Wednesday 1 September 2010

Short Story 2010 Second Prize (2) Indira Ballal

Galatea's Plight- Galatea's Flight

It lingered even after the sun had risen to the zenith. The scent- the sensation- the sense... It haunted him even as he went about his usual routine. Never in all his life had a dream lingered thus, nudging his consciousness, almost nagging him with irritating persistence. Usually, the nocturnal visitors hovered in the back of his mind the first few minutes of waking up; then, like the mist disappearing in the early morning sun's rays, the intangible images of the night always melted into nothingness.
But, this was different. By evening, the clamour for recognition and acknowledgement began to distract him. Like a dull ache in the body that has impatiently waited in the wings till its host could spare it some time, but, breaking chains at the end of the day, it now would wait no longer- the invasion began to announce its presence more stridently.

 He knew he had to face it- he couldn't put it off any longer. He lay on the settee in the balcony and closed his eyes... He knew that to see something that wasn't there, one had to close one's eyes. "Come, you phantoms," his mind willed, a trifle peevishly.

But, no shapes formed. No features were delineated. He was tired, dead tired, and after some moments of restlessness, he gradually drifted into a daze; and as his heart beat stilled, as the muscles in his body relaxed and as his mind let go of its moorings and began to float and bounce like little specks in the bobbing waves, it crystallised.

 Was that a being? Was it male or female? At first, he couldn't say. Slowly, he began to sense it, realise it; an experience-- a wholesome complete experience that soaked through him, softly, silently, so absolutely that he couldn't separate himself from it. He couldn't see her face, but, he believed he knew her; he couldn't touch her, but, he could feel her; he could hear her voice, but, it was not in his ears or head, but some where else within him he couldn't locate....he had sometimes felt this way when he listened to music through the ear phones of his ipod...the sounds coming from somewhere and reaching him at a place he couldn't identify...but, undoubtedly within him.

She was speaking to him but he heard no words in the languages he knew; yet, he realised that she was saying what had been in his heart unspoken and unexpressed all these years. His heart, his soul, his spirit understood what she expressed...and the scent, it was not the fragrance of a flower or anything else he had known so far--does sunlight and sea waves and the night breeze and the fresh pouring rain have a smell? If they did, would this be it?, he wondered--the scent of life, but, life of another world?

 He gave himself up to it--without fight or fancy. He let it consume him, conquer him till he ceased to exist even for himself.

 Gradually, the tentacles of reality prodded him to wakefulness. When he tried to recall what he had just gone through, he found himself at a loss, once again. Like half remembered words tantalising the tip of one's tongue but refusing to wear the cloak of its recognised form, images teased him. But, it was clearer than before; there was something he could sense, grasp, give shape to.
He was a painter. He would give this fantastic communion a concrete image; he would capture his conqueror and become conqueror again.

For the next many days and nights, the fantasy filled his every waking moment. There were worldly claims he couldn't ignore, demands of work, family, society he had to fulfil; duties he couldn't disregard, but, he attended to them as if he was some one else. The real "he" remained in another world, giving flesh and blood and life to the Fantasy. He breathed for her, the blood coursed in his veins for her, his heart beat for her, his eyes could see her although he didn't know what form her face had; but, it was a  face, a familiar face; one he had known many lifetimes earlier. Her voice resonated in his ears as he spoke, her touch sent quivers of cold and heat through him.

He poured himself into her, exhausted himself in her--all the yearnings of his heart, his soul, his spirit and his body he moulded into her. As he wrestled with the colours and shapes and wrested light and shades from his palette, he realised that it is not the raw energy expended on broad, bold strokes that wears you out but those minimal suggestions when every little line and curve have to be controlled, sometimes smudged, allowed to trail into the unknown, the unexplored. It is easy to move the brush across in easy slaps, but the fine nuances needs a steady, unshaking hand...the smallest miniscule movement takes out the maximum life force ...the concentration drains your energy. Sustaining stillness is more exhausting than the wildest dance. The finer the expression and execution, the greater your burn-up, and you burn up deep inside.

Translating a hazy, subtle, unsubstantial wisp of an experience , that was at the same time catacylsmic and powerful is more depleting than doing a still-life. Creativity is exhausting, killing, leaving you half dead, since it is your life, your vital force that you are pumping into the act. And, this was no ordinary work of art; it was no ordinary marathon: this was a tight-rope walk, a delicate and dangerous balancing act-- an accidental spasm or twitch in his hand, and the picture would be ruined, beyond redemption, forever.

Sweat sprouted on his forehead and dripped into his eyes. It burned his eyes, blurred his vision, but, still, he could see her clearly in his mind's eye. Never before had he emptied himself as he did now... yet, felt so fulfilled...yet, yearning for more. Never before had he prostrated before an experience the way he did now and still felt elevated, sublime. Even the wildest sexual orgies had never transported him to such absolute pinnacles and peaks of bliss. Never had he ridden this far, soared this high or plunged this deep...he felt he had reached his core, the core of Creation itself. By the time he finished, she had grown into him. That was what he recognised--yes, she was him.

He was so absorbed in his act of creation, he didn't notice that the picture he was painting was taking a life of its own. He didn't see that the fire of his passion had parted her hot lips in a gasp, the churning of his heart had begun to make her chest heave, the tenderness of his love had softly flushed her cheeks and his adoration had imparted a brilliance to her eyes--all the life and energy he had breathed into her had made her alive.

As he lovingly gave the finishing touches, her arms longed to reach out from the canvas and hold him close...embrace him in gratitude and love for creating her, making her so much more beautiful than she was. Her eyes tried to look into his and tell him that she too loved him, desired him, yearned for him; but, he didn't see the life-spark in them; only his artistic genius that could capture life into a lifeless portrait.

Finally, he was done. She stood before him in perfect splendour, a perfect reflection of all that he had held within him, all this time. SHE WAS HIM. He took care to ensure that she was completely dry; then, hung a cloth over the easel and left her. She had exhausted him, depleted him more than he had expected-- he had been so full of her and her alone--now, he needed to rest, recoup, recover himself. He had lost so much of himself in her and though she stood before him as himself, he had to get himself back.

He slept for a whole day, a dreamless sleep in which she didn't intrude. The next few days, he relaxed, got back to the world he had cast away in his besotted distraction. She was now imprisoned in the confines of concreteness--she would never slip away; she could never go away: she would be his forever, till eternity.

He would have to find a beautiful frame for her, but, that could wait. he just wanted to be with himself for some more time. He had been away from himself for so long; in knowing her, in recognising her, he had become almost a stranger to himself.

And, while he went back to himself, she waited, lonely and cold. She had been forged in the furnace of his obsession. She was a creature of heat and light. From a mere ethereal abstraction, fantastic and phantom-like, she was now a living being, needing... longing...yearning...hungering...but, he didn't come. The fires inside her burned fiercer and brighter the more empty and cold she felt. There was no let-up, and, as the days passed and all he spared her were a few moments of abstract affection, she realised he would never be there with her as he had been while he had created her.

The fires had cooled...they might never be extinguished, but, they would never again roar and crackle, sear and scorch; no more would tongues of flame writhe and leap in the dance of passion. At the most, there would be sleeping embers that might flare up for a second at the sudden gust of an errant breeze.

He got her framed to his exact expectations. He hung her in a prominent place in his house from where, whenever he was in the room, her eyes would follow him everywhere--that was the artistic ingenuity with which he had painted her eyes. There were many other paintings besides herself. As the years went by,many more paintings were added to the collection. Does a singer stop with one song no matter how unparallelled and exquisitely beautiful that rendering is?It is in the nature of the artist to keep creating. In every act of creation,he leaves a part of himself just as he takes a part of it into himself. Through the period of gestation, he nurtures it in his womb, but, when the time comes, he will cut the umbilical cord and set himself free--that's the only way to keep creating, keep living.
For a brief while, he is a slave; then, he becomes master. Free slave...?Enslaved master...?:these are arguments for a philosopher, not an artist. In the world of symbols the artist lives, sophistry and syllogism are aliens, unacknowledged. In the flux of artistic experience, initially, the artist is the subject and slave of his inspiration. Gradually, he subjugates that which had conquered him and with the conquest, he regains his freedom--the inspiration is imprisoned and made slave.

He didn't sell her, nor give her away, nor discard her. Wherever he went, he took her with him, a treasured and prized possession; for she was the only dream he had ever painted. For months, he wouldn't even remember her; sometimes, she gathered dust and cobwebs, till during the annual spring-cleaning, a duster would slap her left and right and dislodge the accumulated  grime. But, whenever his glance fell on her, his eyes would light up and he would smile tenderly in the nostalgia of a delirious and magical episode in his life.

And, so she remained in his life, till the end, frozen, immortalised--the price of living with him had been to stop living herself. Was this immortality a blessing or curse--she could never decide.

a story can have any kind of ending. there are more endings than there are stories....

But, this Galatea was enlightened. No doubt, for a while, she was enslaved, entombed in the crypt of her emotional subjugation to the man who had given her life. But now, this life was her own. Her eyes held sparks, her cheeks were hot, her lips were warm, her heart heaved and thudded and fires burned in her loins.

She knew that a look from her eyes could make a man dizzy, a kiss from her lips would make him melt, the touch of her fingertips would set him aflame, afire.

No, she wouldn't remain just a symbol of his artistic genius, a lifeless manifestation of his creativity. She would live, she would love, she would burn, she would douse, she would give and she would take...

So, one moonlit night, her spirit took flight, leaving behind the portrait like a snake's moulted skin.

For a long while, he didn't notice that something had changed in the portrait; he was busy with so many new ventures.

But, one day, when his eyes fell on her portrait, he felt uneasy- had the sparkle in her eyes dimmed?... had her cheeks become pale?...had her lips become chaffed and stiff?....he felt a shadow move across his heart. The cloud remained at the back of his mind for a while.

But, he didn't have the time to dwell on or explore this  vague distress. In time, he forgot all about it and even when he observed the diminished lustre whenever his eyes fell on her, he shrugged it away as the natural wear and tear, the dimness and dullness  caused by the passing of time.

Thus, both of them lived, though not together, still, happily ever after...

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