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Tanuj Solanki | Updated on January 19, 2018 Published on January 22, 2016

Slippery slopes: “He goes on to tell me how, delirious with bhaang, he fell face-first on the Banaras ghats, lost two of his incisors and probably broke his jaw. I react to the ‘probably’, so he tells me that he hasn’t visited the doctor yet”. -- Akhilesh Kumar

Tanuj Solanki

A girl tells me that I transition to Hindi in the middle of chat like no one else she knows. I say “Sachchi?” and feel silly immediately afterwards. Then she tells me that her friends in Malad always say “No ya” and “Ya man”. I don’t respond, for I have no clue why I’m even chatting with her. We could have been in a relationship a few years back but it is unlikely that we will ever consider such a thing now.

Mother tells me that her application for getting a government job on compassionate grounds (filed after my father died two months back of a sudden heart failure) is stuck. I know that being stuck is a bad thing for any application, but I don’t know what to say because I don’t know how I can be of any help from Mumbai. Then she tells me that my father’s gun licence will need to be transferred to me, and she details the finer points of the necessary paperwork. She types slowly but presses send as early and as frequently as possible. At my end, this leads to suspense. She goes on to tell me that three of my father’s bank accounts, each holding a considerable sum of money, do not have any nominees and that inheritance will require making a formal claim before the District Magistrate in my hometown. She actually writes ‘Masigrate’ for Magistrate. Mah cigarette doesn’t make me smile. Kafka, process: that’s what I’m thinking. “It may take six months before the money comes,” she says. She mentions ‘No Objection Affidavits’. The word ‘affidavits’ stresses me further. Then she tells me that my brother’s application for tuition fee relaxation in his university requires an affidavit specifying ‘Mother’s Income’. My opinion is solicited: should she specify her income as zero or should she include my father’s pension, which she will start getting from the coming month? When I don’t respond, she asks me to discuss all the issues with my uncle, my father’s younger brother. I say “Achcha”.

There are a series of dirty jokes on a group called ‘Panchayat’. The group has guys (and no girls) from my engineering school, from both the senior and junior batches. I can’t avoid being a part of it, although I almost never read the jokes. Even when I do, they never make me laugh. At least one person gets married every month and posts pictures of him and his brand new wife, loaded with vermilion and gold jewellery and plastic bangles. It is common for honeymoon photos from one to be followed by really dirty jokes by another.

One of my juniors asks me a question about something at work. I say “No,” without really considering what she has asked. She says “Ok” immediately. I consider the matter closed.

My uncle writes an incomplete message to me in Hindi script. It can be translated as: “At first I thought that some…” I consider telling him of the affidavits that need to be made, then decide against it for no specific reason.

My girlfriend, who is in Delhi, tells me that she loves me. “Okay,” I reply absent-mindedly. Then I realise that I am committing a blunder and say “Main bhi”.

My brother shares his views about 1984 by George Orwell, a book that I pushed him to read. I like that he feels free to discuss stuff with me. He tells me that he doubts if there was any real war going on in the world that the book describes. I tell him about war propaganda, how it is often used by the State to unite its subjects. He says “Hmm”. I ask him if he knows what ‘dystopian’ means, and I express my disapproval when he says he doesn’t. I explain dystopia to him. “It is a world where things are bad, really bad.” Then I tell him what utopia is. “Hmm,” he says. Then, after a few seconds of silence, he asks me: “Is it correct to say that our life is a dystopia after our father’s death?” I don’t know what to answer. “Depends,” I say. “Dystopia is really bad times, like in Terminator 3,” I add. “Hmm,” he says. There is chat-silence again, post which I say: “Let’s see it another way. Our life wasn’t a utopia when papa was there, was it?” “No, I guess,” he says. Then I ask him if there is a specific book that he wants to read next. He can’t think of anything. I ask if he would like to read another dystopian novel, something like 1984. “Yes,” he says. We decide on Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler and I buy him a copy from Amazon.

A friend asks me if I would consider accompanying him on a long weekend to Pattaya. His plan is to whore around like “Fucking MAD”.

A friend of mine recommends a Pakistani novel. He says, “It works at an emotional level.” I ask, “What does that mean?” He ignores my question and tells me instead what the book is about. “It is about three generations of a family in Karachi.” I wonder if I can ever write anything about three generations of my family, but I don’t share this with him. He always advises me to write about my family, and he is probably right. Suddenly I feel alone in the world. I ask him if he can recommend some books for my 18-year-old brother. He mentions The Hitchhiker’s Guide by Douglas Adams. “But Adams’s books are happy books?” I say. “Yes,” he says. “I think my bro wants a sad book,” I say. My friend doesn’t respond to that, although he is shown to be ‘typing…’ by the app.

My girlfriend says “I love you” with that emoticon that has a lipstick mark next to a kiss. It means lip kiss. It means I need to send the lip kiss back. I do that. I say “I love you”. I do love her. I notice that she has increased saying it after my father passed away.

Another friend of mine, a struggler who is convinced that he is a filmmaker, updates me in long paragraphs. He has spent the last two weeks in Banaras, drinking bhaang, discussing life and cosmos with ghatside jyotishis, and trying to make a documentary on some private school. Interested, I tell him that we can talk at length over the phone, but he insists on the chat medium, calling it ‘mystical’.

He announces that he is, first and foremost, a documentary filmmaker. He announces that he is very good at his craft. I say “Hmm” to both statements. He is typing feverishly, as if in the midst of an epiphany. He asks me: “Why is it that while non-fiction books are favoured, no one fucking wants to watch docu-s.” I have no answer, so I blame it on the excessive technical capabilities of cinema. “There’s this ability to grant a visual to any imagination, no?” “So?” he asks. “So cinema audience always expects the spectacular,” I say. “But enough number of people watch realist-realist cinema and feel good about it. So why not docu-s??” I’m out of my depth already, but I persist: “Because realist cinema delivers a story, a classic sense of the story.” My friend rightfully responds, “That’s bullshit. Documentaries deliver stories too. And I got no clue what you mean by the ‘classic sense’.”

Sensing that the conversation cannot proceed in this direction, I ask him, “Anyway, what’s up otherwise?” He tells me that the real reason he cannot talk is that he has a ‘big oral injury’. He goes on to tell me how, delirious with bhaang, he fell face-first on the Banaras ghats, lost two of his incisors and probably broke his jaw. I react to the ‘probably’, so he tells me that he hasn’t visited the doctor yet. When I press him for reasons, he says, “Need to get some money from the school docu.” I’m worried, but I’m not really worried about him, for I know that he will come out of it like he comes out of all situations. He is ten times Dean Moriarty, I’ve told him many times. I tell him that again. “You have to write a fat book about me,” he says. “I’ll start one day,” I answer. After that he asks me about my girlfriend. I disappoint him: “Yup, we are very much together.” There is some chat-silence then, post which he asks, “So how are you coping otherwise?” Confused whether this question is about my relationship or about my father’s demise, I say “Alright” and nothing more.

Mother tells me that she wants to courier some affidavits to me so that I can sign them and courier them back. “Theek hai,” I reply. But then she asks me if I know any courier-waalas in our hometown. I google, but I find nothing. “Let me see,” I tell her, but I don’t really know how and where to see it. After some minutes, she writes, “I feel like asking your father to send the courier.” I know that she is crying just now. I don’t call her because I don’t know how to cry, I don’t know how to console.

(Tanuj Solanki is a two-time runner-up in the DNA-Out of Print short fiction contest. His first novel, NeonNoon, will be published by HarperCollins in 2016)

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Published on January 22, 2016
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