The Nest

When winter comes, it is a bright, blue bird leeching warmth off the land. It usually finds a place to roost: somewhere nice and large, preferably in the center of a large commune of houses and factories and wharfs. A sleepy town, say, with nothing going for it except the next day, and the day after, and so on and so forth, till the sun, bloated into a giant, protuberant mess, engulfs it one unassuming night.

Till then, matters so large and so distant hardly trouble the people of this city. There is but the bird, sitting idle in the middle of it all, gathering twigs and odds and ends and dressing up its nest.

A young girl, in her early twenties, wakes up one such dreary winter morning and peers out of her window. It is cold, yet it doesn’t seem to bother her, as her attention is caught by a water body right outside her house. It is a pond that has always been there, and will be there long after she has left the city and settled elsewhere. It is, fortunately, situated inside, tucked in where the masses will not get at it. It is beautiful, and quite lovely to spend time beside when you’re impatient and cannot think of much to do. But not nearly as many come to it as you’d think.

The girl’s attention however, is held taut by something shining on the surface of the water. It is not the winter sun falling a certain way on the waves. It is not an animal drifting, and nor is it a bauble someone has thrown over from one of the windows dotting the periphery of the lake. I do not know whether the girl herself knew what it was, but it seemed enough to have her dress hurriedly into a rather crumpled shirt and jeans and rush off to see.

As she ran (and she did run), the neighbourhood came alive around her. The noises and the murmurs grew and grew till they became an angry, garrulous creature, quite out of sorts with the redolent winter cold. It didn’t bother her; it didn’t bother her when one of the two old mainstays of the lake shouted out to her, “Where do you go in such a hurry, young Margaret?”, and it didn’t bother her when someone splashed a bucket of dirty water on a peacefully slumbering dog on the pavement, and it didn’t matter when the newspaper boy amost crashed his cycle into a rambling drunkard, but it did seem to her, in hindsight, that all these things happened at once and the same time. When something of import happens, everything else falls in line, or even better, overlaps. Such was the case today.

She reached the lake and waded in, and kept wading right in till she realized that she’d better stop, since she can’t swim. But that thing, that shine, leapt off the water and kept calling. It lay deeper, deeper inside, and not on the surface, as she’d thought. The light and the sun played round and round it creating a brilliant whirlpool of bright white, and blue. She stood enraptured, and it was only when someone inquired “What is it?” that her spell broke open, and she replied “I think I saw my father down there.”

Nonsense”, cried Miss Rudolph, an elderly inhabitant of this illustrious town. “I have known your father since he was but a child, and I remember the day he left this town and never set foot on it again.”

He died, Miss Rudolph. He died making a name for himself out there.”

Such as it may be, it couldn’t be your father down there. It could be another town, though: I seem to see spires, and little broken fences, overgrown with shrubbery.”

The newspaper boy and the drunkard and the old man and the dog had joined them by then. The boy said, “I think I see the most wonderful red cycle I have ever laid my eyes on”, and the drunkard drawled, “I think that’s a rather fancy little piano in the middle of that golden paved street. I have half a mind to play some mad tunes on it”, and the old man said, “Well, I’ll be, if that isn’t the most darndest sight ever! My old, lost jacket, and I’m wearing it too, but I’m from my War days!” All of them seemed to find new things to marvel at inside that white, bright spot. Their faces lit up with something akin to a madness, but a madness as close to joy as possible.

As if oblivious to all this, the girl kept speaking as if there was only Miss Rudolph there behind her, “My father was an inventor, Miss Rudolph. He was tired of this city. He was tired of you, and that old man, and this boy. He was rarely tired of animals though. So he left one day to make a name for himself in the world where he wouldn’t be as sure as any of you are. Less sure, less certain, but far happier”, she said, with contempt rife in her voice, “than any one of you.”

This stopped everyone’s bluster short, and some time followed before anyone dared move. The stupor was broken by the dog, who had swam right into the lake, waddling like a duck till he reached the middle where the whirlpool now had become more intense with the passage of the day. He seemed to bite hold of something and carry it back with him. He laid it, dripping, in Margaret’s hands.

It’s my father’s cap”, Margaret said, and wept for joy.

The dog, however, had leapt back into the water, to bring back more such things to everyone else standing behind her.

© Arnab Chakraborty, 2015

Imagination and unease: a few thoughts

Why the unease with imagination? I can understand how saturated the market is with fantasy archetypes: elves, dragons, vampires, what have you. It’s being aggravated by Hollywood and TV series cropping up like weeds all over the place. Quality control is a thing of the past, and high production values guarantee a minimum number of viewers. But how do we break out of this muck and see the fantastic for what it really is?

It is more than a tool for subversion, of course. If that was what it was, then it would be as polemical as any other form of reactionary literature. The fantastic image contains within itself volumes of meaning, to be used as the author wants. The truly gifted author, however, will always leave several parts of the fantastic territory he chooses to work with unmapped and unclaimed. She will let these regions — some brand new, some fallow — grow wild, and build an identity for themselves.

The thing that has always interested me about speculative fiction is how grown up men and women write about what is usually considered to fall within a child, or adolescent’s range of interest. Is it because these writers realize that what is relegated to being a child’s is actually an entire hive of truths that people would rather not think about? Is it because they realize that Reality is about as stable as the status quo?

What often passes for sophisticated within the realms of the fantastic is often lazy. You are not being sophisticated and clever if you identify Shakespearean shades in what is a cookie cutter medieval world with the magic and dragons played down, with lots of psychological realism and breasts. Sure, the writing is mature, and a definite step up over 90% of what popular literature used to read like in the 80s. Everything’s gritty. But so what?

To truly be imaginative requires the author to synthesize a wide range of influences, and not necessarily from what passes for the common body of fantastika. Synthesis is the name of the game, a chimerical mash up of seemingly disparate images and ideas, finding its identity in a fertile and intelligent Imagination.