The time parrots stood still

From PhalkeFactory

The Time Parrots Stood Still

The tendrils of pre dawn light filtered in through the blinds. A heady scent of musk lingered in the air. She turned on her side in half awake blurriness and could vaguely make out coloured blobs floating in front of her eyes. Red, turquoise, yellow flickering and flashing around a few feet away from where she lay. For a second her sleep fogged mind was unsure of what it was and she sat upright in the bed. It was the glass aquarium at the far end of the room lit by a dim lamp. In those strange moments we have of sleepy lucidness she started to think about how the fish slept but these thoughts soon faded away and she proceeded to drag herself out of the bed with thoughts of facing the day looming ahead. All of a sudden she remembered yesterday and she felt the room start to spin around her. It had all started with the knock on the door of her small apartment on the outskirts of Baroda. She remembered that it was a wintry morning with the soft glowing light of diffused winter sunlight. She went to the door and peeped through the spyhole. There was no one there. The knock came again a bit more assertive and impatient. She hesitated but was curious – many people didn’t often knock on her door at that time of the morning. So having her fair share of bravado and intrigue propelled her hand towards the lock and she swung the door open. She gasped. At the door was a dwarf, immaculately dressed in a white salwar kameez with a glittering red turban on his head. On his shoulder sat the greenest parrot she had ever seen. The parrot held something in its beak. Taken aback, for a moment she didn’t know what to do. The dwarf gestured as if making to come in. Should she let him in or not. Thoughts flashed through her head – she was ready, her next appointment was much later that morning and she had the time. Besides, if there was any funny business she could certainly handle this diminutive intruder. She asked him to come in gesturing vaguely with her hands. As he stepped into the hallway the parrot as if on cue flew off his shoulder and into the living room. It was as though it seemed to know its way about the place. She closed the door and led the way into the living room. He followed mutely. He politely waited till he was asked to sit down. He perched on a chair his feet dangling about a foot off the ground. He gestured to her to sit down too. She enquired if he would like a drink of water to which he replied with a hand gesture signalling that he could not hear or speak. Her face gave away the pity she felt for such misfortune to have befallen someone – a double whammy of genetic malfunction and birth. So with gestures she asked the same question again and he nodded in the affirmative. She came back into the room to find him gesticulating wildly to the parrot who by now was perched on the edge of the dining table. A parrot who understands sign language! Amazement lit up her face as she watched this scene. She brought the water in and sat down. The parrot flew towards her and dropped the thing it was holding in its beak in her lap. It was small envelope. She opened it and pulled out the tissue thin piece of paper inside. It looked like some kind of invitation. From the corner of her eye she noticed the dwarf gesticulating again. She observed that his hands moved most gracefully and fluidly, every finger oscillating on an axis of its own. Finally they came to rest on his lap. She wished she could understand what he was saying. The invitation perhaps would explain. It read – “Today is the day when time starts to warp, we suspend infinity and try and hold it in our hands. We have heard that you as a photographer can do such things with your camera and we humbly request your presence to document our ceremony. Name and address time etc. Our messenger cannot speak but you may ask simple questions of the parrot”. She looked towards the parrot who in the meanwhile had flown to the clothesline on the balcony and was proceeding to execute a most intricate series of gymnastic displays. A tightrope walk, a head stand, a complex series of twirls and spins in the air landing precisely on the line each time. Every moment was a revelation for her. Her imagination, her profession, her curiosity couldn’t let her pass up on such an opportunity, certainly not. With as clear gestures as she could she explained that she would be there and to confirm she also told the parrot in simple terms that she had accepted the invitation. The dwarf seemed to understand and politely stood up bowed and motioned to the parrot. She let them out and went back into the living room to carefully put away the invitation. She needed to process some pictures from her shoot the day before. Lazily she headed towards the darkroom, the mornings events being too much to digest and for her to focus. In the darkroom she begins the usual procedure of unloading the film etc. etc. and begins processing. In the red darkroom light she starts to look for the images in the tray. A look of perplexity and then horror comes over her face. “These are not the images that I took yesterday” she says to herself. A disfigured face develops slowly from the film. It is contorted and twisted and fades in and out of focus, it starts to crack up and then fade away. Suddenly the image turns to black and another image seems to be growing out of it. It is an image of a clock which starts to warp. Her thinking mind is reminded of a painting but her astonishment and fear at these strange images are obvious. She rushes out of the darkroom and into the bedroom to find her camera. She notices that the lights in the fish tank are flickering madly, water bubbles are frothing to the surface wildly and the fish seem to be in a frenzy. She switches off all the power to the aquarium and collapses on the bed with her head in her hands. She stays like that for a few minutes. Then she remembers the invitation and rushes into the living room. It is where she left it but it has turned into an intricate jigsaw puzzle which she has to put together with her trembling hands. She realises that she has about an hour to get someplace far away. She snatches up her things, grabs her camera and car keys and rushes out. At the car she notices that there are many parrots performing swooping flights in the air above her. They seem to be talking and mimicking her. Her fear seems to intensify more and more. She drives off jerkily. The drive is uneventful but scary as she is not fully in control. The address takes her through a main road with a street lined with malls. She sees distorted and alien images in the immaculate shop fronts. There is in contradiction a small hutment of performers and labourers also along the way. She takes in the breadths of a cityscape and feels the two are un-reconcilable or are the two opposites of a composite whole. The road finally leads into a small tree lined village road. A huge lake full of lotuses comes into view and she realises she is near her destination. She stops by the edge of the lake and parks her car. The water seems to shimmer like a silvered mirror and she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirrored lake. She is astonished that there is no reflection of herself. The trees are reflected but not her. She reluctantly puts her hand into the water. She feels something hard and geometric and picks it up. It is a prism. Or a prism shaped crystal. She looks up at the sky through the prism and all she sees is a rainbow hued clock. As she walks towards the small concrete construction she finds that there are no other people there. Continuing to walk towards the building she sees the dwarf and the parrot. They see her and beckon to her. She suddenly finds her hands moving in strange movements but she finds that they are making some meaning. She is asking the dwarf why she is there. He asks her to follow him. The parrot flies to her shoulder and asks her to show her hand to him which she does and she drops a tiny little watch into it and flies off. They arrive at the small construction and she gasps. It is completely covered wall to wall with the most bizarre and beautiful clocks. The dwarf signals to her to hurry and she does. He motions her to stand by him and gestures towards the sun. She notices it is exactly midday. The sun seems to loose its wintry feel and gets hotter and hotter. As she gazes at this clock shrine the whole place starts to shimmer like a mirage. The clocks start to whirl around madly. At the side the shimmering lake also heaves with waves. The reflections of the trees distort. She remembers her camera and in spite of her fear starts to click away. The clocks start to bend and distort and she remembers her developing image of the morning. The parrot is flying round her. She pulls out the watch he dropped in her palm and sees that it is now simply a mirror – all she can see in it is solar eclipse. Also, she can now only read the time by the sun reflected in the watch mirror. After she finishes her photographs she finds herself explaining to the dwarf that she is leaving. He tells the parrot that she must bring a clock as an offering but she seems to understand his hand gestures still and finds herself gesturing back that she will come by the evening with the clock and the photographs. She drives home and collapses for a while on the bed. It’s dusk when she wakes up. She rushes to the developing room and starts to process the film. Similarly to before, as the film begins to develop, she sees that each negative is covered with the words “You can’t trap time”. She is perplexed, astounded and horrified. She remembers her promise to bring the photographs and the clock to the clock shrine. She goes out and buys the clock and drives back to the lake. The route is the same but the mall windows have dimmed and the villages are quiet and contemplative. She wishes she could find such stillness in herself. She keeps driving and she arrives at the spot where the lake is. The lake is a placid normal lake now but there is no shrine, no dwarf and no parrot.

Leela Mayor Baroda 19th August 2006