The Blue Guitar in Calcutta
It’s about to be one of these entirely surreal Kolkata-in-winter Sundays. Derby in the morning, darling, I was informed. This essentially translates to knocking back glass after glass of a creamy alcoholic concoction called the Brandy Alexander, and watching people who look like they walked out of a Wes Anderson film squabble for their winnings. Then there’s a wedding reception in the evening. The morning began with a neighbour and someone in my own house gargling. Imagine the sound of phlegm — thick, sticky, tinted green — being dragged and strangled and squelched and spat out audibly. It’s the noise of demon-killing. It drove Pakistani artist Bani Abidi out of the flat she was living in Chittaranjan Park, that Bengali stronghold in New Delhi. And it was happening this morning in and around my home in Kolkata, in Dolby surround sound. Here’s the good news: Everyone is still alive. Did I mention I’m PMS-ing? Yes, it really does get better and better. At this point, the fact that I have a 5am flight out of here seems like one of the best aspects of this weekend.
On the plus side, the weather’s as gloomy as my mood. These aren’t the gorgeous monsoon clouds (obviously) but I’m still a fan, even of this milky, wishy-washy non-light. It’s almost like being in a time warp, which is strangely fascinating to me when I don’t have to leap out and get to work/meet somebody by a certain hour. The time could be 8am or it could be noon, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in Kolkata with these clouds. The general joke in the city is that since the new chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, declared she would turn Kolkata into London, she’s begun with bringing in dreary, dismal weather. The infrastructure etc. can happen later. Of course, as always with Mamata Banerjee, the fiction is so much tamer than the facts. I’m told the press enclosure in Writer’s Building has been moved because she hollers too loudly and abusively. Also, she recently slapped one of her cabinet ministers and called another one “khochchorer bachcha”. This means “the child of a khochchor”; a “khochchor” being a mule. Basically, the way Bengalis see it, the animal is half-horse, half donkey, and all stupid. Not precisely the phrase one would use for someone they respect.
I’m here in Calcutta watching things fall apart and people try to piece things together. There’s nothing else to do here. There’s a Bengali phrase that roughly translates to “being held together with spit” (“thuthu diye aatkano”). Such a frantic delusion, sticking things together with spit. It’s much more desperate, haphazard (and stubbornly puerile) than “papering over the cracks”. As I see all the little heartbreaks and pointless bluster around me, I’m reminded of fragments from Wallace Stevens’s “The Man With A Blue Guitar”.
I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.
I sing a hero’d head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,
Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.
If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,
Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.
Do I begin and end? And where,
As I strum the thing, do I pick up
That which momentously declares
Itself not to be I and yet
Must be. It could be nothing else.
Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark
That it is this or that it is that,
But do not use the rotted names.
How should you walk in that space and know
Nothing of the madness of space,
Nothing of its jocular procreations?
Throw the lights away. Nothing must stand
Between you and the shapes you take
When the crust of shape has been destroyed.