Remembrance of Things Lost

Everything I remember in life revolves around forgetting. Pencils, erasers, books, keys, friends, poems and things of every conceivable kind. With apologies to M. Proust, here’s to forgetfulness.

I have always had an almost fanatic fascination for pens - and an equally unfathomable talent for losing them at regular intervals. I distinctly remember a thick blue Camlin pen that I lost in primary school. It had a transparent part in the middle through which you could see the ink moving up and down as you wrote. It leaked near the grip and I used to seal it quite unsuccessfully with soap. However carefully I wrote, I would come home with interestingly inky palms to the horror of my mother. In the years ahead, I would go on to lose pens of different kinds and colours. I remember being really upset twice - when I lost a deep green Chinese made Hero Fountain and when I misplaced a new Cross ball pen. I am writing this post with a hardworking matte black regular Parker fountain (incidentally, I write all my posts longhand before I type it into the computer)  and hope to hold on to it for a long time.

Recently, I spent a bomb on a poetry book - An Anthology of Contemporary Verse. The moment I leafed through it, I knew it was worth every paise. Like a new bride, I took it along with me wherever I went. I smelled the binding, read aloud from it, put it beside my bed and kept thinking of it when I wasn’t reading it until it went missing a month ago. I ransacked the shelves and settled into a nice depression. This one, though has a happy ending. A week ago, I came upon the book hidden away among a host of other books. Yet in my long illustrious tradition of losing books, this is the only time I remember one being found.

Nehemiah was Jewish. He was part of the small Jewish community that had lived in Cochin for hundreds of years. Seated next to each other in primary school, we used to talk, I think, about Malayalam film stories in which the superstars of the time, Prem Nazir and Jayan would effortlessly vanquish the mafia and the smugglers. He was small, pleasant and wore his hair slightly long so that they curled over his ears. I was fascinated about his traditions and the idea of having him as a friend. When he stopped coming to school, I heard that their family migrated to Israel and would not return.

The thing about friends is that they are not really lost. They disappear and appear in different guises - with lesser hair (in rare instances with longer hair), wider girths, with husbands or wives, with children - at the most unexpected places.

Except George. We were in college together and had some of the most complex, long winded discussions on everything under the sun in his cosy room upstairs while his mother kept us going with tea and biscuits. We read books aloud and fought over them. We went on long bike rides on his steel grey Yamaha reciting Keats out aloud. Just like that, we drifted away until I visited him recently. The room was the same, his mother looked the same and George looked just the same. We settled down with tea and biscuits and promptly set off on poems and books, just about where we had left off thirteen odd years ago.

When it comes to losing poems, you really don’t know whether you have lost a poem or not. When I have an idea for a poem, mostly while travelling, I promptly start working on it on my mind. Invariably I get a phone call or have to get off some place, and I lose track of the thought. Later, after having lost the thread, I wonder whether what I had lost was a poem at all - and in most cases, I cannot tell. Going by the odds, the chances are that I have lost many poems. On the other hand, I believe that if a poem is desperate enough, it will get itself written.

The poems that are truly lost are the ones I have completed and misplaced. Recently, I came upon an old notebook and realized that many of the poems were quite trivial and lacked intensity. That, in a sense, set me at ease - except for one poem that keeps nagging me. I remember writing it in college and cannot, for the life of me remember it except that it was about an ant with breasts wading through a sea of dust at 2 am in the morning.

On second thoughts, I think I am glad that some poems remain lost forever.

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