Light my heart and watch it burn until it is as dark as Africa. Don’t accuse me of racism. I was there in Paris with you, when you swiped all the African women left on Tinder, without even carefully looking at them once. I’m probably the only black mistress that you don’t mind bringing close to your brown lips. Lips that are turning my colour with every passing day. I am waiting for the day you look at yourself in the mirror and want to swipe those dark lips left but cannot.
You don’t care about the distant future, do you? The imminent one worries you enough. Is that why you prefer torching me whenever you’re alone? Until my hundred shades of brown and grey reach that elusive uniform blackness that precipitates a satisfied smile on your worried face. Now that I have survived your test of fire, take a careful look at me. Am I black enough? Pull me close to your right nostril and sniff me as a Labrador would. You haven’t been a fan of pranayama. Manali’s March has blocked your nose too soon. Give it a blow, or a quick suck in. Rid yourself of that stinky mucus. Only when it’s cleared, can you proceed. Why are you feeling shy? Just blow it on the roadside. No, no, don’t take out your handkerchief. It’s India; carrying phlegm in one’s kerchief is unholy. Done? Good. Now come close and approve my bare smell. Am I the premium Himalayan Maal that I was sold to you as, or did somebody adulterate me with goat-poop? Not the latter, I’m glad to hear that.
Now is the moment for some action. Crush me, mash me, rub me, smash me. Pick me with your delicate fingertips and grind me in your left palm until all your fingers bear my smell and I am drenched in your sweat. Hold my hands. Thank you. Now, grabbing by the unburned dog end, pull out the rumpled Marlboro hidden in your back pocket since morning. You don’t mind seeing its wretched state; you had knowingly kept it there for me, away from the greedy hands of your friends, aware that I would be indifferent to its creases. Cut open. Use your sharp right thumbnail and scissor it along its crinkled length, its mouth hovering like the sun above me. Pepper its fresh brown and yellow flakes on my face; show me the snowfall that is destined before we both attain heaven.
The snow seeps slowly. Wait for it to melt into the creaks of my body. I need you, need you to shuffle me. Don’t linger. Do you remember shuffling the Pink Floyd songs in the iPod that you stole from Matthew Samson’s room at the fellowship in New Delhi? Matthew had stopped using it ever since he had bought the Sennheiser speakers. You saw it lying on his desk, tucked away in a corner, below a pile of coloured sheets. You were enamoured by the careless sight. Sunday evening, when Matthew’s room was the most crowded, you decided to make your move. Raghavan Chandrashekhar, Matthew’s roommate, was fiddling with me with his big fat fists, preparing the next round, and the Sennheiser crooned the unplugged version of Breaking Benjamin’s – So Cold. You liked the bass, and you’d have much rather preferred to steal those five hundred dollar speakers if it were possible, but being the kindhearted kleptomaniac that you are, you settled for less. Not until the very end of the fellowship, did he notice his iPod was missing. It was too late to grieve. He shuffled me in his palms to ease whatever little pain there was. Shuffle me, as Matthew did, before he traces and finds you sitting on a red Royal Enfield outside Anu Auto Works at the foothills of the Himalayas in Manali, listening to the most-played song on his neglected iPod: Porcupine Tree’s – Arriving Somewhere, Not Here.
I want to be held tight. Roll me up in that OCB that you bought last evening on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway. You don’t listen, instead reminisce about the mortification that gripped your nerves when you were trying to appear cool in front of brats from the Delhi University, you claimed how you forgot your “OBC” in your car. “OBC? As in Other Backward Classes?” They’d asked. “The smoking paper, suckers.” You underlined your words with a smirk. When they laughed, you didn’t understand why. Until you came home and searched for “OBC rolling paper” and Google politely asked you, “Did you mean OCB rolling paper?” You had slammed the keyboard with your fists, dislodging the space bar, for the faux pas. OCB, the acronym for Odet-Cascadec-Bolloré, a French company that manufactures smoking paper,was now chiseled in your memory forever. The following year when you were in France and the price of cigarettes soared at seven Euros a pack and when smarter smokers carried raw tobacco instead, you understood why OCB was born. Now when you can give gyaan about OCB and different compositions of pot, even the nincompoops seem disinterested. Your memory is ridden with several such moments and every time you open that almirah where such embarrassing misadventures are hung like giant overcoats, you desperately urge for me. Such as now.
But you don’t roll me yet. The OCB is still crouching in some hidden crevice of your windcheater. Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree explodes his distorted guitar solo in your ears, and you decide to lose yourself to it. You loop the song and pack me in a newspaper that you picked up from the ground, making its four ends curl up towards the center – interlocked, so that it doesn’t open sloppily – and shove me in the pocket of your jeans. When you sit, I can smell your underwear through the thin skin of your pocket. After a while, it smells of me. You spend the next twelve minutes and fifty-six seconds listening to the song. Arriving Somewhere, Not Here, you hum, imagining yourself floating in a warm pool. The hot geysers of Vashisht are nearby. Just fifty meters from Anu’s workstation, your potbellied hotel owner had told you, advising you to take a dip. This is not Jacuzzi time, you know. Jacuzzi is for next week, when you return – if you return ¬– from the perilous journey that has perished many of my admirers.
It is evening and you have come to rent a Royal Enfield from ‘Anu Auto Works’ for your Ladakh trip the next morning. The stories of ruthlessness of the snowstorms, frigidity and landslides hounding the world’s highest motorable roads of the Manali-Leh highway are entrenched in the Himachali folklore. Each year, one out of every fifty riders dies of altitude sickness, or is consumed by frostbites. There’s no hospital on the way; even phones don’t work, Anu tells you. You shiver. Before the Himalayan cold winds chill your spine, you decide to warm it up with me. Anu, popularly addressed as ‘Anu Bhaiya’ to prevent any misunderstanding regarding his gender (since Anu is usually a name for a girl), is a slender hip Himachali, an Enfield-fanatic, whose Manali-Leh bike tours attract tourists from all around the globe and an overall nice guy. You have been briefed about Anu’s life story by your gabby hotel owner. Anu’s a local stud, you inferred. During one of his package tours, he wooed an Israeli tourist chick and has been living, smoking, sucking, fucking with her since 2009. His collection of vintage Royal Enfields on display—as if NCC cadets at ease before a parade—must have seduced the blonde into thinking that she’s in for a grand-gala of a lifetime. Among his many Enfields, you fall for the brown one-seater which has gargatuan shock-absorbing springs. You click a selfie with your rumps on its comfortable seat and post it on Facebook. Twenty-seven likes in five minutes. Not even close to the record 30 likes in one minute, when you had posted: I am going to IIM-A, to hire. Who cares if you were being a fabulist, phony and feku? It had made you feel good in harrowing times. Your now-dead start-up wasn’t doing too well then. If it were, you wouldn’t have been clicking odd-selfies with these fancy machines right now, but would have bought the frigging monsters instead. Or at least rented the mat four thousand rupees (70$)a day, for the next one week. But you, the struggling writer that you chose to be, could not afford these bloody beasts. You search for something that doesn’t slash your shallow pockets. Eight-Hundred-Rupees-a-day. A late 90’s machine that sounds reassuring enough, so what if it resembles the growl of a forty-year-old mason suffering from a backache?
Anu offers you a puff from his cigarette, but you don’t take it. Tobacco spoils the taste of your mouth. It lingers, tainting everything you speak or eat thereon with its acrid aftertaste. With me, it’s different. I soothe your palate. Coat it with a black layer of intoxication. I’m dark sugar, you tell your friends. Dark in appearance, sweet in taste. Anu asks you to climb upstairs to his office for some paperwork – signing a declaration that you are aware of the danger of the impending journey and neither Anu nor his bike are responsible if you die en route. You follow his command. His assistant Bablu opens the door for you, informing that Anu Bhaiya might take time. An Israeli, who was just laid off from his army service with a fat paycheck, is interested in the brown-big-springer you were captivated by. You think of joining the army for a while and the fantasy excites you. You indulge in it. Will the current breed of women writers – who write well but do not sell, who have recently acquired a British accent along with an unemployable Master of Fine Arts degree, who treat you as a wanna be writer too full of himself (one of them had even called you a bubblegum on her blog) – see you differently if you were a decorated officer who wrote? Maybe. As long as you aren’t preposterous enough to call yourself a full-time writer, you command their respect. Just like an army officer should.
Or how about an entrepreneur who writes? Not too long ago, after your venture failed, you’d wanted to start again—with the wish to become just so rich that you could write without worrying about the bills for life. Conrad had even given you a business idea. Very few people know, that when you gave his magnum opus 5 stars (without even reading) on Goodreads, it was just for its unforgettable title, which reminded you of me. You dreamed of a future where selling me was legal and you ran the world’s biggest Maal company, appropriately named: ‘Heart of Darkness’. “Five minutes,” Bablu breaks your spell. The outstretched greasy fingers of his right hand that whisper wait and his scrunched up eyes demand the basic business understanding from you: a bigger party deserves priority. You nod. You don’t mind. You’d wait and fantasize. The farther tomorrow is, the safer you feel.
You check the black-and-white photos of twelve sparkly black Enfieldsand their twelvewell-built riders, dressed in black jackets and black aviators. The caption reads:
Anu Runn of Kutch Enfield Tour 2011.
Prices for Anu Runn of Kutch Enfield Tour 2012: 1000$ for ten days.
Runs every second month, starting May.
Too costly on a struggling writer’s budget. You calculate the money this small-time businessman makes in this nondescript hill-station. It’s greater than the highest package that was offered at your alma mater, known for making waves every placement season. There is another photograph, a coloured one, that of a man and a blonde woman, half-cuddling each other, half-cuddling an Enfield each. The man looks familiar. His pahadi-teeth clenching an unlit cigarette. The woman holds the lit lighter below. You’re jealous. You console yourself knowing that this small-time entrepreneur’s wife, no matter how blonde she is, is lesser endowed than your second girlfriend. It’s another thing that it didn’t last long with the second one. She is in Malaysia right now, travelling—so she says but you know she’s just running away, like you. Did you make her a runaway, or did she make you one?
Anu comes. His first question isn’t exactly his first question of the evening. He has asked it before, “want a puff?” You say that you don’t smoke tobacco. You smoke only me. You decline and pay him four thousand rupees—hard notes freshly barfed from the PNB ATM next to the city’s oldest Momos and Thukpa Joint, appropriately named so. You feasted on momos there. A Tibetan migrant called Tenzin, who claimed to have come to India along with the Dalai Lama, has been running it since the 1980’s, decades before India adopted momos. You didn’t like his bland momos, but since he was a nice old bloke, you clicked a photo of him and posted it on Facebook with an overzealous caption: The Man Who Brought Momos to India. Twelve likes in five minutes. Not bad. Anu counts the wad of notes and slides it into his shirt-pocket. He takes out a pack of Navy Cut and lights another one. The five ashtrays on his table contain hundreds of pale fag ends, as if yellowed with time. You ask Anu for a nice café to chill and fill. Rainbow, he says, it’s uphill. Five minutes later, you are there on the sputtering monster that you can call your own for the next five days.It’s a terrace café. Upstairs, there are two Russian women, disheveled hair, red-eyes, slender fingers, busy rolling. They exhale my spirit in the air and you smell. You are instantly in love with the place.
You sit next to the railing, opposite the prettier one of the two, so that you clamber up as we inch towards the moon, and have the pretty blue-green eyes to fall back on. The sky, soaked with stars, arrests you. You even spot the hazy patch of the Milky Way, as if someone has sprinkled wheat-flour on a black porcelain plate. Black is as beautiful as it’s gruesome, as soulful as it’s soulless. Black is the colour of the universe as well as the nothingness. Black is infinite, black is non-existent. Black is everything, everywhere. Black is above the roof, black is below the bed. Black is right here, waiting, to glow red. Take out. Take out the pouch that has me asleep from the deep dark recesses of your pants. Also, the translucent OCB from wherever it is resting. Open me beneath the table, in the shade. I do not want to be startled with brightness. I’m groggy, slightly sweaty; I prefer the slow and warm awakening. Leisurely, place me on the table and bring me to the light. Be slow, be gentle. Till I rub my eyes, draw your wallet, pull out all those visiting cards with chamfered edges, read the names and choose the most forgotten one. Cut that into half, along the longer side. Roll it, lick its edges, affix the rolling paper with its wetness and shove my flakes into its disfigured mouth. Now, salivate you Pavlov’s dog and wipe your tongue with your hands as if it were your lips, wet with milk. The saliva, besides helping the paper stick to the makeshift filter, seals it. This is now a joint.
I like the way you twist the tip of the joint, turning the OCB into a plaited tail. That it gets ignited before me and that I can wait and watch and count seconds to an approaching end, is seductive. Do you remember Sonal Sinha, the girl with the longest choti you know? Imagine her hair braid having caught fire. She’s running berserk, shrieking and pirouetting to avoid the pony flare up her mediocre arse. It’s a frightening sight; the fire slithers up to her head, burns the scalp until it is transformed into a barren fallow, and then it crunches her face charring it as though it was molten asphalt. In a blink, the whole body is engrossed in flames, vapours of blood festooned on the ceiling, slowly turning crimson instead of black. Fire is ruthless. Not very different from your imminent journey. Careful. As you light the tail, I watch the smoulder and the heat crawl towards me like Sonal Sinha’s burning braid, millimeter-by-millimeter. Only, I am savouring. I like to burn.
You are ready. I can hear Matthew’s earphones chime the initial guitar riff of The Endby ‘The Doors’, your hash song. Putting it on repeat, you, you fall freely into the abyss of The Doors, of Blake’s quote “If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite” that lent the band its unforgettable name, of the mystery of Jim Morrison, of his barricaded grave in Pere Lachaise, where fans stick their variegated chewing gums in the honour of the Lizard King. You like the quiet of cemeteries but you hated Morrison’s. It was anything but quiet. It was teeming with white people, their selfie-clicks and their wealthy dicks. Like buzzing houseflies. You don’t hate white people. In France, you even tried your luck with Marion Victor, a French girl whom you met at a picnic. She wasn’t attractive, but she was white and blonde and you fantasized snaking your tongue through her golden bush to reach the heaven that you’re seeking now. At Jardin du Luxembourg, you had offended her when you’d asked her of her preferred sexual position. “C’est très personnel!” she had yelped. You mumbled a halfhearted apology, and imagined her catching fire, while watching her body become so black that you could swipe her left on Tinder. The lighter in your hand sparkles at its will. Will the fire creep inwards through the honeypot? You don’t think so. There isn’t enough oxygen inside, your bloody science teacher taught you. That’s why books don’t burn easily. The pages, clinging to each other as if desperate lovers, don’t permit oxygen to intrude their intimacy. You are happy. The Hindutva brigade won’t be able to burn your polemic book Joystick when it comes. It will come when you write it. You will write it when you are ready. You will be ready when you stop running away. You will stop running away when you sit down to write it.
You sat down to write this story in Paris, in your little dorm-room in Cité Universitairé that reeked of your socks, but couldn’t endure beyond a hundred words. Your enthusiasm plummeted; writing turned suddenly arduous. As always. It was then that you reached out to me, alone at the Universitairé rooftop where furtive lovers smoked and sloppily made out against the Eiffel’s beam, which dazzled them every seven seconds. Seine’s breeze fluttered your hair as you looked for Venus in the purple Paris sky. You couldn’t locate. Light pollution, you had learnt in the urban affairs course a month ago. Holding me within, you blackmailed me into writing for you. It wasn’t too difficult for me, you made me see. You had smoked me enough. I was running in your blood. I could access the farthest unfrequented corners in your memory, I could sink into your eyes and watch the things that you are not seeing, I could tiptoe towards your fingertips and feel the world, I could slip into your dick and erupt in a gush into the washbasin every night. I knew so much about you that I could do what you couldn’t: write. I agreed. The resulting thousand words were unlike anything that you had read or written before. You were pleased, so pleased that when you made Marion read those four paragraphs, much before you went on to burn her, you were anticipating heavy applauds. Even an impulsive blowjob. She read those paragraphs twice, with great interest, enunciating every word in her terrible French accent that seemed cute to you at the time, because her dancing lips made you want to kiss her. You anticipated a smile to crack open out of her puckered lips, but she belched a question instead. A genuine, innocuous question, coming from a self-proclaimed smoker who could only mouth fag: “How does the marijuana know all this?” You didn’t respond. You planned a revenge for her dimness in the subsequent paragraphs, instead. Congratulations! You did it. Or was it I?
Ray Manzarek’s organ starts. Poor guy is dead. So is Jim. But nobody visits Manzarek’s grave. He was no sex symbol. Even though he resembled John Lennon when he wore round glasses in the late 60’s, does it matter now? He wasn’t a member of the Club 27. He died at seventy-three, old man. His mellow organ is more famous than him. Why don’t they use the organ anymore? You ask the bottomless pit you have fallen into. It’s a free fall, falling through the wormhole of blackness where your voice reverberates. No answer. Only Manzarek’s organ hums. Morrison begins: This is the End, beautiful friend. You are fond of Morrison. More for his poetry. You felt like him when you landed in Paris, hoping poetry would flow out of your pen as smoke off my tip. It didn’t. In search of inspiration, you tried to rinse yourself with Baudelaire. The translations, like your French, were just not good enough. You kept falling back on Jim—the poet, the musician, the addict—your only beautiful friend. You remember that one line by him that has always troubled you: She dances in a ring of fire and throws off the challenge with a shrug. It sounds beautiful but what does it mean? You had sent that sentence to a poet friend, who smokes Neem leaves for inspiration when short of Maal, hoping she would be able to explain. Even she was clueless. Probably both of you imagined a woman. Try imagining me.
Yes, me. Think of these words: dance, ring, fire, challenge, throw off, shrug. Feel them. Feel the fire that you have lit, that is burning me and has reddened the sclera of the emerald eyes you are drawn to. Challenge yourself to hold me longer, to cleanse the doors to your perception. Watch the ring of my smoke as it appears and flutters and vanishes into the infinite Himalayan sky. Those lines on your forehead ask me whether everything would be better tomorrow. I nod although I want to shrug but in this moment, I want you to throw off the worry for tomorrow’s journey. I dance, to calm you, to sedate you. I dance each time I see your lips at one end, fire at the other. I dance in the transience, in knowing that any moment from now, just about now, the two ends may meet. Fire, and the burning edges of your lips. Only then will I shrug, and sing: this is the end, beautiful friend. My only friend, the end.