(“Exquisite Corpse: Game of folded paper played by several people, who compose a sentence or drawing without anyone seeing the preceding collaboration or collaborations. The now classic example, which gave the game its name, was drawn from the first sentence obtained this way: The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine.“
–André Breton (Waldberg, 93-94)
If you’ve never played Exquisite Corpse before, here’s how, and here’s why, and here’s the morgue.
This particular corpse was assembled in random fashion; it happened at a party, the laptop was placed temptingly on the balcony, and people wandered by, adding sentences at whim. Jeet Thayil played undertaker, cleaning up the corpse without rearranging its essential features.
The Meaning-Of-It-All Dept: I have no idea, except that it was fun. Go ask these guys.)
THE CLIENT AT 4 A.M.
An exquisite corpse, made April 8, 2006, by Samit Basu Shakti Bhatt Rana Dasgupta Ruchir Joshi Tabish Khair Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan Monica Mody Vivek Narayanan Raveena Rawal Nilanjana Roy Anand Vivek Taneja Jeet Thayil
You are sitting in a bar, alone, and near you two men speak to each other in Bengali, a language you understand. They are talking about you.
Behind their two shining heads, very distractingly, is a birdcage hanging from the ceiling in which lilac birds of a strange and unfamiliar species squawk quite unnecessarily.
You realize that you also understand what the birds are saying—they are speaking Oriya, a language connected to Bangla. But your neighbors have not noticed this, which is normal: Bengalis never notice Oriyas.
The barman comes up to you and says something. To your relief you realize that you cannot understand a word of what he says. This places you at an advantage: you can give him any answer at all.
A parallel narrative: the blue cat prowled on six paws along the walls of the bar’s open terrace.
But before it could leap sideways and sink claws of hot chromium into your not-so-willing flesh, the intrepid but incomprehensible barman whipped out a Mizo shotgun and blew her brains out. (That’s what you think. Actually, the cat wrote off one life to the Great Account in the Sky; it grew jaguar claws and bit that barman in his intrepid but incomprehensible ass. Cats are like that.)
If I quoted Zafar at this point would this story rise in rebellion?
It would not; it would merely ignore you and move on.
Purring madly, the door was flung open by yet another lost buccaneer in search of a shot of java. (Stories change tense; they change person; they grow fangs; they die and come back to life. Stories change, that’s what they do.)
He said: No more, I quit. But what the fuck does quit mean?
To abandon, to leave, to move on, move out, give up, give in?
I had to settle for java, but my nose was frisking for more.
Surely, life has life beyond Alcatraz?
Surely, life has life before empty spaces scream to be filled…
Like milk splashing into a jug,
As for you, sitting in that bar, do you wonder who I am? Do you wonder what was said, what terrible thing?
I wouldn’t if I were you.
I’d just add my sentence and walk into the other room where your wife dances in sweet oblivion.
In that room: a man with a ponytail and a checked shirt, both inappropriate. The look on his face defied the propriety of the landed classes. He refused to leave, insisting, with the resilience of a Mughal tomb, “I’ll stay.”
Not to go is the reason we are here tonight, she said just before she got up to leave. And what could I say except, Don’t? Or: Take me with you.
Amen is the name of this sequitur. Amen is the end of this game’s world. The drinks were cheap, the people unbearably lovely. All of them were here.
What is automatic writing? If it is to follow the flashing of the mind it might only be the door in the night that finds the decent ruse of the manic client, the client at 4 A.M., who sacked the pretty boys, who toasted the unironic corpse with sincere intent.