Architects of ancient times saw to it that along with buildings built for human inhabitation, there were also those that were built for no real apparent purpose. The rooms of these buildings scarcely allowed for a man or woman of average height to enter. If one did somehow manage to slip inside, one would suffocate under the oppressive lack of light and unexpected joints and corners of the furniture. The articles of the furniture, however, have neither been archived nor inherited, and hence we know very little about them.
In many cities, one found such buildings situated in the very heart of the marketplace. They were precursors to the high-rise tower by virtue of their unexpected height. If one did enter, one would find one’s own body badly shaped and contorted, the breasts too large, the stomach too round. As a result, one would be compelled to imagine a very different kind of human being.
It would be almost meaningless to imagine what these buildings must have looked like. For all you know, one might have differed from the other drastically. It is also possible that some might not have recognized these buildings as buildings. To try and draw them would be impossible.
All was now well, until an unexpected, hitherto unseen disaster came from outside, not from something we had caused, a disaster that resembled a miracle. The city’s buildings were reduced to forms unprecedented in the course of all known natural disasters and even bombings. As a result, one could legitimately argue that an event of this kind didn’t really take place in the way events do but happened in a time that has not yet surfaced.
An old woman took a pencil out of her pocket and tried writing something. It was a story about an old woman but she wanted her character to be nothing like her. To achieve this, the old woman walked out of her apartment and started behaving like a child. And it was in this way that she wrote about her childhood.
She imagined herself as a little girl, standing on a street, looking just like an old woman. Pedestrians passed her by, asking her all sorts of questions, but this girl was too little to understand. One little girl even asked her what it felt like to be an old woman. She stared into the sky, hoping for an answer. Some asked for directions to a faraway market, but no one had ever taken this little girl there before. An old man proposed to her, to whom she said that he was too old. This little girl spent her whole life on this street, even though she had a beautiful ancestral home close by. She was well fed, though she didn’t work for a living and had severed all connections with her family and friends. It was, however, well known that she was in loving terms with them, even though they never spoke. This little girl somehow thrived quite comfortably till extreme old age without the slightest pain or effort.
She hadn’t left her home in years and when she walked out, she realized that the city had grown old. The buildings, which she had grown up with, were falling apart, some looked like old women. And there were new buildings, skyscrapers, high-rise towers. The old woman had never in her life felt so short before.
As she had grown older, her legs had stopped working, so she replaced them with artificial ones. Soon, she wasn’t all that old anymore.
Instead, she was young.
She kept on down the street –the street was narrow and thin, the only sound was those of her mechanical legs–and reached a point where there were apartments without any windows, rooms, balconies, doors–apartments made because someone just felt like building something. She soon reached her own apartment. She clambered up the stairs. She hadn’t received a visitor in years and it had nothing to do with her appearance.
This woman was very young. She was also very tall and liked to wear boots with heels. Slowly the heels of her boots started to flake off. She was also no longer tall.
She never left her apartment because she felt the danger of the street traffic. She lived in a city whose name she occasionally forgot. This young woman, who never left her apartment, slowly lost all signs of her youth.
A group of young children were told by their teacher to construct a building. Some children got to work right away, building out of nothing, pasting their drawings, diagrams and descriptions on the class wall. The more contemplative ones sat and thought. Some fell asleep and woke up just in time to have their lunch that had grown cold. Some were overwhelmed by the nature of the task. They couldn’t imagine how someone could be so precise and unfaltering to make something as sturdy and large as a building. A drawing of a building or even a diagram was still alright. So long as this enterprise remained only on paper, it was harmless.
There stands alone an empty apartment building made of thick concrete and with no windows. Some of our town’s inhabitants think that a building such as this speaks of the times to come and the only reason no one dares live there right now is because no one understands it yet. How can they, for it exists in the future, perhaps we will never catch up to it.
And even if we do, it will no longer be a building of the future then, for by that time such buildings would be everywhere and it will already be too late.
Down the road there is a building designed in such a way that none of its residents can bump into each other, even if they wanted to. Each apartment has its own entry and exit way.
The possibility of a chance encounter is, however, conceivable outside the building’s premises, but not immediately outside, for the building’s outside is still a part of its essential architecture. Leaving one’s apartment building in this case is essentially tantamount to being suddenly deposited or dumped into the city center. Long tunnels that start at each main door lead to different stations scattered across a small radius that constitutes the city center. The city itself is small, its suburbs, however, large.
The chances of the building’s residents meeting at one of these stations is also quite small, for they are not indicated as such and one anyway ends up quite swiftly to be among a moving traffic, so much so that one almost forgets how one even got here in the first place. The building, however, bears a name, so it is possible that people living there might meet somewhere else and speak of the building. They might, however, find it difficult to do so in familiar terms, for each one most likely will have a different building in mind. As a result, there is nothing to prevent them from imagining that there might be another building with the same name somewhere else in the city.
All this is, however, unimportant, for no one really experiences this building. One spends most of one’s time lost in its tunnels.
Ever since the architect decided to break this building down and redesign it, it has been perpetually under construction. Each time it is rebuilt, the workers are forced to destroy it. They say that it is because the building never changes its appearance, no matter how hard the architect and workers labor. Once erected, it always looks the same. The workers, however, always find that the fallen bricks they collect from the rubble are never the same ones they used to construct the building.
The construction of this building is without a goal. The purpose is merely to lay brick upon brick and keep building without a definite end along the march of progress, traversing centuries where workers, workers’ children, grandchildren and later generations assume their new posts when old enough to start working on the construction site.
By virtue of lasting such a protracted length of time, workers initially begin to make mental footnotes when working on certain parts of the building that are reminiscent of parts made, at times, a few hundred years earlier. Slowly, however, especially from one generation to the next, such references get lost. Often a wall that was built in the 15th century resembles another built a few hundred years later.
At times, workers start a new day of work on a wall that is over a century old, a wall that undoubtedly has been repeated innumerable times, perhaps its most recent manifestation constructed only a few days ago. It is precisely for this reason that the workers don’t tire of this building; for them it is always new.
During its construction, one would often find little children loitering about the compound, chipping away with little pick-axes at bricks that comprised some of her walls. The architects and workers, seeing no real threat, allowed the children to enjoy their games and let it continue through the many years during which the shopping mall was under construction. When it was only partially complete, most of these children were no longer little and had long since abandoned the building. A new generation of children were soon seen on the construction site. Once the building was complete, however, this new shopping mall looked already as if it were going to ruin. The architects and workers could have never foreseen what this slow hacking away of little hands would bring.
As is usual with constructing a building, it is built upon a foundation, brick by brick. This building, however, refused to be built. Its owner had to call for architects to find a solution. They all eventually, however, abandoned the building; an architect even told the owner to satisfy himself with a question instead, why at every step of construction was one left with only a memory of failure, why did the workers feel that that were destroying something.
It is said that there will come a time when there will only be ruins, and there have been several moments in the course of the last few thousand years, and conceivably more, where people have thought that that time has already arrived but have been left disappointed, for although there has been considerable destruction, life somehow has breathed again.
As a result, people have begun to become wary of such thinking, so much so that all premonition of this terminal destruction has yielded already a few generations of joke telling on the subject and what was once a mainstream feature of popular culture is now being recognized as folklore from the past. People have, instead, begun to contend that although such a time can very well arrive, expressions of nature are so hidden, that this event might not reveal itself to us, in which case it might transpire without us even knowing it, and for that matter might have already happened, or at least might have happened in some other dimension in time, which is why to attempt a chronicle–such as this–charting the origins of how society began to believe in this ultimate ruin, already begins to question its validity, for if it exists in a hidden capacity or in some other dimension of time, it would be impossible for us to speak about it.
The townspeople were initially embarrassed of this new tower that was being built in the very heart of their city, so much so that they felt hesitant to leave their homes during its construction. They did not want to be seen walking about it. Not only did they find that it misrepresented them, they also felt that it went against the current of how they had traditionally perceived progress. But this they realized much later, by the time such buildings had sprouted everywhere. Soon, not only did it become difficult to imagine life without such buildings, people truly felt a sense of pride to belong to such a generation, so much so that when the question to construct something older that had perhaps survived for centuries was brought up, it was met with suspicion, contending that that would mean to go back in time.
The architecture in this town and that of neighboring towns had been essentially the same for almost a thousand years, and then all of a sudden arrived an era that yielded more change in ten years than even a thousand years could (not) produce. This perhaps, however, is not the first time that an era such as this has transpired. It is highly likely that every few thousand years, time suddenly accelerates for a short duration into the future.
After the disaster, all our fears subsided, for everything was now destroyed, which is why parents allowed even their young infants to wander into the ruins–ruins that resembled construction sites– and pile, just for fun, brick upon brick. Now, that it didn’t matter anymore how these bricks were to be assembled, the following generations of our town could do as they pleased with these remains that would last an eternity.
In this building there are rooms with windows, balconies that look outside. There is a kitchen in each apartment. This building is, in fact, well designed and came to being surprisingly quite smoothly, just as planned. Its only shortcoming is that it is only a building, a mere construct of brick and mortar, offering very little else.
GAURAV MONGA is the author of Tears for Rahul Dutta (Philistine Press), Family Matters (Eibonvale Press) and Costumes of the Living (Snuggly Books), a collection of fashion-inspired prose fragments. The excerpt here is from his forthcoming book, Ruins (Desirepaths Publishers). His work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Fanzine, Tammy Journal, Queen Mobs Teahouse, and B O D Y. He is originally from New Delhi, and teaches creative writing and German at schools and colleges. To read more about the author visit: www.gauravmon.ga
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An excerpt from Costumes of the Living in B O D Y
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