Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 DNA-OUT OF PRINT Short Fiction Finalist: Tanuj Solanki

Reasonable Limits
Tanuj Solanki

I had that chronic neck pain that you get from working too much on the computer, but all else was fine, in the sense that I was doing okay financially and had a stable job and was fairly settled location-wise and all, yet all these things as a composite felt like a lumpy contradiction, feeding a kind of unwellness that was close to boredom while being defined in its difference from boredom, so it wasn’t a great time for me and I felt life wasn’t really giving me what I wanted from it, so yes it was probably a bad time, yes, and I had some nomad-type friends who used to come to my house to spend a night or two, you know the smart You-Only-Live-Once people who do not hold a job for too long and who do not worry about a house and an insurance and other such things, such friends, and those friends of mine would urge me, over drinks that were bought exclusively with my money, to do things like they did things, to let go and basically discover my physicality or whatever, be Rimbaud or whatever, to see the world as much as I could: But please don’t do it from the balconies of good hotels, okay? : et cetera et cetera, and after hearing my friends I would feel compelled to outline the advantages of my position, the merits of obeying the order despite criticising it, I would defend my place in the world, the unique coordinates of my independence, my committed cultivation of a life of the mind, and in my excitement I would sometimes posit that a life of the mind could only be cultivated around creature comforts, at which my friends would start their giggling; they would giggle because my AC would be running and my refrigerator would be humming and my mutual funds would be ticking, yet I would be the one with the dead eyes in those nights, I would be the soul in stasis, I would be the weakest bulb on the tree, so to say, the gist of the system, if you may, and so I guess it is not much to reveal that whatever I said to those fuckers only made me little in their eyes, and instead of giving me the solaces of what was, only led me back to the bleakness of what really was, which is not to say that I saw the bleakness as bleakness, as cent per cent bleakness, for that couldn’t be possible, I mean I had a routine, I had work, I had to go to office five days in a week, I worked in a life insurance company, I wasn’t doing badly there either, and the company was doing well, in fact, so the bleakness was not really as absolute as I make it sound, but some things had led to dark sentiments, for example there was that gnawing story, always, that horrible story I had heard at work, the story of blood on paper, the story that I’d been told by the guy from Operations, about the frequent blood stains on the document scans received by Ops, the story that this guy had told me one day just in passing, which he started by informing me how any life insurance application needs to be appended with a slew of customer documents which are all collected and stapled together by the salesman, which are all excessively stapled in multiple places by the salesman because that man doesn’t want anything to be lost in transit and then have to ask the customer for it again, which seems only logical, and so the documents come excessively stapled and then have to be digitised because it would just be unwieldy and unwise to rely on paper throughout the processing of any life insurance proposal, so the documents have to be sent to an outlet that can scan them all, a scanning vendor, an enterprise that hires people to de-staple the excessively stapled documents, an enterprise that gets paid depending on the number of sheets it scans per month, an enterprise that therefore incentivises its own people on the number of sheets they can scan per hour, an enterprise whose employees soon figure out that using any tool other than their own fingers to de-staple a thick sheaf of documents is a loss of time and money, the employees who therefore start using their own fingers for de-stapling as standard operating procedure, whose hurried fingers thus bleed as standard operating procedure, whose blood stains the sheets to be scanned as standard operating procedure, and so on it goes day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day and then again, and at this point of the story’s telling the Ops guy got a gleam in his eyes and a shine on his balding pate, he was happy that he had scandalised me, and that was not a mistake, for I was scandalised, I was in fact hurt and scandalised, and he surely saw something in my eyes for he then tried to calm me by reminding me of the good work that I was doing, reminding me that my project – of giving each salesperson a mobile application to capture customer documents as images – would mean that there would be no scanning required, that if my project succeeded there would be no blood on paper because there would be no paper necessary, and I was surprised because I hadn’t thought that that was the real importance of my work, and for a few seconds I allowed myself to be happy, till I understood that with my success, not only would there be no paper, there would be no scanning vendors, which was the real logical reason why the company wanted me to succeed, to not have to pay those vendors, because stapling was anyway easy to avoid, the sales guys just had to be instructed to use easily removable clips for each file that they made, but when I succeeded there would be no scanning vendors and there would be no employees whose job it would be to de-staple paper, and all those people with their horrible fingers, who had done nothing in the big city but pushed their nails against sharp metal, would be out on the street with nothing to do and nothing to learn, nothing to do other than showing their fingers to the sun and peeling the scabs off them, and it was thinking of those people whose fingers knew only piercing and bleeding that I would be disturbed at my workplace, and this disturbance added to the bleakness that I’ve talked of, a bleakness that was also being contributed to, in part, by the fact that the story was after all a clich├ęd story – the well-worn, age-old story of how an advancement in technology must mean that some people fall into irrelevance – a story whose persistence was a bigger problem than the contents of any single version of it, and I did not feel guilty of my own participation in it as much I felt frustrated in the face of the hard truth that even if I were to extricate myself from this particular narrative, the elsewhere I would go to would in turn bind me in a new way, impose on me another damning mode of participation, where essentially the same story would tap me on my shoulder and hand me my specific role in it, and on nights with YOLO friends it was this inextricability that I wished to impress upon everyone, my buttoned down inextricability and their happy-go-lucky inextricability, for there was never a doubt in me that they too were participating, their versions of youth also had a price, they too consumed and produced, they too had no escape from eating the things and wearing the things and drinking the things that someone somewhere was scraping their nails to get made, just as mine was making the things that would put that nail scraper out of his job, which meant that all in all there was no cosmically correct way to be on this earth and all you could do was be aware of what you were really doing, acknowledge its painful by-products, and keep at it, and keeping at it was what I would be doing, for I wasn’t a revolutionary either, I knew that living in the Yellow Pages was better than living in the crispy pages of History tomes, so I kept at it and looked at possible absolutions, I looked for inspiration online and I started reading Wikipedia articles at work, only to realise that the denudation of my soul played its role here too, veering me away from what may be called general inspirational stuff and leading me to historical articles, articles detailing the cruelties of the past century, articles that described the magnitude of pain humanity had delivered and endured, and needless to say the Holocaust cast the biggest shadow among twentieth century catastrophes, which is to say that I read a lot about it, pondering grand theories about State-sanctioned torture and death, and I thought about small silly things as well, such as whether Holocaust studies today could cover a peculiar tenwty-first century phenomena which may be titled ‘How extensive reading about the Holocaust impacts one’s evaluation of the Contemporary Arts’, which means that one can’t really watch a well-made movie about the complications of romantic love after reading this sentence: The Nazis took in a batch of Jews, had them stripped, had them stand in adjacent rows, shot down the front ones from such proximity that a single machine gun bullet killed the entire row, then pushed the bodies in the ravine, covered them up with mud, stepped down to shoot at anyone still squirming, and then called the next batch in : so such miseries hounded me, to the extent that the faculties that help us differentiate between one thing and the other began to be filed away in my case, things began to lump into each other, such that the workers with the leprous fingers seemed to me no different from the murdered Jews, one suffering dissolved into another suffering, contemporary became historical and vice versa, and I starting having weird dreams, such as the one in which I found myself in a huge field of corn or wheat, in a desolate field of corn or wheat, where a silent UFO cleaved the sky, a restful UFO, well-lit phallus of the extraordinary, and ki-ki-ki went my heart; I still kept my chin up though, I drank with friends, found critical paths of critical projects at work, played my own powerlessness day in day out, while there remained pockets of my life that I liked, even enjoyed, but the heaviness would always return, I would always think of those bleeding fingers, or would end up reading a sentence like: The disposal of corpses was hard work and required managerial acumen : and there were no lasting distractions for me even in any dull love that I tried fostering with a couple of ladies, and I followed the war in Syria, I paid attention to all reports of sexual crimes in India, I watched Youtube videos of American mass shootings, I read the bigotry of reader comments on Op-Ed pieces, I ate a lot of pizza, and I shrank and shrank on some incomprehensible dimension, realizing that the world was an inferno with only a few cool mirages, that there was only pure danger in ‘getting out there’, that my friends were wrong, that my friends’ favorite writer Kerouac was wrong too, that great Roman candles that burn magnificently actually just burn away, and we all need to find a bed, and for as much as possible we all need to follow the injunction of waking up tomorrow in our own bed, in our cocoons of peace and laziness; we can and should continue our hiding, if it is that.
Tanuj Solanki lives and works in Mumbai. His stories have been published in The Caravan, Out of Print, One Throne Magazine, and numerous others. His first novel will be published in 2016 by Harper Collins India.

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