Montréal Serai

Bringing the margins to the centre…

Two: Mad and Un-mad *

Rana Bose

traffic sign

 

 

(*unmâd is a term in the Bengali Language, which is used to designate a totally insane but intellectually possessed person)

 

I knew she was scanning me. Everywhere people are watching.  From tall bank towers, security cameras and through windows in cars. I caught a glimpse of her from the corner of my eyes. I looked away instantly. She was piercing me through the cab’s window.  The cab had come to a sudden halt, forty meters away. It was idling and dissenting;  diesel engine rattling away, ready to discharge nuts, bolts, mufflers,  crank shafts and ire. Her eyes were fluid, on the verge of panic. The CO2 was colorless in the air, emitting at a rate of nine times the gallons of gasoline that was being consumed.  Shadows stretched out on the broken side streets, where five roads almost met. Like New York, where the foreskin of the Flat Iron building protrudes out of the rooftop and casts a penile shadow on 5th Avenue and you could tell the time on a bright sunny day on East 22nd, if you knew that the flat iron building was your gnomon.

The day had gone by without incident. And now, her dark eyes had panicked and caused me some distraction. The traffic swept by, cars wobbling up and down on the uneven streets almost like in  white water rapid and I stood on the precipice of control. I had only so much time to look at her, in between yellow, black, purple, red cars and dark windows that rolled by like a movie in FF mode. I am smart; I can make these connections between light, sound, moods and imagery while doing my job.  And she was nervous, in between the cars, the blurs that went by, nearly hitting me with their rear-view mirrors. I smiled and lifted my arms and moved my hips out of the way, in slender dance moves.

I was nervous, too. The hectic pace of maintaining the flow of traffic, in case someone accused me of dereliction.  But I could not risk dwelling on the same frame for too long. Several seconds later, when two big tourists buses full of Koreans had finally decided to move on,   I had another chance to look and I noticed that the cab driver was totally unhappy that he had been asked to stop on a busy street corner, right near the end of the five-way crossing.  Traffic was ripping down the road, a blur like in a time lapse photo, as I swung my arms with significant craft, agility; hooting on my whistle with the authority that the responsibility required. There had never been an accident on my watch in this corner. Never. Not even when I was not on top of the job, which did happen from time to time. The commuters– they all followed me and they respected my abilities. She rolled down the window and got into an argument with the driver; then she opened the door and to my dismay she decided to cross the road.  And car after car, raced by, clearly with no intention of halting for her. I stopped watching her.

I am doing my thing. Like things go.  I will lick my finger, stretch my arms out,  watch the end of my fingers, beyond which lies the horizon and I will look at what is at the end of that horizon—in this case a strip mall with a lineup of stores and I point my finger at each store—like they are on my gun sight and then I go back and forth just like you would on a view finder from a distance while sitting on the rooftop of a big brown building  that sits squat–like in the Zapruder 26 second film on Jackie grabbing a piece of the President’s skull from the back of the Lincoln–and I would pick them off one at a time on my cross hairs–like the ricocheting zing and the dull thwack that registered the assassination that was never solved and the whole world knew it happened and there were no answers still. It was  the mother lode of all unsolved conspiracies, the very first psalm to set in prayer the fact that you don’t mess with a shadow Jesus and his confederation— that you don’t even try to understand what certain nations have decided for themselves as to their role in the world—and  why a certain mass of people was mightily unhappy with the outcome of the civil war and why big gangsters, phantom nations with allegiances elsewhere, phony money and exiled goons and as well all the holy rollers that keep getting reborn every second day, must get together to hatch a plan to rule the world with a peculiar mix of racial disdain, market fundamentalism and political domination—and I see at the end of my finger nails, dirty and crusted with blue-green material, that there is a sushi shop and I will certainly discuss the Japanese economy as well as the fantastic capability of Japanese management to mix collectivism with outright exploitation-a more advanced form of centralism that certain  vanguardists can never dream of  attaining in their communistic beliefs. She has opened the door of the car and her legs are out. Sushi and Kennedy never met really. Because he was too busy sniffing up the muffs of every Hollywood bitch that came by his viewfinder and that is why he had Bobby as Attorney General clearly brooming up behind him or calling up police chiefs to drop investigations, which is what I would do if my brother was sleeping with a speckled horny blonde with mistaken notions about where she can get to with all the beauty spots in her body.  And my nails point to a bike store in the same strip mall and next to it, as I squint my eyes just a wee bit, I see an alley there and beyond the alley I can see in the distance a mountain rising; like when I was in Banff where the mountains rise when you lift your eyes up from Main Street and then you realize that there were Indians walking down these trails once upon a time  and of course I won’t get into their plight which is for someone else and others who have taken those happy trails bashing the white man and his settlerism and then they finally find peace at the end of Main street. She has closed the door and is out of the car. But out there is where I should go. Not for sushi or the bike shop or the accountants’ temporary office next door, because out there at the foothills of the mountain is a jungle where berries grow, where red ants roam climbing over each other, where guerillas crouch and I shall walk with them till they give me a blue tarpaulin to sleep on in a malaria infested jungle where the best medics are the guerillas themselves and when I get to talk to their leader I will tell them that the Kennedy assassination should have been solved—then his work would be done and he would ask me why I was so stupid as to ask such a stupid question as to why that would affect his party program to get rid of the present regime and I would explain to him with much patience, because we would sit down on a moss laden rock, so my khakis would get soiled more and then far away from the strip mall we would start the discussion on how a certain concept of economics was hatched into a political philosophy, a process of carrot and stick was deployed so when you dangle stuff in front of the masses and lead them on to believe in certain ways of life as the irrefutable truth and that it would all require a conspiratorial beginning, a coup d’état because if you don’t have a plan to control the world, like a document, like  a manifesto, or you did not have an economic strategy and a conspiracy in the works, you could not make your case for an act of domination and I am not talking about sexual stuff for now, which also has to do with domination but it normally is between two people in the moldy confines of a card box inside a storm sewer in the city where night comes like a falcon with yellow eyes and gently settles down for the rats and mice below to panic and go into a freeze, and then watches you with a cold stare. So there has to be a conspiracy, a document and a plan. Know what I mean? I will not look at her.

I don’t want to look at her. I don’t. I don’t want her to cross the street. Someone please tell her not to cross the street. And, like,  I am totally immersed in the traffic, but I am not  and so I will talk some  more, while the silly girl continues to cross the street towards me and the cab driver is pissed off and spitting on the street. What city is this?  Why is she still headed towards me?

 

************************************************
city skyline

He was good in physics.

Once we were walking in a lane behind the walls of a small auto-repair shop and it was a dark evening, with no street lamps around. There were no shadows on the ground and I kept looking out for dog poop and despite the darkness he kept spinning a top in the air and then he would let it land on the palm of his hand and make it continue to spin till the rotation died out and he would wrap his fingers around it, as it slowed down. Not once would it land on the road.  He would look sideways, smile and then start wrapping the string around the top again. Every time I tried doing it, I would end up flinging the top into the air and it would fly out into an arc and simply land with a thunk and not spin at all.  Either I did not know how to tie the string, or I did not know how to make that special wrist action that gave the top the spin in the air. And then we sat down on a fence made of rail road ties and he explained. Rotation/relativity/time-space/ I listened.

-The top eventually loses its rotational velocity in time, not because it did not get enough of a spin to start out with. Nor is it because of friction, although friction does play an important role. Friction is mundane. The top has to stop spinning sometime, when observed. You know what I mean? Comprendo? There are two phenomena happening here. Gravity and observation. And both are governed by relativity.

-You slipped in time as a variable.

-Correct! I knew you would pick it up.  It is not just velocity, but every phenomenon related to space and time is observer dependent as well.  Yes, Albert! Special relativity.

-But, I know it loses acceleration.

-Voila! Yes, that too. Due to gravity.

-But what is gravity then? A force from the center of the earth?

-Yes and no. All objects with inertia are subjected to a spacetime curve. Gravity is a natural force of attraction between any two objects that travel in time. Actually it is the tug of time.

-Tug? Like time is pulling at the top? At an angle and makes it slow down?

He takes a deep breath and spits out a gob which arcs over to the other side of the lane.

– Everything is relative! Nothing is absolute. Time, distance—Everything! Everything that we measure is relative……except one thing! The velocity of light. The velocity of the top can never approach the velocity of light. So in a relativist sense, it is miniscule.  So the top must eventually stop spinning, just as an apple must fall to the ground. Just as our eyes wander and stop being fixated on something. Just as I fucking sometimes have no clue what I am talking about.

He scratches his head and stares at the mountain that rises beyond in the distance. He pulls out a cigarette from his pocket. It is half smoked. He lights it up.

We start walking again and he starts to talk about observations. Observations, like when you make a finding and express yourself.

-When you see these videos of third world traffic, at high speed, taken from a tall building—what are the comments you see? “Fuck these idiots, they are crazy! Look how they drive! Maniacs! No respect for life! It’s a wonder more don’t die!” We see it as chaos in opposition to order. There is no chaos. Actually, it is quite orderly. From the driver’s point of view and perspective, it is logical. It is an eye-level perspective. There is a rational response to look for an opening.

He spits out a gob and smiles at me.

-Like gravity, traffic flows like water. Wherever there is an opening, one must move in. But, if you take a view from the window of a 20 story office tower, it is a violation of Euclidean concepts of lines, circles and geometry. It is chaos. It is madness. But it is not. From the rider’s point of vision it is swift and it is the same way ants proceed…all in a general direction, almost in a single line, but if you look closely they are often circling round, going right and left, but eventually flowing in the same direction.

 

*****************************************

She finally emerges from behind a car. I can hear a brake squeal. She is running to cross three lanes in leaping strides. Her hair flies in the air, spreading out evenly like a crown. A pharaoh or an Inca god or something like that is bounding towards the median. I watch her from the sides of my eyes. Yes she has crossed into the median, where there is a big yield sign. Now she will cross the small lane there for turning right. She is not looking. I am moving down the other median.  I don’t want to meet her. Because what is the point in saying hello to someone whose name is now forgotten. What will I say to her, in the middle of a median? I am scared. I start moving. She is not watching. So I move faster. I am used to this. I know how to cross right through two-way traffic while the no-walking signs are on. I barely make it past when the red man is flashing and the green man is long gone.

She makes it across and finds I am not where she saw me, when she got out of the cab. I am in a parking lot, behind a bush. She looks shocked.  She looks around in all directions. She waits for at least five minutes, sometimes walking a few feet and then coming back to the same spot. The cab driver, is looking at her. He has lit a cigarette and he is flicking the ash on the road. She has to cross back to the cab. She starts to cross and I leave. I am going to the back of the mall. I will cross the parking lot and then there is a loading station for the big 18-wheelers. There is a hatch door, just below the deck, which is locked with a padlock. Well guess who has the keys! Now I start settling down in my living room and start writing in my black book, printed in Italy, which has on the cover the works of a certain Mr. Banksy, who has now started making appearances in New York City. I mean he leaves traces of his appearance. He has even started selling some of his works for 60 bucks. He puts them on a park bench and watches from somewhere, as people pick them up. It seems like everyone is paying. Trust is fantastic.  Watching from a distance is even better.

She and I played in a park somewhere. When we turned thirteen, we started touching each other. Before that we just played. I was sixteen, nearly ready for college, when one day we lay down in the grass, at the far end of the park, next to the canal and under the bridge. We knew it would happen. She put her head on my arms and my right hand slowly moved under her skirt. She did not mind at all. My hands went very carefully over her mounds. She was wearing a panty that was not covering all of her. I left my hand on her panty and simply moved it around slowly. She kissed me on the cheek and then took my hand and brought it between her legs.

The fact that I don’t remember her name does not bother me. Well, yes, it does a little bit. But I don’t remember much else about her. I think her mother was widowed early. Her father was a race horse owner. They had money. My parents had very little. They had diminishing real wages and did not realize it. Which means their buying power, when adjusted against inflation, suggested they should buy the cheaper carrots with rough skins and the softy bloated tomatoes instead of the sculptured tasteless ones. But they would not follow their brains. Only their tactile instincts, which means they would buy the smooth carrots and tight tomatoes. All this to say that if the middle and working classes stopped catering to their image of themselves, they could put capitalism in a limbo, because the margin of profitability is still high on the high end specials and so the diminishing returns part of the equation from high productivity is postponed. But if they bought the soft tomatoes, the crisis could be accelerated as capitalism, as you know, digs its own grave by depriving its own workers of buying power and when the majority don’t have saving, they don’t spend and when they don’t spend there is no cash flow and when there is no cash flow, everything starts to stagnate.  And then my dad got run over on the rail line. If she liked me it was because I knew how to fly kites, make balsa wood gliders  that flew  steadily over the dog park and dogs raced after them and when it landed, I barked so loud that they moved away, before they could bite into it. She watched from a bench and that is how we met, because she said- You make such good planes.

In my black diary I never write down names of people. The important thing is to remember the episodes. Not the names. I have had attacks. Not seizures. Just at times when I felt like I was high on a tree or very tall. Like I was a giant and I felt I would wobble and fall down. And when I told the doc about it, he got very interested and said I should just rush to him when the next episode happens and that is kind of stupid. Because I could be sitting on the toilet when it happened, and it did a couple of times, and I was not going to rush to him right then, for god’s sake. But, the good thing was that this was a small  town, with the mountains in the background and the main street where Japanese tourists walked around looking bored; because after seeing Fujiyama, why would they get worked up about this town of ours? In a small town the docs are pretty good. Like the school headmaster. Like an icon. Like a passage of an era. Like a god with no wings, destined to stay in town forever. So I did go to see him.

These episodes were pretty interesting, in the sense that I felt like I was high up somewhere, looking down and everyone had become ants and everyone moved slowly and smiled slowly and everything was dull and slow. When I told the doc, he said I need enrichment-this town was too small for me.

-What do you mean! I like our town.

-But, what can you do here? You need to wander. Visit museums, study art, talk to people for hours. Not walk in alleys, all by yourself. You will get into trouble.

-But what do I have?

-Nothing. You are easily bored. Then you have delusions.

-But my head itches!

-So, go clean it everyday.

That’s how I went to Le Van Doan and explained to him. He gave me stuff to fight scabies, even though I did not have any. I love to scratch my head. There are ridges in my skull, which I like to traverse with my long nails. Hard, so that I can cut a swathe through them and then it bleeds and I get scabs and then I have more to pick on.

-That’s disgusting.

My buddy who takes Finance, says, during one of our walks next to a swamp, where the moonlight shivers past the bulrushes and the water laps the sides of the embankment where we walk.  I never come there with the girl. She would not know how to walk there. But with my Finance buddy, we can walk for hours, every summer, when we are back and it’s hot and he wants to chat about the girls in his College. And I chat about the profs in physics and we start another exchange on defining light and time and space.

-Go to a big college town. It will change everything. This town is too small for you.

The doctor had said.

 

(This above piece is an extract from a forthcoming novel and the author does not want it reproduced anywhere else, even with permission)

 

 

Rana Bose is writer and engineer.

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