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The Real Detective of the Mystery Beneath the Skin

Subimal Misra

Translated from Bengali by V. Ramaswamy

He stands holding his reproductive organ and gazing

at himself – what part shall I play tomorrow?

Ami had developed a kind of bodily relation with the books, which was both gradual and incessant, and just after that, problems became manifest. They survive now by eating each other’s flesh. Violets are blue, because another body emerges from the body and walks in front of silent Grushenka, all along Khalasitola. As it is the girl was beautiful, her colleagues flattered her calling her a ‘paragon of beauty’, right from her college days she had observed only entrancement in men’s eyes. Perhaps it was this girl who came to meet Ami. He happened to say: Come, come in, I was just thinking about you. But the girl interpreted this in a different way, the eighth colour of the rainbow was about to be discovered. Girls were extremely possessive, for sure, but he was of the opinion that boys were even more possessive than girls. Now Ami says he is very tired, an infinitude of tiredness. He had been tired for all of the last three decades, which was even longer than he had been alive. And just then, after talking about this and that for about an hour, as she was leaving, he hugged Grushenka. She didn’t not resist, releasing herself slowly she said: You’re a rogue. He laughs: And you’re a treasure trove. You talk rubbish all the time – Grushenka says – Tell me, why do you come so late – don’t I worry? Good and evil are one, evil is merely the wrong choice at the moment of truth. If the life I used to lead was a dream then this is a nightmare, and the nightmare didn’t end until it was transformed into complete insanity. Ami had just turned forty then. Double the girl’s age. A face full of a red beard, two scrawny legs, a short, fat body. His female friends used to smirk, they said: he has the kind of appearance of someone who’s eager to establish a physical relationship. When he had no other work he made models with bones. In the course of doing that, he had assembled a complete human skeleton. And in the same way, whatever he wrote, over an entire year, page after page – one night something got into his head and he tore everything into shreds and cast it to the wind. Even before an incident is prepared one ought to arrive at another incident, and from there to yet another incident, perhaps with a diametrically opposite thought, all of which would be created with another arrangement, unconnected, and as a result ambiguity is created, is bound to be. Because, perhaps, Ami, in a particular sense, just like some other writers, was one, the last-writer too. He began to lose touch with the external world, he was also steadily losing his mental balance. He stopped meeting his friends, he used to say that he didn’t have clothes to go out in, didn’t have shoes. But when he did get some money, he called all the people from the street and organised a grand feast of food and drink.

Towards the end, Ami lived all alone in a one-and-a-half-room flat. His body had somehow come to resemble an old man’s, although he was only forty his face bore the stamp of age. And when he was immersed in dreams in his spare time, he could see Theodore staring fixedly at him through the darkness. He had already sent killers. Theodore was passing off in his own name the pages of writing stolen from him, one day he said that a maidservant had mixed a sleeping potion in his tea and stolen some pages from his new writing in order to sell it to Theodore. But the funny thing was that the man who was visible has reached the vicinity of the flyover by now. The boy consoles the girl, just you wait and see – everything will be alright. The car waits. The girl says: You must help me, I beg you, Alyosha, help me. Ami leaves. The girl stands gazing at the door. And then she goes and lies down on the bed that’s enveloped in darkness. The sound of a motorcycle starting and then going away can be heard. Who was it that said, life was full of surprises – who said, was it Theodore or Alyosha – or was it both of them? Grandma used to say that when I was a little boy, I apparently used to run around with my arms spread out like a bird’s wings. People say, when you dream about flying it means you’re growing up. But Ami used to fly even when he was awake and yet he could never grow up. Leaping off a mountain – flying over the ocean – Ami has such dreams even now. As if snatching his words, Theodore says – How amazing, I too was thinking of exactly the same thing at this moment. At one time, there used to be a youth here, on this bed, whose name too was Theodore. Everyone used to call him Alyosha in jest. When he was asked, he used to say: I’m floating over clouds. That was quite normal for those who had a problem in the head, after all as soon as they wished they could lie down next to clouds. Many people ask questions about Ami being sent to hospital and the subsequent incident. Was it at all necessary to send him to hospital? Even if he was sent to the hospital once, was it correct to keep him there for the rest of his life? Erasing the difference between the self of future and present, I reconstruct myself anew each day. How can I become what I have not yet become – all my hopes and desires are only a ceaseless endeavour towards this rearrangement. This circle will never be complete. My separation is eternal, Ami is insuperable like nothingness. There’s always a distressed scream of nothingness within my existence, but this void is the kind of force, the force within one’s existence – which makes man dream of ascending to a certain and well-knit future from an incompatible and uncertain condition. Many of Ami’s friends used to declare that Ami did not behave like a lunatic at all. Yes, he was paranoid, but one often comes across people suffering from persecution mania who live with their families without causing any damage, leading regular lives. Maybe his neighbours had raised objections about him because he was not like other people. After all, ordinary people are bound to express their doubts about a man who only goes out at night, scribbles something all day long and then tears it up, who doesn’t talk to anyone. It’s love for people that makes Ami anti-human. Perhaps it was because of this that Ami exacted a great revenge on himself. Conformity means death, only protest gives hope in life. Yes, Ami saw that a man practically gives him constant company, enriches him, sometimes more than a woman. Through this company, he creates a certain madness within me as well, because I too am a man. I had to ascertain whether I was really a man in various ways. I ascertain that by placing myself beside a man, and not just beside a woman. Through this, Ami understands his way of thinking too. Trying to know oneself without any sleight hoodwinking. But, being alone, continuously, and gradually becoming solitary, did not merit blame. After spending the night with Grushenka, the wild-mannered Ami – then, in those days – became endowed with some human qualities. In terms of thought and feeling, another dimension became manifest. And unlike in his youth, when he used to seduce many women, he constantly stayed beside the girl. In his earlier writings, a specific dimension of power, courage and madness was expressed, there was a wild exultation regarding man’s aboriginal tendencies. After Grushenka’s arrival, a lot of things in him became gentle. There was restraint regarding the perverted expression of flesh, a reflexivity entered his thinking. And the veiled melancholia in the latter phase attained a much higher level than in the former phase. Towards the end, Ami started living with the girl. That’s why a melancholy countenance entered his final writings, shielding everything else. The two of them lived together then – Grushenka and Theodore. The gossip was that the girl bore his child in her womb, but that she had been completely unwilling to have an abortion. Changing her clothes and wearing a sari, Grushenka said, See how I look … Come, where will you take me? He suddenly held her face with his hands and said: Do you know something, Grushenka – do you know that … Notwithstanding her married life with her husband for so long, these words of the man who was her lover made Grushenka’s whole being giddy, but she said: I’m not anything to rave about. Ami looked at her and turned grave: If you were a man, you’d understand the fire – the fire you’re playing with, Grushenka, standing between father and son. The other level beyond this first level, where he had tried to reach, where there was no compromise, was sexuality. Here you can never be successful through pretence. That means you want to experience the sight of that level through your instincts. Your instincts tell you about your ordinary experiences, which are outside the world of the mind, and through those you enter the world of the mind by means that are bestial or anything else like that – you see that. But, for that, every now and then you have to sleep with other girls too. You have to sleep with them both actively and positively. Only then will you know yourself. Actually I liked this too. I liked it with utmost honesty. I stayed back. I was trying to search for something, I’m still doing that now. In such matters, we either become slaves merely to our own pleasure or accept the girl’s happiness as the final word. Both of these are a kind of lie. And lies do not lead to any investigation of truth. I am up to taking this risk. You can enter another secret world through the girl herself. Do you know how you are different from everyone else – Grushenka asks – you know how to listen. Men never listen to what women say. They only think about getting into bed. I don’t mind getting into bed, but what’s amazing is that you heard me all this while. The truth can’t be realized through words. It’s correct to say that the moment of pure truth cannot be expressed in the language of any specific person, but it’s also possible to create new kinds of signs, which are not used by people, through which the individual in the moment of pure truth can be defined.

It is this that can be called, in Ami’s view, the sign of oneself – meaning, one is one’s own sign. Looked at in another way, one’s own sign is signlessness – whose true nature cannot be expressed in any language in use. Perhaps the only part of our method of logical elaboration that is the real truth is what people cannot easily accept. He lies in bed, away from Calcutta, unwell. He muttered: I want to see the girl. His wife was beside him – his wife of twenty-five years. Those who were near him said: There she is, right beside you. He got annoyed: No, no! Not her, Grushenka. I want to see Grushenka. Bad times have begun for me, brother, I was just recovering from kidney inflammation and now I’m writhing in spinal pain all day. For over a year now I’ve been unable to sleep in bed. I sit with my back resting on a pillow all day and night, even the hour or two that I sleep for is by resting on the pillow. At first a lung X-ray was taken but nothing was detected. It’s been a week now since the spinal X-ray was done. A collapse of the third dorsal vertebrae was detected. Ami came and stood at the door. He stands with his head raised high, towards the darkening sky. Down below, the road going up and down the flank of the mountain recedes into the distance, keeps doing so. Dogs apparently eventually start looking like their masters. At one time, I used to think that this referred to a resemblance of nature or character. But later I realized it was not that – gradually the dogs began to look as ugly as their masters – the insides of the mouths of both were terribly filthy – a horrible, red, gaping mouth. And thus Ami died one day. According to the hospital records, the cause of death was an apoplectic stroke. After Ami died, when his desk was opened, a large envelope bearing Dostoyevsky’s name was found. But it was completely empty. Actually, Ami’s case was different. He was merely a trapeze artist. Dressed in gleaming red satin, Ami floats around – swinging from one hand and then the other – from one end to the other end – even when he lets go, emptiness, he is held by an invisible bond. He was incapable of severing that tie, no one was capable. And as he floated in that momentary emptiness, he himself observed his own defeat. At some point, his writings came together and took over his life, it was the blown-away pages of the writing that determined how much of the writer was there or whether at all there was anyone called a writer. Or whether the term ‘writer’ was actually nothing but an imaginary notion, which had no existence in reality. The unexamined life is not worth living. The only way to deny everything that was absurd in the world was to lead one’s life in an absurd way. With every new thought, Ami knows he has to attain death again and again.


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