I met another version of him after three years: a totally different avatar. I wanted to meet him after reading one of his recently published poems. The tone of the piece showed a shift from his earlier work. His initial writing was effervescent, or like David’s psalms began on a note of melancholia and then gradually drifted to a note of triumph. Now, he wasn’t religious by any means, but he’d seen beauty. He’d seen her in an elegant ivory dress: a little coy, but willing to embrace a bedraggled him. You could always sense that he’d had an epiphany or a cathartic moment of sorts because his writing reflected it. His poems didn’t allude to similar artists, were not allegorical, or filled with symbolism. But there were these gentle nuances in them that soaked the reader with a softer, mellow happiness. They had this rhythm to them, and he didn’t use meter, rhyme or traditional form to enforce this. He was brilliant, but his recent work, however, scuttled across more esoteric surfaces. These were cryptic, self-indulgent, full of surrealism; and experimentation. They also had a confessional element to them, or at least that was my impression. It seemed to me that he was in the throes of some suffering. Now I will not use a cliché and call it ‘existential angst’, but it was some hopelessness; some piercing, daunting anguish of the soul.

We met at a café near his place because he said it was convenient for him. Both of us had changed with time, and it hardly took a few sentences spoken to realize this. His openness and his frankness, which had surprised many once, had all disappeared. He never did bother about showing anybody both his strong and vulnerable side because he didn’t care about people’s opinions. Now, however, he seemed reserved, but it was a different kind of withdrawal. I doubt that insults or people trampling him had caused this. It was more of an apathetic, everything around me moves or stands still, and I do the same. There is no escaping. I’ll forever be trapped in this spectrum of meaninglessness, and on some days the emptiness is expansive; on other days just a slit within, that had engulfed him. I wanted to struggle with him, fight for him, help him see elegance again, but I realized soon that he was far gone.

“Your eyes, they give away everything. I see it: the hollowness, the antipathy towards the positive, and I just want to know why,” I said, and he looked at me with a lopsided grin, and said, “It isn’t something obvious like the loss of a loved one, or failure after failure that did it. It also wasn’t something sudden. I didn’t wake up one morning, go outside and stopped seeing the rose, and only saw the thorn. No, it was always there, I just didn’t embrace it. All those ‘inspirational’ poems that made me a ton of money never reflected me. Sure, I’ve seen beauty, but she fades just like man does. Her influence is only ephemeral, and as time passed, and I fell into the same pattern day after day, I gradually realized that I was always forcing myself to smile; that my love was just a momentary gush; that my sorrow a duty. I found myself questioning meaning and found nothing. There were times when what I was going through frightened me because I was gradually stripping each virtue or vice, I clung to of its essence to see if there was something real, but I found nothing. So, I let that cold draft of apathy freeze all the falsehood that I had invented to sustain myself, and finally found a barren me: exposed but not vulnerable; tired but not filled with self-hate; indifferent but not wounded.”

“But has all this given you closure? I ask this because I read ‘Listless’ the other day, and it seemed as if you were writhing in inner hell,” I said, and he said, “‘Closure’, ‘Peace’, what are these things but man-made concepts that we glorify as universal truths. You’ve interpreted my poem as being confessional, but it really is a piece about a broken, sentient being unlike me: A person who fears leaping across that chasm of angst to that place of total aridity I’m in now and hence is unstable. The esoteric symbolism all serves to reflect this penultimate state.”

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

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