Sunday, January 20, 2013

That Girl in Red Dress

It was raining incessantly from the morning, and according to news reports, there was a chance of thunderstorms later on in the evening. Thankfully it was a weekend, so I didn't have to bear the brunt of rain gods all the way to office and back. But weekends usually came with their own baggage; that of boredom and loneliness. Just out of college, I was still getting used to the fact that although friends are for life, they aren't our life. It was only after I ran out of cigarettes that I decided to venture out of my bed. Although my earnings were sufficient to feed myself lavishly as well as send money back home, I enjoyed the unkempt shabby look because it reminded me of my college days when my wallets weren't always this full. Putting on the shirt I wore yesterday, I came out of my flat after almost 12 hours of undisturbed sleep (I am engineer, hence this is common practice). There was a coffee shop in the building where I lived, and it happened to be a popular place to hangout for most people of the neighbourhood. People like me, who had money to spend but no one to spend with usually kept away from such places for numerous reasons like overpriced items, misery of seeing completely gorgeous females with douche bags and the terrifying prospect of meeting an old friend with a companion while I sat there alone. But that day, I somehow felt the urge to have a hot steaming cup of that overpriced coffee, blaming the weather conveniently for my temptation.

The place was literally empty, and I sat in a corner reading the newspaper and waiting for my latte. The hit Guns & Roses song "November Rain" was playing in the backdrop, the strumming of its guitar resonating with the sound of water droplets splashing in the pools of water outside. As I turned over a page of the newspaper, a flash of bright red caught my eyes. A girl in a glowing red gown was sitting at the other corner of the room. There was something about her, that made me pause my shuffling of pages. And for the first time, I paid attention to the lyrics of the song (or maybe the guitar no longer seemed important to me)
When I look into your eyes
I can see a love restrained
But darlin' when I hold you
Don't you know I feel the same
'Cause nothin' lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it's hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain
It was 11.30 in the morning and her dressing didn't really match the ambience or the mood of the place. I continued turning the pages of the newspaper disinterestedly  because my thoughts were suddenly intruded by this mysterious woman. Her light brown eyes reflected a certain pain, but her high cheekbones almost hid it like an arrogant dismissal of the onlooker. Her slender frame made it difficult to judge her age; but one thing that I was sure of was that she belonged to the upper strata of our society (primarily the top floor flat owners of the nearby high rises). The waiter's interruption brought me back to my senses and I took the cup of coffee from him hurriedly, trying to hide the fact that I was openly gaping at his attractive other customer. Two minutes later, when I put down the newspaper, hoping to catch a glimpse of her again, she wasn't there. I looked around frenetically and saw her cross the street and walk away as the fog caused by my breath on the window blocked my view slowly, and the guitar started overpowering the lyrics once again...

(A month later)   

I was a frequent visitor to the coffee shop now. It had become a habit for me to stop by it, whenever I came back from office. I even invited my colleagues sometimes for hanging out in the shop, whenever I got bored waiting for her. And she did drop by the shop now and then, although there was no particular pattern of her visits. She always dressed in a manner that stood out in the crowd, and they kept on getting brighter by the day (for me at-least). I hadn't disclosed this recent obsession to my friends yet, because I knew they would make fun of me because even after a month, I couldn't draw enough courage to ask the girl's name. But a part of me didn't want to know who she was or what she did, because all I wanted was to look at her and feel intrigued...

There was a certain thrill in doing what I was doing, i.e., hitting the coffee shop everyday to catch a glimpse of her without any hope of reciprocation. The fact that she existed had given me a new lease of life. While in office, I would wait relentlessly for the clock to strike 6 and then hurry through the streets and metro rail queues to make it home early. There was something to look forward to everyday, for a change, and I loved the feeling that this thought gave me. Standing in front of the mirror and making mock conversations with the mysterious lady was something I enjoyed, and got better with every passing day. I had still not heard her voice, but I was sure that I would like it too. She changed my taste in music, and I was now more tolerant of the grunge rock songs that the coffee shop occasionally played. The good shirts in my wardrobe seemed wearable on days other than office parties or the rare get together of friends who lived in different parts of the city. My day dreams about her were usually broken by the housemaid, who grew suspicious of my recent smugness for no apparent reasons. She might probably be thinking that I was on drugs, and to an extent she was right as I was always in a state of permanent high; the type of high that even weed, scotch, cigarettes or Pink Floyd couldn't give me in my lifetime...

I decided to take the plunge one fine day. May be it was the effect of the song 'You shook me all night' (AC/DC) that the coffee shop was playing, but I definitely got the courage to sit a few tables closer to her. As the waiter came towards her table to take the order, things slowed down around me as I shook slightly in the anticipation to hear the voice of my torturer for the first time ever since I saw her in that glowing red dress...
Was the best damn woman that I ever seen
She had the sightless eyes, telling me no lies..
The lyrics faded into oblivion as she turned to the waiter for answering his request of order. As her lips moved, I sensed my palpitation increase by manifolds. I held my breath to hear the first words from her, and they were 'A glass of water please'. Deep and musical, she had a lyrical contralto voice...a rarity which I was so sure that she would possess. I realized that I was leaning in on the table out of the excitement to hear her, and relaxed immediately on doing so. As the high notes of the guitar in the song hit me like a shot of vodka, the lyrics overpowered the surrounding noises once again..  
She's one of a kind, she's just mine, all mine
Wanted no applause, it's just another course..
(A Few Days Later)

I couldn't help but ponder, how come such a beautiful girl as her be so lonely, sitting all alone at the coffee-house, without a single companion? Her mesmerizing voice had captured my imagination. She possessed gaunt facial features, which made her look misfit in this age of plastic make-ups. As the fan above me twirled slowly and the clock ticked away, making unnaturally loud noises in the eerie silence that I was used to live in, my phone beeped breaking the rhythm of these natural sounds. It was from office, and they needed me for some emergency. Crap! I was about to dress up and go to the coffee shop. Today was supposed to be my big day. I had made up my mind that I would make the first move and speak to her. And going by the pace of my progress, this really was an important event in our story! I called my boss to ask whether my presence is essential and I could be pardoned for tonight, to which I got an earful. I hated myself, for not being being pushy enough with my boss. I made up my mind to pack up quickly and return, citing some urgent health issue. As I started for my office, I peeked through the window of the coffee shop on the way, but she still hadn’t come. I paused, thinking of the various ways to communicate to her that I existed, but thought otherwise and boarded a taxi. It was the decision that would change my life forever...

I was asked to pack up that fateful night for USA, because my company had to comply by the deadline set by its customer there for a particular work. People were jealous that I was getting this golden opportunity, where as I was in two minds whether to go or not, since I had an unfinished personal quest to make here. A month back, when I hadn't met her, I would have given anything for such an opportunity. But that day, I was not so sure about it. I sat in the coffee shop till late hours everyday, hoping against hope that I would get to see her one last time before I left the country. As I waited for the place to close, I couldn't help but notice the lyrics of the last song every night. As they say, I was numb, comfortably numb...
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?
Come on, now,
I hear you're feeling down.
I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again.
I'll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?

On the night of my departure, I could not take my restlessness anymore. She had not turned up at the coffee shop for two straight weeks. I was friends with the waiters there by then, so I finally asked one of them about the girl, for whom I pined for more than anything else in the world. 

"Ohh, so its you for whom the lady left this note!", he said. He handed me a sealed note, addressed to 'That Guy on Rightmost Corner Table". I was puzzled and happy at the same time, and it surely was a difficult feeling to explain. I had so many questions to ask, but only this came out- "Who is she, do you know her?" The waiter nodded, as he continued doing his routines chores before closure of the shop. "She was the daughter of the owner of this place, this coffee shop I mean." I stared at him, hoping for more information. "She died two weeks back...had some mental problem I guess sir, her lover had died in an accident last year and she never was the same woman thereafter." My heart plunged into the deepest abyss at this news. So many days I had spent without any information about this girl who had made sleeping an arduous task for me, and when I finally came to know who she was, all I could do was nod at the waiter. I walked back slowly to my place, holding the note tightly in my hands. It was drizzling lightly, and I kept the note inside my bag, although I did not bother covering myself to protect from the rains. The chilly feeling of getting drenched seemed more welcome than the fire that was burning inside me. All this while, when she needed someone to comfort her from her pains, all I could do was stare at her and admire her. I felt hollow at my actions, and desperately wanted to let out all my emotions. As a tear rolled down my cheek, it mixed and vanished along with the thousand droplets of water that were making streams over my face. I walked back slowly to my flat to get my luggage, or maybe time had slowed just for me while the city moved at its own break-neck speed...  

All through the way till the airport, I imagined seeing her, sometimes at the traffic signal, sometimes on the signboards by the flyovers. I had never seen her smile, but I was sure it would have been genuine and mysterious like her. The fact that she left me a note was enough to uplift my mood for a lifetime. I took the note in my hand, but did not find the courage to open her note till the time I was sitting in the airplane to New York. I finally took a deep breadth, and opened it to find the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy's lines in it

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.

That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her, poor Ithaca has not deceived you

(Sigh)...Wise as I had become off late, I understood what Ithaca meant to her and to me…and couldn't help smiling as my girl in the red dress faded away in the blue skies, giving way for the New York skyline. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Faceless Man

Music and lyrics has always managed to inspire the best out of me. Time and again, I find myself mesmerized by the geniuses of bands like Pink Floyd, Eagles, Guns & Roses, Creed and Alice in Chains. I really like this particular song called 'Faceless Man' by Creed, whose lyrics I have shared below. 
I spent a day by the river 
It was quiet and the wind stood still
I spent some time with nature 
To remind me of all that's real 
It's funny how silence speaks sometimes when you're alone 
And remember that you feel 
I said it's funny how silence speaks sometimes when you're alone 
And remember that you feel 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand, 
Against the Faceless Man 

Now I saw a face on the water 
It looked humble but willing to fight 
I saw the will of a warrior 
His yoke is easy and His burden is light 

He looked me right in the eyes 
Direct and concise to remind me 
To always do what's right 
He looked me right in the eyes 
Direct and concise to remind me 
To always do what's right 

Again I stand. Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand. Lord, God I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 

'Cause if the face inside can't see the light 
I know I'll have to walk alone 
And if I walk alone to the other side 
I know I might not make it home 

Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 

Next time I see this face 
I'll say I choose to live for always 
So won't you come inside And never go away 
Next time I see this face 
I'll say I choose to live for always 
So won't you come inside And never go away 

Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man

The song basically has 4 protagonists- nature, the vocalist, the face in the water and the faceless man. The vocalist (Scott) is asking the face (I think of god) on the water to enter his inner world and "never go away", thus choosing eternal life which gives him strength to face the Faceless Man ( death, mortality, innermost fear of lack of purpose and terminality of human life). It can have an alternate interpretation too, but I found this too be coherent with what others have given in different internet forums, hence I posted this.

P.S. The interpretation given here is purely my opinion