Looking back is still difficult. Days march on. The past is a ghost. The past catches up only in dreams outside time.

We were asked to see, to believe. What would we want things to be? What would it look like?

We imagined and we tried to be clever. If we didn’t, we thought, who would take us seriously?

What was really out there–was the air–floating, ephemeral. We chose what we could see. It was tangible, practical and responsible. We were afraid, perhaps. Who were we, if not tangible?

Time has put us in our place. The mirror speaks back. Some lines on our faces are more creased now. They have more character, marked by time, deep, more durable. Those eyes mean more now. They look inside, though gentler.

People used laptops then. That we would write as we think, in a stream, was unthinkable. That we would not write, we would choose. We used fingers to tap away at the keyboard. The keyboard had the letters of the alphabet in a random way. We still knew where the letters were, even if we typed with eyes closed. I used to do that sometimes.  Now when letters float around aimlessly, they remind us of keyboards.

Now we connect to visors. You see your thoughts. I see mine.  They come and go in a river flowing in the air. They are on the wall. They fill the air. You see some more. You go back and think again. You close your eyes and they go away. You open your eyes and wish them away. You fill them with music or silence.

There was a time where you needed to write words first and then set them to tune!

Before smart phones, before computers, people used noisy creatures called typewriters.

You needed to open your mouth to talk to me!

I feel strange when I see images of us then, all talking. What were we really? Brash, ambitious, bright, daring, clever, brimming, but all with mouths open!

We looked at time as something to conquer. We knew that Time would eventually get the better of us. The big clock was ticking like before.  But what bothered us was the small clock, the one with hours, minutes and seconds.  Big Time was not there in the room. It was a date on the wall. All steps were leaps into the unknown. That hasn’t changed. We still do not know and move, fearless.

What is space, I wonder sometimes, with all these music and words and shapes floating around. We choose and create for ourselves, for others. We share when we think we can. The clamour of company made us more silent. Are we less lonely?

And what about spaces with no thought. Sun and me. Blue sky and rain. You. A single glance could tell all.

Someone told me that the politician misses the old days when he could talk to a mike and raise hell. The newsreaders, I hear, look wistfully too. They could dish out what they wanted to. Today, the politician needs to float his agenda in the air, wishing desperately you will pick him. Today, the newsreader merely arranges the jumble and serves you a menu of options. You eat the news you like. If you don’t like the options, you switch off the news visor like the old times when you flipped channels.

You choose your own way of happening.

In a way, it is still the same!

We dreamt up roads, bridges, rice, wheat, water, oil, gas, houses, land, courts, people, jobs, money. All of them came true. They even had shadows. Without them, we could not exist. Food comes from the earth. We are hungry.  Water is drying up, like we had said it would. We want to make the sea free of salt. We are still running on less. We breathe. We still die. We love, cry and hope. We still want to live on forever, each day of our lives.

So let’s give ourselves a few pats on our backs. We did see a few things. We can drink to that.

What did we not see? Ourselves?  We cannot blame ourselves for that, any more than our mothers can for dreaming up men and women on the moon.

Lost in the demands of small time, we may have forgotten about ourselves a bit.

But didn’t we want to be lost and invisible?  Wasn’t happiness our destiny? We had room for ourselves only in after-hours, sleepy eyed. Without visors, our thoughts remained as fragile as dreams, disappearing as soon as they appeared- dewdrops in sunlight.

All we have now are thoughts and feelings we wrote down. They call that history.

Those we didn’t, where did they go? What did we not write, because we were bored, tired or lazy? They didn’t go away, though we could never see them. They hung around like the saxophonist in the corner street long after the show was over. They danced in our dreams, they whispered. In our quietest hours, we felt them. They brought new ones to being, themselves and different. They played about. Invisible, they made us who we are. They dreamt us up.

And we thought we were dreaming the world!

Enchanted while I am by this world of invisibles, sometimes I do long for the old times. It was never easy then, I know that. Yet men walked deserts even when there were aeroplanes.  I feel something for the old books in my shelves, bounded, with beginning and end.  I remember my pencils, thin and reedy, that needed ‘sharpening’, like my mind now. I had pens that leaked inside flights.

Was love more mysterious then? One never really knows this one. Lovers spoke, and misunderstood. There was a spice to things. Now we can make love out of nothing at all, like Air Supply, of the soppy 80s. Today, we are close if we see each other’s visors. We meant without looking. We could tell by a glance and kiss so close our lips actually met.

I still do not know what is better, being without visors or being with them. To visor or not to, isn’t the question anymore, the new bard says. We are reminded of those days when we braved the clutch and crawl and snarl of traffic to reach offices. The kids laugh at us now- dinosaurs- travelling to offices! We shift uncomfortably when we are told of the huge paper trails we left behind. We feel guilty for the lost trees. We are reminded of the police beat at our doors, asking questions, the days of the lie detector and the surprise guerrilla attacks.

We still work, from everywhere, sending off streams whenever we can. We read nuggets, create what we want to read, and listen to the music we want to hear, from writers and singers and other magicians who send into the air their love’s labour, each whispering, this is mine, read it, see it, listen to it.

We are everywhere. Everything is more and less real, at the same time and everything still comes at us, only faster, for we think we know how to choose.

I take off my visor sometimes, I must confess. I do that to know if I am lonelier.  We read each other, like dreams, cinema, colour and song. Connected, something seems missing.  Sometimes the truth is charming and lovely. Sometimes the truth is so harsh it cuts through. We did it then with a word, or silence.  We can catch all the waves we want now. Is that love? Is this different? When we could lose ourselves in each other, without a word, a thought? When we waited forever, just to hear each other’s voice? Was that love?

The other day I was walking down the mean street where the soulless ones lie around, waiting for the connection. They are usually down in the dumps, looking at people who pass by, when not staring into emptiness. They are vacant and sometimes full of it. Caught up in small time, I never asked why. Without visors, they share what they can. I took an old hard disc with me and plugged it into the museum laptop, the one lying around, with wires in multiple sockets. Something played, an old jazz piece perhaps, something so ancient that I cannot remember anymore who played it and when.

One of the soulless ones stood up from his bench. He was short thin man who shuffled when he walked and hiccupped all the time. He wore a dirty white shirt, much bigger than his worn out frame, surely a hand-me-down. On appearances, he wasn’t the kind of person you would expect to take the hint.  He placed his ear to the laptop speaker and listened with intent, his eyes growing wider as the music moved, from one riff to another. He looked at me as if I was some kind of pagan troubadour with lost notes and charms. Then he smiled.

The smile waves brought a couple of others closer. They too wanted to know. I connected it to the museum speaker, attached with wires so enmeshed they could make me trip. The song blared. It was loud and rasping and full of the pain and pleasure. It made sense. We all listened together.  I felt tears and a lot of laughter. This was an ancient rite, this shared listening. A couple started an impromptu dance. For a moment, it seemed all one and fine with the world. Once again, return to forever. The song lasted a lifetime.

Once over, we grew suddenly aware of what happened. We were living in the past.  We grew conscious, aware, that we had stepped out. It was not the same. That feeling made us wonder, and wonder made us think.  Without visors, we did not know what we were thinking. Our language was music, silence and laughter. Walking home, I felt that feeling linger.

Alone, languorous and strangely comforted.

 

Amlanjyoti Goswami

Amlanjyoti Goswami

Amlanjyoti Goswami’s poems have appeared in publications in India, Nepal, UK, South Africa, Kenya and USA, including the recent Forty under Forty: an Anthology of Post-Globalisation Poetry (Poetrywala, 2016). He grew up in Guwahati, Assam and lives in Delhi.

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