Thursday, 22 November 2018

Bokeh


Let me begin with a question which keeps revisiting me every time I sit down to write - How big should a collection of words be to be called a story? Do words matter at all? Will a well-crafted, emotion-filled and deeply philosophical sentence classify as a story?

***

Walking underneath sodium lamps in a city that turns yellow come nightfall, I saw them smoking cigarette and laughing over jokes in a language I could not understand. They were dressed in luminescent green to reflect any incoming motor headlight. For most of their life they were dots on top of sky-scraping construction sites or blurred with dust and cement on roadsides. Near me, with every smoke they let out piercing deep into my nostrils and further into my lungs, I felt them, strangely as it may seem, to be real.

***

There are stories pouring out of homes and into streets every night – some you hear and forget, some you write down while some you step on and kill softly. In between these stories, I heard a mother’s lullaby round a corner where the street bends unceremoniously into drainage. The song she sang reminded me of my Amma. Out of nowhere I found myself wondering when had Amma suddenly stopped singing to me. Was it when I first went to school or was it when I turned ten? Sometimes these little things fall apart so delicately that you won't realize it till the day it is completely lost.


***

A sudden burst of rain found me sheltering beside a closed shop. There were two middle aged men, drunk and happy, hearing songs on a radio. One of them asked me if I had eaten and that he had food to spare. He introduced himself as Senthil. He told he was a painter and his friend as a former military person. Senthil said that for the past eight years, this shop-side was their home. The military guy, he said, was kicked out from his own home by his children. I looked at him half enquiring, he smiled silently. Senthil sang along with the radio for a while and said Tamil songs and MGR were his lifeblood. The rain was fading, making the music grow louder while I sat and thought about the food he offered to spare. When I was leaving, Senthil asked me to live my life by a song. "Kannai Nambaathey" he sang "Unnai Yemaatrum.. Kanneeril Maatum". With the little Tamil I knew, I could understand that he asked me not to trust my own eyes.

***

My grandmother was waiting for me to come home so that she can go to sleep. My grandfather was asleep in his chair. This disease which was eating into his brain changed his physicality and mannerisms so much so that sleeping became his only real habit. He had become forgetful, he became restless, he suffered from hallucinations and sleep disorders. Perhaps for him the world wasn't as harsh as it was for us. For me, the most troubling aspect about this disease was that it made me forget how he used to be without it. It not only affects him, I thought, but the memories of him too.

***

The city was sleeping and I was surrounded by the blue light of my laptop screen. How many words are necessary to make a story, I thought. I didn't have much, I didn't have words with structure or emotions. I didn't have novels or legends waiting within. I didn't have satire or political observations. All I had were the things I saw and the moments I lived, and I knew I had to write it down anyhow.

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Murder

On Easter Day last year, most people (including me) in our town woke up to hear that Jayan had murdered a man. To begin with, it has to be said that many of us wasn't particularly shocked with the news. Maybe it was because we felt Jayan personified a man who would kill another man just for the sake of it.

"Jayan, he is as dark as the hair on my armpit" Johnson chettan, my nosy neighbour pointed out.

"He is a fucking Maoist" said Ravi chettan (owner, chef and waiter of 'Ravi's High Range Tea Shop') while he handed a glass of tea to Comrade Valsan.

Valsan, sipping his favorite morning tea and reading the report in Desabhimani stated the most obvious of all reasons, "He is a low caste scum!"

These conversations continued inside homes, between school benches, under bus waiting shelters and in toddy shops. Everyone who remotely knew Jayan seemed to have a very deep and thorough understanding of his motives - everyone was sure he did it and everyone was disappointed it took him so long to have blood on his hands.

Jayan was indeed considered by many as a person who was born with a desire to cause havoc. I have heard numerous fables of him which details his misadventures, his yearning to spend hours drinking locally brewed alcohol or toddy and his voyeur for violence at the smallest of stimuli. I must say that in our locale, most of us grew up knowing what Jayan was capable of. So it wasn't much of a surprise that this final piece was added to his jigsawed life. Yet some people like me, we thought this was just a beginning.

***

Weeks later, when Jayan was granted bail, he came to my home asking for money. Yes, I didn't give his full wage amidst the issue, but then I had no real intention to give money to a murderer. He would buy toddy and kill someone again, I presumed.

"Sir, I have my wife and daughter to feed. Do you want them to be prostitutes?" Jayan begged.

I wanted to let him know that if his daughter wants to be a prostitute, she can start with me. I had to control myself from spitting it out because that wasn't proper etiquette for a person owning land like me. So I refused his request saying that it wasn't my concern.

To be frank, I always thought of Jayan as a committed employee. When his co-workers took siestas, Jayan would cut weed (which was usually done by older womenfolk). When others would take eternities to finish food or tea during work hours, Jayan would get it over in minutes, he never spoke to his co-workers, he never laughed or joked about anything at all. It is funny how people like him were tailor-made for physical work but could never live a life of humanity. I used to think that it was because they were born low, survive that low and become low in the process, that it was their way of life.

***

Contractor Jaison came to me with Comrade Valsan a week after Jayan came begging. They sat on my new couch as if they were sitting on a bench in a park. They folded their dirty legs criss-cross so that both their calves can experience harmony when it sinks into cushion. I hated it. I mean, I would've done the same thing if it were an inexpensive couch in one of their homes, but mine was costly.

"You know Jaison sir, right?" Valsan asked.

"Tell me one businessman in this town who don't know him, Valsan chhetta" I smiled and shook Jaison's hand.

The conversation which followed mostly centered on Jaison's need to sell his tea estate near the border and leave our place for good.

"You see Anand" he said while changing his sitting position and thankfully dropping his legs from my couch "I am too busy taking up Government contracts that I have no time to look after that shit hole"

He laughed a little when he told 'shit hole' but seeing our lack of interest stopped and continued "Besides, I don't trust no fucker here, even my brother's son. So I have no option but to sell it. And Valsan here says you maybe interested."

I was in fact interested in the plot but knowing how these deals worked, I expressed how profitless it would be if I took it up. "Besides" I remembered "It is where that Jayan lives. It is where he killed your brother, the case will surely cause me problems."

Hearing this Jaison laughed again, "Jayan! That lowborn scumbag!" he shouted. "He is an idiot, an absolute idiot!"

Jaison put a small break in his speech, possibly for us to give our comment about the statement. But Valsan, me and surely the entire town was tired and no longer interested in the murder or in Jayan, so we didn't add anything.

Jaison continued eventually, "That asshole! He comes drunk to threaten my brother. He had the guts to say in front of our family that me and my brother were perverts, that we were troubling his wife and daughter! That fucker!" Nerves in his temples were now standing up.

"He is a weak guy though. And a fool!" he shouted "He called the police himself that night, saying he murdered my brother. The fool! Saying he killed because my brother tied him up and beat his daughter. I mean, if it was me, I would've hid the body and fled away!"

"So you think if I buy the estate the police or Jayan wouldn't be a trouble? Still too risky for me."

"Boy, you think Jayan will be out for long? He doesn't have money to fight the case, he will go back to where he belongs my friend." Jaison said with confidence.

"But then he did it in self-defence, he has an argument there. I don't want trouble if I'm to buy the estate."

"Dear friend" Jaison stood up from the couch, came up and sat on the teapoy in front of me to make his point careful and clear, "This case is not a problem" he said, now stressing on each word to make it sound perfect "We.. have.. money.., we.. have.. power.. and besides this fucker put a wooden stick in my brother's head for Christ's sake!"

"You may be right" I said "But I can take your estate only if you remove Jayan's family from the property and give me a 10% discount on market value"

Jaison shifted back towards the couch and thought for a long time. He smiled and said we have a deal.

***

Tomorrow is my first Easter in the new estate. And it is only obvious that I think about what happened here a year back. I look towards the partially destroyed outhouse which used to be Jayan's home. I see Contractor Jaison and his brother James coming in the dark, holding a wooden stick. I see Jayan trying to stop them in panic and getting beaten hard, repeatedly - on his torso, chest and back. I see his daughter and wife coming out and getting assaulted. I see Jayan struggling to stop the stick pouncing on him again and again. I see him in anger, I see him getting hold of the stick and in pure drunken rage beating up James. I see Jaison running for his own safety.

Tomorrow morning I need to go to Ravi chettan's Tea Shop. I need to tell them, tell that pathetic Johnson and everyone else that Jayan didn't murder James because he was a Maoist or a drunkard. He murdered Jaison because some people are born to kill, born to be murderers and they know or can be nothing else. It is, after all, their way of life.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Lavenders in our Portico | Part 1

On the first morning of her last summer, Vygha woke up to find her body covered in sweat and her mind yearning for Anees. It was not an ordinary yearning; for numerous years she fell asleep wanting his heated breaths to hit her cold face but now she wanted something more. She wanted to know, once again, how it feels to have his manhood move along her bosom and to pull it towards her and kiss it till he cried with passion.

She remembered days when they laid naked in their portico, often smoking, surrounded by the sound of crickets and the twinkle of fireflies. She used to tell him about lavenders and mountain tops, he would close his eyes and listen. Anees loved her stories, he loved her journeys, and she loved him for it. They planned countless adventures after their marriage and often did none; they wanted to smoke the costliest weed, they wanted to travel the world like hippies and they wanted to grow lavenders in their portico.

Vygha got out of bed, her thoughts were still raging wars inside as she wiped away the sweat and tied her remaining silver hair into a bun. She walked towards her daughter's room, it was still and dark, she hadn't yet woken up. As Vygha grew more and more senile, she became rather fond of early mornings. She remembered how, during her youth, she hadn't seen the Sun rise for years. She was the aphrodite of never ending midnights and Anees a true partner in crime. It was during one of those nights that she, high on adrenaline and drugs, asked Anees if he could handle her as a wife. It may have occurred to him as a surprise, but then he was already in love and couldn't resist.  Together they waged wars against time with blatant animosity; they drank wine all night and made love all day.

But now it seemed to Vygha that time had indeed won. She walked, feebly as she could, to the kitchen, made tea and went with it to the portico. She looked at their yard and at the portico as if it was flowering in front of her for the first time. She felt a deep and nostalgic affinity towards grains of soil, blades of grass and every plant and flower she saw. She found with delight how the portico blossomed with the many flowers she kept- roses, poppies and dahlias - all caressed by her wrinkled hands and visited by all the bees in their town. She remembered how she used to paint these pots and hang them from the roof so that butterflies needn't be so grounded to get what they wanted. She thought about foremothers of these flowers and wondered if they knew Anees like she knew him, after all they too would have counted his pubic hairs and learned when he moans the most.

She also remembered, with discomfort, how the mango tree planted by her mother was cut down to make a car shed for her son-in-law and how the name board announcing 'Architect Vygha Krishnan' gradually rusted and fell away. It was only recently that Anees's motorbike was sold to an antique shop and her car, beyond old, was made into a sitting space overlooking the valley. Her daughter wanted to sell the car at first, but Vygha protested and decided to overhaul it. She called a mechanic and asked him to cut down doors on one side to make an opening, and to turn the seats to face the opening. She kept the engine for herself and asked the mechanic to paint the insides in the darkest of blues. After the work was finished the mechanic was so in awe at himself and his work that he didn't take money from Vygha, but gave her his gratitude for bringing out the artist in him.

She would sit inside that car in the evenings, take with her a kerosene lamp, some books and her diary. She had read all the books she owned and now found pleasure in re-reading many of them to find bits and pieces she missed during her previous readings. She would note these down in her diary along with a remark on how well she lived that day. This activity was partly for her own amusement and partly to give her daughter and her son-in-law their own moment of privacy.

She had indeed become reclusive, but she still didn't develop a lack of affinity towards life. It was always difficult for her to await death in peace, she could never do that. Even when Anees came back home one day in a freezer, even when her daughter and son-in-law shifted to help 'ward-off' her loneliness, even when every friend she knew had died or just plainly forgot, she couldn't welcome her own death. She would rather sit idle in the portico for hours tussling with her impulses and warding away strange desires to travel. She knew she wasn't able, at least physically, to be at places where she wanted to be - the highest villages, the coziest cafes and the funkiest parties, but she could still reach there in her mind.

Things have indeed changed, she thought as she finished her tea, the Sun came up in the far East, and its first rays covered everything around in an orange tinge. Light in her daughter's room was put on, another day had begun.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Plight

As his arms softened around her belly button, Maria had a deep urge to disappear. She was a prostitute; her breasts were hardened by constant violence it endured from its clients, her pubis was infected, her lips grimaced in pain every time she asked it to kiss someone. And yet, this man was tender towards her. 'She didn't deserve it' she thought.

"Maria, what is it that you think about?" he asked.

"I'm thoughtless." she lied.

"Your face looks like Lake Kinneret in moonlit nights - blank.. white.." he said.

Maria smiled. She loved this man. He had slept under the moon and traveled to Eastern lands. He was a traveler, a dreamer - she found it to be a sensual combination. But she couldn't beg him to stay, could she?

His hands pulled at her skirt allowing her rotting vulva feel the coldness of his winter lips - his long beard stroked her thighs, his hair flowed peacefully along the slopes of her stomach. Maria was afraid, she felt she could no longer tame the wild beatings of her shallow heart. She wanted him, she couldn't live without, he was her messiah.

She gathered courage and asked, "Will you go away again?"

"To India?"

"To anywhere?" she frowned.

"I do not know Maria. I do not know what tomorrows might bring. I have learnt to live in todays for now" he smiled.

"You look peaceful" she mused. "I don't like it. Are you becoming a nihilist?"

"A Buddhist!" he replied.

"What is that?" she was visibly in distaste.

"Someone who believes that we create the world through our thoughts, that we make our meanings out of nothing."

"Equally Nihilistic!" she grimaced.

"No. More beautiful. More lively." he smiled.

'Beautiful Nihilism!' she thought. He settled himself under her hairy armpit where her sweat seemed to him like dew drops on cold grass. She knew he would fall asleep soon. All his life he searched for something to keep him alive and now he has found a reason so worth living that he may die for it, she thought. She couldn't understand such commitment to an idea, she herself had barely started committing to a person.

"Are you sleepy?" she asked.

"I must say so."

"When will you come here again?"

"When blood cease to flow along the streets, when people respect each other, when there are no Gods and no Kings, I will come to you!" he replied.

"And if it is your blood that flows, what will I be left with?"

"My blood and an idea!" he said sleepily.

Maria watched him fall asleep, she didn't blink, she could feel breeze from the highest mountains of Greece slamming at her door and windows. She watched him all night, how deep he sleeps and the way his lips curl into smiles every now and then. He was a dreamer.

***

Maria, as she walked by Kinneret, had only him in her mind. She could still smell his blood in her napkin, her hands were pressing on it as if it were his genitals - softly, cautiously. Contrary to what he imagined, the blood only flowed more and many regarded him as God himself. How indecorously the world handled our dreams, she thought.

A gentle wind was blowing and it brought silent waves in the lake. Maria sat motionless. She did look like Kinneret, she thought.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hiraeth

*
Dedicated to Amma and Achan
*


It was a single-roomed quarters that existed at a time far before technology, you may say it outlives other memories of home precisely because of this attribute - there was more life, more birds, more stars in the night sky than I've ever known. Along its walls my crayons traced intimacy, on its floors I urinated unperturbed. I knew nature, I grew aware for the first time, I dreamt my most artless dreams and slept with no concerns..

***

There was this story of a mahout and elephant that Amma would say to me when I was barely learning to talk.

I still hear Amma's concerned voice saying how the elephant who grew restless at the way the mahout treats him kills him one day. This creates anger and fear among people around and they call a forest guard to kill the elephant, because apparently he had become 'dangerous'. The guard picks up a gun from somewhere and repetitively shoots the elephant, the elephant succumbs, crying in agony.

There would be some reference of the mahout again and his sorry state, and my mother would say "Paavam paapaan!" ("Poor Mahout!").

"Paavam aana!" ("Poor Elephant!") I would correct her offensively.

Amma says I would do that every single time she ended the story with the mahout being poor.

***

Chemboth (Greater Coucal) is my favourite bird. I used to eat my lunch only if she came by to eat with me. Lunchtime was that time of the day when I would sit outside our kitchen with Amma and observe the magnanimity of nature, of her many forms - crawling earthworms to high-flying eagles. We co-existed peacefully - our radio would be playing melodious Malayalam songs, Sunlight may occasionally pierce the gap between jack tree leaves and hit lightly upon us, and we sat conversing about our day's happinesses and wonders.

And amongst the stories I heard and animals I saw, I prefered Chemboth more than anyone else, we could connect with each other strangely, maybe because we both were poor fliers.

***

Load-shedding is a word I still like the most. Every night there would be 30 minutes when power was stopped so as to balance demand and supply. All of us would sit together, talk and watch the night sky. Star-gazing for me would've made its faint beginnings in one of those nights. 

Everytime I look up, it was with wonder. Why are they shining? Are they worlds I may never know of? Ignobility would've begun somewhere there too.

All worthless talks we have today can be traded for those 30 minutes of chit-chat and sing-songs. And whenever I see mercury lamps vomiting light into my life, I wonder how much demand-supply mismatch should be there for the world to be dark again.

***

I remember a poem Amma would sing to me, "ee valliyil ninnu chemme, pookal pokunnitha parannamme.." which more or less exemplified the curiosity of those times. It was an interaction between a mother and her child in which the child mistakes butterflies for flowers which as he sees it are flying away from him. The mother would calm him down saying that he was wrong, it were butterflies all along.

The vast distances between that poem and where I am today are separated by mishaps, depressions and unrequited dreams that sometimes I look back and wonder if it were indeed flowers that flew away in between those words.

***

Rainy days had a certain smell to it, and a distinct color. Drops of rain would hit opened out leaves and shatter into a million silver strokes diluting the dark green background. Chembarathis (shoe flowers) would bloom in our yard and millipedes would roam around in pride. It was their time of the year, when life was sprayed on Earth as downpours.

I would make paper boats and watch them move slowly (braving the rains) in puddles in front of our home. Some would soak and slump down, others would hold on and find new shores. I often wished it would reach seas afar, I hoped it would see things I could never see then.

***

My first memory of school was rain, mud and painful eyes. I remember seeing Amma leaving me and I desperately wished to run behind her. From lying naked on pure earth I was displaced into a room full of strange beings wearing dull shirts and tight trousers. I knew I didn't belong here, I knew I had to go away, I knew I must not separate myself from Amma.

Amma came to pick me up in the evening, and we came home in an autorickshaw. She was asking me eagerly what I learned and how school was, I didn't reply a thing. On the way home, one of my new slippers escaped my foot and flew out of the rickshaw, l watched it sink into mud as the rickshaw sped along. I thought of saying to Amma that I've lost it, but then I preferred silence over dissonance.

***

On a random day, a snake found her way into our home and Achan was trying to get it out somehow. It sheltered itself inside a bucket in which we kept rice. Achan tried tipping the bucket but the snake just wouldn't let go. He then pushed the bucket a little and it fell upside down, he pulled the bucket back releasing the snake and every little grain of rice amidst a curious and scared audience.

Achan chased the snake towards the main door using a stick and as it almost crossed the door, he tried to slam it shut. The snake was caught in between,- her head breathing airs of freedom, her lower half irredeemably lost and probably somewhere near the middle her hopes cut off. She jerked a little before calming down.

I still see their images sometimes, along with sounds from somewhere far away. The snake, the elephant and how easily they were killed.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Red Shift

Perhaps,
Cosmic infinities could not have contained
our purposeless love.

Maybe,
Galaxies around us could not have sheltered
our twilight hopes.

Truly,
Our only misgiving was an expanding universe
harboring darker halves of us all.

Sadly,
We are but nothingness living an enlightened accident,
Moving away from each other since our birth.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Ameena

This is the first of a series of stories (hopefully) which I like to call 'Flutter'. I believe you can gauge the intent of these stories once you read them.

Love,
Anand.

***

Ameena would lie down in her balcony on days like these, wondering where she came from and what her purpose was in life. Aluva river, in front of her, peacefully flowing onto the Arabian Sea would reflect starry skies above. She felt intimately related to the celestial peace which descended around her; moon in the distance, lights from the airport, and the ever benevolent silence. She could imagine the farthest extents of Universe right here in this negligible point in a negligible Earth, for that she was thankful.

The chicken curry her husband threw on her face still burned her eyes and nose, it was spicy alright. He used a word to describe it specifically and her existence generally, she couldn't help but think about it. How would he know what that word means to her, how would he know what that word means to humanity. This was not the first time he reproached her using words she considered pure, but then she was aware of how present parlance brands her puritan words as derogatory.

Ameena.. She loved her name, but then twenty seven years of married life made her forget the tunes of those syllables - jumping up, sliding free and hitting a sudden stop! Ameena.. Her eyes watered when she tried to remember how her Umma would call her 'Ameenakutti', it was so long back that it seemed non-existent now.

She grew tired after a while and tiptoed her way back to bed. The air conditioner in the room made a cranky noise as it threw cold artificial air into the room. She remembered how disturbed she used to be when her Vaapa would buy her leather bags and costly deodorants, she would smile and accept it all the same, she barely knew another way to behave.

Once in bed Ameena twisted and turned for a long time; she tried burying her face in her pillow, she tried pushing her head towards her breasts, she tried singing herself lullabies. There was an eruption of something uncontainable inside, she had to find vents to release it. How pitiably he used that word, she thought.

"Khaled.." she called. "Khaled.."

Khaled usually detests when his sleep is disturbed, but then Ameena never did a thing like this before, he was as perturbed as he was angry.

"What is it?" he shouted.

She got up and switched on the light, looking him sternly in the face, her eyes held fires that devoured any words he had to offer. He sat transfixed.

Ameena wanted to be precise on this, she didn't want to hold anything back or shout anything new. She wanted it to be clear and certain, while making sure it portrays the uproar inside. She knew she shouldn't make it too stern so that she burns herself out completely or too soft that she may seem magnanimous. She gathered words in her mind and slowly brought it out of her mouth.

"You and I were born out of a vagina too, my love.." she said and gently walked back to the balcony.