12th August, 2032. 3:00am. Between places.
I was having one of the better dreams last night, the kind that almost forces a smile across your face. It was the one in which I become an artist of some sort, in a fancy gallery somewhere. Could you imagine that? My crummy mug in a stark, spotless art gallery, spouting seemingly profound rubbish to a well tamed audience. I don’t know about you but I quite like the thought of that. Beats this hellhole any day.
Unfortunately, my adventures in the art world were quite rudely interrupted by my wailing roommate, this morning. I awoke to him moaning and howling and dragging me further and further away from that happy place in my thoughts. I can’t really blame him. I should be grateful that my dreams were kinder to me than his were to him.
However, there is still cause for celebration. Today, the 12th of August, 2032, marks a full ten years since I was first locked up in here. Day 3,653. Every moment since has been a dance of regret. When I think back to that night, all I see now is a blur – faces and words and feelings melded together into an undecipherable mush. It all happened just so damn fast. I never really meant to set that shop on fire… I don’t know what came on to me. I mean, I knew there was nobody in there. But tell that to a jury, right?
I spent the morning in the library today. Honestly, it’s one of the few reliefs I have. If I had to endure even one more day of physical labour out there in the fields, I’d probably be a dead man by now. At least as the librarian, I can give my mind something to chew on. And what else does one really have left in this sinkhole anyway, if not his mind? That’s all that’s kept me going, these past ten years and all that could possibly hold me together for the next five.
And just as my mind was done mulching away at these imaginings, I awoke. (This time, for real?) I was in my bedroom. The sharp New Delhi sunlight sliced in through the cracks in the curtains and slapped me across my eyes. A grid of blurry, eccentric faces smile back at me from across the room, photographs of flamboyant strangers from a distant land. The Berlin Pride Parade, 2024. I really do quite like that series. How lucky I am to wake up every day to these happy memories.
I fumbled around the sideboard in search of my spectacles, and successfully managed to bump the framed photograph of my girlfriend of ten years onto the floor. I sheepishly smash my glasses on with my left hand, replacing the photo frame onto the sideboard with my right. (I think it would be best if we kept that little incident strictly between us. What Meera doesn’t know won’t hurt her.)
I’m hit by a wave of nostalgia, by the image of a pretty, young Indian girl on the edge of a café, lacing her thick voice with effortless, Blues-y guitar strumming for an enthusiastic Bombay crowd. If fate was ever kind to me, it was on the night I met Meera - the day I played all my cards, fell at the Universe’s feet and said, “Take everything.” Fate obliged, rewarding my faith with a beautiful, beating heart to share a home with.
One would assume that a photographer and a musician are an obvious union but the road that led up to the musings of that lazy afternoon were long and convoluted. There were good years and better years and years that are better left unmentioned. Somehow, we lasted through it all, through every enthusiastic wave of photography and the, sometimes, brutal criticism that followed every exhibition, through every string of song and show and the outpouring of love from her fans, through the lull of unemployment when the markets crashed in 2027, through the deadening rush of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy movie we did in 2021. We made it through it all.
Spectacle-clad, washed and ready, I walked out to the hall. A toothy Chinese man in a black, pinstriped suit waves to me from the screen. The by-line reads (in crisp Mandarin), “Weijun Chen, New Leader of the Free World.”. So much has changed in the past fifteen years. Ha! I am reminded of my time at the Ashoka University when a man from the erstwhile United States of America, lectured us on leadership, and that too in English.
Taking a small detour through the kitchen, I stroll out to the yard. Morty was fast asleep on the lawn, spread-eagled over Meera’s jasmines while Rick snored, bobbing up and down on Morty’s furry chest. Strands of greying fur stuck out from underneath him. They made a cute couple, the two of them. God, I wouldn’t wish a life without my dog and my cat even on my worst enemy.
In that moment though, the two beasts were blocking the only access to the hammock on the other edge of the lawn. Careful not to disrupt their siesta, I hop across them and into the comfort of the hammock between the palm trees. An empty notebook lay untouched on the little stool by the tree. A pen sits, encouragingly on the cover and, almost instinctively, the hands know what to do.
I flip open a blank page and stop to think. A pleasant breeze cooled my fingers and rung the wind-chime into life, sending pleasant shimmers of tings and tangs, across the lawn. The Sun had slowly melted the sky into a pleasing rust.
And then it all came back - the dream, the roommate, the prison and the anguish… Sure sounds like a great story for a film.