Lopa—short for Lopamudra—bent forward to place the petri dish of live cells on the mechanical stage of the light microscope, not spilling a single drop of the nutrient liquid.
It was evening and her eyes were already red from the exertions of the day; and once she had switched on the light switch of the microscope, her eyes hurt even more. She looked in through the eye piece of the microscope. But all she could see was a blur akin to sunset. She began turning the screws that would adjust the height of the stage of the microscope. And then Lopa began to focus the objective lens upon the petri dish, finally obtaining an image both sharp and clear.
The cells were wiggling around in the dish. The largest cell was positioned almost in the middle, with a nucleus bloated out at the centre rather like a flower’s receptacle. Lopa screwed up her eyes and observed this one. It appeared to have arms radiating outwards, like the firelit petals of a French marigold soused in wind and rain. And the adjoining cells were a shade of honey, flecked here and there in the yellow of a Tuscan sun, deepening into a scarlet glow towards the right end of the petri dish.
This is how the tourist brochures describe it: “A beautiful island with blue skies.”
When you live here you don’t look for the blue in the sky every morning. You look for grey, for blue tinged with the heaviness of cloud, you look for signs that the day will not be one of unremitting, ceaseless sun, that it will not be a day perfect for sitting by the sea, but a dull, overcast day good for walking – walking and standing and waiting in a place where waiting has become a part of life.
You wake at five. At that time the power cuts haven’t kicked in. There is tea but no milk because milk powder disappeared from the shops a while ago. You use a wood fire now because you have run out of gas and supply has been erratic for weeks. You remember how the blue flame used to emerge when you switched on the gas cooker and how you took it for granted then.
You wore green that day. No, actually you wore many colours at once, I wrote green just because one has to start somewhere. You wore green like the time you first told me devastating things about yourself. Of course you don’t remember, why would you, it was nine years ago! You liked that dress a lot, didn’t you? Bright, blinding green, the kind of green parrots wear. Do you still have it? Is it yours, or did you inherit it from someone? I like to think you bought it just for yourself, that its young cotton body has never known any other body but yours, and it sleeps somewhere in your wardrobe blessed with the peace of belonging to you alone. But I digress.
You are looking at a painting. Medium: oil. Size – relatively large, an appropriate frame for pristine historicals, for portraits of kings, conquerors, maybe a god or two. The pigments are monotone, warm, mostly reds, hints of browns, greys, blacks.
It is the reds that aptly tell the story.
It isn’t clear to you what the painting is about. It sits in a corner of the museum, away from the noise of the its travelling exhibition that had stumbled into town at the end of the year without a trackable name, a head or a leader, someone to take the pamphlet up to and question why the artworks have no name, why this wing in particular is devoid of art that complements its tones, its mood, why there is no plaque or sign that might make decoding it easier, might provide some solid footing, because the painting is neither one thing nor the other.
It is an abstract, and it isn’t; there is an attempt at establishing a landscape.