Spaces, places

elephant batik

Is it possible to imagine that this batik had its origins in a sleigh racing over snow through a frost-laced forest, tinkling bells to the music of Tchaikovsky? Bearing a happy couple bundled in furs, each peering from under their snug chapkas at the wondrous wintry kingdom fleeting by? Somewhere along the way, an elephant from Mughal India crept underneath my hand, and the snows melted away to reveal flowers of a tropical jungle.

But perhaps I have confused the beginnings of this balmy promenade with another dream, now that autumn is here once more, and winter is not far away.

The room is veiled in silence, folds of saris the colors of pandan leaves and conch shell lips. Tendrils of interwoven golden threads climb a trellis of emerald silk, glimmering dimly in crystal drops scattered about like morning dew. A young Tahitian woman’s gaze captured by Gauguin’s brush is reflected in the mirror. Her fragrance has wafted across oceans. Noa noa, a lovely word.

The door opens out into the morning air. A heavy fog the color of bones has enveloped the entire city. From the balcony, one can barely make out the jeweled dome of the Parliament on the other side of the river. A few minutes pass and Parliament disappears. And then go the two spirals of St Anne. And the cylinder that is Hotel Budapest. And the brick chimney of a hospital. The city is a paper screen, darkened now and again by the stroke of a wet brush, before reassuming its unblemished opacity. The city is a paper screen for my shadow theatre.

I’m floating in the Jugendstilbad, eyes lifted toward the vaulted ceiling and painted walls. As steadily as the fountain trickles, they expand and fall away, revealing the misty hills of Lake Garda. Waves lap gently against the wooden pier, where two young girls await the return of a pleasure boat. The boat is rocking like a cradle in the middle of Lake Balaton. A child bravely jumps into the water, buoyed by a bright orange life vest. Orange, the color of hope, like the coat of the royal Bengal tiger hiding under the boat’s tarpaulin, stranded at sea with a boy from Pondicherry. A bigger cousin of the feline now stretched up against the heater, its ginger coat rising and falling ever so softly.

Spaces, places confound, conspire, in the unfathomable depths of an autumn canvas.

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