THERE WAS a time, not long back, when any man with Eleven Kinds of Loneliness on his shelves would invariably get my goat. Then Leonardo came out with Revolutionary Road and my goat saw so much action that the shy little thing that she is, it needed to withdraw back into its pen. With Richard Yates suddenly making a comeback, I had to change my old master. So now it is Walker Percy, Yates’ old rival and winner of the 1962 National Book Award for The Moviegoer. The year as you would remember when Yates made it to the shortlist with Revolutionary Road and bought a new dark blue Brooks Brothers suit that he could ill afford. The Moviegoer, as too you would remember, is that wildly lyrical novel about a young man of means, drifting about looking for that perfect elusive love. So now with Percy as the default setting, the custom range narrowed to include only The Moviegoer and The Last Gentleman, these have been months of relative calm but I know soon my goat is going to be terribly restless, bleat a languorous baa and throwing caution to the winds will fuck the first boy with Atlas Shrugged by his bedside.
Even though I might ride Zafar ragged through the night and even given his morning chubby a quick parting lick, by the evening I will get all inward and depressed. Once more I have let my goat get the better of me. A good girl should set her standards and stick to them. After all, what is there in life if you can’t hold onto your own rules. Not for me the man with the gold card or even the big goat. I want the man with the big book. And since I only go out with literary types, there is rarely any chance of getting assaulted with a gold card. I want the man who, if he can’t write like Auden, has at least read all of Auden. And Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Akhmatova, Cummings, Hemingway, Roth and Yevtushenko, and when I need to gobhasha on my goat, all of Shakti Chattopadhyay, Kaifi and Shamsher Bahadur Singh.
If he then also has a gold card I wouldn’t disqualify him. But reading is a must for goat-getting. A reader in my experience makes for a wonderful goat-getter and is the reason why I go for literary types. They are the ones who invariably find without any moral compass the oasis in the desert for my thirsty goat. A man who has travelled with Emma Bovary through her many amours will find my mood swings merely whimsical and not get alarmed when in the morning as Ritwik brushes his teeth, I walk into the bathroom wearing only my rhinestone alice-band, squat on the toilet bowl with my knees drawn up for show and piss like a horse. Rinsing done, I ask him to lick my bottom. I love the smell of Listerine early in the morning. Or 4 am in the morning, I wake John up with a gentle tug at his now heartbreakingly vulnerable goat and ask him to leave as I have lain awake for the past hour and must now work on my poem or I will slit my wrists through. Even two strong lines will delay the onset of depression. Just a word would do. Fully formed and transparent as glass, which tugs at my heart with small hands of rain. Don’t hug me, don’t kiss me, don’t make me coffee, just leave dear boy.
SLEEPING TUCKED into the wide shoulders of a goodhearted man is wonderful, his arm warm under my Mao Zedong T-shirt, gently cupping my breasts. His Navy Cut breath mixed with my goat musk, the stentorian snores and rolling farts make me thank God for giving us men. And keeping me female.
But solitude in its way can be as satisfying as the sweaty legs around the neck half an hour hump. The calm solitude of early winter, after an intensive morning at work, finally worrying the recalcitrant sonnet to submission and then a celebratory gin and tonic in hand, looking at the austere magnificence of the Qutub Minar through my study window, gives me as much pleasure as tracing my finger from Hriday’s pubis up the trail of downy hair to his navel, that is his line of beauty. It is enough to repress my psoriasis for weeks and I can go easy on the cortisone.
A full grown poem after months, the fallow period finally ends and to celebrate, I take my father out to the new mall in Gurgaon. I love its sparkling anonymity and Zed gets the chance to try out the new boots that I bought for him from Brent Cross. The kind of desert boots that Richard Yates used to wear with his khaki trousers. He wants to check out the new book store on the first floor, to see if they have got Salters’ Light Years. That is how he judges bookshops. I guess he is his daughter’s father. This is how we maintain our standards by. At 80, my father is still a magnificent- looking man who smells as Annie Haider once coyly remarked ‘of morning sunshine mixed with Brut and Amphora red’. He retains still the craggy, weather-beaten profile with its passing resemblance to Irwin Shaw, printed at the back of his 1989 autobiographical novel about the progressive writers movement. Stormy Petrel. His last. At the mall, older women invariably turn and look at him as he passes by. He has resolutely left his walking stick back at home. Women have been doing that to him all his life but he barely notices now. He lost peripheral vision in his left eye due to diabetes a few months back. A huge blow to this man who still likes to look at women in their summer dresses. And Queenie Dhody. He does not find Light Years but is not disappointed. He buys for me the collected Ramanujan and for himself a new weekly that has just come out.
In the Fiat, returning back suddenly near Chattarpur, flipping the pages of the magazine, he turns to me and says, ‘This Arundhati girl really gets my goat.’
‘Ah, Zed, you wish.’ I say to him and in a flash realise that he has done it again, given me my word of the month. A word that taps on my heart with its small hands of rain. Waiting to be let in.
Father has not heard me. He refuses to wear his earpiece when we go out. Ah, the enduring vanity of the alpha male. He looks at the cover of the magazine and continues, ‘This girl is a problem child, just like you.’
His wicked crinkly-eyed smile can still wash away all my despondency in the blink of an eye.
SIDDHARTH CHOWDHURY is the author of Diksha at St. Martin’s (2002), Patna Roughcut (2005) and Day Scholar (2010). Day Scholar was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Prize. He lives in Delhi and works in publishing.