Dreams die in the screeching of an alarm clock. Dreams die when you’re over forty, unemployed, and divorced. Life then attains a dreamlike quality that can easily become a nightmare. Things happen not because you want them to, but in spite of you. What you would like to happen, such as becoming a crorepati overnight, or maybe Jimi Hendrix resurrected, remains a fantasy.
Dreams die when your story is published in the Sunday papers. That short story will never become the novel you intended it to be. Dreams die when you’re salivating about a seafood repast and open the fridge to find a soya bean curry leftover from two days ago.
All these dreams died as Paran’s shoes bit into his ankles causing two fierce blisters, making him limp, and failing to catch the bus. He stood once again in the shade of a small, desiccated tree growing out of the pavement at the bus stop. The Bangladeshi cigarette was ridiculously cheap, harsh smoke carrying the flavour of dead cockroach into his lungs, which were surely cancer ridden, he mused. The next bus came along but he gave it a miss, preferring to finish the smoke till the bitter butt end.
Words flowed into Paran’s mind making little phrases, establishing succinct sentences, forming paragraphs, and instantly forgetting them as he watched a nubile young thing approach the bus stop. Hand to a ear under her freshly shampooed, blow-dried hair, cut fashionably, she spoke animatedly into a mobile that was invisible in her grip. Her pert breasts jiggled to the tune of her body music, as her hips swayed to a rhythm that very possibly did wonders in bed. Paran eyed her appreciatively. He understood. Old men don’t letch as some are wont to believe. The over 40s appreciate the finer things of life even if, as they were in Paran’s current circumstances, mostly unattainable. In any case, other than normal, and now increasingly rare waking-up conditions, it had been too long since he’d been turned on. Besides letching is for younger men with their presumptive virility, unable to control their raging hormones.
The NYT finished her conversation, fiddled with her mobile phone’s buttons, returning it to dangle between her breasts from the strap around a slender neck, as she stole a glance at Paran who tried to hold her look.
– Sir! Hello sir! How are you?
Ouch! She knows me, thought Paran, and like an idiot looked behind him to see if she was perhaps addressing someone there.
Her outstretched hand jangling with silver jewellery, and her quite lovely smile in this dead dreams morning of his, caused a mild anginal flutter. He clasped her hand with a quizzical return smile.
– Sir, I’m Richa! I was a summer trainee at the paper last year working under you.
Groaning inwardly:O! How I wish! – He said – Of course…quite…Richa…yes!
– Richa Valli – you gave me that assignment on TV viewing patterns…
– O! Of course, yes…
Damned if he could remember! She must be right though. A whole bunch of these aspiring journalists came annually for their summer training at his late employer, and he was saddled with the unwanted responsibility of putting them through the grinding rollers, as it were.
He thought he recognised her now but was still unsure. She was quite the little charmer though, as he eyed her nubility and silently, casually wondered about her virginity. At the time of Richa’s training he had been steeped in a torrid but depressing affair with a sub at the rival paper, and had little or no interest whatsoever in the rest of the female species.
That sub-editor, while built for a comfortable time in the sack, had been under psychiatric attention, popped anti-depressants as if they were antacids, and had two award-winning pieces published in her paper, both actually Paran’s ideas which had been refused publication by his own Chief Editor. He’d never got over that, and the last time together with her had been a sado-masochistic orgy of the senses, brutal insensate sex and the painful inability to orgasm. He had been even more depressed when they parted, not because of it, but because of their actually having got together in a relationship in the first place.
Dreams die in failed orgasms. KLPD. He’d forgotten about his libido since he had been asked to leave his job, except for passing references while watching a late night movie on cable TV, or a passage in a novel. Richa stood there, awakening latent desire, and he hoped he wasn’t leering.
She stood confidently before him despite having to look up at him with his questionable advantage of natural height and the added advantage of the footpath under his blistered feet.
– Your giving me that assignment has now resulted in my current career, and I should thank you for that sir!
This girl is unbelievable! Where were you when I needed you darling? Paran thought as he grinned bashfully at her.
– Really? Where are you working then?
– ACN, sir!
– Aaah! Of course… – Fearing to ask what ACN was he opened his mouth and burbled.
She was smart. She understood his incomprehension, silently forgave him his ignorance, and said:
– All Calcutta News, sir. ACN? It’s a new cable TV, news-only channel that was launched about six months ago. News about the city, its happenings, people, food, and whatnot! Very exciting sir! Have to work my butt off, but it’s fun and I’m really learning a lot!
– So, you’re a…?
– A reporter sir! There’s a camera guy and an assistant who also handles sound and I report. Actually, I’m on my way now to cover the opening of the North East Festival.
– Aaah! Yes! Of course…
The North East Festival? Whaddahellwazzat? He mentally kicked himself for staying out of the loop.
She said – Can I give you a drop sir? I’m taking this cab. She was half in, half out of the open yellow door, smiling back at him.
– Yeah, yeah! Sure! I’m going there too, in fact, so we’ll…
– O good sir! Maybe you can give me some tips on how I can cover it, I’d really appreciate it!
Like I’d really love to appreciate you up close darling! Paran followed her in and sat down heavily.
The taxi moved slowly through distraught traffic around the construction of another meaningless flyover. They discussed that for a bit as he wondered if he should offer her his cheap cigarette. She solved his dilemma and offered him one of hers which he took, gallantly lighting hers first.
He had certainly not been planning to go to any festival since he didn’t even know of any happening. Paran had planned to take a bus to its final destination, then hop on to another to that one’s final stop, and so on, thereby allowing another day to pass, some more dreams to die.
With sidelong glances he watched her breasts bounce as the taxi roared over what masqueraded as a road. He had the sudden urge to cup one in his palm, feel its heat, the turgid nipple prick his flesh softly. Instead, he closed his eyes and thought about thinking of the weather. She was almost twenty years younger than him and she was causing bells of all sorts to ring in his body. He ignored the warning bells in his mind and looked at her again. She returned the look and smiled a slow one. She’ll look like that in post-coital bliss, he thought, as she’ll lie cradled in my arms.
– Listen! Don’t call me sir, my name’s Paran, ok?
– OK sir! I mean Paran!
That smile again. He asked her about her work and she went off like a rocket, enthusiasm underlying her descriptions till the polyphonic ring tones of her mobile came alive and she answered it.
O! I wish I were her mobile phone
Hanging ‘twixt those breasts,
And every time the ringing tone,
Would give me her sweet caress!
Dreams die, but they can also be like Phoenix risen if you want them to, he consoled himself. He thought of random things like sophisticated pick-up lines, coloured vs. ribbed condoms, his landlady peering suspiciously around her door as he walked Richa up the flight of stairs later this afternoon…
– Sir? I mean Paran…do you know Ravi Kumar?
– Um…Ravi Kumar? Sounds familiar, who’s he?
– Sir, I mean Paran…!
– Just Paran! Paran Palit if you want the full version, definitely not SirIMeanParan! – They both laughed. It was warm and convivial and he relaxed.
– Ravi is the chief producer at ACN and I know they’re looking for an assistant producer. Would you be interested?
– TV? I don’t know…no experience, you know…
– But even Ravi’s from print media sir, Paran, his first stint with TV…like me…and they prefer print journalists… – All this in a rush of minty breath that blew into his face as he gazed at her, falling in love instantly.
– O! You mean Ravi Kumar from ‘The Business Edge’?
– Yes sir! The same guy! And I’ll still need a little time to get used to not saying sir!
They laughed again. This time, Paran thought, there’s some electricity. The conviviality is definitely charged! Watts and amperes raced through the physics of his being, electricity became chemistry, and his desire sprang up like a Phoenix.
They’d arrived at the Maidan and she made the driver stop, quickly paying and following Paran out. She fished around in her handbag and came out with an ID card on a chain. He followed Richa through the security gate as she flashed her card and slung it around her neck at the same time. With a nod and a slanted look, he wordlessly indicated to the cop that he was with her, which she confirmed with a brusque – He’s with me! – and half ran, half walked off. Paran followed meekly behind watching her hips sway, her buttocks setting up a rhythm to match the movement of her breasts, which he couldn’t see now. Aaah! But imagination…! That can lead to dreams! And wet dreams would be quite all right, thank you!
The chief guest was yet to arrive to light the lamp on the stage. As Paran sat next to her, he looked around to see some familiar faces from the city’s press corps. Richa got up again and whispered in his ear – Hang on sir! I’ll just go check in with my crew. She dashed off.
I wish I were those jeans,
Enclosing her pliant flesh,
I can well imagine the scenes,
As with her skin I’ll mesh!
It was bad versifying but it helped pass the time as he sat back, mildly drenched in perspiration, with the afterglow of sex-yet-to-be-had already suffusing him. A year or more without sex and now he waited a good time as if it were a given.
He peered over heads as he saw her on one side of the stage, talking to the cameraman who was setting up his equipment. A heavy hand clasped his shoulder and Paran looked up to find Chiro, an ex-colleague currently occupying Paran’s last post, grinning with stained broken teeth at him.
– Who’s the babe, pal? She’s got bad taste no? – And he guffawed.
– Obviously! She’s with you! – Loud guffaws again.
Paran removed Chiro’s hand like a fly being brushed off, and took out his cigarettes. Chiro grabbed the pack, took one out, closely examined it, rolled the tube around in his fingers, sniffed at it and then put it between his lips, looking at Paran expectantly. Taking his pack back, Paran slowly removed another cigarette, took his time lighting a match, blew the flame out and handed the matchbox to Chiro.
– Bad times huh? Smoking Bangladeshis nowadays are we? O how the mighty have fallen!
– Abracadabra! You may now disappear in a puff of smoke Chiro! – Taking the matches back, Paran looked away, ignoring him. Chiro walked away, a nonchalant wave that was like a dismissal thrown in Paran’s general direction.
She spotted him and waved, made some extravagant hand signals and a few pouts, which he interpreted as – Sorry! I’ve got to be here shooting this, interviewing some brain-dead politico, when I’d rather be sitting next to you sir, holding your hand and discussing the merits and demerits of position 69 vis-à-vis the missionary position which we shall indulge in later today. Paran sighed, lounged back, stretching his long legs under a chair in front.
Later. Dreams died again as she profusely apologised for rushing off to cover another story, gave him her card and told him to stay in touch, regretting not being able to have that coffee with him, which he had suggested after she’d apologised and which he had done cunningly, knowing he would not be able to afford it.
While the wet dream did not happen although he dreamed of her all night, Paran woke the next morning with a feeling of onanistic satisfaction. The kind of satisfaction that is incomplete.
– Hi Richa! Paran here! How are you?
– O hi sir! I mean Paran – her laugh tinkled – Good morning!
– To you too! Listen! Were you serious about that vacancy at ACN yesterday?
– O, but of course! Look! Give me a minute, I’ll call you back – is this your number? – I’ll just speak to Ravi and get back to you, ok?
– Yeah, yeah, sure! No problemo!
He hung up, twiddled his thumbs, scratched pleasurably at his groin, and lit a cigarette. The STD booth was empty except for the lady who ran it. She was a talkative, blowsy, middle-aged female who gave him enticing smiles when he came to make calls.
– The person will call back on that number, I hope that’s fine? I’ll be short… some news about work…
– Yes, yes! Quite okay, you are a regular customer. Normally we don’t allow it, but in your case exceptions have to be made, don’t they? How’s the family? I don’t see your Mrs…?
– They’re quite well, yes, she’s busy…you know…journalists…night duty… – He encouraged the imagined domesticity she thought he had.
– Tch! Tch! Very bad for the children no? Excuse me! Can you do me a favour? See, I’m the secretary of the ladies’ group in this area, and every year we organise the local Durga Puja, all the ladies doing everything. Do you think you can get us some TV coverage? They do that don’t they?
Paran nodded without comment and looked at the stray cat outside the booth stalking a sparrow on a wall. He half listened to the woman’s rambling, watching nature’s mini-drama play itself out when the sparrow flew away and the cat returned to nosing through a torn plastic bag of garbage. The phone rang and he jumped to answer it.
– Hi Paran! Richa here! Yes! No problem, Ravi said you should come see him at the earliest with your CV.
– When? Today?
– As soon as you can! Call him first. His number is… – He took it down on the palm of his hand and said,
– Many thanks Richa! I owe you.
– O no sir! How can you say that? My pleasure!
– Look, let’s have that coffee…
– Soon! Very soon! OK? Bye now! – Aaah! If only later really was sooner, Paran remarked to himself as he paid the woman and left the booth.
With his updated, freshly printed CV lying in front of Ravi who was on the phone, Paran looked about the office seeing the young men and women bustling about, shouting messages across the tops of the low partitions, getting serious over scrolling news agency monitors, laughingly derisively at other news programmes playing on a bank of TVs at the far end, and then Ravi – OK, man, Paran! You’re on! When can you start?
The first week had been chaotic. Paran tried his hardest to adjust to instant news, repeats, and later talk shows about the instant news that was already old hat eight hours later. He regretted not being able to hold newsprint hard copy of what he had written, instead of having to see it televised hours later, to explode in digital colour in the ether, in cathode rays, presented by eminently bonkable women who did not even know that news might stand for north, east, west, south. Theirs was a dramatic reliving of minute by minute stories that unfolded, of non-news dressed up with nowhere to go.
Paran fell into it with a vim and vigour he couldn’t believe of himself. Dreams do rise Phoenix-like from the ashes, old man, he wryly smiled, thinking of the hefty pay cheque due to him at month end. Richa was a series of exuberant, jewellery flashing comings and goings, each lasting a couple of minutes every time. That coffee with her still hadn’t happened. He too was genuinely busy. The hours at work were long and frantic. Invariably it was home, after a quick bite at a mobile roll and chow mien stall near the bus stand, and falling into a dreamless sleep.
Are there no dreams because dreams are dead? Or yet to come alive? Paran waited for the lift to take him up to the office, as he idly pondered on this. Walking into the mess of cubicles, he was greeted by a jubilant Richa who put her arms around his neck, gave him two quick pecks on either cheek, and told him to be at the coffee shop down the road at 6 pm, before rushing off. He gazed lovingly at her departing derriere clad in fluorescent Lycra, and whistling merrily went to his PC at the far end.
She was all touchy-touchy, feely-feely, fingers running up his arm, moving a lock of hair from his eyes, her bright shining eyes almost bursting the desire out of his trousers.
– O God! We haven’t met, it seems, for what? A month?
– Actually two months. That’s when I joined. – He offered smilingly.
– Two months! – she almost shrieked. – God! That’s so long! No! first you tell me what’s been happening.
So he told her. About what he was doing, the talk shows he wrote for the vacuous idiots who hosted them, about the excitement he’d now begun to feel for the job, after his initial prejudice and cynicism as a print journalist. She empathised, she giggled, she jiggled, and she occasionally caressed that phone still pulling its weight in her cleavage. She sipped at her coffee, bubbling in the froth of her obvious happiness to see him once again on a one-to-one, he thought.
She could hold it back no longer. She poured out her news without his even asking. It came in bursts and sparks of agitation once experienced, now a tolerated memory. It flowed out in words and phrases of extreme joy and optimism, in the form of tales that had shaken her world and turned it over. He heard her, but as usual comprehension was yet to dawn.
– He promised forever and ever…his parents are such snooty old coots…and his sister? What a bitch!…so we’ve decided to live separately from them…the wedding’s next month…you have to come!…we’re planning to go to Mizoram for our honeymoon…he’s looking for another job…doesn’t want his wife in the same office as him… – The words flowed over his numb skull, his dead brain, his dead dreams.
– So who’s the lucky guy?
– O Paran! You haven’t been listening! It’s Ravi, Ravi Kumar! – He hoped she would not notice his shell-shocked stare. – I really, truly, sincerely, love him! He’s so much older than me, and people say such huge age differences are not successful, but we’ll prove them wrong!
So it was Ravi then. Ravi, his age group, peer group, Kumar. Ravi the guy who gave Paran his job, gave back his dreams. It could easily have been anyone else. Why Ravi? Why not him?
– So, when did this start?
– O! about the time we met – you remember the bus stop? I was on the phone when I saw you…I was arguing with him because he was not willing to confirm our relationship with marriage. I mean, you can’t take me to bed promising a life of love together and then not live up to it!
She laughed, a little nervous with her reasoning perhaps. Guilty maybe for having shared this intimacy with Paran.
While Paran had dreamed, old Ravi Kumar had acted with enough alacrity to take Richa to bed and was even now on the verge of marrying her. Dreams die. Period.
The wedding had been fraught with parental tension till the religious ceremony got over. After that the wine flowed, and colleagues and friends came together in a forced, social bonhomie. Paran watched this dream die, as Richa clung to Ravi’s arm, radiantly happy, greeting guests, graciously receiving congratulations and gifts.
They were away on their honeymoon, when one morning, as Paran entered the office, the normal bustle quite subdued, he saw the MD sitting in Ravi’s chair. With a wave, he acknowledged Paran’s greeting and pointed him to the chair before him. His expression was grim and formal.
– You’ve heard, I suppose, that ACN has been bought over by XTV?
– There were some rumours circulating, but nothing definite. – Paran shifted buttocks uncomfortably in his chair.
– Well, they’re now confirmed, as of today in fact. – Pregnant pauses are aptly named. Their indication that more is to come can be quietly foreboding.
– Well, I’m now the MD of ACN with the new management…
– Yes..um..well, I have also been given the unavoidable task, er…responsibility, of um… streamlining, that is to say…er, cutting the flab, so to speak.
O shit! Here it comes. Paran knew for sure dreams die and then fade away. Sometimes they return like replays, like an ex-acidhead who continues to get hallucinatory flashbacks.
– So, um…well, we’re downsizing, and under these circumstances…what with low rates and inadequate advertising coming in, we have to ask some people to leave. Of course one month’s notice and a decent severance pay will be given, but even then…um, I think you should know…
– When do you want my letter of resignation? – Paran had asked this same question not too long ago of another chief executive. Dreamlessness is because dreams are dead.
– O! today, please! With one month’s notice being mentioned, and I’ll be happy to be a, um, reference if you want, on your CV.
Paran got up and walked to his PC to type out the obituary of yet another dream.