man is stabbed repeatedly and stuck to a public toilet, the living street is a giant machine prying into my sleep, my body is afraid, life is less poetic than art, life is political, art is alternate to the political, the politics of art is the pleasure of the body, the politics of life is men proving a point to men, these streets call for a celebration, a celebration is impossible where people do not even drink clean water or breathe fresh air, such are those streets, nightmares for the old and the young, for children who go to schools where they are taught to conform to this order, this order is a predator, conscience is a strange word with forgotten overtones, these streets and I were born to partake in a never-ending conflict, my young eyes that hate to love and love to hate, fourteen years is a tender age, passion bound me to the street, nothing but passion, I never believed that these streets were eternal, not even for a moment, I became the girl I was when I walked on them, raisins were these streets to my fasting belly, in my fourteenth year I acknowledged the streets, I knew I could never stop belonging to them no matter how far I traveled, I would come back to those streets, not the same person, not the same streets, not even these streets, somewhere else where I had never been in my life, I would come back to my fourteenth year, it looked so different from the fourteenth year I had lived through, the child that hated manhood assumed the burden of a man, the heat of fourteen in my arteries, boys must feel like boys when their freedom is the steam of heaving bodies, the convulsions of the ground is my adolescence never feeling at home, restless streets drive me on and on, cities reconfigure themselves as I move from place to place, my heart gets used to the idea of beating, the life of the street is the dust in my constantly itching eyes, the water I drink that could make or break my sensitive stomach, exhaustion takes me and not boredom, I can choose my streets, I cannot know if my streets will ever know who I am, a celebrant of bazaars, the bazaars that give the streets a reason for being, which streets do I talk about, the streets that my feet have honored with their presence, they belong to no one

A study in objectivity

To remember having lived on a street is enough to say that you have the heart of a fourteen year old inside you. All he had in his mind was to find the room. The room was all in all to him. Rarely was he inspired to search and he could not sustain those rare moments of inspiration for long. The room.

Hyderabad can be an extraordinarily vague city for those who have not lived there. It is an extended village more than a city. Partly that accounts for its vagueness. Those who come to Hyderabad insist on having a look at the city. You only have to look under the skirts of the city to see what I mean. Each morning the city wakes up wearing the clothes of a man. The intruders of the night include the police, the pimps, the beggars, the prostitutes and the lonely young reveling in the sensuality of dawn to come. These nights are not for women. The danger is as phenomenal as the attraction. Mediocre city in terms of everything I cannot think of another metaphor to describe the nights of Hyderabad but the feminine. It is a city that has disguised itself in the masculine more than any other. It did not have bangles on its wrists, earrings or even a dot on its forehead. The city never wore a sari. That did not make it less of a woman. Boys from the nouveau riche houses hang around the city on motorbikes to find the flesh of a woman that can make them feel men for a few seconds. Nights are nights in Hyderabad without anything symbolic attached to them. Those who waited all day for it covet the darkness. It is not a city that wishes to turn its nights into days. The nights are preserved. The nights in turn preserve the social order. Rules are broken. They continue to be rules in broad daylight. The vulnerable are accommodated in the shadowy precincts of front rooms that have an absolute stillness about them. The nightlife of Hyderabad is essentially a thing of the nights. These nights seem horribly deceptive to the outside eye. For those who live them it is the way things are. Not what they should be. In the absence of these nights life cannot be imagined.

The room lived in the imagination of the boy as candles floating in calm waters on moonless nights. The line meant nothing. The room was there. He craved the room with the might of his flesh. He moved toward the room. The room refused to budge an inch. His soul was confused. He became wistful. With a father and a mother and a brother and a sister in a small house peopled with relatives, he cultivated a life of books. Ideas turned into beings and beings began to look like ideas. The object of his life was to find the room. The doors were locked and the keys of the room were within the room. Somewhere in the corner of the city was this room. The city had many such rooms. No one was ever identical with the other. It was that room he looked for. The room was not an enigma. The enigma lay in the simplicity of not being an enigma. The enigma was in going to job interviews, consistently getting rejected, and making a persona that gives an air of feasibility to survival. Survival was the issue even more than the room itself. The landscape of the city with its veils and the sentimentalized communion of the village that the city-dwellers sought in the privacy of their houses made any attempt to reach out to another anomalous in terms of time and space. It was impossible to recreate the social relations of the village in a survival game that had altogether different rules. There was a village concealed within the city. In slight moments people came together. So slight were these moments, thinner than waves of light. Farm laborers who became workers in the city found ways of communicating with their fellow mates in new words that had entered their language. The atmosphere was heavy as a furnace. Reality that looked like reality was playing with the eyes. The boy regained his appetite to find the room before he died.

In the old city of Hyderabad riots were common whenever there was a major political upheaval in the state. Political parties seeking power used the narrow curvy lanes with the Hindus and Muslims as means to an end. The poor needed the outlet to their frustration. The riots were live performances. Endless gossip was generated. Stories were created. Rivalries issued. Friends were not friends and enemies were not enemies. Roles were constructed and the actors entered the stage. It was poor manís carnival. There was drama. Blood flowed on the stage and it happened to be real. The faces the people wore gave the impression of serious masks. Exposed to danger the heart pumped extra blood and the head began to go dizzy. The stories got stranger by the day. Numbers did not matter after a point. The quality of the killings began to acquire a pathological taste in the mouths of the victims as well as the victimizers. Death was an event. Summer heat did strange things to people. The pent-up lust of the streets so easily melted into mob frenzy. Murder took the place of the pleasuring bodies of men and women. The same body that could have been ravaged with kisses was the playground of a knife its blade so poignantly sharp that something stuck in your throat. The horrendous deprivation of generations weighed down upon the lives of the poor. There was only a past. The present was the past. The future looked like the past as well.

The room and the boy who wanted to find the room turned into their opposites. The room was to find the boy. The boy was nowhere within sight. The room looked for the boy. The room went crazy thinking of the boy. The room had the sound of a hollow pot. The room knew that only the room could make the boy forget time. Time lay asleep deep within objects. Curiously enough at some point in his life the boy wanted to take his mind away from all thoughts of water. The waters of his whitewashed imagination threw him on the shore with empty bottles all around. In one of those bottles he found a note in which was written that standing hair was a sign of a vision. The vision of a park without children in it. It was a tormenting vision. He cried and there were no tears. It seemed unnatural for a weeping face. Thatís how the room saw him. It saw him as a child. The room breathed like people do when they are injured. The boy heard the breath of the room. He suffered. It meant that he had to go down the drain. The room occupied him. The boy felt he must die in order for him to understand the room. The room turned quiet. The boy tiptoed into another space. He saw a cat in the alley. The cat drove him mad with fear. He went back into the room. That was no longer the room that he had left a long time ago. He never belonged to any space and he could not go back to that space in which he never belonged. He bit his lustful lips. They did not bleed. They gave the impression of teeth marks on them. Lust made him own things. That sensuous delight of owning and being owned marked all the relationships that he experienced. A short life but a long story. Not one but a series. Each story somehow connected to another. Completely disconnected when you give a steady look. The look had a story of its own. Differences piled upon differences. The boy had nothing in common with his life. The things that happened to him and himself existed in two entirely different spheres. Himself and what he perceived as himself were two separate entities. It was not a usual love story where the protagonist happened to be a boy in search of the stone in a woman. The stone was created. A human being was responsible for that stone being there. Men are like that. Stones of a certain variety are made by men. He refused to see the stone in any woman. It was too normal for him. Every story carried within it a stone-hearted woman. The story that he thought made him different was between him and himself. He ignored the empty spaces in-between. He tried to remember his face as a child but in fact he had forgotten history. The empty space of the room rippled like the folds of a curtain. As a man he could not accept the guilt of being an oppressor. It was too much for his educated mind.

In the spirit of a true village Hyderabad played mother hen to its chicks. In the end you slept somewhere and it was a piece of earth. You woke up with a headache. Sick you sometimes ate nothing. You just walked into the open along a railway track to disembowel yourself. A train passes by. Your ass faces the train. Shit on the travelers who think they have answers to everything. These travelers were not looking for a room. They lived in concrete houses. Not those sitting on the top of the trains. Not those crammed in the general compartments, which during the British rule were known as third class compartments. Gandhi who was a traveler of sorts apparently had something to do with that change of names from a third class to a general compartment. Students and working employees often used the local trains. There was a separate ladiesí compartment as well. Usually the trains departed later in the afternoons. They arrived in the mornings or around noon. The timing did not matter. When they departed it always seemed night and when they arrived they gave the feeling that the day was just beginning. The empty space of the train is the strangest of them all. It was not history. But it carried the histories of so many people within it. When he watched a train the boy became uncertain if he really was anticipating the presence of the room. The muscles of his belly gently contracted with depression. The air was heavy. The mother and the bride-to-be shared certain things in common that the groom and the father did not comprehend. The look of the boy seemed to have a crushing impact on the way the sun looked at the earth. The earth gave a broken smile. The mother kept on moaning about how expensive marriages were these days. Recorded sound played in the background. The boy decided that he must talk to the stars. The stars foretold nothing that he wanted to hear. In the heavens the stars stood as if they were born for this earth. They had the stillness of a meditative universe whose heart was beating without being heard by the naked ear. The universe suddenly became smaller than a heartbeat. The smallness of the universe amazed the boy. For a second he believed that the room was there. The room revolved on its own axis. It played on the exhaustion of the boyís spirit. The boy was haunted by a desire to wash himself. He fell into moods of erotic fantasies where for a short while he saw things in an order missing in his life. The room came to life. In his childhood there were buffaloes in the backyard. Sweet tea made with the milk of buffaloes stayed in his tongue. The tongue spoke through movement. Words were useless when the tongue spoke in a slithery language. A soul acclimatized to laziness lent itself to the waves of circumstances. The balance was lost. Like everything in life the room was aging faster than what the boy was expecting. Age permeated the spirit. The spirit of the age was in the frying pans of the kitchen. The pans were old too. They had followed the boy for a long time. They had become a part of his objective life. They followed him with the frequency of sound waves. Hyderabad is a city without a spirit. It is not easy to rent a house if you are a bachelor. Folks have this nagging suspicion that single males are not to be trusted. Things happen under the table. Women must be protected all the time. The hands of a man were made for lust and grabbing before they even went to work. Thatís how men perceived men. The boy was lost in confusion. He thought he knew. He did not. He wanted to give up. He could not. He relaxed indoors on sunny days. His body grew up at the thought of dropping a glass on the floor. The sound of breaking glass could turn him on. It was as sweet as the breast of a woman.

There were no prophecies attached to the room. It was always that someone was in the room or was supposed to come. Both were prospects more likely than what appeared on the surface. The boy lived through those prospects. Each prospect formed a tent and the boy slept under it. He was confused at the prospect of turning into a wild stag. There were voices from a jungle. Civilization was more than some other words varying with the discourse of the user of the word. The boy refused to turn anymore. He was the stag without becoming one. Civilization fell like a cotton flower. The boy longed for pre-natal memories that he compared to the voices of the jungle. There were no memories. The room was not there among those absent memories. Streaks of dark and light everywhere. Millions of dust particles. Pleasure was a copulating goat. He would never know who he was. If he was he too either. He may not be he. Most likely he was she. He could not be she because his hands took her hands and her hands moved around his waist and his hands on her lower body and her hands rubbing his back and his hands going down to her feet and her hands squeezing his shoulders and his hands touching her hair and her hands mapping his face and his hands not letting go and her hands a little in the air and his hands slowing their pace and her hands intensely moving and his hands trying to switch off the lights and her hands tickling him and his hands remembering spring and her hands falling leaves and his hands in another time and her hands on his lap and his hands wrote on walls and her hands formed blank spaces and his hands picked flowers in the mornings and her hands danced among the kittens and his hands were of a dreamer and her hands were of an artist and his hands explored the hands of pavement dwellers who live by collecting articles from garbage cans and recycling them and her hands held those hands as if they were her hands and his hands aspired for some kind of purity in cleaning the bodies of children and her hands produced pity in his hands and his hands lived in the hands of poor villagers exploited endlessly by the owners of property and her hands joined him in the struggle for a decent life and his hands sometimes fell into the habit that they were right and her hands convinced him otherwise and his hands felt the need to change the world in a minute and her hands were afraid of burning the food in the kitchen and his hands thought deeply on issues related to politics and philosophy and her hands knit sweaters with an impressive casualness and his hands formed vistas of blue skies and her hands dipped in hot sands and his hands had this strange complex of being inward and subtle and her hands felt the world with eyes that could be moved by suffering and his hands waited for the day and her hands savored the pink dawn and his hands were inspired by fire and her hands played with children and his hands worked with ideas and her hands worked with other hands and his hands liked to climb mountains and her hands ventured into green forests and his hands rang the bells in the temples and her hands defied the masculine persona of the priest and his hands looked forward in time and her hands waited for the traffic lights to signal red in order to cross the street and his hands looked for proof and her hands for alternatives and his hands lifted weights that demonstrated the power of human hands and her hands caressed the hands that made the difference and his hands wished for the outcome and her hands dwelt in the process and his hands wondered if there was more to life than just those hands and her hands laughed at those wondering hands and his hands shared in the life of the streets and her hands understood what his hands went through and his hands could not live without her hands and her hands forgave his thoughts and his hands longed to be one with hers and her hands showed him the other sides of this oneness and his hands smelt of blood and her hands had broken pieces of glass in them and his hands took the shape of a knife and her hands were words sharper than the blade of a knife and his hands knew everything and her hands were indignant and his hands could not touch anymore and her hands saw no point in the touch and his hands tried to reason and her hands had enough of reasons and his hands wanted to grasp and her hands were fearful and his hands were holier than hers and her hands were raised before they fell and his hands were wet with tears and her hands broke down with exhaustion and his hands tried to speak and her hands were not listening and his hands almost gave up and her hands were suspicious and his hands opened the wounds and her hands could not see them and his hands withheld all explanation and her hands stopped asking for one and his hands spread out against the limitless expanse and her hands thought of other hands more comforting and his hands were exposed to the hands of the street and her hands could not bear the indifference of hands that once meant so much and his hands that could not come together and her hands bearing the brunt of cold winds and his hands could not stop looking back and her hands that refused to melt under the eye of the sun and his hands at a loss of understanding and her hands not being understood and his hands far away and her hands expecting the horizon to move into their lives and his hands praying for an end to all things and her hands strained to the point of no return and his hands begging for deliverance and her hands bound to his image to the point of sickness and his hands crushed with despair and her hands failing to stand and his hands obstinate as the jaws of a shark and her hands feeding on illusions and his hands becoming stale with passing time and her hands murderous with rage and his hands that struck and her hands that fought back and his hands that shrank with a sense of futility and her hands damp and listless and his hands had no words and her hands too shocked to believe and his hands servile and her hands indecisive and his hands wishing he could turn the circle of time and her hands dreading the moment his hands touched hers and his hands waiting to be punished and her hands sorry for his hands and his hands digging deep into the soil for shame and her hands not so sure about his hands and his hands trying to look the wound in the eye and her hands realizing that he canít get out of the situation and his hands leaving things to time and her hands pretending not to notice his intentions and his hands hurt by the distance and her hands protesting in exasperation and his hands too tired to start again and her hands putting her head in her lap and his hands functioning as a pillow for a bursting head and her hands isolated in the darkness and his hands going through the dreamiest of nights and her hands hardly sleeping at all and his hands waking up not feeling too much better and her hands letting the normal day enter their normal lives and his hands not too communicative and her hands arranging the spoons in the kitchen and his hands preparing a cup of coffee and her hands resting against a pillow in the living room and his hands ready to open the door and her hands not hearing the knock and his hands welcoming any intrusion and her hands desperately trying to be natural and his hands talking through another person and her hands doing the same and his hands meeting her hands in another space eye to eye and her hands attempting to forget the events that transpired between them and his hands incidentally brushing her hands and her hands aware of that slight brush and his hands wondering whether it was a triumph and her hands serious for an instant and his hands recoil and her hands separate and his hands fall back on memories of fatigue and her hands open in doubt and his hands violent with grief and her hands alarmed at the course of events and his hands resting on the stairs and her hands in anotherís hands and his hands fading out and her hands holding out and his hands roaring and her hands foxing and his hands sliding down a hill and her hands surging on the high seas and his hands saw a trace on a gloomy night and her hands felt the trees whispering secrets in her soul and his hands followed the trace and her hands hugged the trees and his hands opened the door and her hands kissed the branches and his hands saw the trees from the windows and her hands reached for the hands coming out of the windows and his hands were shy as a schoolgirl and her hands were laughing with the light and his hands passively lay across his chest and her hands took his hands in her hands.

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