After my car broke down last night just outside the city, I walked into this strange lone building looking for some help. The building was empty, only a big room painted red was filled with men, only men: they were beautiful, their hands stilled in graceful positions, their bodies stuck in a slanted rhyme, their eyes at times fearful, expectant at other times. They were on an open stage, I almost went up to feel their elegant shapes but they started moving in circles, dancing so exquisitely to sudden music that I stopped and kept watching their sensual and sorrowful movement. My eye, for some time, blurred other men and focused on a single figure translating itself into soft geometry: the arabesque of his body left me almost without speech, I still remember the sound of my own pulse which, with each beat, kept rising until the moving void of his eyes left me with a sense of vertigo. I balanced myself by holding on to the old steel railings and my sight paused at another young man’s melancholy stillness, his head bowed in fear, the back of his neck shimmering helplessly violet-green like a pigeon’s, as if ready to be twisted.
His hidden face and static body reminded me of a photograph I had taken last year, while waiting to buy tickets to the Louvre where light softens itself in the summer evenings or so it seems, of four men perhaps unknown to each other, none of whose faces are visible: a man in a pale lavender t-shirt and grey crop pants with a hint of a white sock walking almost out of the frame, the man in the center, in a black t-shirt with a monochrome image of a woman, whose pale arms peppered with hair cuts between two beautifully toned legs of who could only have been a boy wearing a green t-shirt with something red, behind him is another man in dark indigo and denim colours, forever about to walk into the frame with his Burberry jacket resting on a bag. Faces of the last three men are hidden behind a signboard that does not reveal its message, not in the photograph. Some nights, I dream about that evening, about the scene after the photograph, about an unstilled time where the men’s faces are revealed and they are free to go anywhere outside the image. I have a fantasy, I had written about it to an old boyfriend: one night I will delete all my photographs and let free all the moments I have caught, all the men I have captured.
Right after I thought I should leave, I noticed that the music had changed while I was thinking about another evening, and the men were now clothed in feathers and the music had changed. Many feathered men dancing, changing forms, and running around so defenselessly on the stage that now looked like a forest. I wondered what I was doing there, watching all of them from a distance, when I saw a small, semi-automatic pistol with a mother-of-pearl grip resting on a corner chair. I thought about all the times I had wanted to shoot men, which were too many to remember, and that one unbearable morning when again an auto driver in Delhi didn’t take a road I had asked him to take which had left me feeling powerless and almost humiliated. That morning, I went out and bought a camera instead of a gun.
I looked at all the beautiful men from the rear sight of the pistol that was now in my hand, and settled on a boy perhaps my own age, about 25 or 26, and caressed his dancing nightingale like body by just watching from a distance. I kept looking at him, for who knows how long, until my own hunting stance started to fill me with disgust, and the old Hindi song started playing, in my mind, on loop: “The hunter has fallen in love with the bulbul. The hunter has fallen in love with the bulbul.”
In the morning today I woke up with the same heart that was beating so loudly last night. I don’t remember what happened after that, or how I got home without my car, and whether I finally pulled the trigger or not.
(This was first published in Kindle Magazine, where I write a monthly column on cities, memory, Indian reality, etc.)