Today, it is a bit trickier to laugh. Glossy paper is getting used for the book covers, and shaky hands can get the ink to shift and create smudges. It is hard not to break out into fitful laughs. But not in this room of five hardworking craftsmen and women. Friday afternoon hours holds this casual indulgence of a tradition – turning on the comedy special dramas on radio. This room is far behind the front office of the local binders and printers. Through a door behind the office, a poorly lit hallway leads to a maze of tiny workshops and storerooms, and this one is at one such turn where you don’t really find and reach but rather accidentally discover it is there. The rooms are named and numbered, though, in rusty plaques hanging at the doorway. This room is called Hand Printing and Binding. Room number ironically smudged. Five people, a team of friends now, each having worked here for over forty years. They are the finest craftsmen when it comes to paper and ink and pressure and printing. They demonstrate skilled craftsmanship in the saddles they stitch and sections they sew. Peering over closely with their headlamps on, as they gently dust the gold ink powder over the stencil, the disgruntled protagonist’s funny rants in the radio play escalate uncontrollably. One jerk of laughter and months’ work will go to waste. Yet this Friday ritual of a ‘group listening’ of a jolly radio drama is hard to give up. Atop a table right in the middle of the room, amidst a clutter of inks and rollers and casts and frames, sits an old-fashioned model of radio, boasting and sounding of the excellent care with which it has been handled for years. This printing and binding store is located next to a university. Students and academics huddle and crowd the front office during work hours, placing orders to get their books or manuscripts printed and bound, explaining designs, and proofreading cover titles. On Fridays, the hypereducated voices from the front office interspersed with the radio drama’s laugh track – the noise rises and falls as one opens and shuts the back door to the workshops behind. As the gold letters begin to dry up and shine on the glossy covers, there’s some moments’ time to pour the tea in the five cups and have a good laugh together – after all, as it turns out, all this time in the play the disgruntled protagonist was upset because he lost his job as a make-up artist for radio plays.
In the room adjoining the terrace, the curtains are drawn shut. Even then, the rays of the summer sun pierce through the curtains’ matty fabric and land on the corner of the lampshade on the bedside table. “The coffin has been kept open at the funeral; the body fixed up decently.” As the protagonist’s voice described the walk up to the coffin for viewing, there was a sudden thud. Startled, the sisters shrieked and looked behind. In an unexplainable state of relief, as they watched their mother walk inside the room and drop a pile of old books on the table, they drifted back to where the voice left off, describing the inside of the church, the funeral service, and the scene where the murder happened. “The floor was wet from the receding river water that flows inside the cabin during high tide. The books lying on the floor have turned into pulp.” As the radio voice describes how it feels running the fingers on the letter found inside one of the books lying on the floor where the body was found, the younger sister wipes off some oil dripping behind her left ear. The background sound at this point broke into an approaching horse-driven carriage. The drama is halfway through, and their mother is about to make them take off the hardbound books’ jackets, mostly classics, and put them out in the afternoon sun. Moisture has set in inside the books’ yellowed pages, and without the care, they will soon start to decay. This is a yearly routine activity for the girls during the summer holidays. Every Sunday around noon, the two sisters, both high schoolers, lazily clean up their room after a sumptuous brunch. Later they settle down on the room’s floor to pour warm herb-infused coconut oil on their heads, apparently with cooling properties alongside being nourishing for the hair. Obliging their mother in her attempt to encourage some essential self-care in daily life, the sisters have, however, devised a rather dramatic escapade while waiting through an hour’s regimen of dripping hair oil – The weekly Sunday suspense thrillers on the radio. A radio podcast which they play on their hi-tech speakers for the most dramatic sound effects while sitting almost motionless on their yoga mats, making sure not to smudge hair oil on any surface. The air of suspense and thrill is created as scrupulously by the listeners as by the voices on the radio.
He pressed the sliding door button. The lounge burst into this celestial burst of choral voices and the tender singing of the classical vocalist. It’s almost as if everything he touched had turned into this haptic object producing music and drama that is sublime and majestic. Today, in particular, it is divine. He is listening to an audio dramatization of one of the ancient epics with an orchestral arrangement. He works in the documents department of a legal firm. His job is mostly to courier documents to and from clients and file them into the database at the end of the day. He crisscrosses the city in buses and trains throughout the day, and for some cases of extraordinary urgency and importance, he uses his allowance for taxis. During this shuttling throughout the day, he chooses to swing among the glistering bursts of strings and sway in the trumpets’ warm winds. As he walks inside lounges of swanky offices, he signs, picks, drops, lifts, smiles, waves, all the while tuning in and out of the episodes of musical dramas. The rhythmic tremors while seated inside the tube rail sometimes match the percussion’s soft subtle beats; the strong draft at the entryway to the train station feels all the more chilling with the violin’s sharp swipes. With the approaching climax, he finally reaches office at the end of the workday. While the protagonist sings about the moment of divine alignment, with the orchestra’s softening music in the background, he puts down the bag of folders, tosses the headphones on the desk, and starts stacking the neat sleeves of documents one by one.
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Author: Staff Contributor
Illustration/Photograhy: Rajashik Chatterjee