The condition is called Progressive Myopia. It was exactly what had happened to the brilliant forger Blythe in that 60s classic film â€˜The Great Escapeâ€™. Myopia, as everyone was lectured in biology lectures, was a condition of short-sightedness. The term â€˜progressiveâ€™ implies that with the flowing of sand in that enormous sandglass of time, the condition would simply become more severe. However, it would not necessarily result in total loss of vision.
But he would have preferred to be rendered completely sightless. It could have been, in ways, better than watching the world as an ambiguous blur of colors, shades and shadows, to find faces of handsome men and beautiful women, brutally disfigured and twisted. Better the definite, ultimate, pitch-black darkness than the twilight of ambiguity. The spectacles, now over-used and slightly dented and cracked at the frames, were there to assist him. But when he slipped into them, the world looked flawless, the lines and spheres were perfect, the edges were neat, clothes and colors looked shiny and women looked angular and voluptuous. It was if he had plugged on to the â€˜Matrixâ€™ the fantastically virtual la-la-land which only served its purpose, confining the people within a dungeon of hope and utopia.
The world was coming to an end today, no tonight. Today, the Mayans had predicted, the world would end. Asteroids and meteors would rain down upon the earth and cities would be flooded. Bah! You can blame it on Hollywood instead of the ancient Mayans. Today, through those spectacles, the doomsday would look like a disaster movie, with spectacular explosions and there would be enough despair, deaths and darkness. And by god! He hated disaster movies!
â€˜Do you read a lot?â€™
â€˜Yes, I read a lot actuallyâ€™ he replied tersely.
â€˜Do you use the computer often?â€™
â€˜Yes, I do use itâ€™ he said after a moment of hesitation.
â€˜Well, you are very young. But I am afraid that your eyes are not in tip-top conditionâ€™.
Dr. Sandeep Singh was touted as one of the noted ophthalmologists (simply called eye doctors) in the city. This was not a professional opinion but an opinion shared by neighbors who knew him well. Dr. Singhâ€™s clinic was located in one of those buildings in J.B Nagar that are collectively known as Greenland Apartments. The apartments were equipped with creaking elevators and security guards alternately glued to their Neelkamal plastic chairs and at times tossing wrapped-up betel leaves bursting with yellow-white lime and blood red juice. The ground floors- so necessarily a feature of almost all buildings in Mumbai- had been accommodated by shopkeepers-industrious people who had transformed one-bedroom flats into smart shops with gleaming floors and glass shelves and racks with large platters of diamond-shaped barfis and juicy, soft, rasagullahs bobbing in sugary gravies. There were other shops as well- garment boutiques with tiny trial rooms and other boutiques with hidden beauty parlors when women- of all ages- came to get their upper-lip hairs plucked and more.
Then, there were interestingly, some shops that sold spectacle frames and contact lenses. These too were in, as Dr. Singh would put it, in tip-top condition. The bush shirt-clad shopkeepers coaxed the customers into buying the latest frames carrying designer labels. â€˜Yeh Aap Par Bahut Jajegaâ€™, or â€˜Yeh Latesht Design Hai Madamâ€™.
It was then when he bought his first spectacles, back 12 years ago. He made a big fuss over what he would like to buy. Eventually, without much knowledge and taste, he chose the chunky spectacles like the ones that Christopher Reeve wore in â€˜Supermanâ€™. Did superheroes also have myopia?
â€˜This is the End, beautiful friendâ€™ he sung, with his beautiful friend sitting by his side. Rachna wore thick-framed glasses like the ones that Woody Allen wore. On her wheat-colored face, there were bright-pink pimples and a distinctively black mole on her left cheek. She was not one of those who styled up her hair like Bollywood and Hollywood actresses but rather wore it loosely. But for his eyes, or rather his myopic eyes, she looked beautiful precisely because she was as imperfect, flawed, messed-up and unpunctual as he was.
â€˜My only friend, the End, of all our elaborate plans, the Endâ€™, he continued singing that Jim Morrison classic, immortalized by the scenes of chopping helicopter blades and palm forests being bombed by napalm in the movie â€˜Apocalypse Nowâ€™. Today, as the day would unwind, the deceased rock angels- Lennon, Morrisson and Dylan would go berserk with their guitars and other instruments to create a real havoc. The skies would explode with the napalm of the heavens. If this was the way the world would end, it would be not a bad end at all.
But no, fear was creeping in and he felt nervous. He was singing merely to keep up his spirits before the skies come falling. He continued, now, his voice cracking at the edges. â€˜I will never look into your eyes again. Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free?â€™ Rachna broke the reverie with one of her repeated queries â€˜Is it really today? Is it true that the world will come to an end?â€™
â€˜Yesâ€™ he said tersely, feeling the same way as he did in Dr.Singhâ€™s underlit eye clinic.
â€˜Does this mean that I donâ€™t get to get rid of my pimples and I was also thinking of doing fringes like those that Katrina Kaif has. What now?â€™ she asked, fear making her face look pale.
He laughed. It was somehow funny. The world was coming to an end. And all people could think of was their forgotten dreams and aspirations. They were all coming down. Rachnaâ€™s hopes that she would ever look as pretty as her smartly dressed counterparts were all being crushed by the weight of destruction.
They had walked to their current spot which was known widely throughout Bombay as Bandstand. It is the western side of that buzzing and busy part of Mumbai that is called Bandra. They had walked all the way from Hill Road, where you may not find any hill but you can find piles of people-all shopaholics-rummaging through the wares sold by the insistent hawkers on both sides of the streets. Fake designer labels, fake wristwatch brands, sandals and heeled shoes made of plastic, all make for a colorful display on both sides. There are larger shops as well which twist, turn and are as crammed up as the narrow streets of faraway Calcutta. Walking from Hill Road, one can come across the perfectly preserved churches and chapels and nice bungalows snugly surrounded by palm trees. Then, a bit of right and left, one can find oneself facing the Promenade that opened up to the sea. One can find idlers, dopers and rowdies and half-naked kids tumble out after defecating in the open. But everyone in Bombay knows what purpose the seaside serves- to the lovers, it is the perfect place for them to kiss and wrap their arms around each other.
With a flash, he remembered the Frankie that he was eating. He remembered the man who was selling Frankies. He was bald wearing a dirty T-shirt with black stripes running across the T-shirt. His moustache was thick and fierce. Often, the buzzing flies perched on its edges as if to relax after flying in circles. With flies on the edges of his moustache, it looked as if his moustache had become thicker. But he busied himself with making the Frankies- pouring a piping hot gravy of chicken and onions on a freshly baked flat paratha. It was if he too was aware of the importance, exclusivity of that last Frankie on the last day of his life.
They were seated now on the Promenade. But his head continued to buzz and his myopic eyes continued to be fixed on the rest of the city spreading out in front of him, across the waters like a portrait. Nearby was the homely abode of a reigning, though ageing, Bollywood superstar, who in his heyday was known for the stammering chuckle that sent shivers down the spine. Now, in his middle-ages, he had started looking remarkably like the Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon complete with sunken dimples on his face. He wondered what would that actor, that screen god, would be thinking of now.
â€˜It is coming now, na? I can almost feel it. Yaar, it is not even evening and it is happeningâ€™ Rachna said as the ground began to tremble.
He suddenly woke up from his thoughts with a start. It was happening then. The world was about to come to an end. The sky was shining with sunshine so bright as if the sun was going to explode. The ground was already shaking and trembling as if wrecked by a thousand tremors. He felt new fear grow on him- this was it! The world was really coming to an end. He did not want to die-not so young. He turned to Rachna who was now crying openly, tears sliding out of chunky glasses and he bent a little to kiss her, to comfort her. But as he did so, their spectacles banged against each other and they both started to laugh, tears of both amusement and sorrow pouring like the first shower of rains in the city.
They stood there waiting the end while the tremors only became more severe. The tremors now reached a crescendo and now! Yes now! It would be now that the earth would split and crack up and they stood there with eyes shut to the oblivion, to the Great Unknownâ€¦.. And then the tremor passed away- it dimmed away slowly and steadily and suddenly it was not there anymore. It died away, rolling away and dying like and old man who had too much of the world. And the sun began to set as it always did and the sky began to fadeâ€¦..
They opened their eyes. No, it was not the end. Not the end of the world as they had expected, feared. It was the end of something else. It was a new beginning.
As they looked now, marching ahead on the Promenade was a crowd- an angry crowd. It had to be a protest. It was marching away and away from them and the collective flames of candles in hands of people burned like a raging fire. There was rage, there was fury, and there was unrest of having been betrayed. Everyone was in a fit of temper and they marched on.
His-no, their myopic eyes struggled to get a proper sight of the posters that the protesters carried.
â€˜What is it? Thank god, we are saved. But what are they doing? What is written on those posters? Rachna asked, grateful to be alive and talking.
â€˜I canâ€™t see very well. They are too far and I donâ€™t know even my spectacles seem to be dirty or somethingâ€™ he said in total confusion trying to clean his spectacles with a fold of his T-shirt.
Then he saw. He saw clearly, definitely, without ambiguity. Faraway, as if by a miracle, a name blazed on one of the posters that the protesters carried. The name cried out â€˜We want justice for Nirbhaya!â€™
And then he realized. â€˜This is the End. My Only Friend, the Endâ€™. The end of tolerance, the end of reason, the end of apathy. It was the beginning- the beginning of the fire of protest-of anger, of cries for justice and freedom.
And then he knew. He had recovered his eyesight back againâ€¦â€¦.