The Tablet of Bliss

By Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Location: College Road, Whalley Range

Our hero has fifteen tattoos:

On his back: his sons’ names, a winged cross, and the words ‘Guardian Angel’.
On his left arm: a picture of his wife, her name in Hindi, the words ‘Forever by Your Side’ and ‘Ut Amen Et Foveam’ − So That I Love and Cherish. On his right arm: the Roman numeral ‘VII,’ two angels, a classical design, the motto ‘In the Face of Adversity,’ and ‘Perfectio In Spiritu’ − Spiritual Perfection. Running from his nipple to his groin, a Chinese proverb: ‘Death and life have determined appointments. Riches and honour depend on heaven.’

His body was his work, his body was a work of art, and we have ruined it, Malini and I.

But no, my wife is not to blame.

I am a proud proud man. I have a scar running from my eye to my chin. I made the mark myself after I painted my last wedding portrait: Mr and Mrs Sanjeev Shah from North Harrow who requested that their Audi Q7 − ‘Keeps you and your family safe’ − gleam grey in the silence between them.

But this was how I paid my bills.

My name is K− and I am a political miniaturist. My works are vast, spacious, sweeping, panoramic − oh yes! − but with detail so tiny I can fit all humanity on a shrinking white canvas. The closer you look, the finer a story you hear:

Hiroshima: August 6, 1945: twenty seconds before impact.
Banks, restaurants, offices, cafes, brothels, railways, dentists, hospitals, schools. Children, parents, invalids, lawyers, thieves and priests. Above them all, three aircraft, cross-sectioned: the Enola Gay, the Necessary Evil, and the Great Artiste. Colonel Paul Tibbet, smiling, crying, erect. It has been my habit to strip away surfaces as I please. X-ray upon x-ray. Skin sheared. Walls removed. Life in all its allness. You can even see his semen.

New York: 9/11.
Similar to Hiroshima, but we cannot see inside the plane.

London: 7/7.
Sex, everywhere sex. London’s whores in basements and castles. Royals piercing bleeding mouths. Parliament and palace laid bare. In a Liverpool Street hotel, Netanyahu is on the phone. In Downing Street, Blair is too. In Russell Square, a bus spews arms and legs.

They didn’t like this one, and I was punished. ‘A propagandist.’ ‘An inciter.’ ‘Crudity of style.’ ‘A heavy hand.’ And then. Nothing. They simply left me alone.

We lived off one salary after that. I became aloof. In anger I cut tiny drawings all over my body, the pain loudspeaking to my brain in protest. I cut a whip into the sole of my left foot, a flame into my right; I was going to remove my toe when Malini intervened−
‘I’ve been to the doctor−’

And soon we had no income at all. Like these folk.

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5 Responses to “The Tablet of Bliss”

  1. October 13, 2008 at 11:43 pm, smith3000 said:

    I might have to read this again a couple of times before I really get my head round it ..

    But even if I don’t know exactly what you’re saying, I like the way y0u say it:

    “Like wool against my skin, the air is damp and smells of beer.”

    And it’s certainly a new perspective on the divine David.

  2. October 16, 2008 at 12:42 am, Martin Cooper said:

    What a great story, very muscular and witty, each progression inventive and surprising. A real pleasure to read, it made me laugh out loud a couple of times, and it’s good to read something that feels subversive, but not obvious.

    The minature in the eye is a beautiful image, and a suitable encouragement for art to affect the wider world. Perfectly judged.

  3. October 17, 2008 at 5:24 pm, Judy Kendall said:

    Best thing you’ve written yet?

  4. October 29, 2008 at 6:00 pm, Rachel said:

    Very gritty and crazy. Story moved quickly.

  5. November 28, 2008 at 1:41 pm, Yvonne said:

    Story draws you in like a magician, humourous, innovative, full of smoke mystery and crazy mirrors. loved it


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