Monday, August 21, 2006

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THE POETRY READING


I HAD ACTUALLY GONE ALONG to the poetry reading because I was feeling fed up and alone. On Saturday afternoon they were meeting at Starways coffee house, upstairs. They would be reading their favorite poems, discussing them, and looking at The Merchant of Venice with an eye on the possibility of future performance. Everybody knew that it was really just a chance for Anil to get a lot of people to meet for coffee. Can you imagine anything more embarrassing than reading out poems in Starways, and then telling a lot of acquaintances and strangers why you like them? Remember too, that this was supposed to be for enjoyment! What an utterly crazy idea… Yet here I was, standing outside Starways on Saturday afternoon.

I walked into the coffee house, which was fairly busy downstairs, and over to the spiral staircase at the back which led to the upper floor. Even as I began to climb, I could hear a sonorous voice intoning some well-known lines.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more temperate and more lovely…”

It was Evangelina, as I knew, and again I had the strong sensation that I was in the wrong place. Did I really care why she’d chosen that poem and what it meant to her? Obviously, I didn’t.

I arrived just as Evangelina terminated the sonnet, and everyone seated at the two packed tables turned to greet me.

“Hi Peter, nice to see you. Glad you could make it.”

I mumbled something about the pleasure being all mine - and suddenly realized that the only reason that they were being so nice, was because they felt uneasy. All of the people present were colleagues and acquaintances. No one knew anyone else very well. You might say that we were all present on sufferance. It had been Anil’s idea to concoct this pointless exercise, and he was the ideal man for the job - he was pleasant with everyone, but not too close to anyone. Everyone was tangled in the strictures that he’d applied through inviting us in the first place. We had acknowledged our wish to come to a busy place, filled with strangers, in order to read poems aloud: poems that had personal and emotional meaning for us. We wanted to shed our skins, bore all the others present with our lost loves, lost opportunities, periods of great sadness and joy, and then wash it all down politely with a cup of tea or coffee. I began to think that I’d made a mistake.
Anil invited me to sit in the seat right next to him. It seemed that the completion of the sonnet had created a kind of lull and nobody appeared too eager to rush into the breach. Consequently, Anil turned his attention to me.

“Peter, you’ve arrived at just the right time. What did you have planned to read for us?”

I had actually planned to read some T.S Eliot, but all those staring blank faces convinced me that it would have been a futile exercise.

“I’d planned on reading some Bob Dylan,” I lied.

“Bob Dylan? Good. Good. One of his protest songs?”

“No. His song about democracy.”

Anil nodded his head enthusiastically, while the others looked on politely with a film of glassy boredom covering their eyes.

“Democracy, huh? Well, I’m sure that we all have very strong ideas about that concept. We’re all listening. Shoot!”

I coughed once. I coughed a second time. Actually, I was desperately trying to remember the relevant lines from ‘Infidels’. Finally, I thought I had it.

“Democracy don’t rule this world,
You’d better get that in your head.
This world is ruled by violence,
Though I guess that’s better left unsaid.”

There was a heavy silence after I’d finished intoning these words. Finally, Anil spoke.

“Good. Good. The idea that we don’t have true democracy: there is too much corruption and lies. I like it. I like it a lot!”

“Well, I don’t think that you’ve really got hold of it,” I replied slowly. “That’s really not it at all. I would say that Dylan is saying that democracy itself is a sham. Whatever political system may be professed, the reality is that victory always goes to the strongest. It’s not a moral equation. Whoever has the biggest guns will always win. Might is Right.”

“But that’s a very cynical point of view,” piped up a very plain and correct spinster, who had probably read something from Paradise Lost.

“Of course it is,” I replied. “But just because a truth is unpalatable, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the truth.”

Anil recommenced, but this time in an entirely different tone.

“Want to know something true? I’m really sorry that I invited a cynical asshole like you to our cozy meeting here. You just don’t get it. We’re not here to see how the world really is. We only want to feel ourselves superior to those people that make the life and death decisions. We’re not smarter than them, or stronger, or happier, but as long as someone like you doesn’t go spoiling things, we can at least delude ourselves that we’re more cultured. Do you get it now, asshole?”

Everybody seemed transfixed by Anil’s words and there was a moment of complete silence. Then there was a sudden roar of anger - and I knew that it had issued from my own throat.

I sprang to my feet, opened my palm, and dealt Anil a tremendous blow on the side of his head. He, in his turn, rose to his feet and let loose a roundhouse right that caught me nicely on the side of the jaw. We fell to the floor, fighting desperately, with all the other people in the room staring at us wildly.

“Give him one right in the nose for me, Anil,” came the spinster’s shrill voice, as we struggled and tumbled over the dirty floor.

Just as I received another tremendous right to the jaw, someone started vigorously shaking me and I began to float upwards, as if from a profound depth.

“Wake up! Wake up!” a familiar female voice was saying. “You’re dreaming.”

I blinked my heavy eyelids open to see my own dear wife bending over my bed with irritation etched across her features. She was in her dressing gown, and it was still dark outside.

“I was dreaming?”

“Yes, you asshole. Now, let’s talk some more about our divorce.”

2 Comments:

Anonymous Sefi said...

"The true democrat is he who with purely nonviolent means defends his liberty and, therefore, his country's and ultimately that of the whole of mankind" -- Mahatma Gandhi

I'm dreaming?
Sefi

12:45 AM  
Blogger Jon Aristides said...

Great quote, Sefi.

3:46 AM  

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