The Painting- Motion & Energy
Never, ever pick up, and hold for your own, something that does not belong to you.
My grandmother’s words echoed off the walls of my brain as I stared at the painting, tucked casually behind an empty amazon.in carton.
The residents of my apartment tower do that. Anything that they have used up or no longer care for and which would not fit into the garbage chute opening, would find its place on the corresponding landing of the emergency staircase. During the earthquake earlier this month, I found myself performing the hurdle race, avoiding old, chipped ceramic pots, sweet and savoury boxes wishing my gastronomically hedonist neighbours a Happy New Year, Happy Holi, Happy Ramzan, Happy Dusshera, stacks of left-over plywood and endless number of cartons from a gazillion online shopping sites (oh, this e-commerce boom will be the death of me, really). I was the only ignorant rule-stickler soul who had taken the emergency staircase that afternoon. By the time I had arrived downstairs with a frightened dog in tow, the first batch of sceptics was already taking the elevators up, back to their routine and day.
Positioned askew on one corner of a heavy mahogany frame, the picture showed me the scene of a bright summer’s day. The sky blushed a boundless vivid blue; the sort of hue brought out by an intense long bearing sun. The clouds shone a brilliant white against the Capri- large fluffy bundles of cotton, ready to collapse into for a cuddly slumber, if only they were not so evasive to the physical touch. A woman, with her back to me, stood on a grassy berm observing all this, the same way as I was taking it all in standing behind her. Her long dress was painted in rivulets of silky golden fabric, the material flowing around her playfully. Her dark, waist length hair fell down her back in loose, wavy curls, and a few stray strands had caught a gentle gust of wind. Her arms were wide open, long golden scarves wound around her wrists billowing out, completing the image of a forest nymph, basking in the absolute beauty of her sweet home.
Why would anyone want to throw this away?
I checked my immediate neighbours off one by one. Mrs. Chadha, who lives opposite my apartment, is ancient and an insistent hoarder.
No, she would even make space for it digging out hollows inside her walls, but would never throw it out.
The young business consultant couple across the hallway on the other side of the elevator lobby is never home at all. I have only ever seen them lugging a trolley bag, one each, dashing to reach their cab or getting out of one in a hurry. I doubt if they even have furniture in their flat.
The Nirulas, who live in the tenement facing the living-out-of-the-suitcase couple, are a brash, noisy family of five. Their impudent sons had once played wild cricket on our floor, and wrecked two of my favourite potted plants. As an apology, they gave me a voucher for one free milkshake at Lala Land’s Soda Shop, Connaught Place, Delhi. I bristled under the revived onslaught of these bitter memories, and made up my mind.
This painting is way too classy and chic for them. It’s definitely not theirs.
But, it does have to belong to someone. Who could it be?
I remained there, indecision coursing through my thoughts.
What do I do now? Do I deposit it at the Apartment Association office? Ummm. Can I take it? No, don’t be such a cheapo. Okay, can I?
I pretended to feel that the painting, with its surreal, other-worldly charm, was drawing me towards it. The fledgling idea was slowly beginning to feel right; of course I could find a place for it on one of my walls. As doubtful that I was of its current ownership, I became convinced about one thing.
I am going to have to make sure I never invite any of these people home.
I bent down and gingerly tugged at the painting, holding onto its edge. It was heavy and I hesitated. My grandmother spoke for a second time, her steady voice telling me in no uncertain terms to not do this. A rush of overwhelming determination rose up, and I allowed myself to be heaved into its deafening surge. She became a distant figure on the shore which slid further and further away. Plucking the picture up from behind the carton, I grunted in restrained surprise, and shuffled the few meagre steps to my flat.
I had left the front door ajar, when I came out to drop off my garbage bag down the chute. Shouldering it open further, I found Syrup sitting solemnly awaiting my return, her long ears two perfect pigtails down the sides of her head. I anticipated her customary mad excitement (two minutes or two hours that I spend away, it is all the same for her), and was in no mood to be accosted by it with the heavy monolith in my arms. I opened my mouth to ask her move, but she was quick to the punch. She stood up, calm and sombre, and took one step back, with almost an uncanny human semblance to her motion, and sat down again. I was mighty impressed. The dog psychologist whom I had consulted, with whose help I was training Syrup, had come highly recommended. I now knew why. She was fast learning my moods and reacting to the vibes around her.
Good, now follow me and watch where I put this up.
Syrup tailed me on cue, her paws making zero sound on the matte tiled floor. I made a mental note to call Ms. Narayan and share this latest development with her. Ah, the pride of a parent, of an animal companion or a human (well, hearsay, of course), is a warm feeling.
I maintain my study as a contradiction of sorts- clean floor and minimal furniture while the walls are a mayhem of pin ups and assorted décor. This gives me room to move around and yet have my experiences tacked to the z-axis. I removed an old mechanical cuckoo clock from its nail head and pulled out a 101 Things to do in Chandni Chowk poster to make space for my new acquisition. For all its bulk, the painting settled itself in quite a lithe fashion. I stepped back and surveyed my handiwork. The cluttered wall had never seemed more fascinating. It had riveted even Syrup’s interest. When I left the room a little while later, congratulating myself on the clever little addition to my ‘art’ collection, Syrup was still sitting there, her liquid brown eyes gazing at the painting. I shook my head in amusement, thinking about her otherwise five second attention span. She was a packet of surprises that day.
* * * * *
The call with my editor took longer than necessary. I spent an hour in vain trying to convince him that the draft I had sent him was the final one. I was getting exasperated with his references to “fresh alternate ideas”. If my draft were any fresher, I would pipe cream cheese topping on it and take a big satisfying bite. We ended the conversation only because there was no way we could physically punch each other over the phone.
I hit bed when the clock ticked towards one in the morning. Syrup’s night walk had not been as exhausting as usual, and yet when I snuggled under my duvet, I was worn-out. The mercury levels had gone down dutifully with the tide of November, and it seemed to be a pretty tame night.
The horse’s galloping jangled my bones and my teeth chattered. I tried to hold the reins tight, but my fingers, however hard they tried, could only grasp a loose clutch. The men chasing, were gaining on me and the adrenaline rush did nothing to my own speed. I could feel the wind tossing my hair in its brutish strength and the floor thudding underneath the hooves. There was a violent shake as my horse jumped over a hedge border. We landed without any trouble. The bed shook again, this time for a moment longer. I awoke a split second later, and dimly registered a repeated thumping sound from down one side of the bed; the sound of a dog enjoying a late night scratching session, her leg mildly coming in recurring contact with anything solid.
“Syrup, stop it,” I murmured, annoyed with her. It had been a fantastic chasing sequence in my dream.
She continued to scratch, paying no heed to my annoyance. The gentle hammering was persistent. The dull undulating motion was being faithfully transmitted through the bed.
I called out in a sharper tone. “Cut it out!”
The waves of vibration, lateral underneath my body, were giving me a nauseating sensation. I sat up, pushing the covers down.
“Syrup, I said stop!” I yelled.
For a moment, I startled myself, my voice loud and hollow in the quiet room.
The thumping ceased.
Hearing a soft snuffle, I turned to my other side and found Syrup curled up in bed, close to my hip, and apparently sleeping. She opened her eyes and cocked her head askance enquiringly.
My heart stopped beating.