Sana hated Joel. It was not because he was a terrible person. It was, rather, for exactly the opposite reason. He was a gem of a person.
He always adorned his face with a wide, charming smile. A smile that captivated everyone, but was neither an attempt at hiding some innate stupidness nor a craving for being characterised as “the cheery guy”. It was all authentic. At work, he was best at what he did – extremely smart and diligent. He mesmerised everyone in the team, inside or the outside, with his knowledge and his stories. Sana had not yet come across a single topic which had him stumped.
Sana, on the other hand, was miserably inadequate at work. She rarely completed stuff assigned to her on her own, helping others was unthinkable. She wasn’t too keen either, as it involved interacting with them. As part of a group, she was perceived to be the pensive dumbo. She rarely added anything to a conversation, but got always swayed by everyone’s perspective. More often than not, she left a conversation being bitter for her inability to contribute.
Not Joel. He was never seen fussed. Outside of work, he dialled his impressiveness up a notch. He was a terrific singer — Sana believed he was good enough to be a lead singer of any band. Every party had a performance from the cheery guy. Him, strumming guitar, and his soulful crooning.
Sana had no interests, no passions. She was into her late twenties, and she had no profile to boast of. Every attempt of hers to break free was shot down mercilessly by her fate. Some by the fateful accident that took her family away. Some by the untimely fire that took her friends away. Fate never allowed Sana to be the unfettered child, burdening her always with the needs of ever debasing circumstances.
Sana was woken up by a collective shrill around her. Everyone was looking at her. And she, through her teary eyes, had been looking at Joel, a usual guitar in his hand. She, then, heard Joel speak.
“Yes, her. She is a great singer. I have heard her croon many times.”
Fate, over her life, had nurtured Sana to be a grouchy wench. Sana hated Joel for dissuading her from being herself.
Sara is getting restless in the queue. There are still a couple of people standing ahead of her; they both look defeated. She wonders if she, too, is donning the same look. I am a Roy, she reminds herself, Roys may lose, but are never defeated. She plasters a smile on her face.
She has been standing in the queue for quite some time now. And that makes beaming further more difficult. Especially so, given she has no clue what the queue is for. She peers around; a vast, white, closed hall surrounds her. But all it holds is a queue spiralling outwards, inching slowly towards the centre. Towards a lady, running an apparatus. And a grater — not much different from a normal cheese grater, just unnaturally large.
This was in no way the entrance to the afterlife that Sara had always imagined. Not that of the heaven, for sure. Sara feels suffocated. She isn’t prepared to embrace the death yet.
The person in front of Sara moves ahead and hands the memory stick to the craggy looking lady. Sara tilts her head with a childish curiosity, and observes the lady and her apparatus. There is a charcoal like block right at the centre of the hall. The lady inserts the memory stick in the only slot the block displays. The block makes some abrasive, unpleasant noises and pops out muskmelon-sized orbs of a person’s memories — some vibrant, some pale. She expressionlessly picks up every orb, the vibrant ones and the pale ones, and grates it.
Sara watches as the shreds of memories drop straight down the drain below.She tightens her fist around the memory stick she holds. She won’t let her priceless memories die such a dreadful death; it doesn’t matter that’s just how her’s had been.
“Next,” Sara hears the lady call out. The voice lacks any emotion, but that makes it sound further weighty.
Sara greets the lady, just the way she is taught Roys do, with a smile. The lady though — without lifting her chin even slightly — stretches her hand out further.
“I can’t recall how this ended up with me, but here,” Sara hands her the memory stick. She continues in an attempt to sound confident and cheerful, “That’s the memories spanning 20 years of my colourful life.”
Sara looks on as the block starts spitting the orbs. From the queue, this process felt a lot faster. She could, however, now see the memory that every orb represented.
She looks on as the lady picks up Sara’s first vision of her mum and grates it. She then picks up Sara’s first word and drains the shreds of the faint mma. Her first step meets the same end. The lady continues as she pounces on every dear memory of Sara’s and scrubs it on the grater.
Drops of sadness, helplessness flood Sara’s eyes. She has to do something; she couldn’t let this massacre continue unquestioned. “Do you have to grate all my memories?”
The lady looks up momentarily and then lets out a dull sigh. “Of course, not. It’s not about what do I have to do. It’s about what do you want me to do.”
Well, that’s unexpected. Sara ponders, “But why did no one else get that option?”
“Did you see anyone else question?” The lady had her brows raised, holding Sara’s first day to school. “Some, like you, do. And they get the option. But once they realise what it means, most do not hold on to any of their memories.”
Sara sees the lady grate her cheery self, hopping to the school. “And what does it mean not grating some memories?”
“It means next time you are born, it’s not with a clean canvas.” Sara sees her first crush get shredded down the drain. “You begin your life with some memories; memories without context, without backstories. The questions such memories can raise in one’s mind could potentially draw her crazy.”
Sara wasn’t convinced. “Can the answers to these question be quested for in one’s lifetime?”
“Of course, they can be. The vital question is do you want to be born with the baggage?”
The lady expected an answer, or more questions, from the feisty girl. Failing to get either, she looks up and catches a gleam of excitement sparkle in Sara’s eyes — an excitement she has not seen for a long, long time. She heedlessly looks at the vibrant orb of a cosy pinkish hue that she holds. She sees a dreamy Sara, with the same sparkle in her eyes, looking at a guy walk into her class.
Pia looked at the screen again and then looked down at her boarding pass. “AI-245”, she hummed, scrolling the screen flashing the flight numbers with her eyes. She was getting edgy unable to find the flight number on the list. She had long stopped relaxing in the passenger lounge. She had been standing right under the screen for last 20 minutes, every now and then darting her eyes at the Air India kiosk.
Such careless attitude, not an iota of professionalism, her heart snapped and sank. Should have listened to Rini and booked United, a thought loomed in her mind. It receded, even before it could linger. Well, better late than getting boarded and then dragged out, she heard her mind chuckle. She liked that — it had been long since it had expressed anything but grief.
Pia turned around and went completely deadpan. “Om? What are you doing here?”
Om looked down at his shoe, scratching at the floor. Pia had her questioning eyes fixated at him. “Will you please come with me for a moment Pia,” he finally replied.
What games is fate playing with me now? Pia pondered. She crossed her arms and quipped, “Now? Where? You do know that I have a flight to catch, right? And anyway we met, what, like an hour back. You people gave me a send-off. Remember?”
“Yes, we did,” Om was still looking at his shoe. He finally kicked the floor as if dusting it of some invisible mud and stepped ahead. “But there is something really important I need to talk to you about.”
Pia kept looking at him, crossing her arms tighter across her chest. She wanted to scream at him, but words had suddenly deserted her. She finally gave up on her struggle to conjure them, took her luggage and walked outside with him. They walked, and then walked some more. Neither of them wanted to break the tension that the silence had woven between them.
Once they reached a quiet hillock, Pia looked back at Om, her eyes searching for answers on his face.
“There is a burden on my heart Pia,” Om muttered, “which I need to offload. Else I would be crushed beneath it.”
Her eyes grew wide with her fists closing tighter. Then they narrowed, watery, across her slanted face, as if questioning Why are you doing this, Om?
“Please don’t go, Pia.”
Simple words, but they carried a baggage that made them loaded enough to take Pia aback. She looked around, dazed, and then somehow managed to stutter her first words since minutes that felt like an eternity, “No, don’t.”
No words followed post that. Om blanked out. Pia, nonplussed.
Both were startled back to reality by a firework that brushed a multi-coloured spider across the sky. “Looks like a multi-shot cake firework”, Om simpered, a smile donning across his face. “Hear me out till the fireworks last Pia. Then you can leave.”
All Pia could do was nod. Her eyes, her fists, her arms had returned to normal. But as a whole, her body had gone wooden.
“I have always been in awe of you, of your personality, of your nature. I still remember the day when I first met you at Rini’s home, the day that ended in a night out with “Jerry Maguire” show. I have been your friend since then, and I have never felt emptier than the last 6 months when you were away.”
Another firework lit the sky. Om tried to read Pia’s face, but it was still as a calm sea — there was some movement, but he could not gather what was to come.
“You are the one person I need to have around me for life, else my life would be a total mess. With you not around, everything was amiss. Well, I may not be the most handsome guy out there. I may not be one of the richest, the smartest guys out there. But..”
The sound from another firework muffled Om’s next words. He cursed the timing, he did not want his last words to linger around any longer. So he attempted to override the effect the firework had.
“But I am confident that I will be the one person that will care for you more than anyone has ever cared for someone else.”
Om paused to let the words sink, to see if they had any effect on Pia. She stayed unmoved. He continued, dejection apparent in his voice, “Last 6 months have, professionally, been the most fruitful ones for me, but I wasn’t happy. Because I could not share the joy with you. I had the world to cheer me Pia, but I was crying inside.”
Firework lit the skies again — this time, Om appreciated the timing. Pia had been looking at her toes for quite some time, digging the dirt out. As the firework was dying down, Om felt he saw a shimmer of a drop leave Pia’s eye and collapse.
“And as I stand here on the verge of sending you off to another country, another world, I can’t imagine what my life would be without you around, ever.”
Om could hear Pia whimper, but he persisted, “It would be empty, and I have seen my empty heart bleed. If you leave today, you will leave my life empty, hollow. You have always been my Dorothy since that first night out. You complete me, Pia. And..”
“Yes,” emerged a sound amidst the sobs.
The word that he thought he heard leave Pia’s mouth left Om perplexed. “What? I don’t ..”
“Shut up you fool. Here’s your Dorothy saying You had me at ‘hello’.”
Many fireworks engulfed the stars in the night sky. The only thing left gleaming were the tears rolling down Pia’s cheeks as she collapsed in Om’s arms.
Just finished watching the most wondrous poem on love and life, “Before Sunrise”. I am so damn impressed. Its pretty amazing how the author’s, the director’s view can change a dragging chitchatting of a “just-met” couple into such awesome a journey for the viewer too. I mean, even i kind of get surprised that i thoroughly enjoyed a normal passage of some hours of two-people’s life, their passage from strangers to lovers.
Everything about this movie left me impressed. The sweet time it takes to unfold itself, the locales of Vienna crawling beautifully behind the leads, the gentle music in the background. All these small little things just heaved my experience of what lied at the core, the subtle talks of the couple in lead. I relished everything the author was trying to say. It made me think, made me revisit my thoughts about many things. I mean not just about love, about life too. All it had to say about death, god etc. Small little gems like the one when the actress, Celine, talks about the old man who spent his whole life thinking about his career and his work. That was just a spectacularly well written scene.
And about love, well its better experienced in the movie itself. I am speechless, out of word to spell out my experience. Its not just for the one’s in love, but also for the others to relish. All those pretty words, the moist eyed stares, those mushy silences, the tender touches. Everything. The poem in particular written with so plain a word, milkshake, as its base. Man, spectacular is the word.
Yes, I want to wend one such passage before sunrise in my life, if possible in Vienna. And yes, if so beautiful is love crafted on the moving canvas, am sure i won’t be alone feeling that way.