Apr 22, 2012

The Broken instrument


I was flying over a fresh green forest, looking for something. I was fully concentrating on finding it, but something kept annoying me. It took me a while to figure out that it was a sound, something beeping constantly in my ear. I woke up to find that it was my iphone, beeping softly to let me know that I had an email.
“Malank Dai, I was accepted at your university, do you know of any place that I can stay?” It was Chinar, a junior at my college that I vaguely knew. I gladly told Chinar that he could stay with me. I was so tired of living alone, even though my apartment was really small. It had a small living room, a tiny bedroom and an absolutely minuscule kitchen. The kitchen was so small that you could walk by the passage and never see if you didn't pay attention. And still, it felt too big for me, I and my computer used up only a quarter of the living room. One day I had decided that enough was enough, and put up advertisements for a roommate. Two people even called me up, and I was just trying to decide between them when I got the mail. I happily told the other applicants that I had found a roommate.
My little village of Macomb had no other Nepalis. I was so starved for Nepali company that I was positively jumping up and down by the time Chinar arrived. He seemed just as glad to see me, or so I wanted to believe in my delirious state. A week later came Shinjini, with a faint knock on the door. “Dai, there is this friend of mine; can she stay here for a couple days, until she finds a room?” Chinar had asked.
Shinjini arrived right before the day classes started, but Chinar wouldn't let her go to her room right away. “Shinju, you need to rest and get rid of your jet lag first, stay here for a couple days” he said that day. Together they cooked in the tiny kitchen that could barely fit one person. They instinctively passed ingredients to each other, cleaned up each other’s messes, and murmured together in low voices. I was jealous of their easy familiarity as I listlessly browsed the net in the living room. I too wanted to be a part of it, but I hardly knew either of them.
Finally, Chinar announced that dinner was ready, and the moment broke. To my utter delight, throughout the dinner Shinjini chattered just as easily to me, telling me about the yucky airplane food, the officer who threw away her dried meat, and the snow that she met for the first time at the airport.
“So, have you known each other for long?” I asked them during a lull in conversation. We were sitting in the living room, with our blinds open as snow fell thickly outside. Safe inside a warm blanket, finally in the company of friends, and with a bowl of fragrant, creamy mushroom soup in my hands, the snowfall seemed like the most beautiful sight ever to me.
“Yea, we were neighbors, we have known each other for ever” laughed Shinjini. “How about you and Chinar?” she asked me.
“Dai was my senior in college, he was a part of the college magazine and that’s how I knew him” said Chinar.
“Really, what do you write?” asked Shinjini.
“Silly stories” I told her.
“Wow, tell us your most recent story” said Chinar, his eyes shining in anticipation.
“Aww no, it’s not done yet, maybe some other time” I told them. What I didn’t tell them was that I did not want them to meet my heroine, just yet. “This is the time you should be asking about the new college and stuff”.
Properly diverted, Chinar and Shinjini listened as I told them which bus to take, where to apply for jobs, and how to go to the grocery store. That night Shinjini slept in the living room, and Chinar camped with me in the bedroom, since he usually slept in the living room. In the twilight hours just before sleep, I felt the soft glow of her warmth seeping through the doors, and enveloping me all around. That night again I dreamt that I was flying, and an angel with shining wings was holding my hand. We flew over a valley that was shining with the soft light of sunrise. But suddenly, the sky darkened. We looked up to see a man, extremely angry and with murderous rage in his eyes. He took one look at us, and sent a huge clap of thunder our way. The thunder rang loud in my ear, and rent us asunder. The terrified angel took flight. I woke up with a start! The sun had stolen into my room, and Chinar was snoring loudly on the floor. Talk about thunder!
I grimaced and walked to the kitchen. As I was making tea, Shinjini ambled in wearing an over-sized sweatshirt and trousers. “Oh god, how you guys snored through the night” she mumbled lazily, rubbing her eyes.
“It was Chinar, his snores woke me up in the morning” I told her in what I hoped was a conspiratorial whisper.
“Come on dai, that was because I couldn’t sleep through your snores all night” said Chinar cheerfully from behind me. I looked aghast at him, and Shinjini was suddenly not sleepy anymore. She spent the entire morning laughing as Chinar and I quarreled about who snored the loudest.
That day I showed them around the university, and the day after that, Shinjini moved out. Thankfully, it was not too far. In fact, she lived just one floor above us.
Most evenings Chinar would call Shinjini up in the primitive house phone system, and ask her to come down for dinner. The three of us spent our evenings in the apartment, doing homework, watching movies, or eating. Chinar cooked a lot, his delicious curries with the scent of forgotten cumin, coriander and garlic were a blessing, reminding us of home. He made fragrant dal, pulao shining with cashews and raisins, moist cakes, and even some gajar ka halwa with cardamom if he was in the mood. With Chinar at home I had company to do the most boring things, like laundry and dusting. Shinjini chattered, about how she did not like her foreign roommates, how she might get fat with Chinar’s heavy cooking, how she hated weekly assignments, and how it was so difficult to cook, eat or talk to her friends in peace with so many people around. I found out that Shinjini read voraciously, maybe even more than me, and we spent hours talking about Lord of the Rings while Chinar brooded over his laptop. I found myself missing her every moment when she was not around, and took to chatting with her when she was away. I found bits of her reflected in all my new heroines, and I hoped she didn’t notice. However, I was still not ready to share the story of my angel. And I found that despite spending all my life indoors, life had suddenly become very blissful and exciting at the same time!
“God, I don’t know how I lived without you guys” I told them one evening over yet another of Chinar’s delicious creations, sizzling hot Kauli pakodas. “How did you even end up here?”
“I had wanted to go to some other university with my friends, but none of my friends got the visa. This is my backup university”, said Shinjini. She seemed sad about not being with her friends.
“And good thing you did, we are having such fun. Aren’t we?” asked Chinar.
“Yes we are, but I hadn’t expected it in this god forsaken place” replied Shinjini thoughtfully. “I would never have applied if it wasn’t for you.”
“Well, what made you come here in the first place?” I asked Chinar.
“Well, I knew you were here dai, that’s what decided it for me. I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about friends, unlike someone here” Chinar poked Shinjini.
“Stop it!!” Shinjini hit him with a pillow. And just like that, they were yelling and screaming at each other, with Shinjini trying to smother Chinar with a blanket, and him in turn trying to pull out all her hair. I smiled at them before hitting each of them with a pillow. The days were so boring before they came. I basically lived my entire life online. I used to sleep with the laptop on, and in the morning, switched the laptop on before brushing my teeth. I was glad those days were gone, and even my dreams told me so. When I lived alone, my dreams had been frequent, and I always woke up agitated. But now, after that first fateful dream of an angel, I dreamed lesser and lesser. Only they were more pleasant dreams, because now I knew what I was looking for, and I was content that the angel would come when she was ready. I often woke up with a smile on my face.
On one of those idyllic days many months later, Chinar was making tea, and Shinjini and I waited in smiling anticipation. The fragrance of bay leaves was making us absolutely impatient.
“Tell me that story you were talking about” said Shinjini that day.
“Nono, I can’t” said I, though I was glad that she remembered my story.
“Oh come on, I won’t tell anyone”
“I don’t want to tell you because I fear that if I tell you, it will contaminate my ideas”
“Come on, what am I? SARS virus?”
“No, seriously Shinju, I fear that if I tell you guys my story, then it will change my story, you will say something, and it will sound so much better that I will change my story, and then it won’t be mine anymore.”
“Paranoid...” Shinjini mumbled under her breath. She rolled her eyes and got back to her homework. I was about to protest when we heard tea cups tinkling on a plate. Chinar handed me my cup, driving out all other thoughts from my mind.
However, it was not the end of the story. That night I received a mail, a strange mail from a new address. It was from “A reader” and its subject was “To share or not to share?”
“An idea is only as good as its expression” began the letter “and a story, only as good as its effect. A good story languishes if untold, and makes neither the reader happy, nor the writer. A good idea is like the sword of Gryffindor, it only absorbs that which makes me stronger.”
The sword of Gryffindor. I tried to remember it. The sword of Gryffindor appears on Harry’s head in the chamber of secrets, and Harry kills the basilisk with it. The sword soaks up the basilisk venom, which is one of the few things that can destroy a horcrux. Later, Hermione uses it to destroy the horcrux in the Huffleppuff cup, because the sword had imbibed basilisk venom. Only that which makes it stronger. I smiled, Shinjini knew how to make her point.
“Dare to share, and see what happens. You can choose what to include and what to shed. Your story will only shine the more for what you choose to add.”
That night, I decided to try her out. “Shinju, I will tell you the story, but it’s not complete yet” I began.
“No matter, we will help you complete it” said she. I looked at her, wondering if she was actually going to refer to the mail aloud. She simply winked, and gave me an innocent look as Chinar looked up from his homework. I gulped, and decided to go along and pretend that neither of us knew about the mail.
“There is this guy” I began “who dreams of flying every night. Every night he dreams that he is flying over a different place, and every night he is looking for something, He doesn’t know what he is looking for...” Shinjini and Chinar were both listening intently. “Until one day, he doesn’t look for anything in his dream. Because he has found it”. I closed my eyes, trying to remember the details of the dream. “An angel is holding his hands, and they soar over a beautiful valley, glowing golden at sunrise.” I stopped, because I did not want to remember the unpleasant part.
“What happened then?” I heard Shinjini ask. I opened my eyes to see her sitting with her knees near her chin, her arms around her legs, listening eagerly.
I was thrown off. I hadn’t thought any more than documenting my dreams. “I don’t know” I told her. “That’s the happy ending, actually” I told her.
“Oh come on, that’s no fun!! Nothing happened!!” she pouted. “How did he find her, all of a sudden? And how did he know it was her?”
“Ummmmm” I tried to identify my feelings.
“Those things are not important, because in dai’s mind, that scene is complete, can’t you see?” said Chinar.
“Come on, nothing happens in this story” Shinjini was still pouting.
“Maybe a third character would spice it up....!!!” suggested Chinar.
            I was annoyed, first because I did not want to think of the third character that appeared in the dream that day, and second because Chinar was right. “No Chinar, Shinjini is right, I don't need a third character, I will just have to touch up those scenes” I told them.
Yes, that is how I would develop my story, I would take the route that Shinjini suggested, which would avoid the unpleasant parts, and this time, I would tell it only to Shinjini. I texted her late that night. “I have more of the story. Wanna hear it over coffee tomorrow?”
“Sure thing” she answered immediately.
The next day over coffee at the library cafe I tried to tell her what I had been struggling to identify all night. “He knows it’s her from the way she understands him. Without him saying anything. She is able to heal his pains.”
Shinjini was thoughtful. “What pains?” she asked after a while.
“Umm” I was thrown off again. But I recovered quickly. “Loneliness” I replied. “He has been lonely all his life. But no longer, after he has found her.” I hadn’t planned this part, but I knew exactly where it came from. That was how Shinjini made me feel.
“Well, how did he find her?” Shinjini still looked blank.
Annoyed, I decided to drop the topic altogether. Maybe she thought she was helping me better my story, but she was actually just irritating me with her endless questions. We finished the coffee and I moodily walked back home. I sat down in the living and tried to type the story out. Soon I was frustrated, because I could not find the answer to Shinjini’s question, and did not even reply to her good night text. In the end I fell asleep with the computer open by my side.
            Chinar must have closed my computer at night, because I woke up to see it far away from harm’s reach. The day only got better and better. There was another mail from A Reader. “How did he find her?” asked the subject. I smiled, and sent Shinjini a good morning text with a big smiley to boot. 
            “He found the angel because the angel was looking for him”, the mail began. “It was his guardian angel, who was always with him, protecting him. But the angel feared his rejection, and stayed away. Finally the angel saw that he was sad, and resolved to try and make him happy. Then the angel had the courage to face him.”
            Of course! How could I have been blind? That was exactly how the angel had made me feel, warm and cared for! The mail made me so happy that I decided to finally gather my courage, and express my feelings to Shinjini. I guess I must have been grinning like a fool, because Chinar asked me “What are you so happy about, dai?”
            I was not ready to tell Chinar the entire story then. So I just asked him something that had been bothering me. “Chinar, you have known Shinjini for a long time. Tell me, does she have a boyfriend?”
            “I don’t know dai” Chinar frowned. “Why do you ask?”
            “Oh you know, she is a really nice gal, and I was wondering....” I was so hopeless at this. I was sure I would not be able to talk to Shinjini, I would have to write to her.
“There were rumors that she liked someone at her college but he didn’t like her...but I don’t know the whole story“ said Chinar quickly. Perhaps too quickly. Now it was my turn to frown.
“Shinju, does Chinar like you?” I asked her that day. It was a balmy day of spring, and Shinjini and I were walking home over the old, wooden bridge over the Lamoine river.
“Oh no no, there ‘s something between him and this girl Meha” she told me. Meha was my junior, a pretty, bubbly girl. Now that I thought about it, I remembered that she and Chinar hung out with the same gang. That made sense. Relieved, I returned to plotting my proposal.
He found her one day when she came looking for him, with a soft knock on the door.” I began thinking out my letter. “And stepped into his life with a smile.”
Shinjini prattled on.” …. and I recently found out that they were never a couple, they just hung out with the same gang....” I smiled. Chinar’s admirers no longer interested me, but it was good that Shinjini had something she could talk about without requiring a response. That left me free to think about my letter, I could just nod and say “hmm” from time to time.
He had been alone for a long time. He read books and shared with none, he cooked meals and ate them alone. He went for walks and came back feeling no less agitated than when he started out.
“...and though Meha liked him a lot, he never responded. I heard he’s liked someone for years, but I think that’s just a rumor because no one even knows who it is. I thought I’d find out once I came here. But I never found out. Strange, strange...”
In the depth of winter, she came into his life as softly as a snowflake, and lit it up like a star.
“And you know she always did such weird things for him. She bought entire sets of books for him and wouldn’t let any of us touch it. In the end, Chinar wouldn’t even take them because he already had them.....”
One good morning text from her made his day, and he slept better if she texted him good night.
“..Maybe he just didn’t like Meha. Or maybe he broke up with the someone else in his life before I found out....”
Books seemed more interesting when she read them with him, and somehow, food tasted more delicious when shared.
“..Or maybe Meha dumped him. But why would she? He is such a good cook....”
He had never been able to sleep at nights, but finally he learnt to like his sleeplessness, because now she kept him company all night. If she wasn’t with him, she chatted with him, until he fell asleep.
“...Maybe he never made any kalakand for her. But why would he? It was she who liked him. Hmm, it’s all so confusing. I think I will just go in and ask him about it today”. I looked around. I hadn’t realized that we were home already. “You go ahead Shinju, I need to type something” I told her.
But the most important thing was that he finally had someone to share his life with. Someone he could talk to without worrying what she would think.
“What’s up with you and Meha?” I could hear Shinjini giggling in the kitchen. Chinar seemed to be making tea. I typed on.
Someone who he could tell about a good deed, and she knew you weren’t being vain, someone you could tell about a mistake, and you knew she wouldn’t make fun of you. Someone you could tell about a problem, and you knew she wouldn’t judge you.
“Oh come on Shinju, she is just a friend” Chinar protested. Poor Chinar, he didn’t know what hit him.
Someone who you think of all the time. Someone you could count on in return to think of you all the time, as I know you do Shinjini, I know from the way you complete my stories... I would never be able to do it without you, and you were right, I did take only the best, that which made it stronger...
“So you have someone else? Hmm? Hmm?” Shinjini wasn’t about to let go today. All the better for me, gave me time off to concentrate on the story. Chinar seemed to have completely given up. “Yes, yes, Shinju, there is someone else, happy?”I heard the resignation in his voice.
This is how happy you make me feel, Shinju, and now that I see how wonderful life can be with you, I don’t want to let you go. I want to be with you, now and forever.
“Oooooooooh, who is she? Does she know about your feelings?”
“No, my love doesn’t like me”
“Oh come on, don’t be so pessimistic, I’m sure we can work something out, just tell me who it is...”
I think I make you happy too, but now I want to be sure. Tell me Shinju, will you be with me? Will you share my life forever?
Oops, I hadn’t realized when I had switched from “him” to “me”. But it was time to take a break. Chinar and Shinjini were coming in. Chinar was trying to dodge Shinjini’s questions and enlist my support. “Because it’s hopeless!! Dai, tell her how hopeless my love life is” he asked.
“I’ve never heard him talk to a girlfriend” I told her truthfully.
“Ahh, maybe he talks to his boyfriend then!!” Chinar looked at me aghast, his shocked eyes silently begging for support.
“Oh come on Shinju, give it a rest!!” I protested for Chinar.
Shinjini looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Malank, why don't you go and see to the tea?” she suggested. “And you, stop dodging me, I’ll find out right now who it is, let me see the list of your facebook friends” Shinjini was still yelling vehemently. Poor Chinar was cowering in the corner. I felt bad for him, but this was no time to sympathize with my head all clouded up with the letter. I got up to see to the tea, the extra five minutes would do me good. I could think of how to modify the letter and remove Shinjini’s name from it, so that if she rejected me, I could say it was just a story.
Come to think of it, I didn’t really like my letter, it was too ordinary, talking about things like texting and eating!! Oh god, I needed to make it more poetic, and I desperately needed to erase some names from it. I started redoing the letter in my mind, right from when I had confused my pronouns.
Someone who he could tell about a good deed, and she knew you weren’t being vain, someone he could tell about a mistake, and he knew she wouldn’t make fun of you. Someone he could tell about a problem, and he knew she wouldn’t judge him....
This is how happy he made her feel, and now that he see how wonderful life could be with her, he didn’t want to let her go........
“Hey I thought this story was about some angels or something, do angels text as well?” I suddenly heard from the living room. Oh god no!! What was Shinjini doing, reading the letter? I walked in to see that the smile on her face had suddenly frozen. She had probably reached the part with her name on it. Chinar anxiously looked from one of us to the other, and suddenly, Shinjini walked out of the room.
I stood there numb, not knowing what to do. “Sorry dai, hadn’t meant to look, but Shinjini wanted to look at my facebook friends or something...”
Chinar looked miserable, but I didn’t even register his apology. At that moment I hated him, hated him for ruining my plans. If it hadn’t been for him, Shinjini would never open my laptop. And then I could have given her just what I wanted her to see, not this tangled mess that she ended up seeing. Now god knows what she thought, probably that I was a pervert or something... I just went in and flopped on my bed.
Hours later, I was still lying on my back. Chinar had come in to check twice but I had pretended to be sleeping. Finally, I decided to get up and talk to Shinjini. Since the worst had already happened, I had better own up, and tell Shinjini that I meant every word. The rest was up to her.
But once again, Shinjini proved that she understood me better than myself. When I opened the door to go out, I found her there ready to knock.
Shinjini composed herself first. “I wanted to ask.” she began “Do you mean it? Or is it just some story of modern texting angels?” She was trying to joke, but her eyes were shining with tears.
“Every word” This I was sure of, but I didn’t know what else to say. My speech desperately hinged on her answer. Finally, she smiled and held out her hand. Relived, I let my breath out, took her hand, and turned back into the room.
“YAY! LET’S CELEBRATE” said Chinar from the corner. We both jumped out of our skins. Neither of us had noticed him!!! But now that we saw him, we couldn’t stop laughing at how his booming voice had surprised us.
“Your happiness is my happiness, I’ll make you guys a scrumplicious dinner to celebrate....”Chinar finally offered. He was looking directly at me. Maybe it was just my imagination, but Chinar seemed to be trying to avoid Shinjini’s eyes. However, I had no time for Chinar’s possible heartbreak right now. I still couldn’t believe that Shinjini had actually accepted me. I was dizzy as Shinjini prattled on, and once again fell back to the same old formula of nodding and saying “hmm” occasionally. Chinar seemed to understand our mood, as he was doing his best to stay quiet in the kitchen.
“You know I actually emailed the letter to myself so that I could go to my room and read it” Shinjini was grinning.
“What? Oh come on, and here I was lying around depressed, thinking you were offended” I couldn’t believe this girl.
“Hmm, I had to make sure, didn’t I? I was getting woozy in here, couldn’t digest anything with both of you staring at me...It’s true, that part about keeping company at nights.... I get so lonely at nights sometimes, I miss Nepal...”
“Phew” I was still getting over the shock that she had the presence of mind to email herself when both I and Chinar had stood stock still with shock.
 “Oh, and what was that part about me completing your stories... Do you mean that I am your muse? Are you going to dedicate you book to me?”
“Hmm” She looked so pretty in the dim light of the room. I imagined her composing the anonymous mail; she must have looked just as pretty then.
“You are right; you have become that person for me that I can talk to without the least bit of self consciousness. I can tell you that today I got a C in the paper.”
“Did you?” I mumbled. I could just listen to her for hours.
“Oh yes, because I was watching Lord of the Rings last night. And that reminds me, I need to read Harry Potter too. Do you mind if I borrow your Harry Potter series?”
“I don’t have it; I left it back in Nepal.” I told her.
“Oh, but here it is, look!” She held out a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  “I’ve read every fantasy book there is to read, but I have never read Harry Potter, isn’t that strange?”
I sat up, startled. Now I had to ask. “What do you mean you haven’t read Harry Potter, what about the sword of Gryffindor?”
“The sword of what sweety? Gondor?...”  I grabbed the book she was holding. “…Gondor is a place on middle earth, it doesn’t have a sword…“. Her words about Lord of the Rings washed over me, I was barely listening as I leafed through the book. It was old,  “…If you mean Aragorn’s sword, it is called something else, it has two names...” I didn’t realize that Shinjini had stopped talking, and was trying to grab the book back. But I refused to let go, dimly clinging to it, clinging to the link to my reader who had inspired me.
“What’s the matter sweety? Won’t you let me read it? You remind me of Meha.” said Shinjini.
“Meha?” I dumbly repeated her last word, unable to say anything else. Events of the past were hovering in my mind, like pieces of a jigsaw. A jigsaw that I realized I had been reading upside down until now…The angel in the reader’s email did not have a gender, I had just assumed on my own that it was a girl...
“Yes, the girl crazy about Chinar, didn’t I tell you? She bought the entire set of Harry Potter for him and wouldn’t let any of us touch it. In the end, Chinar didn’t even take them because he already had them. ...”
The mysterious reader’s angel was a guardian angel who had followed and watched over me forever. Chinar had loved someone forever but no one even knew who it was, but Chinar was here because I was here. The angel feared my rejection and had stayed away, and Chinar told me in my own words today that his love life was hopeless. Chinar read Harry Potter, and Shinjini had no idea who completed my stories. The angel finally decided to show himself only when he realized I was sad, and here he was, giving me company in my days of depression. And he was not trying to avoid Shinjini’s eyes, because he had never been interested in her. Despite everything, he was cheerfully making dinner because I was happy. Unbidden, an old quotation came into my mind “the heart is the only broken instrument that works.”


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