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'It's an affected reality, but affected is an artistic way. The difference from reality doesn't make it unreal, but surreal. It's a possibility that is concealed in future, and the director revealed it for us. Even when it delves in this surreal, there is always a possibility of an occurrence, if only in a dream. Take the sequence where Greta's neck breaks and unfolds into a swarm of flies. Doesn't it look much like one of our nightmares?' The art professor was droning on and on.

Yes the movie has an artistic feel to it, but more than anything it was boring. And any art form that doesn't elicit interest attracts ridicule from art critics. The former was visible in the hushed jokes passing in the class and the latter was still commenting on the "remarkable film." Sometimes, I wonder what made me take this elective. Indeed, I always had a curiosity towards the arts, but that was dying slowly as the lectures proceeded.

'Who will tell me the significance of the black strap on Greta's neck,' the professor asked. A few hands shot up and he asked one to explain. 'The director has a fetish for necks,' this chubby but intelligent looking boy replied. 'The director's whole set of images and allegories are ridden with neck in one form or the other, and the strap has no other significance than an accessory.'

The class, which had convulsed into laughter initially thinking it was a joke went back to its own interests as the boy proceeded, learning he was serious about what he was saying.

'That's a very good observation, the professor beamed. Basu, you have hit the nail on its very head with your tiny hammer.'

This time the whole class laughed and continued to do so for a very long time. Basu kept standing, looking confused and embarrassed. Professor, obviously, had inadvertently referred to Basu's equipment, and looked as embarrassed. After a few moments, he continued. 'What I mean to say is that your observation is rather acute; thank you.' The class meanwhile had lost interest in the lecture again.

After the class, I saw a group of girls standing around Basu as he explained his view on the film. I walked quickly, pacing to avoid hearing him. But I still caught these words: 'the behavior of the class today puts us at an advantage to understand Jean Durr's work,'he was saying, showing familiarity with the director, 'as it represents the same group folly against which his solitary heroine revolts, turning silent at end.' Deven came running to me and said, 'what's the hurry?' I pointed at Basu's direction and we both started laughing.

Deven is one of those practical persons. Like all practical persons, he knows how to get good enough grades, but he also knows that they are not everything. While Basu would look for an A in even the Art elective, Deven will quite happily take a B while making sure a friend like me gets a C at least. 'Let's have some coffee,' he proposed. Actually, it was more like a comment as we were already moving toward the coffee shack. Taking our cups of coffee, we sat, pulling two chairs from various strewn across in the vicinity.
'Don't do that,' I said, as Deven started to munch on the plastic cup.

He laughed and said, 'he talks too much, doesn't he? 'I asked 'who,' and then said, 'oh! of course. He needs to talk, he does, or he'll not be able to let everyone know that he topped the class again. Actually, I have nothing against him, but,' and then I looked at Deven, 'are we annoyed just that he is fat and yet a swarm of girls is always around him?'

Deven laughed again, almost choking on his coffee, 'No, I don't think so. I don't think Basu is getting laid. Didn't you hear what the professor said in class about his "equipment?"'
'Ha! Freudian slip,' and I also start laughing.
When I had come to the college, I had doubts about Deven. He seemed to gel well with everyone, and I knew: That who pleases everybody is friends with nobody. But slowly, I learn of his ways and realized that in him lied not only a potent ally but a potential good friend.
'Don't think too much about it, 'he warned,' Basu and we are as distinct as a fish and a fly. He's the dead fish by the way.'

Somesh, who must have appeared from nowhere thumped Deven and gave out a yell of halleluiah. After another cup of coffee, I left them to go back home. At home, I was welcomed by emptiness. Mother had not yet come, and father must've gone out. Why are they still together after all these years, I wondered sadly. I wish they had split up years ago. Were there any love between them or have they stayed together only for appearance? Their numerous fights in my childhood go with a blur. Maybe there was some love left till then, or at least some healthy togetherness. In past two years, I had hardly noticed even a murmur of dissent, only a constant indifference. Only in last few months had the bickering returned, and it was much more vicious and pointed than anything I could recall. Now, they wouldn't even hush on seeing me, but shall sometimes call me out, making loud gestures and claims, perhaps, for my support.

I wanted to sleep but went out instead. Sitting on the seashore, I am lost in the surroundings. Perhaps, it is the vastness of the sea that makes you forget everything. The waves, formed thousands of miles away, hit sometimes vigorously and sometimes just flow over gently. On the stones that are a little distant from the face, a thick moss has formed, whiles those facing these waves are barren. The force seems so lively, but only from a distance. Even so, they attract so much passion and reflect such willingness to approach, as if saying: if you won't come, I shall. And as soon as they kill, don't the waves die themselves as well? But they also rear life-and they themselves have a life.

I get up and am surprised to see the ruddy figure of Basu approaching. 'Vishvas!' he cries, 'of all places here.'

'That's my line,' I laugh.

'Indeed, it is. What brings you here? This place is for the bookworms like me, you should be elsewhere, and if you are here-as you are-company should be nearby. What are you doing in solitude, my dear sir?' he queries humorously.

Not a bad sort of fellow at all, I think. Not bad at all. 'Well,' I say, 'I just thought this might improve my grades. After all, whatever Basu does should help one's grades.'

'Ha, Ha!' Basu laughed, 'if you want to fight like a Greek, wear skirts.'

'Wrapped or straight,' I asked in the same humorous vein. To which he replied, 'Pleated!'

Ever so proper, Basu, I thought.

'Ha, ha, ha, right, perfection should be followed perfectly, or else you get a sad copy.' Looking at him, I noticed he was proud, but embarrassed. A decent chap if only he didn't affect such vanity. Somehow, even though he's always genial, and is, in general, good-natured, he always manages to annoy. I am feeling stifled and constrained, as if I weren't near the open sea but enclosed in a strong-room, even a prison. I am a slave on the Roman galley, I thought, I would much rather drown than keep rowing. Fine, let me go. 'Basu,' I said, 'I need to go.' Without looking up at him or answering to his queries on why and where, I quickly paced away. I don't have answers to his questions. Even if the troubles in this world are not always one's own making, the penance is almost always imposed. After walking some distance, I sit down. A wave hits me and I feel I could see through it, it's almost pellucid. I see a fish shedding tears. I keep looking at it-

Oceans are full of your tears, my dear
Why cry today, for no one shall hear

Late at night, I reach home, but no one's there. I go to the bowl, which hasn't had a fish since the last 10 years, and start talking to it. Then realizing my folly, I turn away and then a thought comes to my mind. I take that bowl and put it behind the shoe-rack. Some things are better hidden….and best lost. I undress and switch on the television. I wish I had company. What does he know, Basu? He couldn't even be as lonely. And, yet, if I have hidden my empty fish bowl, perhaps, he has hidden his. Only, I can't sense someone else's loss, as to him I seem a perpetually happy clown-maybe a symptom of some kind of an irregularity, he might have figured. There's a Hindi movie-maker on the telly, says, he makes movies only in Hindi, but is making his present like an American film, only in Hindi. I switch off the T.V.

Next day, I meet Basu again at the college. Deven is sniggering at the next table, while Basu is giving a discourse on appropriateness. I am bored, but don't want to be impolite. But his I-am-better-than-you commentary is starting to be irritating from being just boring. Finally, I ask him, 'which book did you read it in?'


'Yes, who said this about appropriate behavior?'

'Why; it's general good manners. Why should I read it anywhere?'

'Do you mean general as in common, that is which is accepted most?'

'Well, yes, 'he says.

'So, is the common people decided that they don't want to adhere to this, they are free to do so?'

'Uh, huh!'

'Since, you said it's just general good manners and not a part of some of your finely marked and defined doctrine, I should think it is so.'

'Oh, no! No! They definitely have more to it than that. Well, more of age-old accepted and approved way of life. You just don't go against it even if you are with a majority, which does so. That would be highly improper.'

I pity him. While I knew he was right, he himself didn't. A conviction his face couldn't provide. But why should I pity him? Why, like Aristotle, do I believe enlightened sorrow is better than an ignorant bliss? After all, I have learned the lesson from bitter experiences. Probably, he doesn't have a broken family. He doesn't, I sigh, have a hidden fish-bowl. Yes, you are right, I finally say, walking away. I overhear him telling Deven, whom he has managed to corner, how I am acting strangely, lately. Deven just nods. Like a devoted and loyal friend, he doesn't tell him about my family, my Demons. After sympathizing with Basu, he comes running to me confused.

'What was that about,' he questions.

What, 'I ask uninterestedly. Then before he could ask anything else, I ask, 'have you seen a fish cry?'

Suddenly, he is serious. 'My grandfather asked me that question before he died.'

'Did he,' I ask distractedly.

'Yes, he wasn't that old and was rather healthy. Before that night, he never looked even perturbed. Actually, the funny thing is, he was quite calm that day also. That just made his question, ridiculous as they were, all that more haunting. He loved me, but I used to run away from him. He would always talk about these books. Once, on my birthday, he gifted me Cervantes, in Spanish! I was fascinated for about fifteen minutes as he read it to me, but then I asked what it meant. He thought I was being petulant and told me to pay attention. I ran away as he shouted behind. I kept running away.'

I noticed a mark of sadness in his voice and for the first time I wondered if it was just guilt for not tolerating his dead grandfather.
'Do you know my mother died when I was 3,' he said. 'No, I am sorry. Really? I mean, I am sorry, I never thought you didn't have a complete family. You look so--' I searched for the right word if there could be any '--complete.'

He laughed, but it was a very sad laughter. 'Yes, but let me continue. After that, he started to seem a little strange. He still talked of books and even read me Tagore and Sukumar Ray. Bengali writers were his favorite, and he would say humor has more clarity in a line of S. Ray, than in the whole of Cervantes. Indeed, he would keep deriding Cervantes and the Spanish language.

'Once, I went to him and asked him if Bhim, the giant Pandav was an Asur. He was amused and laughed. No, he was just a very great human being. So large was he that his hands would cover the whole stomach of a normally big man, and so powerful that he could pull out his guts with his bare hand.

'I was afraid. I said that this was very bad and I would not pull someone's guts out, even if I could.

'You sure will, he had said very angrily and I had just sat there without ever knowing if he hated Bhim or was it something else.

'You know,' Deven continued, 'we Bengalis can't live without fish. Even Basu would tell you as much, he laughed. So one day, we were eating this delicious Bengali, freshwater fish. Suddenly, Dada asked: Devu, have you seen a fish cry? I told him I hadn't. He said, you have, but you never noticed.

'After that day, he never talked to me. I went to him a few times, but he would wave me off calmly, but with impatience.

'Vishvas, I killed him.'

I was looking away. What could I tell him: It isn't your fault? But don't we all do things that don't seem as awful as they really are? I am floating in delirium as he cries. I am thinking about the crying fish in the sea. I am thinking about his dead grandfather. I feel as if I am a child and my mother is shouting and my father is shouting and I run away. Were they reading me Cervantes in Spanish? Perhaps, I shouldn't have run away, I think, as I rise up and leave.


The following comments are for "The crying fish"
by Pankaj

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