I have not visited my private journal for a long time. Now that I have, I don’t know where to begin. The week has been horrendously taxing. I wouldn’t call it happening although that appears to be the right word for it. I’ve lived a life too long and too rich to be bedazzled by the antics of two immature colleagues. They’re far from colleagues, really. It’s a travesty that I’m required to spend as much time as I do in their unflattering presence. Research, or rather popular wisdom, says that you become the average of the five people that you spend most time with. I shudder at the thought of what I could become in a few years. Excuse my vanity as I say this (although it’s more of a refined and reasonable self-awareness) but, truly, I really just want to become more of myself.
To begin with my colleagues, the older one, who’s supposedly managing me (she scratches not even the surface of all that is to be managed within me) and my impeccable work, has accumulated educational qualifications, dark circles and grey hair without picking up even the most basic of fashion tastes. Lady, a bold zebra pattern on a pencil skirt is a disaster. I did what I could with my absolute subtleties, with the briefest shifts in gestures, to convey my utter revulsion, knowing all too well that she’s as likely to pick on those as a Japanese macaque. The resemblance is so uncanny that I could do with a word more assertive and intense than uncanny. Her face is just as pink but the resemblance is not only visual and literal but deeper and more thematic. That self-congratulatory look hiding in plain sight a terribly boring kind of secret. What’s her secret? Is she having an electric affair? Is she a lesbian? No. I don’t know what it is. Scattered on her Facebook profile are markers of a reasonably common and unsatisfactory marriage. A husband whose sense of fashion and lifestyle is less than non-existent. A raucous child who’s inherited, without his knowledge, the worst of both – his crooked nose, her singularly wretched hairline and their aberrantly fat lips. Poor child. I can see him growing into a misfit and staying as one long into adulthood. Briefly, he’ll become popular but primarily because of his ambiguous sexuality. He would make terrible decisions, stay unmarried, smoke pot, grow hair to hide his receding hairline and wrap himself in an unruliness before it consumes him.
Anyway, in the cover picture dated early 2010, I see her remarkably younger. She is squinting at the sun, with her hands raised in the air. I assume she’d have said something about the sun, complainingly. It’s too harsh. I can’t stand it. She would’ve laughed then, awkwardly at first and then, with an uneasy assuredness, with a sparkle in her eyes. Also, she boasted more than an unseemly bosom, in a bright coral blue bikini that almost matched the Mediterranean behind her. In the right corner, you can see the shadow of a child. In fact, you cannot tell. But I assume it was her child. She seems happy to be separated.
All of her other photographs are unimpressive, shoddy vignettes of a life strewn over the globe. It takes great genetic misfortune to be so well travelled and yet be so absurdly artless. Cambodia. Peru. Brooklyn. Naples. Tokyo. More recently, a selfie in Ethiopian highlands that screams of constipation. That is the one and only photograph that evokes in my mind a distinct image of a disgruntled baboon rather than the usual Japanese Macaque.
Coming to the intern, she brought some much needed change with her. Less of a breath of air and more of an assault of a cheap perfume but I could take that, for a while. In her first few days, it became glaringly evident that she was exceedingly forthcoming with her self-expression. She donned large, colourful, floral prints on Mondays – with verdant tropical landscapes juxtaposed with more sombre, neutral and reserved shades of earthen brown. Her colour palette has more than impressed me – it has surprised me on occasions. It’s not often that you see a loud tangerine dotted with a reckless smattering of pale pastels and allow yourself, for a rare moment, to be somewhat impressed. At the annual gathering yesterday, she arrived in a curious black dress that resonated with me like an old gong in gigantic baroque spire. It was poetic, architectural and heart-breaking. Heart-breaking because she maligned her dress, her startling red shoes, her red lipstick, her plump face and everything gorgeous and otherwise attractive about her with her…. spirit. When it comes to reasonably understanding my revulsion towards her, she leaves me stranded in choppy waters. One minute she’s an ethereal angel and for the next fucking hour, she’s a urine squirting skunk.
I’m sure the old lady (our boss) likes her no more than I do. An intern is not supposed to intimidate you. But everyone at least adores an intimidating intern. She tries to be intimidating and fails. It’s a mockery for those who can see it. Her chirpy, snappy, ridiculously self-assured retorts don’t work in formal, modern work environments that place efficiency and accountability over a strident and over-indulgent taste in colours and textures. Girl, I hate to break it to you, but this world is as real as it gets. You’re no longer a child. You are and you will be judged by how you carry yourself. If you were genuinely naïve, you’d have been a sweet darling but your naiveté is a meticulously and ineptly conjured mirage. We see through it into the dark, convoluted brazenness of your desperate little heart. Have you even been kissed? With your consent? You brushed past the chapped lips of a drunken dude in a club (as crowded as a BMTC bus in Rajajinagar) and you thought that was love. You posted updates on Facebook that I’m sure you deemed were cryptic and mysterious and quirky but that was just the right amount of kitsch to estrange my then budding interest in you. It takes more than looks to garner love, attention, friends and family. It takes more than brains and a sharp tongue. It takes, what’s the word for it, a spirit. A defatigable spirit.
When you smirked at my floral dress yesterday, (In hindsight, I cannot dismiss a possibility of it having looked over-engineered and gimmicky) I held it all in because it should, and in fact it does, take more than a bespectacled teenager to unhinge me and my life.
To begin with, I have a life and it took years to build and nurture and sustain. I have a rich inner life bristling with eclectic nuances that’d elude most and especially you. And now that I think of it, your attempt at chic minimalism on Thursday was an abysmal failure. I know it might seem as though you’re being adventurous in discovering your inner voice and a more mature persona, and you might as well overwhelm your equally uncultured friends, but if I were you, I would just do what the other kids are doing. You can be more of yourself only when there’s more of yourself waiting to be discovered.
Rumpus, her beagle, barked in the front yard. Gates screeched open. She shut the journal and placed the fountain pen gently beside it. She put on her beige slippers. They looked almost unreal in the dim light of her bedroom. Her nails, neatly cut, and painted an icy grey appeared steely and resolute. She walked outside, a little displeased, at the clip-clop they made on the cold, silent floor of her beachside villa. The old postman smiled at her with a kindness she couldn’t return. She patted Rumpus for a while and marvelled the vibrant hues of bougainvillaea in her private garden. They fluttered in unison in the salty breeze winking with lighter shades of yellows, pinks and reds.
She reached the bedroom to the pitter-patter of rain on the open window. How foolish of her to have kept the window open! Water drops had smudged her last line. She had written something about being herself but her memory failed her. She settled in her chair to write the final sentence.
A lot happened over the week, as usual – nothing extraordinary.