Swaja: a conversation with ten year old self

Silly boy, as we meet, as I speak, as you stare at me, this old self, without comprehension, with disbelief and doubt, let me introduce myself as your ‘swaja’, I was born of you.

I was born of you, as you were born one score years ago, of your mother’s womb and grew, so I grew, swifter than you, to be old and bitter, brittle boned and crinkled skinned, having more means and a few extra titles attached to my name, dissatisfied and doubtful yet. Call me your wiser self, just a nomenclature, probably untrue. Otherwise, how do I impress upon a boy, a silly boy, who goes on with his life without an iota of comprehension and the burden of failures invariably intertwined with it? That you look and talk and dream silly, boy! In this world, cruel or otherwise, in this state of people, selfish or otherwise, you are really nothing. As you build nothing, create nothing, sell and buy nothing, without purpose, without gravity, being entirely dependent on the affection, money and positions of your parents, kind neighbors and relatives. Useless. That’s what you are. How do I tell you that I will prove myself useful for you?

I have travelled across multitudes of physical and extra-physical realms, piercing the space-time continuum, unproving the laws of Physics to warn you.  And, if I may, steer you gently. Towards the right path. Before your concentration wavers, this fleeting dream breaks and you hearken me no more.

Stay away from death, boy.  A ‘nobody’, after death, goes beyond the rhetoric and truly becomes nobody.  Resist that. Learn swimming. Climbing. Clubbing, sawing, sowing, reaping, and starving. Learn free arm combat. Learn light arm combat. Learn heavy arm combat. Eat flesh daily and grow muscular. Eat minuscule poison daily and vary the poison. Hence, you know, the path to immortality is, but not without risk.

Embrace a tree, boy, today, now. Embrace that is green and blue and yellow around you. The flowers and the birds and the bees that go about with their ancient purposes yet seemed to exist solely for your own amusement. Bees sting. Still. They will be much gone when you are all grown up. People with fat belly and fatter purse will ask you to dream about concrete roads, dish TV and constant noise that comes from having high definition music stacks, mobile rings and honking SUVs. You are, my child, someday going to buy distraction as entertainment.

Stay away from distraction, boy. The chatter of foolish meanness will sound like the ramblings of ambition in the time of drip dozed love. No amount of Candy Crush Saga will bring you fulfillment that usually came after holding a pretty girl’s hand who drooped her eyes in shyness, kissing her, telling her not be afraid, since you were already there for her.

Embrace old theories, boy. Like Darwin’s and Pavlov’s and John von Neumann’s. If you don’t quite grasp, ask your father to explain them to you. In simple language, without the mathematics, but with the implications, what they really mean and how you can wield them to get unusual advantages in a society of self-serving men.

Stay away from the experts, boy, as much as you can, and the expert systems. Like the system that discovers merit and intelligence of a ten-year-old boy by asking two hundred multiple-choice questions. 10th Board, 12th Board, CAT, GRE, GMAT, and those sorts of nonsense. And the people who set them. This universe won’t ask you multiple-choice questions. Ever. Neither the HIV epidemic, nor the sudden earthquake nor the immortal cancerous cells. Your journey is and will be in an uncertain meaninglessness, in a wondrous vacuum, without the guidance of a map, without the knowledge of a destination harbor.

Embrace the uncertainty, boy. The not-knowingness. The people who love you will stop loving you soon, for reasons known only to them. And new people will come, to love you, in hordes, entirely for their own reasons, unknown to you. No love being worse than the other. And the fear and the anxiety of it will remain, any way, so will the hope and courage, in you, and the desperation to survive, to thrive and to go on no matter what.

And love. Oh, sweet love. That slow oozing pain at the left of your breast, the heavy heart thumping, the earth and the moon and the entire families of planets and stars revolving, around that strange sweet girl who was in a new dress and fantastic perfume, floating around your grand father’s old house, the grand father long dead; the cordial neighbor’s jolly grand daughter. That’s love. Not puppy love, not infatuation, not a teenybopper’s sporadic heart melt. That’s a clarion call to make love, to start a family, to be a father. It may not be legal now, but true. As the circle continues. As the circle will continue. With or without you. Till exists this silly human life.

Your eyes are fluttering, boy! Could you contemplate what I just have said? Would you commit them, pray, to the memory, to a plan, as a discipline, these jewel wisecracks, even if they are not so. Unlike the long verses of the great bearded poet, of your grandfather’s time and instead.  Or, would you, fancy, stare into the naught believing this is naught but a dream, in a childish fervor or in a quasi-adult fantasy.  Being plain silly. Hark, boy, this is true, now and for the all the time to come, from here to eternity, this life, will remain a wonderful futility. Thus, boy, it steals or so, eternally, the shame from your silliness.

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Gadadhar

Paltan came to whisper at Vishnu’s ear. Ari had come. Worry oozing from Paltan’s furrowed brow, Vishnu could see, could drip anytime into his malt whiskey. Yakkies! He pushed the glass away and kept it covered with his bloated palm. Paltan was an inferior man, an old bar manager, a wall fly, not worthy of any response, definitely not worthy of making Vishnu’s drink go salty with his scumbag sweat.

Vishnu remembered then, a long time ago, Pratima, Arihant’s wife, had pushed her four year old son aside, away from him like this, with her palm sheltering the boy’s tiny head. Like a funny cap. Like her palm would shield a .44mm Magnum fire. Like any one- with a dose of good intention- could. She had been, Vishnu thought with a sneer, a funny woman.

Now, Ari- Arihant- with the penchant for a drama and bloody ambush had appeared at the doorstep of this god forsaken, ugly bar at three in the morning- for what?
‘To have an ass fucking drink! Oh, yeah, yeah. The son of a bitch has finally realized. After seven freaking years. The bastard, the mother fucker, the dick head, has finally realized that he’s got no one. He has come here to make friends. Behen-chod!’

“Ha-ha-ha!” Vishnu gave out a belly laugh and slapped the table in a sudden splat that scared Paltan a little. Paltan twitched his thumb, but kept his head bowed as if in humble supplication, before a regal lord. Then he craned stealthily on his left to have a glimpse of the famed Colt Anaconda, usually tucked proudly behind Vishnu’s back. For reassurance. He couldn’t find any.

Bhai, what do we do, Bhai? Tell me, Bhai?” Paltan crooned. The wall fly seemed to be on Vishnu’s side. Actually, he was on his owner’s side. But who gave a hoot about integrity in his line of business?

“How many men out there?” Vishnu asked. Nonchalantly.

“Don’t know, Bhai. Bahadur came inside and said, ‘Ari-Bhai is waiting outside for Vishnu-Bhai. Please send him out quickly.’”

“It’s dark outside. Let it be morning first. We will see then.”

“He has given only one minute of time, Bhai.”

“Who?”

“Ari-Bhai.” Paltan’s face reddened at the faux-pas. He dearly hoped Vishnu would be a lesser man without his pet Anaconda.

Vishnu bored into him with a cold stare and felt the violence pent up in his belly, in his breast, just below his throat, “Let it be morning first. We will see then.”

Ratta-tat-tat-tat-tarra.

A volley of bullets came splitting the glass windows, piercing the dirty draperies, spattering the glass, wood chunks and plastics utensils. Making the whole room noisy and unruly- completely out of control- liquor and water splattering against the roof, iron splinters scattering across the room in search of soft flesh.

“I will count to three, Vishnu,’ a hoarse voice shouted from the outside darkness, ‘get out, else, you will be responsible for the death of everyone.”

Then almost without a pause, he called, “One!”

Harami, saala, brought an automatic rifle to a baraat.” Vishnu muttered under his breath. He was on the floor, lying beside Paltan who was red in the head: could be a gun shot, or an impact wound.

“Two!”

To think about it: Vishnu and Arihant had long been in a fickle business. The channel of communication between them had always been frail, ambiguous, often broken. Backstabbing and betrayal had occurred in their trade, as they had come to know, as frequently as strangers becoming friends over liquors and cheap dancing girls. It had not been Arihant’s fault to become Vishnu’s partner- in crime. It had not surely been Vishnu’s fault to suspect Arihant had betrayed him to the Meenar gang.

When Vishnu had decided to take care of Arihant, he had not been happy. Things would turn messy; he would lose a partner, most probably his place in the gang. But then, this stupid broad, Pratima, would pretend she could stop a .44 Magnum bullet. Yedi thi, saali, yedi.

It was seven years ago. Arihant had disappeared. Vishnu had to draw him out. He camped himself with three more guys at Arihant’s two room house with his pet Anaconda, hoping someday or sometime, Ari would appear. The coward had not. Ari’s four year old boy who had been always friendly to him couldn’t have understood the bearing Vishnu uncle had brought with himself. The mother had been most uncooperative. Enough to test Vishnu’s worn thin patience.

Uska namak khaya hai, tu, Vishnu. Sharam nahi aati, namak haraam!” the woman had shrieked.

Uska khaya, uske beta ka to nahi?” Vishnu had rubbed the cold muzzle against the puffed cheek of the boy, greening. What had he supposed to do? Explain the futility of the indebtedness to the fucking broad?

The mother had pushed the boy aside while keeping her palm on his head as if the boy had been wearing a ridiculous crown.

Goli kya haat se rukayegi tu?”

Uske diye banduk se uske beta ko hi marega tu? Haan? Vishnu?”

Vishnu. Vishnu. Vishnu. The pathetic high pitch calling of his name would amuse him. He would figure, quite cleverly, it had been the helpless woman’s appeal to his goodness. Her begging. It would be futile.

He would pinch her cheek and said, “Bol, bol, aur ek baar bol, naam kya hai mera?”

The boy would jump and clap his hand and say, “Vishnu!”

Nahi,’ Vishnu would lay his Anaconda carefully on the kitchen platform and take out a hammer from an open overhead cabinet.

Gadadhar. Gadadhar naam hai mera.”

He would crack open the boy’s skull.

Vishnu ka hi aur ek naam samjho.”

Seven years later, Vishnu couldn’t remember how many nights he dreamt of this moment, when finally Ari and he would meet, for the face off, for their final ‘faisala‘. ‘Darpuk, saala, brings an automatic to a baraat.’

Look at Vishnu now. He had pawned his Colt revolver this morning, for fifteen thousand rupees. Why not? Even the most virginal bride wouldn’t wait for her absent groom after seven years.

He stood up slowly and kicked the still body of Paltan, just to stir him up. Then he staggered across the floor, stepping over the debris, following the barely seen red cement path in a lucky unbroken green light. Two more guys were lying on the floor. Three guys were crouching in the corner.

Vishnu reached the kitchen to find the cook and the waiters hiding there. He walked all the way up to the coal pile that was heaped beside the tandur oven. He found his weapon there.

“Three!” the hoarse voice called up outside.

A hiding waiter came running to stop Vishnu. “Mat jao, Vishnu-Bhai. Woh log aap ko maar da-lenge.” Vishnu laughed hoarsely and pushed the man aside so hard he fell crashing on the floor.

Was it the first time someone tried to kill Vishnu? Was it? Was it not, he, Vishnu, still alive? And, was it not everyone he had decided to kill, had died?

He bent his head to accommodate the meager height of the bar door and stood erect being just outside of it looking at the unknown darkness, a cold coal hammer shining in his hand.

Gadadhar.


A Love Story

At the end the boy was sobbing like a girl and the girl couldn’t care less, like a boy. After the coffee was over, and Whitney Houston sang, “And I-hi-hi-hi, hi-hi-hi will all-waysss love you-hu-hu, hu-hu.” Twice! If it could have waited a little more, the solemn pious gang, she would have obliged the patrons with another encore soon.

Audibly, the coffee shop didn’t own many tracks and the manager worried so much about the billing he lacked variety in musical taste. The din and the hustle bustle that drowned sorrows and day to day loneliness floated like pink heart shaped balloons, provided solace when the music was not sufficient.

Even then, everything would turn pleasantly for better. The boy and the girl, desperately in love, would exchange cards showing a checkered capped, bare breasted boy toddler kissing a willing and rosy girl toddler dressed in a frilly frock. They would exchange gifts wrapped in red and golden paper and say ‘I love you’ to each other. The sound of that in that crowded place would instantly turn into noise.

‘What?’
‘What what?’
‘What did you say?’
‘You know what I said.’ The girl blushed.
‘I don’t know.’
‘You know-o.’ The girl blushed again.
‘I don’t know, I swear.’ The boy was serious like hell.
‘I said what you said.’
‘What did I say?’

It went on. Not a terribly interesting piece of conversation. If you were a little practical- say, ‘you do what you got to do’ kind of practical- you would see it was meaningless. Get a room, boy. Take her home. You could barely stop yourself hollering across the coffee shop.

Home? The boy was from Akola. A Banjara boy. He stayed in the city with five other clueless, ‘all dying to have a girl friend’ friends in a one BHK. A trainee graphic designer. There was obviously no money. There was, of course, no room.

How about the girl? Why, hadn’t she had one? Oh, she had. But, it belonged to her City Corporator father. Bolstered by the Maratha votes, he had amassed what one man generally wished to amass in a life time. Power, prestige, a BMW. Seven flats and row houses. And several farm houses. Ninety acres of land. Big property, nothing hers.

For those hapless lovers, there was nowhere to go, the noise of the coffee house being their privacy and the noise being the memory of their early disappointments.

It was not always like this. When the boy had come to the city, he had been alone. Unattached. Fearless. He had come here to make money, woo the city girls and leave his mark. As an artist. As we all knew the art conquered the world.

It was difficult to get interviews though. More difficult for him was to impress the interviewers. To be recruited permanently with a steady salary seemed then utterly impossible. When he was coaxing his mother at night on the phone-“Don’t worry, Aai, I will find a job soon.”- he was coaxing himself too. The mother was apprehensive and it was not because she was familiar with the city job market. The father was in debt. “Sahukar came again today, Bala. Your father hid in the jungle. We have nobody else to ask. Do something.” the mother said.

The best he could do was to get a trainee position with a minuscule stipend and impress a fellow trainee designer with his utter silence during the office hours and an inherent gloominess that came naturally to him.

“Look at us, sir-ji, talk sometimes.” the girl teased. The entire helplessness of him was a safe playground for her. The more he went into silence, the more she danced around it with a gleeful abundance, a good natured girl, having no pride in being a daughter of a rich and powerful man.

“But the money, how to find money? I shouldn’t be distracted.” the boy thought.
“What does he think? Does he think of me? What does he think of me?” the girl thought.

“If we get married, her father will give us enough money and the debt will be paid.” he thought again, wistfully. That made him smile. Made him a little bold, may be. That’s when he felt like falling for her.

“Will he ever raise voice upon me? No, he won’t. He is so nice. Can’t the world see how nice he is? We will be happy together.” the girl thought. She- what’s the phrase?- blissfully followed his suit.

Then those days of whirlwind romance, as whirlwindy it could be in a caste conscious city. Holding hands in the darkness of the movie house, touching legs below the restaurant tables, brushing the breasts against his back while he was driving her Scooty. The boy had to almost close his eyes.

Her breasts were so soft they felt like pigeons. How illegal it might be, the Banjaras still hunted pigeons. He wouldn’t hunt them though. He would protect them, look after them and make them his own.

And that lingering warm feeling, blood being shot everywhere in the body, the heart pumping extra fast. The boy could not look into her eyes. The girl winced at him and understood immediately. They were so in love, they were horny. One day, someday, they would get married, make love, have children- they were so made for each other. Today, regrettably, was not that day. So they waited till the coffee was over.

Then they heard the commotion. Did you hear the commotion?

You would hear it now. After the erudition.

After the liberalization, as the market opened up, the practice of American rituals in our country became extremely popular. Now, that was about to happen. Following (blindly?) the greatest civilization (!) in the world in itself is quite inspiring. But retaliation came surprisingly from some of the prominent political groups. Their leaders, not entirely against the market economy- a few of them benefitted immensely because of it- were worried, justifiably so, being the descendent of an ancient civilization, about the protection and the purity of the culture.

Let’s call them the solemn pious gang. Shall we? Today being the Valentine’s Day, they were untiringly hard at work.

If you had heard the commotion already that was they were climbing up the stairs, eager, passionate, dedicated to a cause. To the first floor, where the coffee house was located, where there was noise already, in which our boy and girl hid themselves from the world in a way only a romantic couple could.

“No, Dada, no!” the girl cried and rushed forward.
 The boy was still in a haze.

“Go home, Gauri, leave this to us.” the man in a white kurta pajama and a brown goatee gasped. Manhandling a twenty two year old boy would tire him later. Thank God, the boy immediately cowered on the floor and was cooperating. It also seemed like the man, the leader, was somehow known to the girl. A brother, probably.

In our country, it was the brothers’ responsibility, in absence of or in coordination with the fathers, to protect the dignity of the daughters of the house. This brother was dutiful. His gang of young men cordoned off, the best way they could, to protect the girl, without touching her, without looking at her secretly.

The man held the boy by his hair, shook his head a few times as if to give him clarity of thought. He didn’t bring the superiority of his caste into conversation. That would be tactless. He was there only to put a show to his naive sister, how unworthy, how cowardly this son of a pig was. Things would have been easier if he could prove the boy as he actually was: greedy. That generally broke a young lover’s heart. If he could only make the boy confess…

He kept shaking the boy’s head. ‘Tell, tell’, he was shouting, ‘why you hang around my sister? Why?’ He slapped. ‘Money?’. He slapped again. ‘Money? Bad motive? What? What?’

The boy could remember about his mother, despite the violence, and his father, a tenacious Sahukar and some unborn children he imagined not so long ago. A silent boy he was, a trapped child himself, he could see they would not come and help him now. He was evidently in danger at a far way place, without a known way out. He would lose many things hereafter, his job, this girl, her city, he would see if he could save his life. Before losing consciousness, he shook his head.

‘Money?’
He shook his head.
‘Money?’
He lowered his head, as if in shame, and shook again.

Would you blame a twenty two year old girl for believing what she saw that evening, that ashamed nod, after being thoroughly talked to by her mother, grand mother, girl friends and her affectionate father? That would be harsh. You see, she had loved him too.

So the boy was laid unconscious, completely in discretion of the coffee house management, littered with blood and cash that would barely cover his hospital cost.

Years later the boy would be woken up and asked for money again.

“I need money dad. It’s for the business. Trust me when I say this one will make money. Every dad helps. Every Dad. Can’t you understand? Too old for that? I will pay back. Charge interest if you wish… You don’t love me, pay some cash at least.” A young man with a hope of making big stomped his foot in front of the boy.

The boy who looked like an old man now looked at his son and hated him. For his insolence, for his carelessness. ‘If I would have been married to Gauri’, he thought, ‘I could have had a son like this. I would have hated him too.’

That brought him peace. Despite the onslaught of senility he could begin to understand that it didn’t matter who he loved, who he slept with, with whom he spent his entire life hoping for better things to come.

Tears came trickling to him. Nothing was nothing.

But, that was at the end.

In the beginning it was a love story.


Holy Water

Jill shuddered at the sound of the footsteps.

“Wake up, Jill”, a hushed sound came through the window. Is this the way a father calls her daughter?

Noris, a Christian tribe that Jill belonged to, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, were not a very smart lot. The way they build their house, make food and pray to god were awkward at best, mostly coarse. Yet the most boorish Norsi father wouldn’t come to the daughter’s bed at the end of the night and speak in the tone of charming conspiracy. Jack was different. “Wake up, darling!” he almost crooned. Jill, silently praying, shuddered again.

She knew the drill. They would take a wooden bucket and climb uphill to bathe in a mountain spring.  The padre said the water was holy. A baby born from that water would be strong and tall. On his support, he was paranoid. It had almost been two decades that a Norsi mother hadn’t had a strong baby. Jill was one of the lasts. Now it was her responsibility to produce one, and Jack’s, who already proved his worth by producing her.

“But it was wrong Jill, it was wrong!” said Morris of the townsfolk. He stayed at the village after getting lost in the woods in a botched mountain expedition. How should Jill know? The tribe approved it, the padre blessed the union and Jack was sweet. Moreover, the Norsis needed children, didn’t they?  “I would come to save you, Jill!” thus said Morris yesterday night in the dark. To be fair to him, there he was coming, climbing up swiftly through the jagged path. To right the wrong.

“Will you bring me a flower, Papa?” Jill pointed towards a violet orchid thoughtfully.

A heaving Jack moved to enquire himself at the end of the cliff and discovered a little late he had been pushed forward. His wooden hat smashed against the boulder, so did his head and they broke into a thousand pieces.

“Promise me, Morris, promise me, our child will be strong and tall!” Jill cried hopelessly when Morris reached her. He was not even panting. But before he could reply, Jill sighed, “Alright then. Let’s go and fetch the holy water for the church.”

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The piece was written for a writing meet up ( http://www.meetup.com/Write-here-Write-now-Pune-Writers-Group/ ), to shock, surprise and show off. Characters and places resembling to real persons, and real places is purely coincidental.


Memories of Murder

It was always difficult to wake up on a rainy day.

Had it been my school, I could have slept till six in the morning. Here at Dai, as they said in my hostel, ‘No scene!’ They meant that there was no hope.

My father woke up at three. The rickshaw-puller had been instructed not to be late. It would take an hour to reach Kanta. The first bus from Kanta was at four thirty. If everything went well, another twelve hours and three buses later we would reach the outskirts of Purul. My school was there.

When I woke up it was dark outside. Not completely though. Mother lit a kerosene lamp. It made some of the darkness go. Some of it remained anyway. Even inside the room. And those tall trees outside looked like tall giants.

There was something scary about those trees. You would be amused to hear that. You would say, “But, of course, Abhi, they are only trees”. I was not so sure. Their long arms were so visible. Thorny and long. Not that they didn’t try to hide them in a cloak. But I was not fooled by their feigned innocence. I saw them holding breath for hours while gloating inside. When nobody was looking, no parents were there, no strong adults, they could try to snatch me, dig their nails in my body and before long I wouldn’t be able to find myself anymore.

Now they were swaying nonchalantly, all drenched, minding their own business, sometimes waving at me just for the fun of it.

Father quoted an old village adage. One could go anywhere when Tuesday faded into Wednesday. He was trying to cheer me up while I was bitter inside. Bitter at the prospect of braving the rain for an hour to reach Kanta. Not that I was unhappy to leave Dai. I was plain sleepy.

We could hear the rickshaw-puller’s horn.

I piled up the bags and books on the rickshaw and bent down to touch mother’s feet. “Let’s go, let’s go!” father hurried me up. In his time table we were always late.

She was standing there where the muddy lane met the main pitch road. Like those ghosts that waited silently. Only that she was no ghost. Like a white shadow, she was just very frail. She knew that I would be gone today. So she accepted the rain and accepted the prospect of an insult. She came to feel her son one last time.

She was not my mother, of course. I had left my mother at home. She was not my relative either. I even didn’t know her before this vacation. I used to know her son Dipu. Dipu had been murdered in a neighbouring village a month ago. Now she was waiting to hug me, pile up a few coarse kisses on my cheek and cry.

….

“Why are you here, sister? In the rain?” father tried to be sympathetic. Though, his voice showed mild irritation. She didn’t answer.

Rather she came towards me trembling. She put her arms around me like those tall trees around the house and kept her head over my shoulder. It smelled foreign. Her wet dress made me feel cold. Umbrella aside, I stiffened in the drizzle and wondered if she was trying to get something out of me and keep it with her.

“Let him go, sister. He will come back during Pooja. We will miss the bus.”, father insisted without sounding harsh. I felt that she retreated. Then I could hear a strange sound. She was looking at me.

Some of the nights, from the bed, here at Dai, one could hear the dogs wailing from far. I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether that was scary or miserable. The only thing that you would want was to fall asleep again so that you could wake up in a new morning. It dawned upon me that she was looking at me and talking to her dead son in her wail.

I kept my head down and avoided the gaze. And I didn’t look back when the rickshaw started moving again. Let her fade away, I kept praying. That eerie feeling didn’t leave my shoulder till we reach Kanta.

I studied with Dipu at the village primary school. He was not my best friend, not even a good friend. How could he be? He was not good at studies, not good at sports either. He was gentle though. He wouldn’t think about punching you or complain about you to the teachers. It was safe to be around him. And he would smile often. Three years later the only thing I remembered about him was his smile.

Dipu’s mother was a domestic maid in Calcutta. The hope was there that one day Dipu too would go to Calcutta and find work as a driver or an orderly. Then his mother could retire and get her daughter married. Sadly, the daughter was seen with a man who was a young political cadre in the village; a brother of a drug addict and a bit of a thug. His name was Purno. ‘Purno Shaitan’, my mother said about him. ‘A complete devil’, that’s what she meant.

Dipu was against the affair. He not only threatened Purno, but stopped his sister to go out of the house: quite a thing to do for a thirteen-year old boy. It could be that he felt responsible in absence of his mother. Or, he wanted to be the father he lost right after his birth. Might be that he wanted to protect the dignity that the village folks worried so much and so often about.

In an evening of Narayan Pooja, he was invited to a neighbouring village. Where he was poisoned under the pretext of serving ‘prasaad’ and then taken to a nearby hut to be strangled to death. He was taking time to die and generating unnecessary attention otherwise. Then they said that his heart had failed.

His body was taken out of the morgue. He was kept covered in salt and ice for three days at the local post office. The rumour was that his tongue had turned black, coming violently out of the mouth. After three days, the smell became unbearable and the body was cremated.

….

Purno absconded. So did his brother. A few brave villagers had gone and destroyed a part of their common house. Seven days later the police had come visiting the village, waking up those brave men from afternoon sleep and putting them in Kanta jail. In fact, they had picked up a few more people: an old man who had shown them the way and a young man who had started to run away just because he was afraid of the police.

Father was sympathetic towards Dipu’s mother. So much so that, this time, when I came home, he took me to her house where the old lady felt my face against her rough palms, looked at me with sad longing, hugged me drawing closer to her chest for what felt like an eternity, kissed on my cheeks again and again and cried. It was embarrassing for me. It would be embarrassing for any boy who was in class seven. Yet, she would keep visiting my house and following the same routine till I protested to father. “I don’t like her.”, I said.

That day, while going towards Purul, when the dawn was breaking, in the bus, I asked father, “How would Purno be punished?”

He looked disinterested in the topic. My mother had told me how she would stay awake for nights guarding food, while father, being one of the village headmen, spent hours in the meetings to decide Purno’s fate. He couldn’t avoid the conversation. Not that he was awkward or feeling guilty about it.

“Dipu’s mother was given grievance money. His sister was married to that guy and she was given a piece of land.”

“But he murdered!” I felt bitter again. Purno should be hanged like Ranga-Billa.

“In a village like ours, for poor villagers like them, getting a piece of land is a big deal. Now the girl is married and has a land of her own.”

He looked satisfied with the judgement of it.

I kept thinking while staring through a muddy glass window of the bus and couldn’t make any sense of it. Might be, she liked the man the way I liked the bespectacled girl standing near the bus driver. Might be, she wanted herself to be settled the way my parents wanted me to be; wasn’t that the point of going so far from home to study in a famous residential school? Might be she couldn’t resist the village elders’ decisions the way I couldn’t that of my parents. Yet, the girl was married to a man who killed her brother.

….

A movie after a vacation. That’s the schedule at the school. But first, there would be a prayer in the evening. Then we would run along the lit street to find the best seats in the hall. Sometimes movies repeated. Some of the boys would sleep till the end even if it was new. Then they would run towards the dining halls.

I liked the prayer. There was strength in everyone saying one thing together. There was strength in believing someone up there or somewhere else, listening to and caring about us. Moreover, there would be a movie after this sit down.

Unfortunately, the only thing I could see that evening was a white shadow. The poor widow’s dress. It was fourteen hours ago, yet, I could not forget her touch. Her sad wail. How could I not hate her? She made me feel bitter.

“We will show you a film on Khudiram Bosu today.” the provost announced after the prayer.

Khudiram Bosu had thrown a bomb at a horse coach that had been carrying an English lady and her daughter. He had intended to kill a cruel British magistrate. Caught while drinking water and taken to a jail to be hanged, he had been smiling all along. He had only been eighteen. Khudiram Bosu had been born in my district. Dipu was born in my district. He opposed to a cruel man too. Why was his tongue coming out of the mouth? Khudiram had been smiling at his death.

“Will you sleep or watch the movie?” Sanju, the most cheerful of my classmates asked while we were walking towards the movie hall.

“I will watch. You?”

“No scene. I watched Disco Dancer at Calcutta. I will show you the moves once we are back to the hostel.”

I couldn’t bear anymore.

“There was a murder in my village. I used to know the boy. I can’t forget him.”

He didn’t say anything.

“I don’t want to go back home.”

He put a hand over my shoulder and tried to encourage me.

“Next vacation starts before the Pooja. That is four months away. Third terminal examination in between. You will forget everything by then.”

….

Just before the Pooja, Father and I took a night train from Purul. It helped us reach Dai around noon after being plied by two buses instead of three. Mother cooked special curries and father asked me to go to afternoon sleep immediately after having them. “We would have fruits, Abhi, when you would wake up”, he said. “Train journey at night is tiresome. You need sleep”, he was awfully certain.

I woke up hearing the neighbour lady calling up mother. “Didi, have you heard this, the sister of Dipu died in the afternoon. Some say that she has committed suicide. Some say that she has been poisoned. Purno is missing again.”

Mother asked her to hush up, I could hear. I forced myself to get up.

“They are marching with her dead body around the village. The procession would reach here any minute.” her excitement knew no bounds.

I got up carefully to see the trees were silent in the twilight. “Were they pretending again?” I wondered. They rather seemed very sad. I started to have doubts. Could it be that they were not bad at all!

The procession reached the dusty lane in front of the house in fifteen minutes. Some local leaders in white kurta, bare chested men in dirty dhotis, women in unkempt green and blue saris. Some hand-written placards here and there. Mild slogans now and then. And I saw her for the first time.

Rocking slowly on a van rickshaw, mouth wide open, sari loosely wrapped around her unfed body; she looked unhappy, sleeping. Two deaths for this girl?

Tree branches wiggled maniacally. Everyone was so clueless in this world, especially the elders. Like running around a deep pit without knowing. Running around a deep pit without looking. Running around without stopping.

A muffled sound came from the ground. The rickshaw cricked and panted forward. She was rocking so cautiously on that rickshaw that she wouldn’t fall any more. We could. We would.

Suddenly an amazing thing happened. She stopped rocking and rose.

We all could see that she rose up high; leaving those showy marchers and selfish spectators. She rose higher than the tall trees and the wisdom of village elders; where she couldn’t hear her mother’s wail and Purno wouldn’t come back hunting.

She found her brother sitting near the fire and waiting.

She called, “Dipu!”

He turned back and smiled. His smile!

He got up and held his sister’s hand. He looked grown up against the warm light.

“Did you find love?” he asked.

She started to sob and said, “I will never let you go again.”

Disclaimer : This is a work of fiction. Characters resembling to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.