This is a fairly straightforward story in an otherwise complex, meandering narrative, probably because this is the turning point for the larger Sandman story leading into its big climax.
It starts by reminding the reader of a sacred, severed head on a desolate Greek island, that has a connection to the Endless family. Leaving the reader with that thought, the story moves on to the thus far neglected character of Delirium, the youngest, most tragic of the Endless. Delirium is in disrepair, floating bewildered in chaotic surroundings and once mistaking a stranger for her sister Death. Luckily she is rescued (or is that the bystanders who’re rescued?) from her meltdown, by Desire frequenting the same BDSM-themed private party. That Desire’s arena slightly overlaps with Delirium in a place such as this, is the first of many meta-fiction flourishes in this book.
Delirium breaks down (literally into colourful butterflies) before confessing that she misses her brother Destruction. But as neither Desire nor its twin Despair support her quest, Delirium reluctantly goes in search of Dream. Dream is in the throes of heartbreak when Delirium reaches him (another meta-fiction touch). This chapter where the two siblings talk is one of the sweetest, most heart-wrenching pieces in the entire Sandman arc. Even Dream’s forbidding, aloof aura is melted by Delirium’s touching vulnerability and he agrees to aid her on her quest.
The story follows their adventures as they hunt down Destruction’s old friends to seek him out. Every lead runs dry or dies mysteriously. The most wonderful of these stories is their meeting with Ishthar, a strip-club dancer with a history that even a colleague with a degree in Women’s Studies, doesn’t recognize. I loved this story for two ideas that it brought to fore – the origin (and death) of gods and that Love and Destruction are soulmates.
Dream returns from his quest empty-handed and much changed by its experiences. A sibling relationship has been rekindled, a missing sibling found and lost again, a love laid to rest and finally, a prophesy sought and paid for, with dire consequences. As Despair puts it, “You cannot seek Destruction and return unscathed.”
The second book in the Sandman series begins with an insight into the Dream Lord’s troubled love life. From the tale of Nada, we are introduced to Desire, who is possibly the second most intriguing character in this entire universe, after Dream. Desire is one of the younger Endless siblings, after Destiny, Death & Dream. Desire is both male and female, whimsical, cruel and is described in the following manner:
“Is there something you crave?
Something sexual? Something precious? Someone special? Anything?
Then you have felt it. It’s there – in the longing, in the lust, the breath of Desire, the caress of the threshold.”
The story then abruptly moves on to The Walker family, scattered across the globe and finding each other in a series of unbearably dramatic circumstances. The eldest Walker is Unity Kincaid (One of the ‘sleep sickness’ victims from the first book), the youngest is harbouring demons in his head that are actually dreams gone rogue from their realm, during the Sandman’s imprisonment. The narrative moves on to a serial killers’ convention, an abused 11-year-old boy and the weird story playing out in his head with an alternate Sandman. Right through the middle of the book, the narrative is interrupted by a shorter Dream story, “Men of Good Fortune” which talks about an unusual friendship. This back-and-forth style, interspersed with anecdotes and peppered with references to history, fantasy, religion and folklore, sets the tone for how the Dream narrative unfolds across the remaining books too – just like regular dreams.
I loved “Men of Good Fortune” for its brilliant lines (a regular Sandman characteristic) but also because it provided respite from the harsh grittiness of the Walker story. Rose Walker is an important character in the larger narrative and this sequence of events, necessary for the story as it goes on. But still, it is a brutal tale and moments of sweetness provided by these shorter stories are what keep it palatable for us.
This standalone book could well serve as an introduction to the Sandman universe or simply be a collector’s piece. Each story tells about one of the seven Endless siblings – Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium.
Some, like the ones on Death, Desire & Destruction feature them as characters appearing for a very short while in the tales. This is the style of several of the stories in the main Sandman books. The Dream chapter has an important plot turn in the larger Sandman narrative. Despair and Delirium, as perhaps befits their characters have portraitures that convey the ideas they stand for, more through visuals than stories. Destiny alone, has a narrative that is a simple, factual (if somewhat poetic) introduction to the character.
Each story has been illustrated by a different artist and the rendering and narrative style stays true to the tone of the character that the story describes.
My favorite story of all was ‘What I have tasted of Desire’. Milo Manara’s artwork depicts blatant innuendo in each panel, in keeping with the personality of Desire. The story contains my favorite Sandman lines of all: “Most people want things like a candle-flame, flickering, shifting. You, on the other hand, want like a forest fire.”
This is a book I’d give as a gift and treasure my own copy, never to be shared.
Comic Con Mumbai 2011, the first of its kind in the city, took place in third week of October. I have much to thank the beautiful @Phyrodite for, not the least of which was, telling me about it and then helping me construct a look for it (more later).
The event wasn’t promoted as well as I would have hoped, given the burgeoning popularity of the visual/text medium (I’ll refrain from calling them either ‘comics’ or ‘graphic novels’ since each seems to incite overstrong responses). Still, it was exciting to think of being able to attend an event that focused solely on this genre and its fans.
That it took place at the undeniably inaccessible World Trade Center, Nariman Point may have been a point lost in its favour. Still the numbers did turn out, horrible public transport and weather notwithstanding. What was slightly disappointing was the size of the actual event. My first pang of disappointment struck when I saw the ubiquitous white-and-blue temporary stalls everywhere. These have become synonymous with boring expos, meets on real estate, technology and other such stuff. I really had expected something more…I don’t know…crazy, quirky, wild, colourful? The stalls were all run by publishers, writers or occasionally an unrelated merchandiser (posters, fridge magnets, music-themed tee-shirts).
I was delighted to find India Book House had a stall there. The people who’ve delighted every Indian child with Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, had a large stall selling their most popular comics. The covers are now glossy though the print quality suffers in some of these cases. Also, ACK digests are now hardbound editions. As a show of support (and because they were offering a 20% discount!), I picked up two Tinkle digests and two ACK collections (“Tamil Stories” and “Jataka Tales”). I also spotted fellow NovelRacers, Vijayendra Mohanty, there to promote his comic series, Ravanayan (which the boy promptly bought).
There was a costume competition in the evening but then again, I didn’t really see enough of dressed-up people to really make this a success. Most of the visitors were men/overgrown teenboys sporting the now-so-common superhero teeshirts. Among the costumes I did spot were a Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter really is not a graphic novel or comic!), Fred Flintstone (Isn’t that a cartoon, not comic?), two Darth Vaders (I guess Star Warsmania is a given in any comic convention) and the only other graphic novel character – Rorschach (from Alan Moore’s Watchmen). Which brings me to the next part of this post. What did I go as?
I’ve had my eye on a certain Neil Gaiman character for a long time and just hoping for a Halloween party or costume ball of some sort to don the look. Unfortunately for me, @Phyrodite beat me to it! Looking back, I know she made a far better Death than I would have. What else could I pull up at the spur of the moment? I didn’t want to go as a superheroine, given my limited exposure to these only notes teenboy-fantasy-skimpy-costumes. I didn’t want to carry off a character I didn’t know well and I did want to honour one of my favorite stories of all time – the Sandman. So I picked another character, one not as obvious but very powerful in his/her own way. There’s a clue in that last sentence, Sandman-lovers. This is what I took my brief from (Book 4: Season Of Mists):
“Desire smells, almost subliminally of summer peaches, and casts two shadows: one black and sharp-edged, the other translucent and forever wavering, like heat haze.
Desire smiles in brief flashes, like sunlight glinting from a knife-edge. And there is much else that is knife-like about Desire.
The most striking thing about Desire’s look is that it isn’t an exact half-and-half male/female depiction, but a seamless blend of the two that somehow is both striking and attractive. I’d been meaning to get a haircut anyway and with this, I decided to just go wild and carried the comic with me to the hairdresser. Following a drawn image proved to be too difficult so instead, I explained the character to her. I think she really hit the nail on the head with this haircut!
It was too hot for a suit so I decided to pick the look Desire sports in Chapter 5 of ‘Brief Lives’, when he/she rescues Tiffany, the exotic dancer from the apocalyptic last dance of Ishthar. A white cotton shirt that I’d bought just the previous week was begging to be worn, that’s how cool and starched it was. I discarded my formal trousers in favour of skinny jeans to make the look more ‘spicy’ than staid. These jeans were too tight for me a few months back but happily for me, slip on like second skin now. Second skin I say, because that’s how tight they are. I think they made for a good contrast with the prim cotton shirt. Over this, I slung a black cordruoy jacket, hanging off one shoulder in the classic Desire pose. I think all I was missing was a lit cigarette but I don’t smoke so I gave that a miss.
Footwear would have to be my strappy black sandals since the haircut and shirt made for such a boyish look. It’s the accessories that I was really proud of, at the end. First of all, a red satin pouch that I got as a free makeup kit from Maybelline, doubled up as a waist pouch. The colour, the fabric, combined with the steel chain around my waist added the kinky touch to Desire.
A heart-shaped rose quartz pendant from Magick slipped into one of my ear hoops and stood out really well against the black jacket. A silver charm bracelet with a heart was on my right wrist. And finally, at the end of another steel chain (matching the one around my waist), I attached an old pendant from my college days, that depicts a boy and girl kissing. I wound this around my wrist and swung it around to showcase my character’s belief that human beings are but objects of Desire.
And finally, the most important artefact of an Endless sibling – the sigil. My glass heart pendant was a gift from @Phyrodite. And here’s when Death and Desire walked together!
* The photographs are courtesy Rehab and Valerie, who couldn’t have been more patient as I demanded one more angle, one more frame, one more photograph!
* Cross-posted to Divadom.
“Have I changed?”
He was older, heavier-set, slightly balder. Success adding an unshakeable tower of confidence to the foundation of arrogance that he had always possessed. She took all of this in before pronouncing her verdict.
“You’re Jack, ten years later.”
“Better or worse?”
Ten years was a long time. Long enough for people and situations to change. But they hadn’t and it had only gotten worse. Or better, depending on where you wanted to come to it from. More intense, either way.
She thought about him constantly through the weekend, grimacing with each thought. It went against every principle she had imposed on her life, every value she had struggled to uphold. It was also secretly delicious, the feeling of being helpless in the face of forbidden thoughts.
On Monday, she was awakened by the sound of her phone ringing. Probably a salesman pushing a credit card, she thought and rolled over. But the caller persisted and with a grunt she rolled over. She had to prise an eyelid open to see the screen but when she saw his name, her eyes flew open.
“You’re still asleep?”
“Umm, yes. Was up late last night.”
This exchange had always been enough to terminate the conversation in earlier instances of sleep disruption. But curiously enough, ten minutes later, they were still talking and she didn’t even realize it until he made her catch her breath with,
“You do realize what’s happening here, don’t you?”
And sleepy or otherwise, she was alert enough to toss it back to him as she thanked a decade of mental discipline. To her surprise, he didn’t volley about. Yes, some things had changed. Maybe they had both grown older, more willing to accept things that were beyond control, less inclined to hide away.
“I’ve been looking forward to talking to you. I feel the need to call you, every day, every morning. That’s unusual, for me.”
She wanted to laugh with relief and exhilaration. And also curl up under her covers and never come out and face the world again. Or at least, never have to face him again.
On Tuesday, she begged off the morning conversation, citing work. In the evening, she refused a text invitation to meet saying that she just wanted to be ‘quiet’ for a bit.
“You can be quiet with other people but not with me?”
His message burned into the back of her mind and she had trouble falling asleep. Wednesday, she hoped would wash out uncontrollable feelings with wine. Instead, she found herself fumbling-thumbed messages of an erotic variety.
He called as usual the next day but his tone was cautious.
“What was that about last night?”
“Umm, nothing. I was drunk, that’s all.”
He didn’t comment further and their conversation proceeded. But in her mind, a wall had been breached. The much-discussed point of no return was in her mind and she had passed it some ten hours earlier. There was no going back on those messages, no turning back on the fact that she had propositioned a married man. That his response has been most receptive was of no concern. The horrific inappropriateness of it all was the most savagely desirable thing she had ever tasted. She had been a willing and more than active partner and the deed had already been set in motion.
Curiously enough, she only felt a sense of relief. You can’t be hanged twice she thought wryly, recalling a line from a movie. And now that she had begun down that road, she was just going to have to go all the way across to get through this.
Alive with these thoughts, she awaited his call the next morning. And told herself he must have gotten busy when it didn’t come. The day after was spent much the same way, albeit with a vague sense of panic camouflaged as restlessness. And then it was the weekend.
On Monday, her fingers shook as she held her phone and dialed his number. It was fear, from doing something she had always been petrified of – putting herself out there. And it was shame, of going back on her high principles. And it was resentment. And pain. It all tasted sweet, like blood in her mouth.
They met that evening. Three hours sitting in the carpark, the tension enveloping them both like a security blanket. Their relationship had always been defined by it, the crossed swords and it felt comforting to hold them again.
But when the clock on his dashboard clicked into place and he commented that he’d have to leave in ten minutes, she saw a glimmer in the darkness. His eyes, the ever hypnotic enchantment, full of intrigue and dangerous promise, were swimming in something she had never seen in them before. It moved her to something else, too.
He patted her on the head and told her to sleep well and not worry too much. The gesture made her smile and she in turn, put her hand up to his face and repeated the same thing. It made him smile too and then he pulled back his face into its brooding expression.
She completed his sentence,
“A scared child.”
It made him laugh, a deep, throaty rumble that made her innards twist with a familiar queasiness.
He wouldn’t speak to her for the rest of the week or the weekend. She spent the first few days in an uncomfortably suspended state of desperate desire. This was probably what it felt like to be a guy, she surmised, with a perpetual hard-on and no sign of release.
On Tuesday, she got up from her bed, her mind made up. They had repeated the cycle every few years. This time she had been sure would have been the culmination. But then again, she had only realized it was a cycle, this time round. It would occur again. It might be five years or five days. But they would dance around each other till, till…till fulfillment.
Her best friend, long-suffering from such stories told her that he had just lost interest. But Jill, she shook her head and firmly said,
“I don’t think he lost interest as much as he lost nerve.”
Burning with passion, she realized required courage under the fire. Maybe next time.
The difference between lust and desire
is the same one that differentiates annoyance from rage, irritation from wrath
All of them anger and yet…
the first is simply a dream,
a foggy outline of what the other could be
For lust after all can be satiated
and satiation signals completion
But desire can only be fulfilled
like your destiny is fulfilled
And can it ever be said that one’s destiny is complete?
Can I then say that I wish I had never known desire?
But I know no more what it is to feel that way.
Since the ‘I’ has been burned away
and all that remains is the desire.
The dream of the unfulfilled.
Is thirst nothing more
than a dream of water then?
And who would know
the feel, the texture, the essence,
the philosophy, the dharma of water better
than the thirst that it panders to?
No wonder then,
I think that,
no one understand you better than I
I imagine that,
I know you better than yourself
since all I am, is the aching need of you.
I am life as you know it…
and don’t, outside you
I am the inner recesses, of emotions that you won’t face
Just as I am the velvety slumber, that takes you into your dreamspace
to meet your imprisoned self,
I am the jailor of that prisoner
I am his dream of freedom
I am the open sky that beckons
I am the universe without you
Also the universe within you
So you know my love, why we must part?
I must be in so many places,
so many things to so many people
It is all you, after all, and the justification for you in this universe
And it takes effort to creat this production called life
And while I’m gone,
I let myself grow in your memories
of one who was everythin…and then nothing
till you distilled into the fulfilment of me,
And I, an expression of you
Can it be wrong to want anything?
It could be silly or meaningless
impractical or impossible
unfathomable or illogical.
No, actually not.
All those things describe the object of one’s desire
Not desire in itself.
I want. I WANT. I want. I want.
And there’s nothing more to it than that.