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My Body Is a Cage
I'm living in an age whose name I don't know
I am hooked to a new song. When I am hooked to a new song it is the only song that I play for days. I let its spirit float into and out of my consciousness. The string of words assumes a life of its own. Does it describe a memory, a dream, or a prayer? I don’t know but it caresses me. Sometimes it gently exposes a wound that I didn’t know I had. And sometimes it soothes the one I am already walking around with. And sometimes, it lets me imagine a pain not even my own — someone’s pain. Empathy is a strange current. It can flow between people from different times and places who will never know each other, yet communicate through words which transcend the divides of time and space. I think about the writer who wrote that song, I think about the singer who gave his voice, I think about the thoughts going through their minds, and I can’t help but feel immense love.
It is Arcade Fire’s ‘My Body Is a Cage’ that I am listening to.
My body is a cage
That keeps me from dancing with the one I love
But my mind holds the key
It is a beautiful night. December is crawling to its end.
I like to walk late. My body is a cage and I have to carry it everywhere.
It is 11 and this walled housing colony with a dozen entry points has had all of them closed shut. I walk anyway to the nearest exit with the faint hope that it might still be open. It is not. Suddenly I feel like Batman and think of climbing the wall adjacent to the gate and jumping to the other side. It is better than walking all the way to the main entrance through a narrow street just to get outside. While I am running this thought in my head working its mechanics, a guy appears on the other side of the gate and checks if it is open. Then he puts a foot on the metal bars of the gate and asks me if it is okay with me if he climbed on top of the gate and got to my side. He obviously thinks as a resident I would get moral hiccups. I want to tell him he could use a battering ram, burst open this gate and rob everybody in this area and I would not bat an eyelid. I would not even recognize him in a police lineup. I would not be an accomplice but I would like to watch him in action. Cold apathy is not illegal, is it? I tell him, sure, do it, I myself want to go to the other side. His athleticism impresses me. The gate is quite high and has sharp vertical bars standing like bayonets on top but he scales it then mounts to the top without hurting his ass, then he crosses over and slithers down. What an acrobat!
I most definitely won’t be climbing over this metal gate, I think. Climbing the wall seems to be the easier option. This guy is still here giving me ideas. He tells me the wall is not too high. I tell him, not on this side, what about the other side. He says, there is not much difference. Okay. Every Batman needs a Robin. I place my hands on top of the wall and pull myself up, then get my legs down to the other side and jump. I am proud of this small accomplishment.
I'm standing on a stage
Of fear and self-doubt
It's a hollow play
But they'll clap anyway
Winter is in full bloom. A translucent film of fog wraps the world.
I have not eaten much. Hot coffee would be nice. I start walking and stop by the plaza shops and look around. There is a coffee vendor. I make my order. It is chilly but it doesn’t bother me. The boys behind the counter of the adjacent fast food joint are being playful. One of them sets the gas igniter to the other’s buttocks and clicks it, setting his ass on fire, metaphorically. It is funny to watch. Then he does it twice. Still funny.
Near me stand three girls smoking. Plumes of smoke rise from their lips into the cold winter air. Smoking — lighting up a cigarette, putting it to your lips, inhaling, taking the cigarette out, exhaling. There is something about the whole act of smoking I find so intoxicating, so transformative — the face changes, the same way it does, I guess, when one is asleep, or has sex, or dies. It makes everything look cinematic, sensuous, ethereal. Time ticks slowly, reality shimmers and glistens. Even fate, I imagine, indulges this little dalliance. Just this afternoon I was with S, and he put a cigarette to his mouth, and I looked at him. He was already transformed into a college professor about to lecture a class on Behavioral Psychology. I remember R smoking, and she looked like a crime beat journalist sorting the tangled web of mysteries.
I'm living in an age
That calls darkness light
Though my language is dead
Still the shapes fill my head
I am anticipating the three girls to transform too. But smoking is not doing anything for them.
I finally get my cup of coffee. And some advice.
“You should not fight nature. Your arms are showing in this cold night. Put some more clothes on. You should respect nature.”
This again. I am wearing a t-shirt, a pair of jeans and sandals. So apparently his view of the world and everything normal in it is disturbed by my appearance. I conscientiously start explaining myself that I am fine, this is the weather that I delight in, and that he should not bother himself as I have survived five previous winters here. It is unlikely I am moving his needle. I grab my cup and leave. I would have walked around in a quilt if I could avoid this conversation. What can Rs. 40 buy you? The answer is: more than coffee sometimes.
But it really is nice to feel the cold air on the skin. The area is almost vacant, so I keep walking towards the metro station. I spot something shiny right in the middle of the pedestrian lane beside the main road. I pick it up; it is a lipstick. The metal tube has all the markings worn off except the two words: ‘Ruby Rush’. I remove the cap and turn its bottom, the stick comes up. The color seems ‘Ruby Rush’, alright. Some ‘Ruby’ dropped it on the road and ‘rushed’. I chuckle. I dispose it in the nearby waste basket, hoping this is not a crucial DNA evidence in a criminal trial.
It is about midnight now.
I have reached the Golf Course complex. There is barely anyone there except a few security guards warming their hands around a fire. I ask them if there is really a golf course inside and if people play golf there. One of the guards tells me that some people come in the morning to play golf, but most of the time the place is booked for parties. I don’t think I would like to play golf. I don’t even like to watch the game. I have no further inquiries.
I keep going. There is an airplane going above. Its lights shine green and red. I am about to make a full circle around my block. Right down the road which should take me home, a bike stands on the curb and an older looking couple is kissing seated on the footpath. A part of me wants to applaud them for following their passion without being conspicuous or making them self conscious. I mean this being so cold and all. Another part wants to offer them my house so they can make themselves comfortable. And as I pass them I see that the woman, clad in a saree, has her head leaning on to a phone she is holding in her hand so it would give an impression to the people passing by that she is on a phone call; at the same time she has the whole union territory of her mouth colonized by his mouth. Ingenious.
Right at the corner of the street which would lead me to my house, there is a 24x7. That is one place which honors its name, being open truly 24x7. I decide to check it out and see if I want something. All around me are a million brands of chocolates, cookies, energy drinks, munchies, dried food items etc. I go round and round in circles hoping something will catch my eye. But it is futile. Frankly, it would be easier if they had just two blocks inside the shop labeled: Sugar and Salt. And I could avoid both. Because that is what this paraphernalia is. I end up getting a Diet Coke and leave.
As I make the final turn to my street I see a black stray dog sitting atop a car. I recognize this dog. He likes to sit on top of cars. I ask him how he is. He doesn’t say anything, not even a customary bark. I leave him be.
I turn the key into the lock and I am back. To the same spot. To the place which I fled just a while back. And I am here, again. Full circle. My body is a cage. Or this house is.
The outro of the song right now sounds like a prayer.
Set my spirit free.
Set my body free.
But, I am not praying.