By Sudeep Sen
25 January 2016
The cold tactility of a three-faced glass case.
(The following is an extract from Sudeep Sen’s book Erotext: Desire, disease, delusion, dream, downpur recently published by Penguin Random House India, 2016)
The seductiveness of a slim tall transparent glass tube – the curved silver juices it contains – is such that it makes me forget the news of the birth of a new child. Human life and inert chemical life compete in insidious ways, the same way fact and fiction do, as do desire and disgust, illness and passion.
Like an aria, it is a curious melody, as distinct from harmony – a solo part in a cantata or opera. Its inherent nobility and splendour, its treble and bass create an enigma of its own private architecture.
The mercury in the thermometer rises, gradually and numerically, to a height where human equilibrium can just about balance itself. I stand at its base. The glass chamber rising many storeys above me holds a reservoir of finely granulated liquid that changes its silvery-grey shade in the fading light. Above that, a constriction, then a towering shot of fine tubular glass hoping to reach a degree of sanity at the cost of human heat.
Summer is already approaching outside; my body sweats gently in appreciation. The heat worn by my skin’s surface is nowhere near the heat that is slowly welling up inside me. It takes the lightest of touches, a feather-swivel for it to shoot up the scale. But, at the moment, all is calm as the storm gathers pace.
I am dying for the monsoon rains – but I am caught. Trapped in the wrong longitudes, these wet dreams are dreams that will have to remain un-soaked. The hair on the surface of my skin itches to raise its hood to attract any pheromone in sight. There is a magnetic lull and hush, a loud silent sound of breathing, in different voices.
Platoons of clouds clash softly without any hint of thunder. There are electrical impulses that are waiting, poised to spark. But the perfect noiseless moment is what everyone is waiting for. Only the obtuseness of instrumentation can clarify that, but that would be too intrusive.
The mercury shows its first sign of life – a little trickle, then a tremor, then a surreptitious U-turn past the erectile crystal-tissue. Thereafter, complete freedom. It is at this point that the human’s heartstrings and the chemical’s soul marry perfectly. Each follows the other’s actions, responding on a natural impulse, like the soothing scratchy sound of ice severely eroding under a ballerina’s silver skates. Metal matches metal, breath matches breath, glass matches ice, freezing the heat itself.
I sit – serenely delirious – on the convex tip of the mercury’s crest. All around me is vacuum – and beyond that glass – and beyond that a semblance of life and world. Here the vagaries of temperature do not seem to matter – a sanitised skyscraper holding the elements of inertia and energy. Here I feel particularly buoyant, not because of anti-gravity, but at the hint of rising temperature.
This is the third thermometer I have bought in a day, and yet I cannot trust it. Twice before, the reading shot out beyond the graduated scale itself, hinting either I was heated to the point of insanity or it was a case of the glass’s own neutral impotence.
This time I am determined to get to the heart of it, inside its very core, whatever the consequence. However, when one is caught in the process of creating a grand score, it does not matter what the root causes are. Genesis, like the Christian one, should remain a Buddhist mystery – then all religions can command the private power of the elements themselves.
Molten silver – boiled, cooled, boiled, cooled, boiled, then caressed variously over skin – finds an intimate space that intersects the point of heat – glows, dense and quiet. One knows the gravity of such events, but not their intimacy, not their relationship with follicles that create their own forest fires with their own human climatic changes.
It is these alterations that marry physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics – there is hope in all these – just like the sine curve’s elasticity and predictability, the graph’s nodes are stretched straight on the X-axis, the subjects collude to a point of nullity. At the point of birth, there is the death of the womb itself, but one lives – so there may be hope.
It is at such interstices that art and passion find their true shape. The unknown boiling and freezing points that I hide within myself provide the ultimate enigma that even the most specialised doctors and architects find hard to map. My body is a terrain that defies the contour of safe plotting – indices like Celsius, Fahrenheit, torque are all inadequate – just as bone marrow count, triglyceride, hdl, ldl do not form pretty, explainable equations.
Amid this oratorio, the cold tactility of a three-faced glass case, its triadic ancient constancy, its contained columned virility, provides comfort to my talisman. Sometimes even the most brittle seems to find some soft shape for hope. Silicates form so many forms – but what I like most is their stubborn transparency, their supine pirouettes, like the vicissitudes of mercury – like breathing itself – at least until they last.
~ Sudeep Sen is the author of Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins),
Distracted Geographies, Rain, Aria (A.K. Ramanujan Translation Award) and Ladakh, and has edited the HarperCollins Book of English Poetry.
~ This is an extract from Sudeep Sen’s book Erotext: Desire, disease, delusion, dream, downpur recently published by Penguin Random House India, 2016.