He had a damp dream. Not a wet dream but a damp one. The dream was of a past sunshine, of green meadows, of fenced courtyards. But the dampness came from somewhere. It did not emanate from within but covered the dream like a coloured glass that obstructs one’s vision.
He woke up. His alarm had gone off. He had to get ready. The dream had gone. Completely erased from his mind. The only thing that remained of the dream was the dampness.
A look at the watch showed that it was time to get ready. He had to go for work. But the watch was moving slowly. It wasn’t but it seemed so. This happened only during holidays. He could sense holidays without even knowing. The air hangs at the eye level, the hands of the watch move slowly when you look at them and the crows and pigeons gather at the window sill to tell you that they come there everyday and it is you who remains absent.
It in fact was a holiday. A Sunday actually. He didn’t know how he had missed it. But he had got out of the bed completely and decided not to go back. The whole week had been a busy one and he decided to relax.
Toothbrush, a visit to the matchbox bathroom, Maggi, dip tea, Gold Flake – his morning was all but over. He wondered what to do next.
Sitting on his bed and staring blankly, his thoughts wandered. He thought about the previous day. For the whole day he had been moving. From door to door, shop to shop. His job demanded that. All that had made him dog tired. A good night’s sleep had done him a world of good but the tiredness could not be done away with completely. It still lingered in his body as creases of comfort. All he had to do was stretch them out and swathe his body in a docile pleasant sensation.
He stretched out his mind. It was ages since he had thought in absolute terms. He was preoccupied with this and that. Even his thinking habits had started to need pillars to weave themselves around. He liked to think in a manner that was relatively devoid of ‘issues’. A relatively pure thinking. Pure…and dry.
A shaft of light drafting into the room caught his attention. Rather the dust particles basking in them did. He saw…there they were – the tiny ones. Lit with glory due to a window left slightly ajar, they illustrated the Brownian movement in front of him. He wondered who had given a name like ‘Brownian movement’ to a motion as lyrical as the waltz.
He kept on thinking. The space before his eyes, graced with the dust particles, suddenly came into its own. It seemed to remain there on its own…without any need to rest on the adjacent space below. May be the wistfulness of the dust particles gave him the sense of lack of gravity on that space. He felt relieved. For him till now the space before his eyes had been just a corollary of the space adjoining the floor. In fact it just lay midway between the floor and the ceiling. There was the floor and there was the ceiling. All the other things in the room were merely the ‘in betweens’. But now the space had a throbbing life of its own.
This suddenly induced a sense of lightness in him. A lightness that was the opposite not of heaviness but of dampness. The overwhelmingly damp feeling that he had got earlier in the morning had eased out a bit.
Mr. Kelkar and his family lived in the small one bedroom flat for 24 years. They i.e. he and his wife, used to live in a slum prior to that. He wasn’t particularly poor at that time. But renting a flat in Mumbai was out of question. After Mr. Kelkar got a raise in his job he decided to take the flat on rent. Children followed and the couple vegetated into a full grown family.
Mr. Kelkar’s not so spacious flat stood as a metaphor for the family. Not only had it stood around them but also for them. The youth and the middle age of the family was also the youth and middle age of the flat. Change of fortune for the family and the family members was also the change of fortune for the flat.
The flat’s changes of fortune were expressed through its level of dampness. Once Mr. Kelkar had lost his job. He had been implicated on some false accusation and lost his job on disciplinary grounds. The Kelkar family had fallen on bad times. The flat had become unusually damp at that time. The air used to remain heavy and the walls sullen and swollen. When Mr. Kelkar regained his job, the air turned lighter and the place drier.
When the Kelkars left the flat, they had left it very damp.
He got up and decided to help himself to some more tea. Then he started to while away his time sipping on to his tea, reading the newspaper and watching television – all at once. Sifting through the colourful ad filled pages of the newspaper, he spotted the news of a rebel attack on the police station of a small village somewhere in the northern part of the country. The village he belonged to was in the same district as the one mentioned in the newspaper. Even his village lived under the tension of the rebel attacks. But he had left all of that behind long ago. His father had died when he was in college in the city preparing for his competitive exams. Left were his stepmother – his father’s second wife and his half sister. His father never wanted to remarry. But he had to raise his child alone which became increasingly difficult. On the advice of the villagers, he remarried. But his son was not happy with the marriage. The new wife treated the kid well. But the kid never got along well with the woman.
When the father died, he took leave from his college and went to his village to perform the last rites. He saw his step mother remain silent throughout. One the day before his leaving, she asked him if he needed money for his studies. He hated to say yes but after all he had to buy the forms for his competitive exams. He reluctantly took the money from her. After that he came back to the city, cleared his competitive exams and got a job.
Yesterday, he had got a call from his village. It was his stepsister. The mother was ill and she needed some money. She told that they did not want to trouble him but they really had no other option. But how could he give any money to them? After all, he also had to live. Life in a big metro is expensive.
He told his sister that he would call them whenever he had money and send it across. The people at both the ends of the phone knew that no money was ever going to be sent. But an amicable albeit temporary solution had been reached. Both could keep down the phone without any awkwardness. It was a moment of lightness for him.
Mr. Kelkar had struggled with his career. He wasn’t particularly bad at his job but he certainly had been a failure in life. His children were big disappointments. More importantly, they were disappointed with him. He could not provide them with what they wanted. And to make things worse, he had to shift back to the slums from the flat.
Mr. Kelkar never wanted his family to be known by his name. He never wanted Mrs. Kelkar to be known as Mr. Kelkar’s wife. Therefore, he wasn’t authoritative. He did not impose. But his views did not liberate the family. They made him pathetic in the eyes of everyone else. His wife was ashamed of her husband’s lack of manliness. His children didn’t mind when others made fun of their father. In fact they participated. For them he had become an oddball who had to be studied, dissected and ultimately laughed at. Mrs. Kelkar, whose ties were more intrinsically linked with Mr. Kelkar, couldn’t take that liberty. But she secretly admonished her husband for being so unmanly.
Mr. Kelkar, on the other hand, also laughed at himself. He could study, examine and dissect himself as much as the others. But he took himself very seriously nevertheless. He had certain plans for his family but he wanted them to carry them out themselves. He had some financial plans for each of them but he did not want to decide for them. As a result, his wife and children took that for his lack of sense of responsibility.
Mr. Kelkar had shifted to the flat to give his wife a comfortable life. 24 years in it did see moments of comfort. But only moments. When the children grew up and started to venture out on their own, he failed to provide them with any capital. His savings were almost nil. A petty clerk’s life full of travel and tourism does not allow savings. He then decided to shift to the slums in order to save money. His children were not happy. But they did not resist. They were too fed up with their father.
The move back to the slums proved disastrous. Whatever little business that they had gained went away.
When the Kelkars left the flat, they had left it very damp.
He was happy. Crisply happy. The moment gave him a sense of isolation from the preceding moments. For long he had felt like a wet cloth. Wet clothes are heavy. He had felt heavy too. But all it took was a phone call and a shaft of light to dry him up.
Sometime ago…may be a couple of months…he had heard that there was a flood in his village. He felt sorry for his native place. A lot of the huts were washed away. He always felt that there should be some development in the village. But the people never raise their voices there. So, nothing happens.
He had also wished that his stepmother and his stepsister were ok. Sometimes, he did feel sorry for them.
There was a flood in Mumbai. That year saw the heaviest rainfall in the city. Some said that it wasn’t the rainwater though, that flooded the streets. Some say that it was the drainage system that was fucked up. There are issues of water level they say. That was because swamps and mangrove forests had been filled up for constructions. New houses, new malls. A brand new look for a brand new city. Mumbai, they say, is always new.
Mr. Kelkar died in that flood. He did not die of some waterborne disease. He just drowned! And he just left a bubble of air at the surface of water at the site of his drowning. A perfect dry bubble of air amidst a city in floods.
And his death wasn’t even reported.