Opposite the man with the pen, hung the man who watched his penis.
This man with the pen assumed that was the case, anyway. That man had his back turned, and was clad in a jibba, and nothing else. What else would a man with a pen and an imagination deduce?
This man with the pen, he liked to call himself a work in progress. His maker had bestowed him with a pen that he may complete himself whenever, and in whichever way he pleased. His maker had been the most partial to him – the man with the pen was the least obese of all those who hung on this wall, the least walrus-like. All of them were unsteady assemblages of rolls of fat, skins the texture of millions and millions of dot-penned fractals. There was one woman, buxom, in a Marathi saree. But any of her body parts could be described buxom, and it’s sort of hard to admire a bai with a man’s voice. She was four frames away, and it’s also hard to admire someone far beyond your peripheral vision.
So, this man with the pen was stuck finding a muse in that man with the penis, a mostly blank wall, and his own half-empty self.
A younger he would’ve named that other man other things. Man in a jibba. Or man looking behind his painting. Or man cross with his lover. Or man looking for his pants.
But the man with the pen had overheard some visitors discuss Freud. And he was convinced that in projecting that man as a pervert, he had satisfied his own destiny as a pervert.
So what would he complete the lower half of his body with? A koi fish tail? A throbbing snake? A ladder? An upended anthill? Eagle talons? A lateral inversion of his self so far, like he was the King of Clovers in a deck of cards? Given he had the option, would he have liked to be a freak? Would he give himself robot legs, tree roots, or a vagina?
What was his purpose as art? To be deformed? To reform? To perform? To conform?
He mused as he drew his thighs. Were they too thin to belong to his body? He eyed the man across and shuddered. He wouldn’t forget his bottoms in a hurry. He sighed and filled in the folds of his dhoti. Why had his maker made his top half a corpulent Brahmin with the janeyu? Was he doomed to believe in god? Why was he condemned to a diet of rice, lentils and ghee? Why hadn’t he thought of drawing pants? Or those comfortable drawstring pajamas the gallery keeper wore?
Once he was done with himself, what would he draw in his surroundings? Fat volumes of Literature? The Upanishads, Dostoyevsky, Don Quixote? A temptress Apsara trying to distract him from meaningful penance? More chest hair? Perhaps write something witty addressing the gallery visitors, “What exactly becomes more apparent when you tilt your head like that?”
A gaggle of young female giggles interrupted his meditation. He eyed the facedown, brown papered rectangles in the far corner. New neighbours, he grinned. They awaited a grand opening the next morning.
He’d be a work of art by then.
The man with the pen worked through the night. All that was left to finish, was his left foot. He reached around his thick thighs and shins, grunted, strained, and drew a shaky outline: artfully hidden heel, arched-eyebrow instep, toe after painful toe. Spent with effort, his heavy arms drooped with exhaustion and he dozed off.
The next morning, clinking glasses and escalating polite laughter woke him up. A dense crowd milled about, throwing phrases at each other: “up and coming”, “coming of age”, “marginalized voice”, “dynamic movements”, “fluid strokes”, “stream of consciousness”, “conflicted sexuality”. Through the shifting curtains of people, their swaying hands and sashaying saree pallus, their haloes and sheets of hair, he tried catching a glimpse of his new neighbours.
And then, he saw her.
The blackened-face beauty. Tresses, a moonless night’s tempest. Temptingly married to someone else. Contoured like a complicated, torrid affair. Dimple naveled. Shined-apple shouldered. Ripe breasts, glowing nipples.
Stunned, he dropped his pen. And became the man without much of a left foot.
Something fun I wrote in workshop.