The Debater

He looks up.

The stage is lit up brighter than his eyes or spirit can bear. The auditorium is deserted.

He looks down again.

His watch reads 10:30. Another 15 minutes, and the crowd will start spilling in. He fears that their cajoling and catcalling will do nothing to lift his sagging confidence.

He has faith. He has faith in his arguments. He believes that he will be speaking the truth. And does not the truth always triumph?

Perhaps yes. Perhaps no.

He feverishly flips through his notes. They seem to him a garbled collection of nonsensical facts and figures that he secretly despises. He despises them because they are biased towards his arguments. He hates bias.

The audience starts ambling in. Each is engrossed in his own world- a dull hum that accompanies a restless crowd reaches the debater.

He looks up and notices their presence.

They do not notice his.

To them he is an outsider, a non-entity- until, he thinks wryly, he gets up on that stage. His composure returns to him. His anachronism, he realizes, is his greatest source of self-confidence. For years he has been ashamed of it, now, in a moment of clarity, he teaches himself to be proud of the fact. It is a lesson that must last him a lifetime.

He is tired. It is his first debate, and already he is tired of fighting. He eyes the stage nervously. And the shining array of trophies upon it. He realizes that soon he must get up there and speak about _____what? He is terrified. He does not know! He returns to his notes hurriedly, scanning each page with a ferocity that has become a part of his spirit. The rage that has become a part of his philosophy. The anger that has become a part of his existence.

He is the debater.

If he accepts that fact- all else shall follow.

This…..he realizes, is his atonement, his salvation, his destiny.

Now his competitors are striding in. There is a lilt in their walk- a breathless arrogance seems to waft out of their bodies. They walk with the knowledge of previous triumphs. The walk with the confidence of winners. They are all champions in their own right.

The debater realizes, with a shudder, that he is the underdog. His confidence is as impulsive as a little child, so sprightly a moment ago, but when rebuked, hiding beneath his fragile egotism.

He has no glorious past to recount, no tale of victory to be retold. He is a nobody, a pauper impersonating a lord.

They all seem to know it. And, what’s worse, he knows it too.

And then, a blur.

The speech.

The refutations, the paradoxes.

The infallible interjections.

The victory.


They all await the results. He does not.

A few slap him on the back, congratulating him. Some cannot believe he is a debutante. They all know, he will win. The veterans feign pleasure at his victory.

They behave like fucking elitists, he thinks, which is of course precisely what they are. He is wearing his only suit, and his shoe has frays that all the shoe-polish in the world cannot mask.

He is not an elitist. He hopes he never will be.

And yet, he sighs, and yet. Once again, he is within, and without. The crowd is as indifferent to him as they were before the victory. They only behave differently.


The results were announced by the moderator. The runners-up’s were greeted with applause. The winner was announced, but the trophy was never awarded.

The debater had gone.




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Anathema-The Call

There is nothing as wistful as an unfinished letter, or an unanswered phone call. Even more so when you had so much to tell her.

I remember sitting through the hours at night, thinking about the plausibility of time and existence.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

I remember staring at the telephone for hours, promising myself I would pick up on the first ring and tell you I loved you.

I’m surprised you noticed the past tense. But then you would eventually. You would find the past tense buried with my memories….if you happen to come by one of them, you will think, “Oh, this is Rudraneel. The foolish child who loved me.” I suppose I will always be a child to you.

My choices will always seem naïve, my thoughts conspiratorial, my verses meaningless and my proses uninspired.

“Some fine writing in it….but unfulfilled.”

I always wondered what the fuck you meant by that. But I never dared to ask you. Now I understand and wish I didn’t. It was just a made-up word word….a trivial but elegant insult. It didn’t mean a goddamn thing. Because I didn’t mean a goddamn thing to you either. I wish I did. That weakness I call virtue, or that virtue I think weakness draws me back……makes me dial those numbers again. Yours.

Ring Ring. Ring Ring.

I hope you don’t pick up. But you do. And I keep the phone down again.

I remember you asking me,” Do you love me?”

To be honest, I don’t really know what the hell that word means. I never did.

But I lied. Or maybe I didn’t. But from the way things look at present, I think I lied. And lies go a long way. They outlive us, that’s for sure. And I’m sure as hell they will outlive me.

It was always a choice between fighting you and loving you. It didn’t matter, really. Loving you meant fighting you. And I wasn’t prepared for both. But you thought I wasn’t prepared for either.

What matters is that I know now that none of it matters anyway. You are long gone. You were gone long before you left.

Yes I blame you for the fall. I blame you for the rise, the fall, and everything in between.

It’s all right. I will no longer condemn you to my world of echoes and shadows. But I want you to know I remember everything. Things only a poet remembers and longs to forget. A part of you is safe with me. The part you no longer acknowledge or accept. But I know. I always knew. And you hated me for knowing.

Your selfish selfishness has left me an altruist myself. I still wonder how the hell that happened. I still wonder how the hell you happened. But you did.

Hey Delilah. Make me those cheesecakes again will you? Or have you forgotten I liked them? No matter. You have forgotten I liked you.

And you hated cheesecakes anyway.

You have forgotten. But I remember.

I remember. I remember. Ring Ring. Ring Ring.





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Photography: Surya Kiran Dutt

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