ARS POETICA Neel hit the shutdown button on his computer as soon as he heard the footsteps outside his room and turned up the volume of the stereo. Soothing music filled the room as tiny bells chimed in tune with the rich notes of a piano and a violin. Neel quickly shoved a few CDs under his workbook. Better be safe than sorry, he told himself, although most probably it was only his sister Neha coming in to say goodnight. Neel quickly looked around the room – everything seemed in place. The rich pastel colored curtains perfectly matched the walls. The designer bed stood primly in one corner, bathed by the light of the reading lamp. His bookshelves were perfectly organized, the little rug at the foot of his bed was dead straight, his bedroom slippers perfectly aligned on the mat. Neel grimaced. This perfect room, like always, grated on his nerves.
His twin sister Neha entered after a soft knock on the door, a finger on lips. Neel raised his eyebrows. – ‘Mum’s on the prowl’, whispered Neha, ‘on her way up here. Where are the books and the disks, Neel?’ – ‘I have hidden the books in my cupboard. The disks are here’ said Neel, moving the workbook. Neha frowned. ‘No, we have to hide them somewhere else’ she said. ‘Beeb’s been at it again. He has complained to Mum about both of us – you know, about the last music session’. – ‘Well, let’s stuff them with the books then’ said Neel. ‘She won’t look in the cupboard, I’m sure’. Brother and sister hurriedly scooped up the few CDs and stuffed it deep under the clothes. Neha tucked in a belt that was sticking out, and no sooner had they settled down in front of the game console that their mother walked in, smelling faintly of violets as always, gliding across the thick carpet. -‘Hello children’ she sang. ‘How was your day, then? I am sorry I was not here for supper – as you both know, we had the group meeting in your school today’. She looked at them serenely, a beautiful woman, perfectly groomed, every hair in place and stiff as a mannequin. ‘I have never seen her any different’ Neel suddenly thought ‘even when Granny died so suddenly last year. She had been sad, yes, infinitely sad, but totally impeccable at all times, even during the last rites’. Neel felt the familiar shiver down his spine again. He had real difficulty in putting up with so much perfection at all times. He knew that Neha shared his feelings to a certain extent, but not completely. – ‘Neel, Neha – I was sorry to hear that once again your behavior was not perfect today’ said their mother. ‘I really can’t understand you. Why do you disappoint me so? I have not seen your dad as yet. He won’t be very happy either when I do’. She sighed as she sat down on a pouf gracefully. Neel gritted his teeth and waited for his sister to answer, wishing that for once his mother would change the tone of her voice or her attitude – the cool detached demeanor angered him more and more these days, though he was not sure why. Neha seemed to deal better with their parents. – ‘Why Mama, what is the matter? What have we done this time? And who has been complaining?’ asked Neha, with just the right amount of humility and irritation. There were never any raised voices in this family, as in all the families that Neel knew, in their neighborhood and elsewhere, all across the country. Maybe across the world too, thought Neel, but he was not sure. Lately he has been seeing strange messages on his personal wall – they only stayed for a few seconds and disappeared permanently, like being sucked into a black hole. They were about far off places where men and women were chanting slogans in the streets or in the universities. Neel thought of one of the books hiding in his cupboard – a book written in a strange way, certainly, describing a world where once angry men and women lived, loving, but also fighting, killing each other with or without valid reasons. Some would do it, it seemed, to defend a cause, some to amass vast wealth, or yet others fighting tyrants or dictators. Neel was still confused, and could not wait to get back to his books. He dragged himself back to the conversation in his room. ‘…. And so he said that your music was all wrong’ his mother was saying while Neha stared at her fixedly. ‘Did he say why?’ asked Neha. – ‘Of course. Both you and Neel deliberately changed the music, especially towards the end. And it seems that the sounds you produced with the violin and the drum were quite inappropriate – loud and harsh and not in harmony. According to Mr.Beeb, you apparently have some followers in your group, and they clapped and whooped when you had finished. Is that true, children?’ They nodded and chanted ‘sorry Mama’ in unison too. ‘It won’t happen again’ they promised. Their mother did not look totally mollified – for a moment it seemed to Neel that she might say something else, but the moment came and went. ‘Well, I won’t disturb you any more’, she said formally. ‘Good night children. I shall see you tomorrow morning’. And with that she was gone, the door softly clicking behind her. There would be no more intrusions, they knew. They hardly saw their father during the week – a well-known Professor of a famous university, he was eternally busy with his work and had very little time for his children except on rare weekends. Neel got up and locked the door, though it was strictly against rules & whipped out the CDs from the cupboard. In a flash they had their headphones on, completely immersed in the music, totally different from what they had heard in their young lives. ‘Almost violent’ thought Neel, listening to the angry rumbling of the drums and the wailing voice of the singer. The sounds were sometimes mellow, sometimes harsh, but totally harmonious. The words in the song did not rhyme, and Neel had trouble understanding the meaning – ‘I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag / I was schooled with a strap right across my back / But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!’ sang the amazing voice. Neel glanced at his sister, and she seemed to be in a trance… Once Neha had left, Neel could not go to sleep. He knew he had his skating practice early in the morning, and then it would be straight to school. He would have no respite throughout the day crowded with lessons and gym and relaxation and therapy. He would hardly have time to see the group tomorrow, and that annoyed him. He was getting more and more fed up with his regimented life. He wanted to run and shout and jump and scream – not in the organized group therapy sessions but outside, under the open sky, under the stars. Like now. But when he lifted up the curtain, his urges died down. The manicured lawns and the beautiful tree lined streets were not fit for such things. He sighed impatiently and drew out the book he was reading. But the words floated and danced before his eyes and he could not concentrate. It was a difficult book to read, in any case, full of strange concepts and convoluted sentences. Like the one he was reading right now – “Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see. See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.” The sentence fascinated him though he was not totally sure of what it meant. Adiaphane? Still, the word had a nice ring to it. ‘It is this book that is bothering me’, thought Neel, ‘all these words thrown in pell-mell, totally discordant and grating and sometimes meaningless. I should read what is on my reading list instead’. Yet the thought of picking up those sterile books put him off. He switched off the overhead light and was just getting into bed when his cellphone beeped. Neel was surprised. Nobody should be calling him this late at night. It was considered the ultimate breach of conduct. Evenings were for studying and relaxing and being with the family. Outsiders had no access to other people’s lives at this time of the day. Neel grabbed the phone and flipped the receive button. Trisha’s face smiled at him. – ‘Hey Neel. No, don’t tell me that you’re glad to see me! I can see it in your face’ she laughed. – ‘Trish! I am surprised, yes’ mumbled Neel ‘why are you calling me now? Is there anything wrong at home? Shall I call Mum?’ – ‘No dummy. It’s you I want to talk to’ she said. ‘Oh I know that I am not supposed to call now. But I had to tell you about this important decision we have taken at today’s group meeting, since you couldn’t make it’ – ‘What is it?’ asked Neel, excited. ‘Are we going, then? When? – ‘No, we did not get around to discussing that. Several had to leave because of the choir practice. And we saw the Jujus behind that greenhouse, you know?’ – ‘Oh no’, wailed Neel ‘have they discovered the grotto?’ – ‘No, but they soon might. We have not been very careful lately’ said Trisha. ‘So we decided not to meet for some time. We shall meet on the Mirror instead, around this time every night’. – ‘At this time, Trish? Isn’t that a bit risky? You know that we are really not allowed to do it’ said Neel doubtfully. ‘We are still in school. And even if that was not the case….’ – ‘Neel, what we are planning to do far exceeds meeting on the Mirror, wouldn’t you agree?’ said his friend. ‘We shall soon break out of this horrible prison altogether, you’ll see. Or are you getting cold feet now?’ mocked Trisha. – ‘No. But we still haven’t made contact, and we mustn’t jeopardize the whole thing by being hasty. Also, I haven’t told Neha yet. She is my twin, you know. She will certainly sense it and then make my life hell. But I’m not sure that I want her to get into this either’. – ‘That is your decision, Neel. I can’t help you here. But I think it might be a good idea to tell her. If she doesn’t want to join, no problem. But at least she’ll know’. – ‘OK Trish. Let me think about it. Do we have classes in common tomorrow? So what is the plan for tomorrow night?’ – ‘You’ll get the message, Neel. Goodnight for now’. Continue reading