[Issue 2 / August 2012]
Her words reached me, fighting with a floating wave of grave, sepulchral silence. And I drifted into a world that enchanted me, held me under its swift, elongated spell.
Hers was a voice that helped me row away from ruptures of manic melancholy, of terrible loneliness, as I would lay awake in the dead of night—night after long, solitary night—fighting diabolic demons: Solitude, Darkness.
On nights like that, I’d lay awake, listening to radio. On nights like that, I’d be a dyslexic, waging a struggle to reconcile myself with the inability of not reading my own thoughts, my own mind. The voice, her voice, would ring out in my auditory sphere like flowers bloom in the spring. It’d be like a gush, a torrent, catching me off-guard during my most unguarded moments.
And in its intensity, it was immense, overwhelming me with its well-crafted shapes, nebulous, and yet so clear, it almost etched itself on my being, on my entire consciousness. It was my cavern of joys, my fountain of salvation.
It was a compact disc of ceaseless, unending chatter, which had me ensnared with its techni-colour tones…Each time it entered the precincts of my private planet, silence slithered out—stifled, smothered—turned into smithereens of avoidable entities, escaping my zone, zooming out from my universe filled with the joys of the spoken word. Wordlessness—walloped, warped—made its way somewhere far, far away.
Ah! the way this familiar oral oeuvre made me thirst for the sheer thrill of its inflections! I could feel each pore of my body gyrating to her well-woven verbal calisthenics. And genuflect, like a dutiful devotee, at the door of the lush, luminous lines that left her lips.
It was words’ sheer sorcery. I called her the enchantress of eloquence. Never before was I so madly ensnared by words, so highly enamoured of words.
So much happened in my world owing to the motoring of her mouth, and yet she remained unaware of the mayhem she unleashed, the riots of thoughts she triggered in me, in my world.
Each time the airwaves bristle with her boisterous intonation, I leap out of my bed and reach out for the source of this magical voice majestically ensconced at the centre of my teak trolley-table (that adorns my large, sprawling living room), which has SONY screaming out from the glass surface. And I shake with the excitement of a first-time lover, the excitement that had coursed through my veins (now congealed) years ago.
My fingers grope the protuberant parts of my music system…
But wait. Here, I seemed to have moved ahead of my story. For this jazzy system has been there with me for only a couple of years now. To trace back the story of the fire of fascination that has kindled my spirits for all these years, enriching my life with the myriad lights of its twinkle — sparkling during my darkest moments — I need to take you a little back in time. A time when everything in my life was at a premium till a voice, which gradually acquired flesh and blood, shared with me its riches, let me in on its largesse. It was a communion of the most unusual kind, two voices becoming one, almost like two souls taking the form of one body, crying in unison in pain, letting out squeals of laughter in joy. It filled everyone with tremendous envy to see the way the two bonded and blended, losing each other to find each other.
I need to turn the clock back and take you to the eventful day my unusual love affair with the voice ensued. Memories erupt like the surging tide of the sea and on my retina I see a retinue of images, draped in the layers of my past, camouflaging the empty frames of my otherwise uneventful existence, drab and painfully mundane.
Getting intermingled in this attempt at recollection are my yesterday and today.
Years ago, on a cold night in Kolkata, I see myself clung to a rickety radio, on the verge of falling apart, which I had kept in check by wrapping with several strands of threads. This tattered transistor, a gift from my dad (who incidentally had fallen in love with the old, reliable and inexpensive form of mass communication and would count on it for his daily dose of hourly news bulletins) on my 13th birthday, was my only companion during the never-ending nights after I said goodbye to school and after Ria said goodbye to me, when I would keep tossing and turning till the crack of dawn, not knowing where my life was headed, not knowing what was in store for me.
As my fingers run through the device issuing the voice which throws me in the throes of ecstasy, I remember my poor little “hummingbird,” my constant companion during those days, didn’t even have too many stations of my interest, not to mention the added accoutrements: Bass, treble, equalizer. (It was an era preceding Frequency Modulation and World Space). I could only oscillate between MW and SW (medium and short waves which, of course, I didn’t know then) and volume, full on during the day when I was on my own and lowest during the night when I would sneak into my bed to revel in sounds from afar, mindful of my parents asleep in the next room, mindful of my father’s fragile sleep, while I was still up, though lying in my bed and pretending to be asleep. He would come into my room and shower me with his care, covering me properly with the blanket that would have slipped off my bed, or checking if the fan in my room was still on. I was thankful he could never see through my clandestine aural engagement.
Lying in my bed, I would tune in for songs and it was during one of those nocturnal quests for companionship that my ears stumbled upon the overarching effulgence, the gentle cadence of her expressions; it came like a stream of ceaseless symphonies, sweeping me along its animated octaves.
Since that night, I became a slave to the elixir of that lilting melody of a voice, which was inevitably immersed in the tracks she played during her programme. In between, she would intone into my ear ruminations and reflections—in her quintessential tone—laced with verve, vigour and vitality, roping in an endless string of issues, from verities of life to vagaries of nature, from relationships to first loves to break-ups. It came to me in a wiggling-waggling, jiggling-joggling form—now robust, now receding—owing to the fluctuating frequency waves: like the morning azaan emanating from the minarets of a faraway mosque.
The smooth flow of her silky voice would keep me hanging on and I would hasten to join the staccatos of her verbal stream. She, or rather her voice, would infuse in me a fresh, vigorously pious energy. And I would seek its sweet smite with immeasurable eagerness, each moment. It endowed me with a strange satisfaction, heaving inside my heart long after it went off air—its gargantuan glint illuminating my area of impenetrable darkness.
It was an unusual connection, this. But it introduced me to many an island of joy, of pure, unadulterated pleasure. With each passing day, I found myself sinking into the sea of enrapturing words that she wove with tremendous dexterity, like the webs of a skilful weaver. I revelled in the scintillating scheme of her speech, its inimitable pattern, suffused with innocent smile, mischievous laughter, pregnant pauses and deep sighs. It was infected with incurable innocence. And I could not remain immune to this infection. It spread and spread further till I became a prisoner of her presence on that particular frequency.
Every day I religiously tuned in, at the exact time her slot began, with increasing exultation and also, I must confess, a little bit of uneasiness; for while her voice was the valley of well-chosen flowers (which overwhelmed my senses with its devastating fragrance), its scent also overpowered me in a way that filled me with uncanny cravings, leaving me lost in the landscape of undefined, least understood longings.
I also confess, at this point, that my uncanny interest in a voice—unfathomable to me even now—owed itself to Ria, who breezed into my life and then left, like a gust of the occasional wind which billows in the desert, leaving a RIA-shaped hole in my world which AIR seemed to fill. Before AIR it was RIA who was the subject of my undivided attention and unprecedented adulation.
Ah! Ria! You would not understand how I resist the temptation to tell you all, how I allowed myself to be hamstrung by her wily ways, wily and wild. Call it a 16-year-old’s naivety or what you will, but when it happened, I myself couldn’t make any sense of the whirlwind of our relationship that made a fleeting passage through my life. I’ve decided to censor some, to reveal some. So, I’d not tell you how long did we go around and how we parted (to me, the very idea of parting symbolizes the utmost pain that one can experience in his lifetime; I’ve never been good at it, though throughout my life, I’ve only been parting with something or the other, someone or the other—I lost my father when I was just 18 and since then life has been a roller-coaster ride on which I’ve lost more and gained less; life’s balance sheet, alas!, remains lopsided). I would not be able to tell you all, partly because memory, like words, betrays me and forgetfulness, like boredom, hangs heavy; and partly because I’d not accord these details of my past any place in my present for there is no tomorrow in yesterday. All I would say is that she studied with me in school and possessed a voice that could soothe souls, heal wounds; a voice that whisked away all vestiges of pain, all iotas of ennui and endless unrest.
It’s been long since I last saw Ria, since I last heard from her, but some questions still prick my mind: Is being laconic a form of lunacy? Can someone’s reticence leave the other with lurking lumps in throat?
After that cold night when that voice, issuing forth from the tiny device that lay on my bedside, draped me in the warmth of its mirthful malleability, each night, for a long time, I’d hear it veer off in all possible directions, filling my world. And my entire existence danced to its dulcet flow. Also, the voice transformed all my phobias into filias: I was afraid of the dark, but upon hearing it, I was ready to be relegated to the darkest of corners as long as I had that voice to give me company; night scared me, but with her voice accompanying me, I’d not care even if my lifetime was transformed into one, long, night.
I often wondered why I swung to such extremes in eulogizing the voice, ending up with the phantasmal orchestration of its qualities. Why did it always seem to be soaked in a familiar whiff that filled my senses? Till I discovered, much later, that it was actually Ria’s partial comeback into my life. She chose airwaves to arrive in my world, again. To resonate in the empty hall of our unfulfilled aspirations, filling the tower of silence that stood between us.
On that cold, solitary night in Kolkata, when I tuned into radio, it was her voice that welcomed me, making me stuck on to its bubbling beats, forever.
Today, Ria’s words fill my world, whatever I do, wherever I go. In the eventual recognition of her voice, I’ve begun to encompass all the voices that I hear — familiar or unfamiliar. No matter what goes into my ears, it always appears to me that it’s Ria speaking to me through all these years that we’ve been apart. Her voice invades every inch of the space that I inhabit, lending rhythm to my moments. The effervescence of her expression comes in the way of my own dull, lacklustre attempt at striking a conversation.
Today, if I were to come face-to-face with Ria, I know I’d not be able to utter anything, not even a fraction of what I’ve written down, words would sputter, tremble, languish in the lumps. Tongue would get tied into a knot. So, as you can gather, I’m not much of a talker. In fact, I’m not much of anything. Could it be why Ria left me? I don’t know.
Today, I feel as if I’m caught in a time warp. Everything seems to have stopped. And I find myself still standing at the threshold of adulthood when we allow ourselves to be deluded with many a dream; when our enthusiasm for everything knows no ebbing; when we brim with hope and optimism; when we have a rather idealistic notion of everything; when we think that the world is our oyster, ready to throw itself at our feet; when nothing, absolutely nothing (no realm of knowledge, no form of art, no area of activity) seems to be beyond us; when we think that life will, eventually, turn out the way we want it to. But it doesn’t always happen that way as we have to negotiate our way with several of life’s stark realities—quandaries and confusions, dilemmas and defeats—compromise on many a front, make many a sacrifice.
But I needn’t worry about all this because I’ve, as of now, a valley of voices to wander into. And garland my moments with the bouquet of songs that strings together all of Ria’s energies, her unmistakable exuberance, her joie de vivre. She often hummed these and they are the sum of the parts of Ria I had known, a part of my memory fails to resist trickling in with this little information.
My fingers grope in the dark…
Bass… Treble… Volume…
Nawaid Anjum is a journalist based in New Delhi. He works for The Asian Age, where, besides many other things, he writes on books. He is currently working on an anthology of poems and a novel.