Bequests

29 Mar 2016

      Growing up, my Pishi’s (my father’s older sister) house was a favourite Saturday haunt for her son had a computer and a thriving internet connection. Besides, she made a delectable chicken curry that glistened mustard yellow, as opposed to my mother’s rich burnt sienna, with potatoes the size of an infant’s clenched fist. Lunch would be had at half past one, followed by an orb or two of the rasgulla (Bengalis reading this are already taking me to task for not writing “Roshogolla”, which is what they would blabber with that heavenly confection in their mouths). Let me confirm the infamy that has tainted the Bengali identity: yes, after a heavy meal, afternoon naps are a necessary luxury.

      It was when the house was asleep that my generous cousin and his mother allowed me access to their computer for I did not have one at home until I was thirteen. It was during this time that I was fascinated by websites: the interactive kind, where you could pick an avatar, take a job, buy furniture, and the like, the ones which quizzed you and told you which DC Comic Character you were, and most importantly, the personal websites, of artists, writers, actors, the works. They seemed as beautiful and defining to me as the façades of houses. This, of course, paved the way for the notion of the website itself defining the virtual self, and being the digital epicentre of the virtual being. I distinctly recall stumbling upon Emma Watson’s website in 2006, and learning that she had painted a bird (I cannot exactly recall what kind) and a rose, which appeared on the homepage, herself.

      I firmly believe that with the world rapidly getting digitalised, it is important that one carve out for oneself a little niche that reflects her or him. Therefore, in May of 2015, I decided that I should work on a website. Not just any run-of-the-mill readymade layout but with illustrations and structures that borrow from stray notes and illustrations I might make on the pages of my notebooks.

      After ten months of illustrating and discarding and re-illustrating, the website is now complete.

      The wreath of roses is a loose recreation of the stunning woodwork on the lid of a jewellery box. This box has been in our family for years and I am still not quite sure if it belongs to my mother’s side or my father’s. But I was always aware of its presence. In Guwahati, it was always locked in a compartment in my mother’s wardrobe. It would smell of jasmine and velvet upon opening. It held rings, a bangle, and other jewellery that were gifts from relatives when I was a toddler. Of course, with time, everything was lost; in one week, I had misplaced one ring, and in the other, the bangle. Now, the box rests on my bookshelf. It contains ticket stubs, phone covers by Krsnaa Mehta, a map of the London Underground, a letter my best friend wrote to me several years ago when we had a falling out — far more precious than any tinsel.

      The recurrence of the rose harks back to the memory of a New Yorker uncle who had phoned my father to inquire after his health. The phone was passed to me; this uncle asked me what my favourite flower was. I said that it was the rose primarily because I could spell it correctly and hoped that this uncle would ask me to recite its alphabets — a rare opportunity to impress a man who spoke English like those kids on Nickelodeon. He never did ask me to spell. Besides, it was the first flower that my father had sought permission to pluck from the well-kept rose bush at a Ramakrishna Mission Ashram in Guwahati. He suggested that I place it inside my Ladybird Classic copy of Rumpelstiltskin before I went to bed. Upon waking, disappointment paralysed me: the rose had flattened, its petals crisp, papery, and brownish. This was when I was first acquainted with the transience of every thing. Baba passed on this knowledge rather cruelly. The rose tiles (one being the loading icon, while the others are the background for Journal entries) have that distinctive impress when you are not quite as kind with the nib. It is rough, unpolished, incomplete, much like myself.

      In 2011, on the television, I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman voicing a puppet with a typewriter in Mary and Max and I have wanted one since. Given the languidness of my father in joining me on my search for this awesome contraption, and my mother’s expression of ludicrousness at my belated fascination, it was a distant dream to acquire it. I resorted to photographs and illustrations, salivating like a predator. I made the illustration of the typewriter in late 2014, along with that of a gramophone, without realising that I would lay my hands on an ancient Remington that was a replication of the illustration. Months and years of seeking culminated into that accidental stroll in Park Street where it sat in the window display of Victor Bros. Auction House. It was sold when I came to inquire about it a few weeks later. But they were nice enough to have another Remington for me. Obviously, I had to inundate them with several phone calls. I am not sure whose writing instrument it is that I have inherited but I have chosen to give it a new history. If they were so ready to part with it, then let me apply a fresh coat of paint and veneer and make it my own. Yes, I have also gone ahead and given it a name, but I shan’t disclose it just yet. It’ll be all the better when you know why I chose to name it so.

      The two major components on the homepage being illustrations of inheritances, let me move on to the drawing of Bhuvan Chauhan’s Bricett — the Andrunain Pocket Watch — that he buys from Solstices. It also serves as a compass, an accurate weather forecaster, and a two-way looking-glass like communication piece between Bricett owners, its efficiency, in this regard, surpassing a Skype call. Although his Bricett was initially meant to be a bequest, I decided against it. How fitting it must have been, then, that I chose Bhuvan’s Bricett for “Through the Years”. A faceless Bhuvan, holding the sandstone eagle sceptre peeks from the corner, and so does Greyfriar’s Bobby (an obvious indication to Omenwhisky’s presence). A fountain pen sits near the photograph my father took of me in Finsbury Park, London. This pen, with which I finished The Mug of Melancholy when I ran out of Linc Ocean Gels, was a present from my father’s only brother.

      In the very hot month of May, a dozen different versions of the “Andrunains” were made. Until, I finally decided to include Madam Naturna, Pecker Omenwhisky, Bhuvan, Patricia Hibbertini, and Zoya. Their placing in the horizontal tiles was deliberate, as one will know when one reads the forthcoming titles in the series.

      Acodez and I worked in tandem for several months. They were very patient with my revisions. I aspired to have the website look like the pages of a yellowing, crackling journal which smudges the fresh ink of cheap cartridges. These pages resemble those of a leather-bound journal my mother had as an adolescent but which she never kept. They were the colour of sand and lined like one’s palms. I had picked it out of a leather purse from her schooldays which were stocked with pocket-sized textbooks of Hindi literature. It carried autographs of two actors from a theatrical troupe who had visited her school. She had expressed a pronounced dejection when I asked her if I could write stories in it, but she never objected. To this day, the journal in question only carries the autographs and nothing else.

      The website has truly been a laborious endeavour. I hope it will ably curate what I wish to share publicly.

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