Friday, 1 May 2020

Listening Ears at Sikkim

Turning back the pages of my travels after passing through innumerable days of solitude and a myriad of bitter emotions is very often a moving experience. As I write these words, I find myself filled with excessive hope and imagine myself tasting the salts and sweats of days ahead.

My Northeastern odyssey made immediately after college with my friend Nijil, may well be a towering personal moment which I can never possibly recreate. Looking back on it always leaves me with pulsating nerves filled with yearning and passion. The journey began on a hot June evening at Thalassery Railway station and extended into early August, ending at Ernakulam Railway station (after an 80-hour train journey back from Guwahati). A single chapter will never vividly capture everything I've seen and experienced throughout this one and a half month journey; I can only hope to describe the travel as separate individual memoirs. Here I share a 3-day fragment of that journey where we, Nijil and me, found ourselves adrift in the mountain state of Sikkim.

We reached Sikkim after staying at Darjeeling for four days. While Darjeeling was a place that created in me a sense of curiosity and determination to pursue new things in life, Sikkim taught me the virtues of living life as it is and finding beauty in togetherness and collectivism. Even though we had no clear plans to go anywhere, we knew we had to come to Sikkim once we realized it was just a few kilometers away from Darjeeling. Gangtok, the capital town of Sikkim, was very different from what I had imagined. This was partly because of the time we visited - when summer was at its strongest, and partly because I had expected Gangtok to be a pristine and peaceful town. Gangtok was not as crowded as Darjeeling, but it was definitely crowded enough to break our ideas of peace. Furthermore, the past few weeks found us moving through congested spaces, overpopulated streets, and noisy neighborhoods that cultivated in us a desire to relish the peace of Himalayas.

While we walked around in Gangtok, most of the people we met asked us to go to Nathu La to find the peace we were looking for and to have a Sikkim experience unlike any. We checked with various tour offices and booked a jeep on a share-basis for the next day.

Nathu La, which roughly means 'The pass of the Listening Ear', is a historic mountain pass in Sikkim. It was part of the old Silk route, acting as an entry point to India and connected the cold mountain valleys of Tibet to the lush green plains of Bengal. While traveling through the rough terrain that leads up to the pass, I imagined how it would have been years before - somehow in my mind, there is this image of a Chinese trader on a horseback, braving the coldest of winds and the toughest of mountains, in hope for finding warmth and wealth in the subcontinent. Nathu La was a vibrant route for trade between India and China during most of its history. Following Chinese occupation of Tibet, Nathu La became a lifeline for Tibetan refugees through which they moved first into Sikkim (which became an Indian state only in 1975) and later onto India. The pass was closed following the 1962 Sino-Indian war and was reopened only in 2006.

During our visit, the pass was a prime entry point for pilgrims striving to reach Mount Kailash in Tibet. We saw numerous acclimatization centers on the way for Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims where their health parameters were thoroughly monitored before they got the approval to move forward. I always held this belief that a craving for beauty coupled with a hardened pursuit to find it makes our faith quite overwhelming. I remembered my own naive spiritual expedition (years before I became the staunchest of atheists!) to Sabarimala (a hill shrine in Kerala) - driven by a desire to explore and traversing a painstaking path to the top of the hill, I felt my faith to be resounding. I imagine most of the people who travel along the same road which we were going through would be in a state of deep meditation as they make the journey; they would be moving along the harshest and perhaps the most beautiful terrains of the world to experience a place which will bring them salvation. As much as an atheist I was, I could not take away the beauty and emotion of that process!

While I consider it in a philosophical sense, I believe that we are all living an existence we know very little about. Our world is quite often an abstract entity that we create out of our thoughts. The travels we were making may well be seen as an endeavor to understand ourselves - something which many believe to be a spiritual experience. When I began to think like that, I thought that our journey and the journey made by a pilgrim is not entirely different. There is glory in the miles we leave behind, there is glory in the miles ahead of us, there is glory in the effort it takes to be in motion and there is glory in our destination.

We reached our momentary destination of Nathu La by afternoon. The pass and the border seemed like any other military camp, but the two large gates we saw from the parking ground immediately made us clear that it was not. When we were getting closer to the border, we found the presence of our military asserting itself a little more. We were warned by our driver to not take pictures and an Indian soldier reiterated the same as we got out of our jeep. We were asked to leave all our electronic equipments in our vehicle and that we should not interact with Chinese soldiers who patrolled their side of the border. I do not know if this was a normal course of action or something which was enforced recently following increased border skirmishes with China. We were guided to the border camp and from there moved further onto the border fence. The fence itself was no remarkable thing, it seemed like any other fence separating farmlands or private properties. But the purpose served by this iron fence, which was only as tall as my waist, was to separate two mighty countries of Asia - two countries that could overpower the world if it broke apart this fence and become an axis of power.

There were Indian soldiers vigilantly monitoring our side of the fence and a few feet away there were Chinese soldiers monitoring their side of the fence. Contrary to what the soldier asked us, there were many Indian tourists vying to get the attention of Chinese soldiers. When a Chinese soldier finally responded and began talking to a few tourists, everyone surrounded him with curiosity to perhaps identify what the Chinese ate or how they slept or how they talked. We avoided the crowd and moved a little away. Nijil found a place to sit down and maybe view the whole commotion in peace, while I loitered along the fence. There was a grumpy Chinese soldier who was actively avoiding everyone and was meticulously monitoring the fence. While tracing his steps, I noticed that the Chinese side was a small step above the Indian side and that the small fence was roughly tracing this step. I kept walking aimlessly and thought of how meaningless lines drawn on maps separated people, made them fight wars, and create a state of alarm almost always. When you are here, at the border, the lines we fight about seems very absurd and artificial. The mighty Himalayas continue in spite of the border conquering greater heights, the dust blown away from India settles in China and the air we exhale mixes with the air around and may well be inhaled by a Chinese soldier standing next to us whose job was to prevent us crossing over.

While I was in thoughts, the grumpy Chinese soldier looked at me and gave a small smile. He signaled me to come over and have a talk. I tried asking him his name in English and Hindi but found out that he understood no other language except Mandarin. With the very little English he knew and often using his hands to build up images, he somehow made me understand that he was from a village far away from people who spoke strange languages. I realized that his irritable appearance may well have been born out of this sudden frenzy which he found himself in. To this date, I do not understand what appealed to him suddenly to have an interest in a pitiful introvert like me. Maybe it was because I left him alone to begin with and yet looked at everything with a sense of curiosity. Maybe he saw a part of himself reflected in how I behaved, in how I stood blank.

What followed was one of the most intimate and memorable moments I had during travel as he held my hand over the fence, shook it fiercely, and asked me if I would stand with him for a photograph. There are many things I feel bad about in life, that day I felt bad we weren't allowed to take our cameras or our mobile phones along with us to the border. He called a fellow soldier, gave his phone to him, and asked me to join for the photo. He put his hand on my shoulder and I put mine on his while his friend took the photo. This little stunt made an Indian soldier come up to us and asked me to stay away from the fence. The Indian soldier exchanged a smile with the Chinese soldier while asking us to return to our vehicle if we had seen enough.

We went back to our jeep and after our fellow passengers came began our descend back to Gangtok, while I kept thinking about that moment. However narrow-minded the people who govern us may be, however endangering their politics, here we were - two human beings holding each other, between us a man-made fence that may separate us physically but not our human spirits!

We reached Gangtok and decided to spend the night at the bus stand. The bus stand was in a standstill that night and we found the calm we were looking for after all. I was reading 'The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' and Nijil was reading a book written by Dalai Lama. It was getting cold and dark, and the security guard who watches over the bus stand at night came at around 8 PM. He asked where we were from and what we were doing here at night. We talked to him a bit about our journey and how we were trying to get through each day spending as little money as possible. We told him that hotel rooms were costly and we just needed some space to rest our heads for the night. We half expected him to throw us out, rather he quietly went inside the office and took out two wooden benches.

"Lie down and sleep!" he said, "How can you sleep on chairs?!"

My immediate reaction to that act was a severe overflow of emotions that I fought hard to contain. I lied down on the bench and tried reading once again but closed the book quickly as the sentences that were written became blurred by my thoughts. I kept it back inside my bag and closed my eyes. 'We are all but different voices which say the same thing' I thought 'Chinese, Indians, travelers from Kerala, night watchmen of Sikkim.. we all say the same thing!'

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A Night and A Day at Kamathipura

Planning to post memoirs of a few journeys which I made, many of which deeply moved me and perhaps influenced a personal transformation into who I am today. These may not be a travelogue in the ideal sense of the word but is a human story that I experienced when traveling. I also confess that many of these accounts will be corrupted by memory and some will be made dramatic to suit my poetic heart. These are also not chronologically ordered as you may expect and would often involve cases where one journey is split up into fragments as each fragment is equally important. Let me not waste my words on introductions, go on have a read...

***

Dedicated to the wonderful people who I lived these journeys with

***

For a long long time, Mumbai has been a dream city for me. This was primarily because of the fables, fragrance, colors, and people of this dynamic city which when put together always formed a sophisticated and overwhelming human story. Moreover, it was always a city that I loved going to. I had the opportunity to do so at a very young age as my mother's sisters both found themselves settling at Mumbai. One of my very early memories of travel was a train journey to Mumbai from my hometown Thalassery when I was probably six or seven. The faint memories I have of that journey is mostly dominated by tunnels and bridges and how I eagerly watched them through the window seat (the window seat which I had to fight and win). Every tunnel that the train entered as it cut through the Western Ghats provoked extensive excitement and fear - something which still grips me as I begin each journey. Looking back, it was perhaps that journey that gave my life a new track to follow; one filled with countless tunnels and rivers, twice as dark and with bridges longer than any I have ever traveled upon until then.

I always remember being awed at the contradictions that Mumbai throws upon any traveler - where you can find the richest and the poorest people of our country coexisting, where skyscrapers impose itself upon bordering slums, where you can find elevated highways and people living their entire lives underneath them. This would certainly have shaped my ideas of our society and with due course of time would ignite my insides and create a desperate hope within me to change these norms. Though the journey which I wished to write about happened many years later, and it happened at Kamathipura - that rather infamous red light area of Mumbai.

It was a cold winter's day and I came to Mumbai from Pune via a bus that went up to Dadar. Dadar may well be a representation of everything Mumbai - crowded streets, the local train station that had a natural rush at any given time of the day and a place where everyday life went on adhering to a strict routine which made a traveler like me feel a bit out of place. It was midday, I was hungry and I had a backpack that was eating its way into my shoulders as I traversed along the busy lanes of Dadar. I remember going to a movie theater which showed a Marathi movie just to have momentary salvation by keeping my bag at their ticketing office. I don't remember the name of the movie but the experience was worth reminiscing about. I would certainly suggest you visit local language movie houses to know more about the society you traveled into! The movie left me rejuvenated and with gulps of evening tea hitting at my empty stomach, I was ready to explore more of this place.

I began walking aimlessly and rather subconsciously. I had this impulsive urge to reach South Mumbai by nightfall. I always harbored the idea that there was a lot more Mumbai-ness in South Mumbai than anywhere else and this made me walk seven to eight kilometers with an angry stomach, tired limbs and a backpack which resumed its hobby of eating into my shoulders. I passed beside numerous alleyways, constantly guided by the elevated freeway which ran above my head. At some point, I found myself deviating from this path and into those cramped lanes. It was maybe a hope to lose myself in an abundance of life, or maybe to stumble upon a local peddler selling stash. Whatever be the reason, I was pretty close to Kamathipura and when I checked my map and saw that I was close, I had an intrinsic urge to go and see the place.

I spend a whole night wandering along the lanes of Kamathipura. A brief reading of the history and demography of the place made me know that there are 14 lanes in Kamathipura, each inhabited by sex workers belonging to a specific linguistic and regional background. Women with thickly painted faces and bruised bodies occupied alleyways, footpaths, and balconies of crumbling buildings. I felt my disturbed mind empathetically embracing their physique. They were the products of our society, the broken children of our system. A system that created child workers, bonded laborers, manhole cleaners and countless more human beings who sell their body to earn a living because of the caste and class they were born into. I slept in front of a small shop and was woken up the next morning at daybreak.

I walked back onto those lanes once again and it was then that it happened. Out of pure chance, this woman walked up to me in the hope of finding at least one customer. She introduced herself with those very careful choice of words that still echoes in my ears,

"Give whatever you have and you can take me!" 

It shook me. I have been approached by lots of sex workers the day before but none felt articulate enough to gather my attention.

"I am not interested" I replied.

"Then why are you here?" her displeasure was visible.

"Just to see.." I said rather sheepishly in a hope to end this awkward interaction.

"Will you take me with you as you see around?" she inquired.

I was certainly taken aback by her demeanor and how she interacted and couldn't say no to her request.

"I don't mind that if you want to see around too"

She laughed and said "You have to pay me extra for taking me out!"

I was perturbed and was beginning to think this was all a bad idea. I wanted to walk away from her but something within made me halt. She was wearing the brightest saree one could think of - dark violet and bright pink. She had a Bindi the size of a ping pong ball and her lips shone with cheap lipstick. She smelt of a piercing perfume which makes me cringe even while thinking about it. She was old but was trying, rather in vain, to hide her age. I imagine she would have reached that point where most people who walk into Kamathipura wouldn't take her even if she was rendering her services for free. I felt there was an island of broken-ness that hung around her; an island which she was trying desperately to swim out of but her tired body and hopeless aims could not muster the necessary assertiveness to do so. In that moment of indecision, I looked back and saw her standing haplessly and still watching me. It was then that I asked her to come.

We walked together. She tried holding my hand even though I resisted. I asked her if she wanted anything to eat. She said she would love to with a smile that for once broke everything she pretended to be. I smiled back and thought of something which I would never have thought on a normal day. I took her to a rather elegant restaurant looking out onto an adjacent street. Sitting there, you could catch a glimpse of how the biggest city in India commuted to work on yet another working day. The moment our breakfast came, she lost all the care in the world and began eating her way into it. I felt a strange unity with her and found myself enjoying every bit of that breakfast. Suddenly I had a deep desire to know more about this woman, who I presumed by then commanded the attention of almost everyone at the restaurant due to her rather deviant dressing sense.

"What is your name?" I asked.

"Juhi!" she said with a smile while still attending to the food.

"How long have you been here?" I inquired casually, perhaps with a curiosity to retrieve a moving story of suffering.

"I don't remember," she said rather scornfully. I understood that she didn't particularly enjoy the idea of her being interviewed and decided to break the topic altogether.

"Do you want to eat something else? Or maybe go somewhere else?" I asked.

"I want to see the Marine Drive!" she replied quickly "And drink rose milk!"

I felt she was shedding, even if fleetingly, what her life was until that instant. We walked on the Marine Drive with the 10 AM Sun warming our skin and felt a certain togetherness that people having deep meaningful relationships feel. I discovered a lot more about her through that moment of silence. While she drank her glass of rose milk watching how waves hit the tetra-pod rocks creating splashes reaching up to the walkway, she would have been consumed by the same curiosity I felt a few minutes before.

"What is your name?" she asked.

"Anand" I replied.

"Why did you really come here today?" she was still confused.

"Just to see.." I said once again to which she gave out a hollow laugh.

After a few more minutes of watching the waves, I walked her back to Kamathipura. On our way back, I asked her how much she would make in a day and whether it was enough to survive.

"You have to survive anyhow" she replied at the end of that conversation in a fragile voice.

We reached Kamathipura and I searched my pocket to take whatever money I had to pay her for her 'service'. Realizing what I was up to she held my hand tightly, gave me a deep hug and said

"I can't take your money now, my love!" She walked away without saying another word.

In that strange moment, I couldn't look as deeply into her eyes as I wished to, I couldn't ask her for a number to keep in touch and I couldn't capture her image to carve it out in my memory so that I may never forget her. I wanted to remember her, but years later apart from all the details that disturbed me the most - her Bindi, her piercing perfume, her bright saree, and her broken body - I don't remember how she looked. 

There are days when I pass close to Kamathipura and I fruitlessly search for her. I doubt if I would recognize her even if I see her again, after all, our memory corrupts most of the images we have. I must say that when she hugged me I had a tear in my eye which would later come to dominate my emotions whenever I find myself amidst a human crisis, which would make me side with the people at instances of social division.

"You have to survive anyhow!" I would keep muttering to myself during days when I feel broken and depressed.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

About a Bus Journey

*
To Nijil
*

It has been a long time since I wrote anything worthwhile here. While I apologise to the reader (if at all anyone follows this shit anymore), I am also at odds as to what to write. Writer's block? Maybe. Am I even a writer? Maybe. Most likely, it is just a lack of any genuine experience which can inspire words to gush out of my mind. Perhaps, it is where we all end up - a gradual walk onto fields of deterioration and nothingness. Sometimes, it is amidst these moments of monotonous melancholy that sparks of memories fills up our insides and makes us remember who we were and what we've become.While it probably won't be much so as to pull us back onto roads we loved walking, it may be enough to slow down our pace as we move into oblivion.

***
I remember this journey we made from Dehra Dun back to Delhi. Looking back, I hold fondness for that time - just out of college, nothing to hold me back and a world full of opportunities in front of me. I was with Nijil - this guy who still lives his life as deviant as he did back then! We were two curious folks who were exploring lands we've only read about. While Nijil seemed re-assured of everything, I found myself insecure most of the time (then and now!).

As we moved through more than 11 States in 1 month, I missed home and Amma's food every single day. We slept in railway stations, bus stands, dormitories and dharmasalas; though I wasn't particularly interested to experience the discomfort. We met people, many who I still think of and almost all of them disfigured by my imprecise memory. We saw places, the names I still shout out with pride but the lanes and the winding roads long faded from my fragmented mind. We moved on and I've got to admit that this small act of moving on back then made me the pathetic philosopher I am today!

It was past midnight and most of the people in my bus had already slept. I kept gazing blankly at the darkness. The past few days were indeed harsh for someone like me; who lived in the security of a place to come home to and who had more than sufficient food to live by. The sudden displacement from that zone of comfort into a scenario wherein I'm not even remotely aware of where I will be sleeping that night or whether I will be having at least a packet of biscuit shook the very foundations of my ideas of existence. The things I experienced in Uttarakhand - the crowd in Haridwar and their collective frenzy, the deserted off season of Rishikesh disturbed only by the noise of fighting pigs, the relief I had when the coldness of Mussoorie calmed my conscience and to top it all off, the feeling of nervous expectation born out of a love confessed - every little thing exaggerated my insecurity.

I've got to say, I carried the weight of all that disturbing experience (disturbing in a rather constructive way) as I stepped into that bus back to Delhi. And as my sleepless mind tried entertaining itself with any flying strain of thought, it grasped unceremoniously at an existentialist revelation. To be honest, I didn't really know too much about existentialism back then (do I now?!), and whatever hit me seemed poignant and having profound meanings. There is this self realization you find in moments like these - wherein your self-aggrandisement shatters into bits. For me, I felt small - someone occupying a passing role in the intricate lives of often complicated people. All my concerns, all my troubles seemed to dissolve into a collective human story of suffering and how all of us strive to survive the suffering. 

I felt an overwhelming feeling of love that broken, nomadic and damaged people feel for one another. And as my eyes grew damp, I proposed my everlasting love to the decrepit, to my fellow travelers, to the downtrodden and to the ones who smile back at me. I realized (or is it a realization which I feel only upon looking back?) that in most of the journeys we make, the places we see don't matter, it is the moments we make and the things we understand which matters the most.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Blood Oath

Immediately after the BJP government came into power for the 2nd time in India, a mob of self-proclaimed Gau Rakshaks (Cow Vigilantes) attacked a Muslim couple in MP for allegedly holding beef and forced the husband to hit his wife. This is an ode to the minority, the oppressed and the free thinkers, may the force be with you.

***

If my pen drains itself of ink,
Let their blood flow through it.

Let the words that are born
reach countrysides,
Let it move through dry fields
and make it fertile,
When farmers take up rope
let it wet their feet into thinking otherwise.

Let the words dissolve into polluted rivers,
Let the waters concert in solidarity,
When fervent nationalists come to dip,
Let it pollute their insides,
Let it choke them and relieve them of hatred. 

Let it drench all gold in our land,
When the rich hoards spoils of war,
Let their rooms smell of immortal struggles.

Let the words reach the ears
of a wailing mother,
Let it ease her pain when she knows
how the meat she had cooked
made them kill her son.

Let the words spread into more papers,
When they burn one,
Let it reproduce into a thousand,
Let the sound they make
trouble the powerful,
Make them restless,
Let it disturb their sleep on moonless midnights.

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.