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I’ve sort of moved… March 8, 2011

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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Damn it’s good to visit once in a while :) I have nothing but the fondest memories for this yellow sporadic blog. This is where I cut my teeth and this is where I grew up, both in the blogosphere (even as I remained forever a sporadicblogger) and in the world of life, politics and falana. College happened, literature happened and I guess even post-graduation happened. And then my words dried up. Perhaps it was a crisis of self reflecting a crisis of words. I tried to find again the joy and satisfaction of blogging on other blogs, most of which never let me let them take off.

Anyhow, thanks for reading. I now sort of blog (even more sporadically) at http://paagolhawa.blogspot.com/.

The crisis of self and the mad search for adult purpose in the working world shall affect the words there, but I hope it will one day become as spontaneous as this one was.

Judgement Day May 3, 2010

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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We all knew it was coming. No surprises there.

It is sick the way the media is ‘reporting’ this. It is sick the way the panellists are gloating. It is sick, this bloodthirst. It is sad the way a little girl recites (is coached into?) a wish for a hanging.

‘Reaffirming faith in the Indian judicial system.’

‘We know the details of the plot hatched in Pakistan’.
Really?

May 2, 2010

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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‘CRPF Men Held For Supplying Arms
To Naxals’
Read that again.
The bullets that pierced the seventy five,
Were funded by the State;
In this war against the ‘extremists’
In this ‘law and order situation’
Giving a whole new meaning to
‘Of the people, by the people and for the people’,
Indeed.

Yet another nod
By you
to
Just another savage war,
Just a flick of the wrist,
The game plan of the rich
Pitting the poor against the poor.
(But see how they say fuck you
To your schemes?)

This Seat is Reserved April 24, 2010

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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GIVE!
Your seat
To that man in front of you!
He is old and wobbly.
What
Is your excuse?

And while you sit there,
Let us talk about the ‘ladiej’.
Every time you claim it,
Do you let it
Hijack, divert, distract,
From your fragrant, enticing, dangerous,
Chamber of living death,
(Hi. I am only 22.39% oppressed. And you?)
Golden bird, middle class,
In that proverbial cage?

When does your vagina
Entitle you to a seat?
Never when you are face to face
With a wobbly old man on his feet.

‘We, Will not be, Washed away’ April 21, 2010

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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Today I think I was in a train
Full of a fraction of the
25 (2.5) lakh right-wing, orange coloured,
Trishul flavoured, Hindutva brigade,
That marched to the temple of democracy
(The Indian Parliament House)
To condemn price rise.

As I stood, back against the wall,
Wondering whether I over-imagined
The unnatural crowd at an unnatural hour,
A bhajan rings, the phone jarring my tense nerves.
A tabeez on an arm, an open file
(A checklist of his brigade?)
And I thought
What if I were Muslim?
Would my fear multiply and my
Nerves be keen to hide not just
Listening to Grasshoppers
(half-read in my bag)?

Were I Muslim,
Would they demand to check my penis,
And chop my limbs one by one,
And scatter them on the tracks?

Or, since I am not,
Like a hot iron rod,
Pierce one another,
Through my corrupt (by default)Hindu mind?
To neutralise the ‘infection’
That swells the belly of my thoughts?

The more I scream, the cleaner the purge?
Like the hot, iron rods
That pierced the distended bellies
Of mal-nutritioned, adivasi children
In Jharkhand?

(Trust you read yesterday’s Hindustan Times,
Mr. Minister, Home Minister, every Minister)

Like Operations Greenhunt, AFSPA,
Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation…
That continue to pierce the flesh of India?

Oh that barbaric, primitive, deceptive rod!
Like passing the parcel,
UPA I held it by night
And UPA II
(And the NDA)
by day.

Unbroken cycles, conjugated
With rallies of twenty five
(two point five?) lakh
Against price rise.

Conjugated,
With love from,
The Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas…
And a kiss from
That shiny, sparkly, new superpower
India.

My dinner tonight… February 1, 2010

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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1) Mutton biryani
2) Chicken Shawarma
3) 2 Porottas
4) One plate chicken 65
5) Two oranges

Yes, all in one sitting. And no, it is not recommended…

January 31, 2010

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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I have tried twice to start a new blog. I’ve even registered the damn things, but the words simply freeze when I attempt to write there. So until I manage to inaugerate them, I shall continue with the sporadic posts in here.

I’m in Chennai, for my data collection. What an ugly, statistical word: what I am doing is in effect trying to meet people and having conversations with them, although because of my tight schedule, the conversations resemble interviews more than they do anything else.

I’ve been in Chennai for a little over a week, and I have felt linguistically disabled. The last time I was here, I managed the three weeks with English and a smattering of Tamil words (sapta, solenge, wanga…yes, that basic). This time, maybe because I actually NEED the language comprehension, I’ve been feeling left out, and strangely enough, missing Hindi. I should put this in context- I might have grown up in Delhi, but I have never been a fan of the language. Suffice to say, we were forced into a working relationship through tuitions in the 8th standard.

I was very relieved when the fruitseller I bought oranges from switched to Hindi the minute I asked him how much they cost, in English. He was the second person. The first was a sanitation worker last week.

The counter-question I have been dreading the most-how is what you are doing, going to help us-has largely not been shot my way. The one time it was addressed to me, was in an almost casual way, and my translator, who is much more at ease with words and conversation, took care of it very well. I remember the episode in Delhi, when I attempted to speak to the male workers of a garment factory, and how the second or third thing they threw my way was that.

Why have I not been asked that, actually? Is it because my visits have been by appointment through common aquaintances? Is it because they are genial women as opposed to aggressive North Indian males?

I have realised the middle class construction of my questions now. I have an extensive questionnaire that aimed to find out what women garment workers felt about their work, and if working in a moneyed economy had transformed their social and psychological selves in any way. Most of the women I have spoken to, and I have spoken to about nine now, didn’t have the time to wonder about such things. Work is simply the way of earning a living, and their waking thoughts revolve around how to earn more money.

Which is fine, I had expected that. Whatever studies I have read on garment workers, focus on their terrible working conditions, terrible wages, terribly tough lives. Yes they are indeed terrible, and yes it very important to focus on these aspects, and not get caught up in personal stories. Yes it is important to focus on the women as workers, and it is important to view and construct the female worker as a worker first and foremost. But I was a little tired of the victim stories. I wanted to see the empowerment that the work had led to, and I wanted to see the people behind the workers.

Most of the women laugh when I ask them, as one of my concluding questions, what they would choose to write about, if they were to put down the story of their lives. This is not as inane as it might sound, or atleast the idea behind it is not. In conversation with a pretty remarkable woman, and while reading an awesome compilation on literature relating to work, I realised that the working class, or even workers, don’t have literatures. There is no working class equivalent of Dalit literature. And when workers have written about themselves, they have chosen to focus on non-working aspects of their lives.

Remember Baby Haldar’s autobiography? What she achieved was remarkable. I want to read her again.

Writing is so important. It is also cathartic, but that is not the point. Written words are a powerful medium to portray experiences, sustain anger, and mobilise around ideas.

So while most of the women laughed when asked to define ‘free time’ (sorry, person with middle class hopes of empowering work), and their hobbies, I am not sorry I asked the questions. The daily concern (which continues till the time comes for the eternal horizontal, in most cases) might be about the 9-to-6 and the money it earns them, but it is important to not forget they are individuals with imaginations, desires and dreams,right? Right?

This study is, I think, more for me, than for anybody else. I doubt I will come up with earth-shattering findings. It will earn my my M.A. degree, and that will be the end of its usefullness, if I were to be utilitarian about it. But perhaps, it will play a more important part-maybe it will encourage me to dig deeper, and follow this angle of thought. I guess I imagine a world where the working class, and more specifically the female working class, will organise, and negotiate/militate for wages that are actually Decent/Living wages, and work timings that actually leave them the time to be human beings.

Industrial labour is good, people. It gets women out of their homes, and with cash in their hands. Can you think of a better way to attack the issue of gender empowerment?

December 25, 2009

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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It’s Christmas! And I visit my blog again.

A short update: I have been too busy to really blog in the longest time. That sounds fairly pompous, doesn’t it? :) It is actually less simple- I just haven’t had anything to write in here. I think I’ve out grown this blog. It needs a makeover.

Talking of which…I finally took a wee step towards baldness. I have blogged before about a compulsive need to shave off my hair, it was one of my Things To Do for when I turned 20. I am now 22, still un-bald, but I did finally just step into a hairdressers and ask them to chop off my hair to less than an inch of its existence. The good lady hesitated, asked me several times whether I was sure (and whether I was trying to be a boy) and I came out with less than an inch of hair on my head. I felt elated, it’s very easy living without much hair. Ofcourse, it took me several days to look in the mirror without seeing a weird face staring back at me, but I am very pleased with the effect now, and intend to keep it.

A few weeks back, on 28th November, actually, I discovered NaNoWriMo, which is the the National Novel Writing Month, an annual event in November. The idea is that you write a novel in a month- you hit 50,000 words in 30 days and feel like super woman because you did! It kind of brings a primal sort of pleasure back into writing- you can weave the silliest story, and feel important while you’re all busy fitting in 1667 words a day!

I’ve also discovered a great way to beat writer’s block or what hits me more frequently these days- writer’s unimagination- free writing sessions! You sit by a notebook or computer for ten minutes every day and lets the day flow out of your fingers. Anything that caught your imagination stays on the paper, and you weave it into storylines. It’s worked brilliantly so far, even though I only did about a week of it. *Makes note to start again tomorrow* I’m very determined to do NaNoWriMo next year, and use my silly plot :)

I’m done with my internship, and I miss it. Anything I will say will under-represent the experience, so I will just say I have come back redder than before and very excited about it. The world makes a little more sense and my scrambled thoughts have stopped zipping around like blind mice on alcohol.

End of update. Christmas cheer to all.

Neela November 16, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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2. Neela
Dolly was late that day.

Sheep clucked impatiently. She had eaten her breakfast and now her lunch, and the pile of books from the library had been re-read three times. Where was Dolly?

Summer afternoons in Delhi have an eerie stillness. There is not a whisper of a breeze, or a hint of motion. The streets are empty of people, and only the trees are left to wilt in the searing heat.

It is this solitude, however, that proves so immensely attractive to vacationing young minds. Troupes of children colonise staircases in different apartment buildings, playing ‘Red letter ‘A’…’, ‘Monkey Memory’, safe in the knowledge that they would not be called in to eat, sleep or study. Those whose parents went to work thrived on this unstructured time till the evening. Those with mothers at home blessed the heat that made the adults so drowsy.

Sheep heard a loud whoop right outside the door, followed immediately by the sound of several running feet. She wrinkled her nose. Large groups of people were not her idea of fun. She usually spent her mornings reading until Dolly came, and then they went out together.
She perused the books in front of her wondering which one would be most suitable for a fourth reading. A low quavering sound filled the hallway just then, and Dolly ran to answer the bell.

“Isn’t our new bell funny?” she laughed, as she opened the door. Instead of Dolly, however, there stood a man before her. He was clad in blue shorts, and wore the expression of a missionary.

“Come, Aadab, let us go play with the other children,” he said, and smiled.

She shook her head and clutched the curtain in her hand. My name is Sheep! She said inwardly.

“All the children are outside,” he insisted.

Exactly, she thought, shrinking further behind the open door. She gave what she thought was another firm shake of the head. And since he wouldn’t stop smiling, she looked at his teeth. Yuck! She thought, and giggled. They were yellow like her socks.

This nightmarish figure was Gokulnath V. Konda. He was the man who lived next door and made a lot of noise in the mornings. She always heard him when she was on her way to school, gargling, rinsing his mouth, talking on the phone. Once she even heard him flushing the toilet, for he would leave his door open all the time.
Her mother distrusted him because of that. Leaving a door open all the time! Shameless, she would exclaim. Vulgar! Like people who did not draw their curtains across after sundown.

Sheep did not understand what ‘vulgar’ meant, but try as she might, she could not imagine what was so shameful about letting others catch a glimpse of warm, yellow light, from outside.

She had seen Dolly pause, sometimes, in the middle of a game to look into homes that had open curtains. Why are you looking? Play your turn, na, she would tell her, but a few minutes later, Dolly would turn again to look at the curtain-less windows.

Dolly’s older sister Rincey seemed to share her mother’s opinion. Dolly had been forbidden, under threat of sisterly violence, from giving as much of a glance at anybody’s window. She had escaped so far because Rincey helped her mother at work and did not play with them. Once, however, she had walked in on one of Dolly’s reveries in the middle of a game and had slapped her, and pulled her hair. Sheep had been shocked. Dolly and then Rincey had started crying but Rincey’s sobs were different from Dolly’s. Sheep took to staring hard at windows to understand the problem, but it was no use. Open windows were just open windows to her.

It was shameful for girls to sit with their knees apart, that she knew. Or to come to play without bloomers. Sister Clarita had said big girls must wear their bloomers. Sheep hated the ones she had. She had tried to get out of wearing it, the first time, by arguing that other people called her a little girl and that her bloomers had flowers on them. Sister had merely looked at her and said, you will get used to the flowers, and Renita had been called to begin the game.

Sheep had always been fascinated by Renita’s long hair which she wore in a braid. How lucky she was to have a religion that did not allow her to cut her hair! Her mother always said little girls should have little hair, or they don’t grow tall. Renita was tall; maybe little girls of Renita’s religion grew despite the hair.

Games at school were more than enough for her, she thought, but Gokulnath V. Konda disagreed. He wanted her to come out with him and the other children and play tag and pitthoo at the playground in the colony. He never asked Dolly, though, and Sheep and Dolly usually slipped out together before he came calling. And come calling he did, every other day, until the appearance of Neela and Nabir threw his routine out of whack.

They came in the middle of the summer break, a girl and a boy, sweating from the heat. The girl was as tall as Sheep and carried a battered suitcase decorated with stickers of Shahrukh Khan. The boy had a suitcase too, and was peering uncertainly into Gokulnath V. Konda’s open house. Ma had seen them waiting and had come out to ask if she could help them.

It turned out that they were Gokulnath V. Konda’s niece and nephew. Ma was shocked, as were the others in the building. Somehow they had all assumed that GVK, as the older people called him, had no family. In a way the presumption was not too far off the mark, for GVK’s only brother had died many years back. Neela and Nabir were his only living relatives, a fact he had obviously been pleased to hide.

Nobody knew why they had suddenly appeared, but GVK was reluctant to play uncle. He took to staying away from home as much as possible and ignoring them when impossible.

The neighbours felt sorry for them, but the two children kept to themselves. Nabir was a silent boy, who stayed indoors and drew all day. Sheep only caught a glimpse of him now and then when he went out for a walk. Neela was more visible. She would stand at the balcony every evening, staring into space, until she came to be friends with Dolly and Sheep.

She had watched them playing Gil Stapu every day and fighting just as often. Once, in the middle of a particularly heated argument, Dolly and Sheep found Neela grinning at them.

“You are just a SHEEEEP!” Dolly had said, and Neela had burst out laughing.

“Is that really your name?” she wanted to know.

“No, but I prefer it to Aadab,” said Sheep, trying to sneak her stapu past Dolly.

In no time at all, the three of them realised they were kindred spirits. They abhorred karela, tinda and geography and went into collective raptures over the same cartoon shows. They liked Gil Stapu and imaginary quests, Uncle Chips and Suppandi. They started spending all their time together and GVK with his strange, missionary zeal to unite the colony children and be a nasty relative seemed a distant nightmare.

Neela told Dolly and Sheep that her mother was unwell. Everybody thought Amma would die soon because she had been sick for so long. A week before they left for Delhi, she had finally been brought home from the hospital.

“Doesn’t that mean she is getting well?” asked Dolly.

“I thought so, but Nabir says no,” said Neela.

“What will happen to you when she dies?” Sheep had asked.

“Nabir said that is why they sent us here…” Neela grew silent. “He didn’t want to come; he hates our uncle.”

“Why?”

“He thinks he killed our father and is now killing our mother.”

Sheep and Dolly were wide-eyed. “Really?”

Neela nodded. “Black magic. Nabir says it’s easy. You have to hate a person enough and tie up some chillies with a lemon. He looks through the house everyday; once he finds the chillies and lemon, he is going to reverse it on our uncle.”

“Don’t you also look with him?” Sheep asked.

Neela didn’t reply. She squatted on the ground and picked up a twig. With deep concentration, she drew a face in the soil. This is Amma, she smiled; don’t I look just like her? Dolly and Sheep looked dubiously from the drawing to Neela’s face.

“You don’t wear earrings…” muttered Sheep.

“Your nose…” said Dolly.

Neela continued to crouch on the ground. She looked at Sheep and Dolly thoughtfully.

“Can you keep a secret?” She asked.

They nodded.

“You have to swear that what I tell you will stay between us.”

“God promise, I won’t tell,” swore Dolly, pinching her throat with her thumb and forefinger to seal the oath.

Neela shook her head. “No, that swear is for babies. You have to swear my way.”

“Here, spit on your hands like this and hold it out in front of you,” she said. “Then we count to three and slap our hands together.”

She rolled her eyes at their expressions of disgust. “Everybody seals big oaths this way!”

They counted to three, slapped their saliva smeared hands, and that was it; anybody who broke this oath would have all their teeth fall out in a day. Dolly was impressed in spite of herself; it sounded a lot more binding than ‘God promise’!

The secret was revealed as Neela slowly inserted her hand into her pocket and drew out a piece of crystal. It was a magic crystal, she said. Nabir and she had found it outside their home.

“This stone,” said Neela, holding it up against the sun, “acts like a magic mirror.”

“There is no such thing-,” began Dolly, but Sheep shushed her.

“Whenever I want to see what Ma or Nabir are doing, all I have to do is concentrate on this,” continued Neela.

“Can I see?” asked Dolly, still sceptical, but Neela shook her head. Carefully, she put the crystal back in her pocket.

“If Ma dies, we can go on seeing her face,” she said, a little quietly.
*** ***
It was the empty streets that put the idea in their heads.

“Let us find the tunnel!” exclaimed Dolly.

The tunnel? Their eyes glowed with nervous excitement.

Local myth and legend had it that back when this part of Delhi was an undeveloped jungle frequented by thieves and bandits, a tunnel had been dug to create three escape routes out of Delhi. One led to Meerut, famous even now for day light robberies, and another to Agra. As for the third, nobody knew where that one led.

How true the legend was is debatable, but the reputation of the tunnel was filthy. Every parent in the neighbourhood had forbidden their children from even approaching it. A few of the less obedient ones had tried, ofcourse, but all they had to report was a crumbling entrance that could have been the mouth of the tunnel and a snake or two in the area.

Dolly’s restless soul had longed to be one of the disobedient ones, but she had been too scared of Rincey to try. Now, however, emboldened by Neela’s presence, and the hot noon that kept most people indoors, she suggested the tunnel.

Neela was delighted. A forbidden adventure to spice up their quests!

Sheep was a little doubtful. “Shouldn’t we ask Ma…?”

“And you think she’ll say yes?” Dolly rolled her eyes.

“Oh come on! It’s just a tunnel!” pleaded Neela. “Your mother hasn’t even seen it, how can she know it is bad?”

Sheep turned the matter over in her head. Neela clutched the crystal in her hand for good luck.

“Okay!” grinned Sheep, suddenly, and off they went.

The directions to the tunnel were pure hearsay. They followed the path by the playground that went around the Pump House to the boundary wall of the colony. They made their way to a broken bit of the wall which had created a no-man’s land of sorts, overgrown with weeds. Here there was no line to define where the slums ended and the colony began.

At first they couldn’t spot anything that looked out of the ordinary. Then Dolly found it; a crumbly arch, four feet off the ground.

“That does not look very much like a tunnel to me,” said Sheep, doubtfully.

Ignoring her, Dolly and Neela approached the structure and peered in. It smelled musty. Gradually their eyes adjusted to the darkness, and they beckoned to Sheep. There was a raggedy blanket inside, a mug and stubs of several beedies.

“Do you think bandits still use this place,” asked Sheep, wide-eyed.

“Don’t be silly!” said Neela.

“Should we go in?” Sheep did not really want to hear the answer.

“We can’t.” Neela pointed beyond the beedi stubs. The tunnel was blocked up by trash of all sorts, big plastic boxes, scrap iron and blocks of broken cement.

“Do you think the tunnel actually branches into three behind that?” asked Dolly, excitedly.
They didn’t know, but it was fun to guess. Now that their curiosity had been satisfied, it would have made sense to find better smelling places to play in. The mystery and allure of the tunnel, however, was too strong, and they found themselves returning to it almost every day.
*** ***
Half a month after the arrival of Neela and Nabir, Sheep woke up one morning to a lot of commotion downstairs. She heard shouts, curses and many angry voices. Running to the balcony she immediately spotted a crowd of people gathered up the road, gesticulating at each other. She could see GVK in the crowd and Dolly’s sister. She rushed next door, but neither Neela nor Nabir knew anything about the matter beyond the fact that their bell had rung early in the morning, and GVK had gone out.

It was from Dolly that they came to know that there had been a burglary in the colony the previous night. There had also been a murder in the slums behind, and both crimes were suspected to be connected.

From Rincey they learnt that the Colony residents were accusing the slum residents of harbouring the suspected criminal, which had the indignant slum residents pointing out that as the suspected burglar was a suspected murderer for them they had a greater interest in finding him!

The row continued for a few hours. The Police came in, took down complaints and eventually came to the conclusion that a disreputable old man and his teenaged grandson had committed both crimes.

The excitement faded, and the colony resumed its inertia. No sooner had the afternoon stupor set in than the daily exodus of the children began.

Sheep, Dolly and Neela went, as usual, to the tunnel.

They were there for several hours and Neela was playing with her crystal when Sheep suddenly gave a start. Drawing her finger to her lips, she gave a warning glance to the others and pointed towards the tunnel. Soon, they saw what she had seen; a sense of movement within the darkness, and faint sounds from within.

“Is it a dog?” whispered Sheep, half hopefully.

“Only one way to find out…” replied Dolly and made her way to the entrance.

“Nothing!” she called out in relief, and Neela and Sheep joined her.

All three of them peered inside, blinking against the sudden darkness. Sheep’s eyes again caught sight of movement. Their eyes adjusted at the same time, and they found themselves looking at an old man and a boy, half covered by the blanket that lay there.

An old man and a boy!

They stared at each other, not sure what to do. The man was drunk, and his eyes were bloodshot. He tried to say something, but he slurred his speech and subsided. The boy was blinking his eyes rapidly. He must have been about Nabir’s age.

Seconds ticked by, and the figures on this run-down patch of land, claimed by neither the colony nor the slum, or by both, when it suited them, seemed to have been paralysed. Finally, the boy hung his head, and the man yawned.

“Shall we leave?” asked Sheep quietly. Neela nodded, and the three of them made their way out.

The girls sat in Sheep’s home, wondering what to do. Should they tell somebody? There was little reason not to tell, and yet…

The matter was soon taken away from their hands. Before they could come to a decision, GVK overheard Neela talking to Nabir after dinner and he wouldn’t let her alone till she told him everything.

The news was all over the building in seconds. GVK was all for dragging the man and the boy out of the tunnel then and there, before they ran away, but the others calmed him down.

You don’t know if that area is safe at night, said some, and they might have already run away. Besides, who knows if they are actually the culprits? One can’t trust the Police anyway…

They went to bed that night with a strange sense of foreboding.

Early the next day, Dolly came to see Neela and Sheep. The Police had gone to the tunnel but it was empty. Everybody was very angry. They had taken away the blanket and the mug, she said.

Three small figures made their way to the tunnel that afternoon as well. Neela, as always, carried her crystal, Sheep carried biscuits and Dolly, a sombre expression.

Dolly had looked in askance at the biscuits but Sheep had shrugged.

The area near the tunnel looked disturbed. Stones had been kicked about and weeds stamped under heavy feet.

“They’ve gone. The Police said they’ve gone,” said Dolly, chewing her hair abstractedly.

The pits of their stomachs were doing strange leaps. It knew, before them, that Dolly and the Police were wrong.

They peered into the darkness and Sheep gave a yelp.

The old man and the boy sat framed against the dark hole, stinking worse than the day before. Several thoughts raced through their minds. The boy was as old as Nabir, wouldn’t he be scared of the Police?

“Why are they back?” whispered Neela, in dismay. Why are you back!

The boy looked like he was about to answer but the old man stopped him.

Sheep took out her biscuits and nervously extended it to them. The boy took it eagerly, but the old man glared at them.

He was so like Nabir that Neela couldn’t help asking, “What is your name?”

Whether the old man would have let him answer nobody would ever know. No sooner had the question been uttered than there was a shout. Nabir came sprinting up to the tunnel, waving a bunch of chillies and lemon.

“I found them! Neela, look!” He cried. Neela paled, and looked at the chillies helplessly.

There was another shout, and they all turned to find Gokulnath V. Konda appear suddenly behind Nabir, eyebrows knitted together in fury and frothing at the mouth. He looked from the chillies in Nabir’s hand to Neela and the boy, his eyes bulging.

“How dare you!” he screamed, though Sheep wasn’t sure which of them that was addressed to.

Neela rushed at him, and pushed him hard. The old man laughed, and something seemed to snap in GVK.

He dashed forward and grabbed the old man by the collar, screaming for the colony security guard as the boy crouched deeper inside the hole. With increasing levels of fury GVK shrieked and cursed, spit spraying off his tongue, as the mute guard watched uncomprehendingly.

The old man tried to free himself, but GVK tightened his hold and punched him for good measure. His eyes fell on the baton carried by the guard, and like a madman he lunged for it, raining frenzied blows on the old man. Again and again the baton fell on various parts of the man and again and again GVK hit him. It was happening too fast; Nabir still clutched the chillies, and the girls stood still as statues. The boy tried to stop GVK, but with a snarl, he turned on him too.

The noise finally woke up the slumbering neighbourhood and drew out the children from the stairs. The slum dwellers came too, and they all surrounded the scene and watched with a fascinated horror as a middle aged man beat a drunken old man and his companion. There was blood everywhere, blood and spit, and GVK was sweating. Somebody finally took the baton away from him, and led him away from his victims.

Twenty minutes later an ambulance arrived to carry away the old man and the boy.

Dolly and Sheep still stood there, shaken and terrified. Nabir was sitting on the ground, his head in his hands. Neela was mute with shock. Blood was mingling with the loose soil around the mouth of the tunnel. She extended a finger and touched the mud. I lost the magic stone, she said, breaking into sobs.
*** ***
The incident was never much talked about publicly. It had shaken up the colony. One was used to hearing of violence and murders being committed in the slums beyond, but here was a member of their own society who had wantonly taken up a weapon and beaten to death an old man. It was a collective secret that everyone seemed to have spat on their hands and sworn not to share.

Neela and Nabir disappeared the day after the incident, and GVK left his quarters soon after. Neither Dolly nor Sheep had seen or heard them go, and the last memory they would always have of that friendship would be of that hot, summer afternoon, when they had returned to a tunnel that now justified its reputation.

Dolly moved away too. She had been soundly thrashed at home for everything that was and was not her fault that day, and her sister had suggested to her mother that they find work elsewhere. There had only been time for a hurried goodbye, because Rincey would not let her stay.

Sheep was now all alone with the memories of that afternoon, and they began to play tricks on her. Had the boy smiled at the biscuits and said shukriya just before Nabir appeared? Had Neela brought her crystal out to play that day?

It was all a blur. Neela’s arrival, Gil Stapu, and the first afternoon when they decided to go adventuring. She remembered the smell of the man and the tattered clothes of the boy. She remembered Dolly and Neela walking up to the entrance; she remembered the first thwack of the baton falling on the man. She remembered the blood. She remembered Neela touching the crimson earth and crying because she had lost her magic stone.

That afternoon had forever entered her sleep. Who knows, perhaps Neela and Dolly shared her nightmares.

She dreamt of the guard and GVK; she dreamt of the old man who now walked around saying I am not dead, they burnt the wrong body.
One day the man was joined by a mud drawing that wore earrings and had a lop-sided nose. “I am not dead”, said the drawing, “they burnt the wrong body.”

She woke up, then, because Neela no longer had her magic mirror and Neela’s mother was dead.

Taposh October 25, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
4 comments

Taposhda had called me to a coffee shop in the middle of nowhere.

“Hullo, Sandip, how are you. There is an atrocious structure that has come up in-. Come there at three, we shall mock it together.” That was his style; abrupt, unexpected and assured.

I was surprised to hear from him after so long. The last I had seen of him was in college, an eccentric senior given to sporadic flashes of brilliance. We were in the same department, but it wasn’t until the last term of his final year that we spoke. He came up to me in the library, put his feet up on a chair and asked me what I thought of Godot.
“It defines my life, you know,” he said, not waiting for a reply. “Come to the window, I want to smoke.”

I had complied, because he clearly expected me to. From Godot, he went on to air his opinions on television, street lights and public transport.

“Oh, I’m out of smokes. See you around, I’m Taposh.” That was it. He left as abruptly as he had entered, and from that day on, he seemed to lay a sort of claim on me. It wasn’t exactly a friendship; it was more of a symbiotic relationship that we had. He liked bouncing ideas off me, he said, because I was such a good listener. On my part, I liked him and the shape my thoughts took after every session with him.

Taposhda graduated with top honours and disappeared off the scene. Some said he had gone off to study theatre in London, others claimed he was on a tour of the country. I would get an occasional cryptic message from him, on my phone or sometimes via email. ‘I am looking for my Mountain of the Moon,’ said one. ‘What do you think of education? Does it make sense to get another degree?’ asked another. In a few years, even those messages stopped. There was no way of getting in touch with him, wherever he was, he evidently did not have a cell phone of his own, nor did he ever reply to an email.

I finished my graduation, and then my post-graduation, and Taposhda faded to a memory.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my phone beeped that day and I read his message. Typically of him, it was unsigned. However, as nobody else called me Sandip (with good reason, for Sandip was not my name), I knew at once it was him. I debated my reply, for I was at the other end of nowhere, and with a disposable income that vanished sooner than I could make it meet my ends.

It was Taposhda, however, and I hadn’t seen him in four years. So there I was, sitting in a glass house, drinking filter coffee and waiting for him to arrive. He was late, even by his standards. I was one of three patrons, each sitting at a round mahogany table, watching people outside. It is not easy being an observer when all the walls are made of glass. For every person I fixed my eyes on, three others turned to look at me. I was surprised at how crowded it was. Each plane of the hexagonal structure was obscured by the people who constantly moved to and fro outside of it. Growing slightly claustrophobic, I decided to train my eyes on the ceiling, also made of glass but thankfully free of motion. It didn’t really help; I felt those eyes continue to bore into me.

The staff seemed impervious to the heightened visibility. They were all impeccably dressed and courteous to the point of being obsequious. One of them now came towards me with my sixth coffee in an exquisite cup made of bone china. I looked at it nervously as he lowered it off the tray onto the table. Do you have anything that is less easy to break, I wanted to ask, but he smiled, said enjoy your coffee and gracefully walked away. Rather on the edge, because of the eyes, Taposhda and all that caffeine in me, I jerked the coffee clumsily, and nearly dropped the saucer. For no reason that I could fathom, my cheeks grew hot and I surreptitious looked around to see if my awkwardness had been spotted. The waiters were at their stations, polishing other elegant cups, and my fellow coffee drinkers did not look my way. I was about to sigh with relief when my eyes shot to the wall on my right. A little girl with straggly brown hair stood grinning, her feet apart and her hands on her waist. I recognised her; she had offered to sell me a pen with a torch, ten rupees only!, as I came in.

“Sandip!” came a voice, just as I was about to push back my chair and leave that horrible place. It was Taposhda, and four years or not, I was furious with him.

“What kind of a place is this? “I began.

“I know! Delightful, isn’t it?” He chuckled as he slid into a chair and looked expectantly at me. I looked at him incredulously, and pointedly shifted my coat to my other arm.

“You’re wearing woollens? Is it winter? No wonder my feet feel cold!”

We both looked at his feet. Taposhda was wearing a dhoti in peak winter. I laughed and sat down again. It was Taposhda, what did one expect?

“Are you having that coffee? Thanks, I don’t mind one.” He pulled out a biscuit from the pocket of his shirt and looked at me. His smile was warm, and as I watched him drink from that exquisite cup, I ran my eyes over him. He looked much older than when I last saw him and I told him so.

“Wiser, too, do you think?” He asked, and pulled out a pipe. “This is how I burn my tobacco now. Much more aesthetic, don’t you think?”

“I like the concept of a pipe, more than the execution of the concept,” I said.

“True, true,” he nodded absently, as he held it between his teeth. We sat in silence for a while. I was never much of a talker, and Taposhda seemed busy admiring his smoke rings. Suddenly he sat up.

“Three hundred people died yesterday.” He said, and lapsed back into a brief silence.

“If a bomb went off right now, what do you think will happen?” he asked.

“What kind of an answer are you looking for?” I returned.

“I don’t know!” He cried. This was an unfamiliar Taposhda. The one of old never said I don’t know, and never looked anxious or uncertain.

“What have you been doing?” he asked abruptly, in a customary way, jumping from one topic to another.

“Playing.” I replied. “Still trying to make sense of my education. Working a job, as I wait for my eureka moment.”

“Ah. I never did get another degree, you know. My papers will always say-Taposh. B.A. (Honours) only. Traveller.”

“That’s exactly what I am. That is all that I am.” He said this with some violence.

“After my graduation, I decided I needed the bigger picture, and hopped onto a train. I’ve been everywhere since then, but what sense have I made of anything? I can’t seem to get off that train. What use am I?”

“Sandip, if a bomb were to go off right this minute, if six bombs were to go off right this minute, can you imagine what will happen? The blast will take place outside. We will see the flames, we will see the dead, and because it has all happened before, we will go on drinking coffee. We will crook our fingers around the stems of these ridiculous cups and make ridiculous small talk. We will occasionally glance outside, casual eyes will move from one writhing figure to another. And then we will look at our coffee and discuss its origin. Or perhaps we will push back our chairs in fright and run outside to help. We will ferry a few bloodied men and women to hospitals, but in effect we go on drinking our coffee. This ridiculous glass house, my dear Sandip, is an exaggeration of many things. You and I, we are on the inside.”

I scratched my head. On my right, the girl with the straggly hair was back. She stuck her tongue out at me and gave me the finger. My jaw dropped open.

Taposh jumped up and my eyes swivelled back to him. I have to go pee, he said, and disappeared. That was the last I saw of him.

Two days later, I received a short note. Sorry, I forgot I left you waiting, it said. I ran into Collector Cama on the way, and he had something new for me. I am not a bleeding heart liberal. What do you think of Godot?

What did I think of Godot? I wasn’t sure now, and I wasn’t sure all those years back either, whether he wanted my thoughts on the play or the character. It didn’t matter, because we were never to continue that conversation.

Some months later, my door bell rang. I was in the middle of a project, and let it ring a second time before I went to answer it. It was the postman.

“I have a package for Sandip, Madam. D 4/63.”

I stared at him. Taposhda again.

“That would be for me,” I said.

“But Madam, it says Sandip…”

“Yes, the person who sent it is mad.”

The postman remained suspicious, but there was little he could do; the addresses matched, even if the gender didn’t. I took the parcel and felt for its contents. This was a little out of our method of communication. Or rather, his method of reaching me.

There was a note inside, and an old diary I recognized from his college days.

My Dear Sandip,

If you are reading this, it means I have succumbed to the foolish thought of finishing our conversations through a letter. It doesn’t matter that this is not the library, or even that hideous coffee shop; our pattern remains the same. I talk, I ramble, and you listen. I leave every such conversation with a new idea in my head, my jumbled thoughts organising into some form of coherence. I am not going to thank you for that, I am sure my august company must have more than compensated for any hardships thus endured.

This is my diary. Oh, that sentence was a joke, by the way. I have many diaries, but this one will best serve our purpose. Read it, if you will.

I found my Mountain of the Moon.

Taposh

P.S.- I withdraw my statement about the aesthetic appeal of the pipe. Nothing beats the raw beauty of a beedi.

I re-opened the newspaper before I opened his diary. One of the first few pages had a small article about five dead Naxals. The reporter did not name them; by now nobody cared to know. Taposh was right, beyond a point, we just go on drinking our coffee. And now, instinct told me, Taposh was dead. It is hard to substantiate the certainty I felt. I had no occasion to believe that the brilliant, if eccentric, student would take to arms to express his reaction to the circumstances that existed around him.

I try to imagine what it must have been like. Someone would have kept a gun in front of him. A toy gun, that merely asked a question. Would you use me to force away a world that is clawing away at everything you believe in? Taposh would pause, and remember all those places he had been to, an impotent traveller of ideas. He would come to a sudden decision, laugh, and edit his bio data to read- Taposh. B.A. (Honours). Violent traveller only. And then he would ask them what they thought of Godot.

What plans would they have had for him? How did he feel when he first pulled the trigger? Why did he have his diary sent to me? I couldn’t bring myself to read it, not as yet. I kept trying to reconcile the dhoti-clad, curly haired young man who had aged in the four years he left college, to the nameless five who were squeezed in between articles on the Ambani brothers and BT Brinjal.

Unbidden, my thoughts turned to that little girl who sold pens and looked into glass houses to give coffee drinkers the finger. They were both outsiders, even though Taposh was, by default, inside.

In the brief moment before his death, did he feel he had finally got off the train? Would that little girl give him the finger too?

Slowly I reached for the notebook, and turning to the first page, I began to read.

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