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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 01, Dated January 09, 2010
SPECIAL ISSUE  
original fictions 2

In Dubash Battle

ARUL MANI

image

THE MAN who spreads like an extravagant tickmark across this mattress does not do so because he wishes to say something to you but because he has no other choice. It is a shape determined by the mess of books around him, each the remnant of a good intention from a night now unavailable to us, each a night that ended with him nodding off while a steadfast finger marked the page for a few minutes longer before letting go altogether, each dropped volume augmenting a curve that thickens around where his arm usually rests, before tapering off gently. Morning burglarises his nondescript room after its many other approaches are ignored and his response is to play dead. He is important to us only in that his eyes are heavy but not with tears.

When Kanal was little, his eyes tended to disappear under the hat that flopped all over his brow. When people asked him his name, he preferred to stick his jaw into his chin, allowing his lips to defy gravity and his teeth to emerge in a grimace that foolish adults assumed was an overall shyness. This caused them to persist, and thus they never saw how he found the whoosh of air needed to say Kanal and the quick action of the diaphragm which was crucial to the follow-up: his name in full, like a declaration of war, like the roar of a multitude that has suddenly found its voice, like the echoes that bounced off the buildings in the vicinity of Gymkhana Grounds when Indira Gandhi spoke there, the last one arriving as a thunderclap about his waiting ears several seconds after she had finished. Apart from the echoes, that evening gave him a way of remembering his parents’ marriage. His father filled each of the not-so-faraway Prime Minister’s fiery pauses with heartfelt enunciations of the word ‘bitch’ while his mother responded to this crime in half-rhyme, the utchutch- utch favoured by lizards that were destined to shit off-colour always because they only shat all over the pink distemper of their front room.

His father roared his name out two or three times a year, always a few minutes after arriving at the teapoy to recover from another evening spent advancing the cause of the soon-to-be-free Tamizh nation only to discover in no time the big red card narrating his son’s lack of progress in all subjects except English and mother-tongue. In those moments, Kanal felt a tingle run from bladder to anus while the yelled name Puratchikkanal! filled the house and caused the gas cylinder to vibrate in sympathy, but these were not things he could afford to stay and investigate. The Ember of Revolution had learnt that it was prudent, in post-yell situations, to precipitate himself into the front room where an angry hand would express itself unambiguously about his ears, his cheeks and his back, culminating eventually in a kick — the precision of which he would remember admiringly in later years but in the present always meant an undignified progress halfway across the room into the sofa from where he would receive an uninterrupted transmission of his father’s anger despite a fog of tears and the static of swallowed sobs.

His father filled each of the not-so-faraway Prime Minister’s fiery pauses with heartfelt enunciations of the word ‘bitch’

In those unenlightened times, fathers and whacked sons would settle down an hour later to argue and hoot with laughter while they exchanged metaphors for fartsthat- took-you-by-surprise or counted each other out on who was responsible for the sudden wrinkling of the nose that had come upon them, their voices dissolving into whoops of laughter as they approached pasu-kusu, the moment of truth that would allow one the right to call the other bomb-master till the next loud or little rip arrived. On other days, they went left-right left-right all the way up to Coles Park and arrived at the badam-milk stall shaking with laughter and unable to state their pleasure because three idiots had stared after them in much perplexity while they had marched up St John’s Church Road in wordless, unsmiling coordination.

EXHIBIT A:

Anna Thambi Aadu Maadu Pasu Kusu

Translation: Elder Bro, younger bro, goat, cow, again-cow, finally fart.

This is a blame-game. Even though vulgar things are there, this poem is meaningful. After all we are nothing but wind. Counting-out rhyme format is used, where in one person tries to establish who has done the bad thing. Nowadays people are not playing these games, but everywhere we can see this type things. USA tells third world rather you than me and third world is telling rather methane you.

Years later, many things came back in a rush to the man lost in a mattress; the square sit of the church compound; its cream walls; the muddy handprints he left on those walls not because he loved Indira but because it was easier than drawing farmer-with-plough; the exasperation of the sexton and his wife as they emptied buckets of water across the walls because the Iyer had noticed and yelled all day; the shoe-flowers that were in fashion among the houses with gardens that year; the long yard where all the games of his childhood were played; the ageing Tamizh pulavar whose personality seemed so inclusive of the metal gate he turned every day to walk to his bachelor quarters at the end of the yard, the way his face seemed to resolve itself into a skull every time he smiled, his thread-bare black coat, his white trousers, the noisy devotion that somebody had managed to compress into his name — Feet of Christ; the tilt of the asbestos sheet covering the sexton’s house; the names of that sexton’s children, one named after the First President, one named after Love, one after Art, and the youngest who was named Beautiful even though he was a boy; the rude song they sang and the way they minced up and down the road every time they spotted any of the several ladies of the Paes family in the distance while he hid, shaking with laughter, because he couldn’t afford to let the landlady see him joining in the ridiculing of her daughters; the path down which all of them ran into the sudden darkness imposed on the faraway quarter of Memorial Church by a spreading rain-tree that never left his dreams and accommodated in its shade the landscapes of many of the books he read, combining in its acre all of Russia, the island that Tom, Huck and Joe Harper ran away to, and the places where the Children of the New Forest hid. What keeps him in today is the fact that of the things he treasures from that time, he has no idea how one began or how the others ended.

EXHIBIT B:

Missy missy Doll/Meen Kara Mol/ Arra rotti thenga/ Kas Kas Maanga

From first line we can able to see that addresser is unknown but addressee is one Anglo-Indian lady. Anglo- Indian ladies are called as Missy by Tamil speakers in Bangalore. Meen Kara Mol is having ambiguity — whether it is reference to humble origins such as fisherman’s daughter or whether the fish moly, a type of curry, I don’t know. Now I want to add only one or two points. Eating habits are referred, but incongruity of items may be noted. Half a roti, coconut, khas khas, and mango. It may be satire on eating habits cum how Anglo Indians will speak Tamil. Intention to make fun of minorities is there. Also may be they are not adjusting. Because of such attitude their problems are more.

He doesn’t remember when the dog arrived, only the surprise of all the boys in the church-compound when they heard that the sexton was calling his kanthri-dog Alice. Full ICSE dog only da they sniggered, not quite including him in the joke because he was friends with the man’s children while they were not. Since the name was a mouthful, it was shortened to Allie. Allie went from being a quiet pup to a rather taciturn bitch with a face and a manner that came back to him in later years when he saw a picture of Walter Matthau, when he watched an imported TV-serial titled The Old Fox, when he met a film critic famous for his silences on the telephone, and when he spent hours in fascination over Jarry — the man who sleeps among the apples till the wasps get at him — in some obscure Czech film. In time, Allie achieved a pup. While Allie herself had the imperturbable mien of a Jersey cow, her whelp was a hysterical mess, a yowler in sheer terror if so much as a leaf spun too quickly across the street. And this pup was named Sanchopancho, a choice which surprised nobody except our hero because they had no idea where the name could have come from.

Our hero heard the sound of three Alsatians celebrating the moment when they would tear him from limb to limb

imageOur hero was in those faraway times given to the excellent habit of sliding out of bed at dawn to scramble to the loo and empty his bladder while singing loudly and tunelessly the two lines he knew from many evergreen numbers as Sunday Morning Walk in the Park and LA International Airport I won’t see him anymore. This may not quite be the sequence of events that Subramania Bharathi had in mind for the growing child, but what the hell, he would then amble beyond the Paes residence to what was called ‘the garden’, a huge square half-acre, and wander from tree to tree waking up at last when the sharpness of rotting guava leaves filled his nostrils. One day an impatient bird knocked an over-ripe papaya off the tree and what fell about his ears was a gooey mess that continued to smell like shit even after he had emptied several mugs of water over himself. After this he stopped communing with nature, preferring instead to rest his palms across the broken bottle-shards that crowned the garden wall and to survey the street gravely. It must have begun after this.

Did Allie and Sanchopancho begin barking at him because they objected to the early-morning-surprise of his face? Or did he chuck a stone one day at the beaming Devaraj Urs on a poster and upset their loyalty to the state? Or did they simply sense that he was not a son of the soil? While the reasons were a mystery, it was definitely true that they spent the better part of the year growling at each other till neither party remembered which was dog and which was not, Sanchopancho growing so irritated as to serve up a 7 am symphony that woke the neighbourhood up. On some days our hero would grow irritated and then he would chuck clods of earth at them, relishing the way they skittered in response to the explosions of dry mud. At times, our admirable hero, our Arumainayagam, was consumed by terror at the rage he seemed to produce but that didn’t deter him from tiring of earth and turning to the berries of the castor shrub that had arrived quite mysteriously in the garden several years ago.

The berries were terrible projectiles to use; never quite hurting the target, but somehow combining with the stink of their arrival the contempt the thrower wished to express. Allie and Sancho would arrive promptly at the green gate to the church compound at seven every morning to receive their daily dose of castor shots, an arrangement that led to the proliferation of the shrub across the four gardens within, filling those gardens up with their capacity to shoot up with big leaves in no time, with their smell of armpits, and their capacity to edge out other plant life, thus causing the shoeflower fans many months of impotent rage.

While he didn’t know how any of this began, he would never forget how it ended. The big house at the other end of Casuarina Street released their Alsatians at seven in the evening to demonstrate their ownership of the street and their contempt for the socialists who ran the country and provided the others in the street with employment. What our hero heard while returning home one day was the sound of three Alsatians making for him at top speed and already celebrating the moment when they would tear him from limb to limb with a bark that graduated now and then into laughter. He half-turned, saw the latched gate to the church-compound, and was over it in a trice, contriving thus to land almost on top of Allie who was squeezing through the gap below the gate in more or less the same primordial terror. She wagged her tail furiously and placed a restraining paw on his knee as he scrambled to his feet. If at this moment his bladder released a little spurt of terror, and a drop escaped his underpants and his shorts to land on his big toe, if this caused him so much consternation that he brought his hand up in half-salute and said Good Morning Miss, do we have the right to judge him harshly?

EXHIBIT C:

Tomorrow is a holiday/Go to Pappayi Kade/Eat Some Idly Vade/Kaas Ketta Yetti Odhay.

Once again the lifestyle of humble people is stress in this poem. This is poem recited by schoolboys in Bangalore in circa 1970s after holiday announced. They are saying because next day is a holiday they will to go eat good food from Brahmin shop and last line is showing social commentary. Kaas ketta yeti odhay. if he asks for money means give him a well-aimed kick. Hostility towards Brahmins is more. Also people are forgetting their culture and tradition and mispronouncing the words. Paappar is become Pappay, but nobody can go to papaya fruit shop and eat idly. This statement is observed.

They let their pants drop and they did the thing they had spoken of, first boy and girl, then boy and boy and then again boy and boy

When the sexton’s son Rajenthiraprasath asked our hero the question boy, you know how to love or what?, it gave his life an entirely new twist. The question must have irritated our hero much less than it irritates me, your humble interlocutor. A boy of six can only feel so much irritation when somebody speaks to him in a voice that combines curiosity, contempt and the lordly desire to instruct. I, on the other hand, am wondering how the fuck to translate Deyi, love-adikka theriyuma and, brother, the iron has entered my soul. There is a certain sense of control, of achievement that the word adikka (which normally means to beat or to hit) contains, a task to which the googoo- eyed English language is simply unequal. The closest equivalent I know in any other language is the Hindi word maarna and as I say this, it is 1965 all over again inside my head. Excuse me while I self-immolate.

They had been lounging around after the light had faded, and nobody had the energy to start Dabba Eyespice, the hide-and-seek plus hard whacks game that normally concluded the evening entertainments around Casuarina Street. Rajenthiraprasath and Premi, his sister, began then to tell him about how a Fiat rolled into their street now and then, and how when they had looked in once they saw a man and a woman doing dirty things. The man takes his thing and touches the woman’s thing and they do that for a long time. Do you want to see how it is done?

imageThe next day, the three of them ran down to the church, past the rain-tree and the row of gulmohurs all in flame to settle down at the steps that led up to the entrance, and then, dear reader, let us stop at saying that they let their pants drop and they did the thing that they had spoken of, first boy and girl, then boy and boy and then again boy and girl but never brother and sister, in some weird display of propriety. And thus they committed blasphemy under the house of god, and blasphemed over the untold memories of the plague victims after whom the church was named, and with each playful thrust of the hips they each made a memory that would stay with them for life.

For weeks after this moment, our hero was tormented by dreams where every story he had ever heard turned into something rather dirty; he was sometimes the little boy up in the tree plucking fruit while Premi and Avvaiyar merged into each other till he took her up the tree and fed her strange fruit; on other days, he was David and Prasath was Jonathan; one day he and Premi were Adam and Eve and the serpent spoke to them out of the wrinkled little thing that Prasath held up for them to see; and thus his eyes grew heavy with longing and he never knew what to say to Premi any more. And then one day, he was sitting around in their house of exceptional darkness beneath the asbestos when he chanced upon a notebook in which she had written her name in a round hand and when he read it out to himself he was fine, because her name was Pramila, and somehow the spell was broken. He went back to being an unbothered child again.

That didn’t stop brother and sister from inviting him along again. He went along with them many times, not quite sure whether he liked it, but revelling in the right to take off his clothes outside his house, in the jauntiness he felt at such moments. On one such day he saw for the first time that she was plump about the hip, and that she was goosepimply from the cold and he felt a rush of affection for her that first brought tears to his eyes, and then, for no apparent reason, brought on a sneezing fit. He has no other memory of what happened between them or how it came to an end.

The little boys were then paraded for examination in Tamizh-speaking ability and how many kurals they could quote from memory

EXHIBIT D:

Dum-arra-dum-arra-dum/ Veedu Pathikkichu/ Veetlakira pomblaikku selai patthikichu/Rottula pora amblaikku meesai pathikichu

Absolutely no social relevance is there in such poems. These Cantorment fellows are Irresponsible porkies isay. Sexual innondu is much, especially in the 4th line, where they are telling nonsense things; house on fire, lady her saree getting burnt, road one man his moustache also burning. What is this bastard culture?

He met Kanal at a wedding his father had dragged him to. He had sat in some nameless choultry drenched in boredom all through the nadaswaram-playing, and the Tirukkural-inflected five-minute homilies that his father and three others gave to make this one a Tamizh thirumanam, and cheered up only when it was time to throw rice at the newly wedded couple. He grabbed a whole handful, hoisted himself onto a chair and let fly with all his might, missing his target but successfully catching several uncles and aunts of the couple in the eye as they stood around trying to collect a tear or two for public display. A second scatter of rice landed a moment after his and he looked up to catch the eye of a boy just like himself, all combed and scrubbed and coconut-oiled. Later, as he made his way to the serving area with his father, they ran into the other boy again, accompanied by somebody who looked like he had spent a lot of time twisting his handlebar moustache into shape. The men embraced and little boys were then paraded for quick examination in Tamizh-speaking ability and how many kurals they could quote from memory. While the men made jokes and simultaneously amputated unpeeled bananas, our hero and Kanal examined each other surreptitiously and exchanged information about which standard, and which miss they liked in their respective schools. When it was time to go, his father asked Kanal if he wanted to come home with them and Kanal said yes.

imageFor the remaining three weeks of the summer holidays, Kanal and he met every afternoon to decapitate the weeds that had overgrown the garden, to stage elaborate swordfight scenes, and to drop into bottles of water the tails they had confiscated from departing lizards. When the wooden gate creaked to announce Kanal’s arrival, he felt his insides melt with happiness.

The visits ceased when the vacation came to a close and he was so full of his new school that it never occurred to him to ask why. When he began wondering about it years later, this question brought with it many other questions and thus was born a tale. He decided that the fathers must have wanted their sons to have a Tanitamizh friendship, a friendship that would be untouched by caste or religion or by the defilement of any other language. This pure desire could have foundered on a choice of rocks — the different language his mother spoke, his mother’s discovery that Kanal’s father was a Tamizh-speaking Muslim, his mother’s discovery that the celebrated poet of the grand pseudonym who was Kanal's father was also a lowly factory watchman by employment, or perhaps his father’s discovery that the same celebrated poet didn’t mind a tipple now and then.

He grabbed a handful of rice, hoisted himself onto a chair and let fly with all his might, catching several uncles in the eye

Many years later, far away from that street full of trees where he and Kanal had massacred an afternoon, he saw a man taking the air under a signboard which read PK Mohidden Enterprises. After three minutes of inward debate, he gave up his seat, fought his way through to the door among many muttered apologies, endured various imprecations about people who couldn’t make up their mind about where they wanted to go and got his feet on the pavement a second before the bus began to move. He asked the man under the signboard if his name was Puratchikkanal and then wandered disconsolately away to wait for the next bus, and when he did wonder about the look that had crossed the man’s face before he said no, it was far too late, even though this time he remembered that it was the same avid mouse face he had seen on Kanal’s face after the rice-throwing.

The story could have begun here, but his victories over time have never owed very much to premeditation.

EXHIBIT E:

Dum-arra-dum-arra-dum/Tigerman has come/Take some gum/ Stick it in your bum.

imageThe sexton moved soon after, taking Rajenthirapprasath and Premi with him. He would later recognise that this was the first of the periodic ejections by which the city’s immune system upgraded itself from one dot oh to two dot oh. It was only after one fortnight of rage over a river that he began to tumble to the ways in which those who spoke his language had begun to disappear. Some simply left and turned up years later in faraway countries, now quite adept at keeping their heads down. Some disappeared into the neutrality of names that could be from anywhere, some into the safety of older ghettoes, some into a saffron madness that rendered them invisible and some by escaping into another language altogether and learning to take tea. The new purities seemed to demand such drastic revisions.

He is still frozen into a tick-mark, and it still means nothing, because it is in internal difference that all his meanings are. He’ll have to shut his eyes a little tighter if he wants to save from the assaults of time a Sunday in September 1983 when five thousand marched through the streets, undeterred by rain, to protest the Colombo massacres. He will remember marching with his father’s friends, and the embarrassment those staid men suffered as they raised their voices to shout slogans staider than themselves. He will remember falling back, and finding with fear that he was now among drunk men who were dancing as if they were at a funeral. He will remember the man who screamed the words Lal Meetha every afternoon outside his school over a cart gleaming with sliced watermelon now prancing up and down, his smallpox-scarred face contorted with rage as he yelled the words Thevdiya Pulla Jayawardena, and the drunkards surrounding him found mirth and meaning in such questioning of some stranger’s parentage. They down-down the Sri Lankan president with the time-tested response Ozhika, and he will know perhaps that his mode of being is mitosis, that he is forever doomed to subdivide and be separate.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 01, Dated January 09, 2010

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