A few years ago, I was twenty-three then, while walking on a strange street in Bristol, wearing a blue coat that I’d bought in London only a few days ago – I was rushing to meet someone and near the Charring Cross station, I saw this beautiful long coat and I’d stopped, I really shouldn’t have, I was already so late, but I did and the cashier told me that it was the last piece they had left. I was wondering what I should have for dinner, when an Englishman, while walking suddenly started waving at me, as one does to an old friend, baffled as it was my first time in the country, I looked at him confused, I tried to tell him, a little impatiently, without even a note of warmth– I really didn’t know him and in a split second I’d even considered the possibility that it was perhaps just a strange prank – that I didn’t know him. The man kept walking past me, looking at me almost in disbelief that I didn’t recognise him.
The same night, I think, I am not sure, an old Englishwoman who shared my hostel room with me asked me to not go out in the cold to eat and shared her dinner with me – three tomatoes, a toast, a can of beans –and told me about her uncle who’d really had a good time in India with the East India Company. And then she said how strange it was to have read in the newspaper that the Bangkok hotel she’d stayed in was being demolished. The next afternoon, while at a small waterside restaurant in Bath, unable to eat, I went into the bathroom and stayed there for some time crying, remembering the old woman.
In the courtyard facing the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in South Delhi, near the tomb of Humayun, nearer to the tomb of Mirza Ghalib, there is always a group of singers singing the old Sufi saints and poets, among them is a mute man –by birth or not? – who sings, as much as he can, as much as one can without speech, looking up at the sky. I have seen him there for years, but lately, he seems to have disappeared.
Sometimes I think about Van Den Budenmayer : the imaginary composer of most of the music of Kieslowski’s films.
In that old Dak bungalow of Sambhar salt lake, situated a little above the rest of the city, from where you could see the white-beige of the salty land shimmer like a moonlit mirage – if one stayed on that old, fragmented terrace for too long, not a minute less, one could have seen an unearthly planet without travelling into space, one might have even seen the earth from the outside without crossing its atmosphere. Inside, it was impossible to escape the still eyes of Capt. and Mrs. Bunting’s photographs – English, they were the last owners of this building, the furniture is theirs, even the piano.
The next morning, in the backyard, an old cupboard with an unlocked lock on it : between dust almost a century old and wasp’s nests and spider webs, books, many. I open one and on the first page, written in ink: Sambhar book club, April 1927.
Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, I have never been to The Hague so I have never seen it, I think, except in cheap reproductions, but once while sitting on the sands of Jaisalmer, it was 0 degree Celsius – bitterly cold for someone used to warmer temperatures – I saw a girl, she was selling tea at some distance, with the same eyes. Later, a scene from Paris came back to me : a woman, walking with two men, suddenly collapses. The two men try to stop an ambulance, which was for someone else. I don’t know what happened after, or if the ambulance stopped.
A woman, visibly mad, living in the winding corridors of Connaught Place – she could speak English, which is a mark of at least some wealth in India – started walking behind me and kept repeating to me that whatever I touch will be mine. It scared me a little and I really did not believe her, but since then I do not touch this earth.
This was first published in Kindle Magazine, where I write a monthly column on cities, memory, etc.