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Beautiful Eyes

Beautiful Eyes

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Published by mohansuramya7228
A short story on not giving up on life. Feedback is welcome.
A short story on not giving up on life. Feedback is welcome.

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Published by: mohansuramya7228 on May 24, 2009
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09/25/2014

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Beautiful Eyes
The world has moved on but my friend does not recognize this. He still paints all thosesad canvases, little realizing that even the hot-headed 20 something Marxists of todayare smug men–of-the-world who feel powerful in stating that they do not have the power to change the world for the better. They want nothing to do with sadness. There is somuch anxiety all around and everyone is seeking an escape route. A sad landscape or asorry face is hardly welcome under such circumstances but my friend does notunderstand that.Yesterday he called me to his home and showed me his latest creation –a beggar tootired to even beg. He did not have to explain to me the fatigue writ large on the beggar’sface. A whole life spent trying to stave off hunger. His begging bowl was thrown aside inapparent disdain.“Look, Sajal, look and tell me –what do you think?”That was another difficult part of interacting with him. He always wanted my opinion onhis paintings. I have had a reasonably “cheerful” outlook on life so far but whenever I amcalled upon to comment on his paintings, my moorings are shaken. It is difficult enoughto witness such scenes; to actually be required to put one’s feelings into words is sheer torture. I cannot just say anything and walk out –that’s a privilege he enjoys courtesy our friendship since school. But I have always expected him to return the favour by notasking me about what I think and he has always let me down.I remonstrated feebly.“Come on, Prithu, I am no artist and…”“Damn the ‘art’ part! Tell me, as a man.”“A fifty-seven year old, soon to be a pensioner with high BP problem –spare me. Why doyou need my opinion? In any case, I have no opinion.”“Then the painting has been a waste,” he remarked crestfallen and, with one quickmotion of his right hand, knocked the painting over. I cried out.“Stop being a fool, you fool!”The vehemence in my voice startled him and he stared at me blankly for a momentbefore breaking into a small smile.“How can I stop being myself? A fool can only be a fool!”“Very witty. Why do you trouble me so much? I never ate your tiffin in school, never flirted with any of your girlfriends and never shied away from sharing my beer with you…I think that entitles me to some rest at my age…I have stopped having opinions aboutunpleasant things and I like it that way. Okay?”
 
“I never brought any tiffin to school; you were too scared of Preeti to try any hanky-pankybusiness with her and, as for your beer, who cares for that shit anyway? Not me. Once avodka man, always a vodka man. And, you still have opinions about what you call‘unpleasant things’.”“Okay, I choose not to dwell over my opinions. I do not want to…”“You are afraid of your own opinions?”“Who’s afraid, eh? I just don’t have the time for…and, who’s afraid of Preeti? Me? Me?”“Not have the time for your own opinions?”“Don’t care about them. How does it matter? I am not afraid of Preeti, okay?”“It matters to me.”And that was that. I mattered to this imbecile. What I thought mattered to him. After anera of staying together and sharing everything, familiarity had still not bred contempt inhis case. He genuinely sought my comments and I had still not been able to deal with hispaintings in a detached manner. They were too intimate, too close to the reality I wishednot to see – or, at any rate, think about. More than anything else, in all those canvases, Istill saw my friend the way he was all those years ago when I sized him up for the firsttime – a self contained boy with an unflinching gaze who’d never make it big in life.Many a times over our long association, I tried to assist him in finding a steady job. Heobliged and twice accepted decent, stable openings to earn a livelihood for himself. Heeven tried hard to stay put. I guess he tried too hard, poor fellow. A job is a job. Youcannot take it too seriously. But this amiably reticent idiot never understood that. Hescrewed up on both occasions and the only saving grace was that before they could firehim, he resigned. Thereafter, he picked up a brush and started to paint for the first timein his life– a queer full-time occupation and a downright ludicrous one for someone agedforty-two with a wife and two kids.That was fifteen years ago. He learnt to paint; he learnt to live in anonymity; he learnt tolook at his kids without feeling guilty about denying them so much; he learnt to approachPreeti without feeling the need to explain his failures; he learnt to share some hours withme every week without having the urge to tell me to go to hell with all my sermons of “drop this nonsense!” He learnt.He dragged me along on his steep learning curve. I was made to witness his graduationfrom disproportionate figures and shaky lines to accurate renditions of landscapes andfigures and then to his “version” of the sights before his eyes. He was no van Gogh buthe could read the story in those trees, in those rivers and in those faces he drewceaselessly and, almost always, the story hurt just like this latest painting of the beggar which stated clearly that were I to approach this beggar with a coin, he’d probably get upand thrash me- not out of anger at me but at his own self, his own wretchedness. Themore troublesome part was that I knew I’d feel just as helpless as he would –I had nomeans to restore him his right to live without the indignity of surviving from one meal tothe next. Now, who wants to think of all this on a Sunday evening? I shuddered.
 
“You have an opinion, Sajal.” He bent down to retrieve the painting.“Damn you!” I said softly as he waited to hear me out.I told him. He kept nodding throughout and then added,“Why are you so pessimistic about life?”“Me? Look who’s talking!”“Yes. You are pessimistic. Your positive attitude is just escapist chicanery. Deep insideyou have given up on life. Your life. My life. This beggar’s life. Everyone’s life”“Shut up, will you? What nonsense are you uttering? What else can one make out of thispainting –or any of your paintings, for that matter, except that they are tales of despair?”“A misguided, over-eager proselytizer may see a prospect in my beggar for conversionand feel all charged up.”I was still fuming inside but what he said registered somewhere. I looked again at thepainting. Then, I retorted.“And, you find that less pessimistic?”“No. But there can be different views.”“Yes, I admit that. But you asked me for my view and I have only one view about thisbeggar.”“Hmmm. May be. Those who give up on life normally have just one view and normallythe view is one without hope.”“Shut up. Are you crazy? You get worse with every passing day. First you drag me hereto hear me and then you start analyzing my response. What do you read in this rottenpicture - Merry Christmas?”“If Christmas time is a time to celebrate the human spirit then, yes, one can read thathere. If Christmas time is…wait!”He called loudly for Preeti. She walked in with a smile of welcome in her eyes.“Hello, Sajal. I see he’s boring you again.”“No, today he’s trying to get under my skin!”“Ah, then you are in for big trouble.”“Preeti, what do you think of this man in the canvas before you?”

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