I don’t remember hesitating much before writing anything on this blog, so today — this post-writing — surprises me. I struggle to find words and it seems like a defeat. Truth be told, though, it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise because I have been struggling with what they call a writer’s block for what seems like forever. I have written some blog posts, of course, and a few odd emails I think about with a smile, but they don’t satisfy this endless, now-shuddering, now-shivering gong I have going on in my head. It keeps gonging! Write, write, write! it says. I pick up my fingers, my pens, pencils, my daughter’s crayons, even, but nothing seems to work. This damn block is a heavy one.
The character, a woman (surprise!), is a struggler like me. She doesn’t quite know what she wants, she hasn’t achieved much by way of awards and narratable experiences, but there is a fire in her she can’t describe and it keeps her seeking for something that will quench her thirst, if only for a short while. That seems like a workable character for a decent story, doesn’t it? But the story keeps bloody changing before I try to write it! Frustration, annoyance, frustration, annoyance. Arrrgh.
My trusty soundboard for story-writing stuff is busy. Not that had he been around I’d have begun writing, but I could have at least sounded the board and silenced the gong for a bit.
Not all struggle is in vain, though, dear reader. I have scaled a treacherous summit in the meantime. From here, I can see people doing their work and achieving things, travelling to my kind of places, having my kind of conversations, sipping my cup of tea, and it no longer makes me want to pull off my hair and wonder what happened to my existence. I am no longer very jealous. I use very because this summit has hypnotising precipices that occasionally pipe the piper’s tune. But I am generally safe, so I can proudly stand on a steeple (summit, if you will), and cry out with glee — “I look within, you other beings of this world!”
There must be numerous stories that I haven’t completed. Many still lie lonely in my notebook. Many are even less privileged — they float amongst the countless other thoughts inside my head. The characters, their stories, their lives keep coming back to me from time to time as I’d imagined them before I gave up on them for one reason or the other. Sara, Josef, The Earth-Mover, Nandini, Promila. There are so many. When I get down to write something new, however, one character whispers to me without fail — “You’ve abandoned me, you deserter,” he says. Meet Jeremy Y.
Jeremy was inspired by Jeremy Irons. Not the man, but the character he played in a movie called Being Julia. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that the main character was Julia, played brilliantly by Annette Bening. But there was something fascinating about Michael, Jeremy’s character. He was supremely apathetic, I thought.
When I was kicked about giving meat and body and soul to an idea more than a year back, the first character that came to my mind was Jeremy Y. The idea was to write short stories, seven of them, in which the main characters displayed predominance of at least one of the seven chakras, the centres of energy in our bodies. (If you’d like to know more about chakras, visit here). Jeremy was conceptualised to be an apathetic, insecure, obsessively cold person. Somewhere along the story, I lost track of where he wanted to take me.
I am publishing this post to seek your opinion about what might have gone wrong. Why couldn’t I finish the story? I put forth this same question to Charles, my friend, almost a year back. He patiently read the whole thing, listened to (read) my rants with more patience than I deserved. And he suggested I get acquainted with Jeremy and Kathy more first. To understand why they acted the way they did, to know what they thought. I try. But fail.
Jeremy led me through this that you see below. I didn’t know what I was going to write when I began the story and now I don’t know where he wants me to go! Silly, no? Would you read, and tell me what you see here? Jeremy calls for help!
The oysters weren’t quite done yet. Noon breeze caressed him gently, bringing with it the aromas of something yummy. “Something yummy” in Jeremy’s dictionary was oysters. He especially loved the ones they made at The Drunken Crab. Jeremy lazily grew whorls on the outside of his beer mug. He was enjoying the breeze more than the beer. And since it was only very seldom that he allowed himself to enjoy, he was taking his time. Or rather, he’d put it on hold.
Jeremy Y was a strange man. He grew up in a suburban mansion with two parents, two dogs and many goldfish. The latter gave way to many of their kind over the years, but there were always many of them. His parents, Emily and Wilfred, were rich heirs of very rich people who liked to live big. But these things were not that made him strange. It was his incongruous existence at the mansion viz a viz everything and everybody; in fact his incongruity every where. He did not fit in. No, he wasn’t a square peg in a round hole. He was a football trying to snug it in inside a highway tunnel.
Jeremy was home-tutored. And that made things worse. He didn’t have to meet anyone except the tutor, who was, to him, a non-entity anyway. You see, Jeremy did not like people. He did not like places, things or being. He did not like.
But he was sitting here, smelling oysters, the only exception.
And he was wondering whether it was really true. Had he really got married last week? He found himself startled each time this question sneaked in. Kathy was a sweet girl, and was everything his parents would want in a daughter-in-law. Well-groomed, and rich. The entire crowd at The Drunken Crab seemed to somehow know that when she walked in.
“Hi! Did you see the rainbow?”
He could never have seen one if it pounded drums in his ears.
“Umm, not really. Well, yes. On TV.”
Kathy’s laughter reminded him of the tinkling bells in this mother’s charm bracelet.
“Where’ve you been living? Come out here.”
He reluctantly got up and even more reluctantly put his hand in hers. Together, they stepped out of the trendy coconut-leaf shack. The drizzle had just given way to a downpour. The rainbow to their right was fading rapidly, and would vanish before he could think of coming up with an excuse to get inside. It, the rainbow, was not going to permit him a view just yet.
Jeremy was in any case interested in other things Goa had to offer. He hadn’t picked it for his honeymoon for rainbows. He had other plans.
“Yeah. There it was. I saw it,” he obliged. And then mumbled a wry “Pity, it got washed away.” Kathy’s enthusiasm was made of stronger stuff. She cried with childish pleasure at the sight of fishermen coming out of the ocean, hopefully with prized catches. She ran towards them and called for him. Jeremy shuffled along the formless sand, glad that the Goan rain had gone as soon as it’d come.
The fishermen were prepared for enthusiastic tourists from the western world.
“Hello, Miss,” said a youngish sea-farer, his skin the color of sun-baked earth.
“Hello to you! Did you get some good catch?”
“Not today, Miss. Just some pomfret and a lot of oysters.”
“Lot of oysters, hmm? Isn’t that good?”
“Not much demand in this season.”
“Can I pick one?” Jeremy’s curiosity got the better of him.
“Yes, yes. Try one, no.”
“Yes, yes. Open and put in mouth.” He washed one in the sea and handed it to Kathy. She pretended to pry it open to put the smelly meat in her mouth. She didn’t have the stomach for this.
Jeremy, on the other hand, worked it like he’d been doing it all his life. He’d eaten oysters, of course. But this was different.
When the meat dropped in his mouth, he felt an animal surge of triumph. The sticky flesh nudged the insides of his mouth, the weighty smell clung to his throat as he slowly, deliberately chewed the flesh.
“Mm. Very nice.”
Kathy looked at him, surprised. “You know, this is the closest you’ve come to appreciating something? What is it about this oyster?”
“It is a whole world in a shell.”
“Thank you,” he said to the fisherman and began walking away. Kathy threw her still unopened mollusk and caught up with him.
“You say strange things.”
Jeremy shrugged and led the way to the Drunken Crab.
Josef, the restaurant’s very young chef, was looking around with two plates in his hands, “Ah, there you are Mr. Y. Thought you’d chickened out. Oysters aren’t for every one. Here, oysters in white wine and celery sauce.”
Kathy, sitting down, looked at the sea and said, “I’ve change my mind. I’ll have your pomfret masala after all.”
Josef didn’t seem much bothered. Probably there’d be more takers of wine-and-celery oysters, “Sure, right away,” he boomed and weaved gracefully through the tables. Kathy couldn’t help following him with her eyes. Jeremy was looking at the sea, his sandy hair protesting against the breeze, his mouth thoughtfully churning the sea-juices.
Picking up the beer pitcher, Kathy poured herself a generous pint, sipped at it, and, licking the froth mustache, pointed out a motorcyclist, “They seem to have a lot of those here. They’re available on rent. The bikes.”
“Hmm,” said Jeremy, doing nothing to hide his disinterest.
Kathy’s enthusiasm had finally caught up with the rainbow. “Did you marry me for any reason other than my father’s money?”
“Hm? Yes, of course,” he made some effort to focus his eyes on hers. “My parents wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Kathy looked away, unable to believe what she’d just heard. And what it implied.
<> <> <>
As a child, Jeremy was quite remarkable. He was inert; he could be the rug underneath his mother’s Chippendale which no one would notice. But even more remarkable was his persistent, insistent need to keep away.
Jeremy Y was painfully suspicious of everything and everybody. He was quite adept at shrugging off people because he’d practiced over the years to build an impenetrable barbed shell around him. Well, almost.
During a holiday at Aunt Josephine’s ocean home, where his parents had sent him with a hope to soothe his frightfully morbid nerves, 10-year old Jeremy was looking at the deep ocean, stretching out to eternity.
The sea did soothe him. He looked endlessly at the endless troughs and swells, allowing the whispering breeze to lull him out of his apathy. He was so engrossed in this therapeutic daze, that he didn’t notice a boy about his age approach him. By the time he noticed him, the visitor had almost sat down next to him. Jeremy’s armor was back up. “Haven’t seen you around before.”
The usual Jeremy would have kept mulishly quiet, but this day was different “I am visiting my aunt here,” he nodded towards the house below.
“Ms. J’s your aunt? She’s one swell lady.”
Jeremy’s grunt was non-committal.
Marty didn’t seem to notice Jeremy’s disinterest, “You ever fished for oysters?”
“No. I’ve never fished,” said Jeremy and continued to look at the sea. Much to his own surprise, he added, “Seeing an ocean for the first time. It is… very different.”
Strange things happen. It was strange for Jeremy to volunteer more conversation than necessary. He hardly ever got beyond monosyllables and callously truncated sentences. The stress of this new interaction was too much and he got up to leave.
“Hey! Wanna join me help my Dad unload oysters?”
“Where?” Jeremy found himself saying.
“Right down there. Race you,” the boy ran down the gentle slope, Jeremy jogging behind him with no intention of racing, his eyes on the deep blue below. He could feel something changing in him; something filling the empty depths inside.
The friendly new acquaintance won. His dad’s boat was about to moor at the pier. Jeremy saw a pile of brownish green shells on the boat. Oysters were served often at home, but given his general disinterest, he’d never tried them.
The boat was a bright traffic-light green. Her name, Sally Flier, was painted in white along the hull. The boy waved to his father, “Hey, watcha got?”
“Guess you were right about the mood, son. Didn’t get much.” He was now tying Sally Flier to the pier. They chuckled at some secret joke, father and son. “Who’s your friend?”
“He wants to help me help you. He’s visiting Ms. J, aren’t you umm..?”
Jeremy gave his name and found himself saying, “Yes sir, I’d like to help.”
“All right then, heave ‘em out and help me load ‘em on the truck. Marty, show how.”
Marty got on the boat and told Jeremy to lift out the load. Jeremy heard the sound of oysters rubbing against each other, he felt the salt-laden air cover him with a crisp blanket of life. As he stood beside Marty’s father, mostly useless, because his partner’s sure hands and muscular body didn’t require much from him, he felt surer and more secure than he’d ever been.
They got the load on the truck; and while he was removing sand from inside his shoes, Jeremy saw his reflection on the rear-view mirror. He was smiling.
Marty came around and picked a couple of oysters, throwing one at Jeremy.
Jeremy turned it over. He wasn’t quite sure how to, but was reluctant to ask.
“Here, lemme show you,” he pried one open and held it out for Jeremy to see. The pink flesh looked too raw. He’d never seen anything like it. Pink, and gooey. Inviting, somehow.
“Dad says they have an entire world in them.” Marty had begun eating them in a sort of meditative tempo. Jeremy was still, meditatively, on the first one. The raw meat was leathery and soft – a marshmallow with more masculinity than you could ask for.
The rest of the day was a fog in Jeremy’s head. That one oyster opened up a whole new world for him. The sea was bluer than it was in the morning, Aunt Josephine less meddlesome. His parents seemed like specters from a world that didn’t matter.
Jeremy was one with the sea and the oyster’s world was no longer a clammed-up non-entity. It nourished him.
<> <> <>
Evening had set in. The waves had found a deeper urge to embrace the skies. They poured in, one after the other, as Kathy, a solitary figure, walked the beach. That was something she had planned for her honeymoon. But she had not thought that the do-nothing days would be alone.
Marriage wasn’t something she was trained to expect anything from. She knew it had to be with someone her parents would eventually find. She was never the kind to argue or question, she just accommodated. When she saw Jeremy for the first time, she was impressed with his haughty, disinterested air. It interested her to think how his expression would change when he knew her more. But it didn’t change. She had misunderstood his general apathy for aristocratic pomp.