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STRANGE ROOM OF ALEXANDRE BARITO   SHORT FICTION MADATHIL NARAYANAN RAJKUMAR      1 1Nothing saunters true-blue in my boyhood souvenir than the thought of…
STRANGE ROOM OF ALEXANDRE BARITO   SHORT FICTION MADATHIL NARAYANAN RAJKUMAR      1 1Nothing saunters true-blue in my boyhood souvenir than the thought of Alexandre  Barito. We both walked to the same Junior  Basic School and later together to the  Arnold Library to read books . Barito read  classics and tomes of profound content. My  choice instead was fairy tales and pulp fiction.  I have often marvelled, how Barito acquired  this uncanny knack of sticking to the august  and the patrician throughout his lifespan. It  ought to be otherwise, taking into account  that his father was a cagey businessman and  also a shady loan shark of our town. But  Barito did not have any of his father’s bents.  This earned him a cluster of devout  companions, among whom, I was one.  In his youth, Barito was charismatic and he used to drop in our house often. My house was in the country and a river was at the reachable distance and Barito and I would sit on the bank. We would 2gape listlessly at the barges floating along and the maple trees near the sidewalk whose branches blended with the afternoon draft . Those were sunny August days. Some boys pedal bikes and later take a rest on the grass. Occasionally, tourists will come and go, ask route in altered accent. Most of our chats revolved around books or colleagues. I must acknowledge with gratitude that Barito molded my thoughts largely. It was astounding that he never told a lie nor did he make fun of people’s frailties, unlike pranksters as us. Barito lived in an alluring two-storeyed house behind the Central Library from where markets forked. The library was an old Gothic edifice having huge marble columns and a layer of concrete steps and a compound of chestnut trees. In those days it was 3befriended by intellectuals and dropouts. For two years, Barito was my classmate at university before he went to a bigger city for further studies. During those college years, I met him at his house whenever I went to the library. Here, Barito would relax in most opulent splendor in an armed chair, that was once used by his great-grandfather. His room contained all sorts of papers, tools, and chess boards. The maid always left the room partially clean, as she had to rush to a day- job somewhere near. Though there was no dearth of servants in our town, this lady was kept chiefly because she was his mother’s confidant and perhaps an adviser on some issues of concern. Barito used a cot made of the flexible mattress, guarded by strings and whenever he jumped into it, the cot lifted him up to a 4moderate height and again backward as if to teach him Newton’s laws of motion. The greatest trouble, Barito told me once, was his brother. Though his brother was younger to Barito by several years, he did not respect him. Their common disputes focused on issues such as who should engage the modish shower or sometimes over the apparels they shared and as to who the primary owner is. Though these points seem trivial, when they transpired, a minor volcano emitted, sufficient to define a day’s repose. Sadly, the closing point was that these divided the brothers to further ends. In some families, I have visited later, the brothers did not fight till they matured. Later the topics of estate slithered in and all of them would have children whose fees they had to meet, or their spouses would prompt them, though with ample roots, to raise a family of their 5own. But the same siblings at a yet succeeding state are perceived to embrace a lately generated amity and confess to each other, albeit not getting back the days of youth. 2 In Barito’s cell, there was a family picture of a happy Houdini with his mama and wife. It was subsequent to his learning board skills from an acquaintance. He had also finished several of the portraits with noteworthy merit, emulating his ancestors, who as the line claimed belonged to Utrecht Guild. Those early sketches were deemed as an heirloom and were on exhibit in the foyer. They were principally representations of convivial life and matchmaking and depictions of the countryside. His maternal grandsire had 6desisted to give them off, notwithstanding several appeals from private collectors. His mama served in the Energy quarter, a modest female who conserved a portion of her payroll without her husband’s knowledge because she had stings of the panic of old age and a forsaken existence. One evening, when Barito and myself were hiking along the way of our former academy, he told me that he had no model personage in the family. I suggested that he can be his own hero. Barito smiled and agreed graciously that he is the one he is waiting for. It was, in truth, an echo of a strain we both understood. 3 My father had a business in Salamanca where he spent half of the year. While in 7Munich, where he studied, he was in the cream company that included probable Nobel Laureates. My dad could not recapitulate his studies, principally because of specific dispositions that channeled his energy to other shores, making him jittery at formal learning. Later he was to tour extensively, squandering some family wealth, but in the course of time, was able to set up his business in Salamanca. While with us, he would take solo trips to the interior where he had inherited a farm commanding moors. When his business expanded, he bought a bordering land that hosted bald cypress and marsh Helleborine. It had many water spots, ducks, herrings and owls. Further, mother extended it with her share of turkeys and swans. When I was in the prime of youth, my father thought me 8irresolute and lacking fire in activities. He claimed that he had that enough in his youth, though he could not particularly apply it in academics. So he sent me to a revered friend of him in another city, to seek advice. When I met my mentor, he was coming out from a room after zazen with his private students. He asked me of my plight and after listening told me to write down an area in life where I needed improvement, in case I got a reprieve or a second chance. After considering the options of being the richest or the wisest, I wrote that I wanted to be the kindest [knowing well that I cannot eclipse those saints]. He said that whatever I did, would not matter, so far it is not sabotaging to myself or to humanity in particular, but I proceed with ardor. He said that roads will lead to broader roads and I will possibly get guidance. The next morning, I met a 9poor girl on the street who asked me some money. As I had only the train fare to go back home, I gave the watch. The girl, though perplexed for a moment, accepted. Forthwith, I found myself surrounded by a group of people who probably mistook me for a prince incognito. Somehow I managed to scram and rushed to the nearest station to catch the rail. Further experiences revealed that my guide was more or less right. That was the year I met my future wife, a dark and sagacious lady. In our house, there was a room in the upper story and one could reach it only through a spiral corridor. This gave the room an advantage of privacy, where my grandfather, a retired soldier would sit and drink ale. Sometimes he would relax on the balcony writing something in a diary 10with varied expressions. We had an uncle who was a lawyer and an aficionado of Conan Doyle and a member of a club that professed good service. When his clientele were at an ebb, he wrote mystery plays that were rarely staged. 4 My elder sister also studied in the same college with me. Because of her, many senior students talked to me. She was an ardent member of the Culture Club, which held weekly assemblages of erudite quality. The conferences were chiefly haunted by the older scholars of an academy nearby. She also served as an apprentice to a Women Liberation leader, until she became disenchanted with the latter’s private life, which my sister ought not to have mixed up with the public one. 11Also, a very unfortunate thing happened in the Club. She became enamored by a man of dubious values, though she could not suspect it in the beginning. Later she found out that this man had no love, but only private ends. Those were all days of intense vexation for our group. My uncle found out that his father was a culprit in a casino brawl and had a clandestine meeting with dance maidens. The young man took part in our weekly meetings and claimed that he had read all of Spinoza, but his rivals challenged that all he could entertain were sassy thoughts. I must acknowledge the help I received from Barito to relieve my sister of the impending depression. Later she was to get engaged to a mountaineer and still further over time, both met with a disaster on their climb to Kilimanjaro just above 12Barafu camp, making her an invalid for the rest of life. 5 Before he went to the city, Barito stayed with us on the farm for a couple of days. We had a good time near water spots and the night owl’s habitats. Then I lost touch with him. We took different routes and had different lifestyles. Meanwhile, my father’s business dwindled and he came to hometown to settle there permanently. Still a loss, as far as wealth was concerned, he retained composure, only knowing rather late that certain things are beyond repair, and we should not incur further loss thinking about those. I married and took frequent trips to hometown to see my parents. Once, from mutual friends, I knew that Barito was there with 13his American wife. Together with our wives, we met in the tulip garden behind a row of windmills. Barito had slightly gone flabby on the mid-portion, and that evening he told me about the death of his father. Though far from an ideal figure, the old man held tremendous influence over his young son, enabling him to live an extraordinarily luxurious life. That evening, we met at Barito’s residence. After coffee, Barito invited me to his room. I was surprised by the change. The family photograph of Harry Houdini had given way to the poster of a blue-eyed Italian action hero. Barito noticed the shift of my eye and said that his wife is a fan of Italian actors. After the ’Last Tango’, I had not seen any Italian film and then too, spent half the time in the side hall, hanging around with friends. Now, my eyes fell on 14the most elegant cot that had replaced Barito’s old flexible one that taught him once Newton’s laws of motion. In the same evening, we met in a newly constructed restaurant in the City Square. Barito had the fish tacos and iced tea. I took a sweet yogurt, having had a stomach upset. After that, probably a decade passed. Or maybe more. While traveling in North, once in a train compartment, I met a friend from college days maybe and among many other things, he conveyed to me the changes that had come to Alexandre Barito. My friend did not know in detail but suggested that burrito was into a new life of religious contemplation. ‘ How about his medical practice?’, I asked. ’Though he attends the hospital, his wife is managing everything ’, the friend said. 15Luckily, that year, when I came home for vacation, Barito was in the town. I took this shot to see everything at first hand and hear from the horse’s mouth.The footman opened the portal and led me inside.There were several calicos and male bovines[Bos Taurus] grazing in the yard. The servitor had known me before and conducted me to Barito's cell, that remained unchanged from outside. When the door was unlatched, I got sight of Barito sitting on a futon close to ground level. His face had transformed. He had shaved his scalp and the eyelids drooped at times and the orbs seemed focused and still. On the wall stood the vignette of St. Bruno meditating on a skull. He said that he had a chimera of a reaper entering harvest time and that changed his life. He had prevailed over some unlucky addictions in the recent past. I asked him 16if he followed the Carthusian Order, but his reply was negative. He was only trying to live in the world as if he were in a desert, in order to have the best of both worlds. He chose his Lauds, Vespers, and Psalms at his own notion. He said that he was arriving at clarity, which was fairly evident from his sober flourishes. He also said that he was translating a religious text into a Dutch dialect of his ancestry. It was, he said, not for publication, but for focus. When he inquired me of my concerns, I told him that I was trying to speak and be in the company of children as much as possible, in an attempt to retrieve a seemingly lost innocence. I invited him for a final time to the river bank by my house, and Barito conceded. We walked for a whole afternoon looking at the barges, and on 17the sidewalks that sold silverware, avoiding pellets of the long-eared owl. After that, a couple of years passed by and I had no news of Barito. But eventually learned from other sources that he was spending half the year in Vancouver and the other half in the hometown, imitating an Indian king. While he was at home, the gardener allowed only chosen visitors. His contact and contemplation of the world became threadbare. His doctor who was also his classmate visited him at times and prescribed drugs and potions. He was suffering from an unknown ailment. One day I met a mutual friend at the airport and he told that Barito suffered an internal hemorrhage while driving but had escaped fatality. And now he is convalescing and is able to carry along his 18routine. I wrote to him. He wrote back if I could make his home, my next stopover. It was a tremendously beautiful letter, better than all the good books I had come across. In this epistle, he had recollected some old tales. There was neither morbidity nor philosophy. And he mentioned a few old jokes too. I wrote back that we will write a joint autobiography and perhaps some youngster will find it thrilling. I am waiting for his reply. ..........................................................  19
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