Three Views of a Story

 

  1. PAGE FROM A JOURNAL

I know a girl who fell in love with a poet who died seventy-six years before she was born. She carried a picture of him in her wallet, and his face was frozen forever on her laptop and mobile wallpapers. This sounds like a teenage infatuation, but the girl was twenty-nine and worked as a senior technical architect. I knew her well. We had been schoolmates for twelve years and now worked for the same company, though in different teams.

She was a technology wizard par excellence. Hardly anyone else in the office knew about this other, eccentric side of her. Whenever I visited her home, she transformed from her corporate avatar into a soft-spoken, traditional, almost stereotypical Tamil Brahmin girl from one of the priestly families in Mylapore. She once confided that she was unmarried as her parents were yet to find a boy whose horoscope matches hers.

In his time, the poet was hailed as ‘the handsomest man in England’ but more than his looks, it was his poetry that charmed her. A young man’s poems, full of the shades of life as perceived by a boy whose life was just beginning, they throbbed with reckless energy. Her voice quivered whenever she mentioned him. She talked about visiting his grave in Skyros on her thirtieth birthday and weeping there for joy that such a sublime spirit had once walked the earth. She once mentioned half in jest that she sometimes wanted to kill herself so that she would never grow older than him, for he had died at twenty-eight.

We lost touch after she was transferred to Singapore. Later I heard that she had moved to Manchester and was working at a client’s place. One Friday soon after I moved to London, she called to ask if we could meet over the weekend. I was beyond surprised when she introduced me to a man she was dating, a musician who looked like a slightly older version of the poet. It seemed unimaginable that a conventional girl like her would take such a step. Given her obsession with the poet, I wondered if she was chasing his shadow.

She still calls me sometimes on the weekends. We discuss work and life as old friends do: common friends, projects, latest software, the office dog, their forthcoming wedding, books, even poetry sometimes, but not once since that day has she mentioned Rupert Brooke.

  1. SCENE FROM A NOVEL

“It is an unhealthy obsession, Purna,” Vaidehi sounded exasperated. “Why don’t you crush on a living poet, if you have to? Vikram Seth, for example. He may be gay, but he is charming and more importantly, alive. Write a few sonnets to him and throw them away, instead of dreaming of a dead man.”

“Only Mr. Seth is old enough to be my Father,” Purna chuckled. “I do love him too. All poets are meant to be loved by the world. But Rupert, he is special. You won’t understand.”

“Hey, I love poetry as much as you do, poets too. But I don’t think of killing myself, or travelling half way around the world to weep on a grave.”

“Thanks for your concern, dear. Rupert is a peg on which I can hang my emotions. Though I speak of dying for him, it is more like I cling to the lines of his verse to keep myself alive.”

There was not a trace of self-pity in her voice. She continued, “Incidentally, I am not alone. There is a whole Facebook group dedicated to his ardent readers, where we discuss his attraction from beyond the grave.”

“Please, Purna, get married. Your mother was talking the other day about creating a new profile on Bharatmatrimony.com. Shall I help?”

“Not after the recent fiasco – my parents introduced us saying said he was a most eligible Iyer boy but he declined as I wear glasses, not before making the routine visit with his parents and stuffing his face with bajji and sojji. It was a clichéd scene right out of an old Tamil movie, how I laughed. Honestly, Rupert seems more alive than most young men who walk the earth. I am moving to Singapore, I need some quiet time.”

Four years later

Vaidehi sat in Regent’s park, waiting for Purna. She had been surprised when Purna called her, she sounded very different.

“Hey Vaidehi!” She was enveloped in a friendly hug, elegant perfume and a host of memories.

“Meet Sam,” Purna said. “Vaidehi is one of my dearest friends.”

Vaidehi shook hands with the man who might have been Rupert’s elder brother. If she was taken aback, she did not show it.

Later, Purna asked Vaidehi to be her bridesmaid. They still keep in touch occasionally, and talk about everything that friends usually do, everything except Rupert Brooke.

  1. BEHIND THE LINES OF A POEM

Rupert sat beneath a tree by the side of Byron’s pool, writing a poem.

‘I only know that you may lie

Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky, 

Until the centuries blend and blur’

He had not known how prophetic the words would turn out to be when he wrote that poem, of how he would come to share the dawn-lit waters with His ghostly Lordship. Yet Rupert felt very much alive. He could have moved to other layers of the afterlife, but for now, he was content watching the Cambridge skies and writing a poem to a girl, something that he had often done while he lived there. One of the advantages of being dead was the ability to travel through thought. He liked wandering through the olive groves in Skyros, and the beaches in Tahiti which were so chockful of good memories. But he liked being in Cambridge, best.

“You writing poem to the Indian girl, Pupure?” Taatamata sat down beside him.

“Are you jealous, Mamua?” He asked her.

He looked at her. She was still the same girl that he had described as having wonderful eyes, the walk of a Goddess, and the heart of an angel. He had been a great lover in his time. Ka, Noel, Cathleen, Phyllis, James… so many names, so many faces. He had loved them all with a poet’s passion. He once wrote to Cathleen that he had left some of his hair in Canada, and one skin in Honolulu, and another in Fiji, and a bit of a third in Tahiti, and half a tooth in Samoa, and bits of his heart all over the place. But now he was safe with this unassuming woman whom he had met during his travels in the South Seas.

“You care for her, Pupure.”

“She is my reader, darling. It makes me happy that she sings my songs.”

“She more than reader to you.” Taatamata did not sound jealous, she was smiling.

“The child loved me once. Like I loved many others before I found you, Mamua. He who is with her was meant to be. Just like we were, though we had to first cross over to this side of paradise. I wrote this poem to bless her. Listen.”

Rupert leaned against the tree and began to read.

At that moment, the girl to whom he had addressed the poem was looking up at the clock of Grantchester church. She felt she heard someone call her and looked around.

“Are you alright?” Her boyfriend asked her.

“I’m fine,” she smiled up at him, but she heard the voice just once more, whispering to her through the echoes in the breeze.

If you like literary fiction, you will love The Reengineers:
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