The tanpura sways on the back seat of the car, the gourd held by rolled up cloth on either side. She passes shut warehouses, a hardware shop ready to close, with a fatigued white light on only in the cobwebbed back room while the hired boy sits beside his thoughts in the darkness near the entrance, a nature park with its gate padlocked, large trees blackened by the night rising beyond it, till she stops at the traffic lights. A man in the car next to her turns his head and looks at her for a long time, a look so present, without past or future, that it untames time and throws it back into the wilderness from where it came. Teak trees fill the land, and the smaller cashew, with its ripening pink fruit, the road winds through them, far away the sky is held up by hills, and the world originates every moment. She turns her eyes away. In some years, when she is older, this look from a man will change. What is inevitable, like the future, comes in through the open windows and she breathes it in, isometrically, inspiration, expiration. Butterflies sleep in the nature park, the lights change. She drives on under a flyover where the darkness is thicker, almost hiding the mound of garbage piled up on one side, and then turns right onto the elevated highway where a radiant white light falls from the windows of enormous new office buildings made completely in glass. The tanpura suddenly gleams and shines. On either side and ahead are tall buildings still being built, with iron girders around them, sloping from the top down and wide at the bottom, with large, angled cubes as entrances, sloping or conical roofs, and cranes hang at the top of each one, lit by strong silver lights. The earth lights the sky instead of the sky the earth. In the racecourse stables, horses stand with their eyes open, silent. She goes under the new yellow skywalk hanging in the air, connecting the width of the highway, bright yellow even at night. A long time after the music lesson the sound of the tanpura remains around her, she can still hear its long, circular resonance. Only over a few hours will it completely fade away. At the red light a tall, muscular, large boned eunuch appears next to her window. His white teeth gleam in the darkness. “Such heavy thoughts,” he says. He leans languidly against the car and puts out his large hand. She gives him a fifty rupee note. “You’re beautiful,” he says. “The fifty rupee note is beautiful,” she says before driving on. The night is unreliable. Parallel to the road now are the train tracks and two trains go by in opposite directions. Exhaustion and energy change places continuously within the people inside, with no room or time for anything in between. White light spills out from the compartments, but it is not radiant like the light from the offices. This light is turbid and tough and accepting, it throws itself onto the sparse grass and rubbish that lines the tracks. Up onto another elevated highway, she drives faster, the air humid and cool through the windows, and the strings of the tanpura are suddenly played for a moment by the wind, producing a sound that is random, atonal, but still originary. It stops as the road slopes downwards, towards what looks from here like the edge of the earth, but is the sea, and after a long time, when her hair is tangled by the damp and soot in the air, the lights of the new cable stayed bridge over the sea appear, but which like this car, highways, skywalks, office buildings of glass, and train tracks, are the from elsewhere brought, because nothing rises here, like water, from far below, nothing begins or sprouts minutely as from a seed, or stirs, or raises its wings.
Under a raintree in the gardens of the irrelevant zoo, the white peacock opens its luminous ivory fan against the night.
The car moves onto the bridge. The water below is moving, but it cannot be seen, only a darkness is being crossed, the bridge and the sea are like a question and answer no longer related. When she reaches the end she turns left along the sea, on whose waters three ships, barely visible, like an unwanted past, are lined up in the far distance, there are still walkers on the promenade, there is the new concrete clock, shaped like a sickle which cuts the sea air in two. Along the promenade is the dense darkness of the mangroves. Unseen barnacles cling to the mesh of its roots. After that begins the transparent emptiness over the water. Where the mangroves end and the promenade crumbles into a broken footpath, are fish drying on horizontal bamboo poles. What is new? Not that which is not old. In the time it takes to dry fish, the time that unfurls in the hawker’s cry, in the time it takes to wear a sari, time is original, animate. Opposite the drying fish are the two-tiered shanties of fishermen and household workers. Their fronts are painted either the blue of the ocean on a clear, hot day, or the pink of sunrise, both exaggerated in their brightness. The resonance of the tanpura is further away now. She turns onto a side street past trees and apartments. The small Dalit shrine has an image of the Buddha, an oil lamp burning at his feet, the day’s marigolds still fresh. Around the shrine the night is as tense as a fist. A little further is a piece of the old village square, with a squat cross at its centre, an oil lamp burning at the foot of the cross, and on one side, two slumped cottages of wood and stone with no fight left in them. The night spreads out here, more malleable. Approach what is alive, go near, approach. Mourn that which is no longer living but should have been, mourn. Place what lives, next to one another, place, or watch them as they are placed, watch. Between them there are invisible joints that are uncertain, needing protection. Between them lies something dangerous, multiple fractures. Between them, the sight can see in every direction.
A few streets away from home now, past the closed tailor’s shop, and suddenly there are ducks gathered under a streetlight. The night is disobedient. When she pulls up she sees them standing there, hovering over a puddle of dark water in a small crater made by broken paving stones. There are seven of them, tall and snow white, untouched by the soot and grime in the air, with bright orange beaks and feet. She stops the car and turns off the lights. Their bodies tremble, then hold absolutely still. They all crowd around, one by one, to look at her. They hold still, but their breath is animal breath, visible in the swell and fall of their bodies, tangible, crucial. One of them comes up to the window, and holds its face close in front of hers. The streetlight glints off the black marble of its eye. The gaze between it and the dark pupil of her own eye is the gaze between two distant stars.
When she reaches her street there are no lights on it, no lights in the entire neighbourhood. The power failure allows the street to be filled with leaf shadows, mango, coconut, jamun, fishtail palm, the leaves of one tree touching another on the concrete paving blocks. The almost full moon is directly overhead. She carries the tanpura up the unprepared darkness of the stairs to the third floor and stands it up near the bookshelves. Where she goes to learn this music there are no bookshelves, no books. Outside the window, fruit and bats hang from the tamarind tree. Each leaf of each tree is illuminated or not by chance, a silver leaf moving next to one that is dark, but both wakeful, conscious of each other. The breeze brings the rise and fall of human voices, in a lower key, each one attuned to this night. In the plot of land used as a storage ground, piles of white marble shine. Beyond it the white chapel on a rising slope from 1856, the time of the Portuguese fathers, working among rice fields and fishing boats, claims the moonlight as its own. Next to it the old mansion of wood and stone stands, self assured, receives the light on its roof of Mangalore tiles, then passes it down to the balconies, the trees, and shrubs close to the ground. Night, wide open, is here, made from primary principles, woven into a Bengal neelambari sari deep blue and filled with stars, painted for centuries as night of love never night of fear, never, night of Radha and Krishna where nothing will be excluded, neither forest, or animal, or human, neither here or there, night indistinguishable from Kali who appears after all the flames and the philosophies, after the mourners have brought down the flaming sticks on the ones they loved and walked away without looking back, night staying awake outside a semi-circle of caves after the fire has burnt to ashes, night that the ascetic questions, night from which anything can be built, she leans on the silver light, night of the declining heart, therefore night of ascesis, capable of freeing itself from all contexts, original.