(A Short Fiction)
For good or for bad, you will never forget your first visit to the garden city ‘Raag’ – yes, you must have heard about it, people talk about it all the time. It is a strange city, you can’t direct anyone to it, it can only be discovered accidentally, and discovered only when you are looking for it in pairs. It is only in pairs that you are allowed entry, for it is a city of pairs. The butterflies, sparrows, and squirrels are all only to be found in pairs. Even the flowers smiling to the sunlight have their faces close together in pairs as if whispering secrets to each other. Raag’s popularity with the poets has made it so attractive to people that everywhere one finds people wandering around in pairs specifically, though often also secretly, looking for it.
Though, at times, found after a great wait and though it is often advised otherwise, the travelers who reach it often seem to be in a rush to explore it all at once. Maybe it is just the excitement at the sight of the city’s impossible beauty – even though the very objects that make the city are most commonplace; it makes travelers behave in new ways with their fellow partners. As if under a spell – needless to say a magical one; glances are stolen, smiles returned, promises made, secrets and kisses shared … and before you know it, you and your co-traveler are building your house in the woods by the lake; resolving never to leave. For what could be better than this joy that seems to promise to never die!
Except some of them leave – because one can’t bear the excitement or because, stupid as it obviously is, one wants to travel on. Those, whose co-travellers have left, must leave too – or find a dark corner in a city that can find beauty only in pairs.
Soon those who had left want to return to Raag. And they do come back with a new co-traveler this time – but the city is no longer there. The woods, flowers, butterflies, sparrows, squirrels and lake are still there and the same; you even recognize that house which you build with your own hands – but the city, it no longer inspires that old ecstasy. You know the convention – the promises, the smiles, the kisses … but now it doesn’t come naturally; at times you are unable to go through it. You rush away wondering whether you were deceived the first time, or if you have lost your way this time. You find yourself leaving the city, shaking your head in refusal to see that city is still same – and, maybe, even already thinking of trying to find Raag somewhere else or perhaps already realizing that you will rather live in denial than admit the truth – that the city is still the same, that it is you who have changed.
- By Sidharth Vardhan
First written as a review and tribute to the Invisible City by Italo Calvino on Goodreads.
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