Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 01, Dated January 09, 2010
original fictions 2
(Translated from Tamil by Pritham K Chakravarthy )
All characters in this story are fictitious, and any
resemblance to actual persons, either living or dead, is
THE SEVERED head of a man, about 37, lay by
itself on a table. On examination, it was determined
that the head had been cut between the
fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae; the hyoid,
the surrounding nerves and blood vessels, the
oesophagus and the medulla oblongata had all
been cleanly snapped.
I was introduced to your writing very recently. We have
become best of friends — our friendship is one that can
never be broken. I still can't believe that I can count you as
my friend. Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure it's not
a dream. The first time I saw your letter, it was like I
Laceration 1.5 cm x 1.5 cm, bone deep, about 3 cm
below the eyebrow on the right cheek. Several other deep
incised wounds nearby, cutting through nerves, veins, and
Contusion in left medial periorbital region. 2 cm laceration
below right eye. Above and below right eyebrow a
bell-shaped abrasion with a base of 1.5 cm and 1.25 between
base and dome. 1.5 cm laceration adjacent to superior
In Chenthatti, a tiny town in Sankarankoil district in
Thirunelveli, there is a Muppitathi Amman temple, which
Dalits are not allowed to enter. Two Dalits who demanded
to be let in were subsequently murdered. An exhaustively
researched report on this was prepared, and when it
reached the editor’s desk, the editor decided to flesh out
the story by digging up further details on the murder of
Melavalavu Murugesan. Murugesan was a young man who
had been hacked to death 12 years earlier in Melavalavu, a
village near Madurai. Perumal thought it would be wiser
not to rake up the case at this point; at most, they might
publish the old post-mortem report.
I was telling my friend about what was going on at the
newspaper. The next day he came down hard on me. He was
complaining that I had scratched him like a cat and that his
body was covered with my nail marks. That I had broken
through that fair skin of his and drawn blood. Poor fellow! He can’t even pronounce your name. He is a green-eyed
Dutchman. We looked at each other for a while, full of sorrow.
Miserably, he asked me, “Are you developing a soft
corner for Perumal?” I couldn't answer right away.
|In PTA meetings, she nods
her head vigorously to what
the teachers say, like one
of those fortune-telling
bulls, to the beat of a drum
Deep laceration on the left side of the neck, 5 cm below
the jaw, about 4 cm long.
“His writing is like flowers,” I told him, “It's more beautiful
than tulips. It's almost as beautiful as the aurora borealis.”
He just stared at me for a while; then he smiled his
special smile and said, “No problem, dear.”
After four rounds of Absolut vodka, Perumal was
sloshed. In his drunken stupor, he wasn’t quite sure where
he was — whether he was still in his office, or fast asleep
in bed at home.
It started in a chat room. She introduced herself as
Chandini, a first year college student. Shit! Yes, she said
she was only 17. Fuck, people will start calling me a paedophile! Really. That’s what she said her age was. Perumal
lacks the imagination to have made all this up himself.
Whatever he wrote, whether it was reportage or fiction,
it was always based on the truth. Perhaps, if he had
waited a year before writing this story, he would have
Despite her youth, Chandini already had a boyfriend.
Perumal was her second. He had been honest with her
from the start. Listen, he had told her, I'm even older than
Who cares how old you are; I want you, came her melodramatic
reply, and nothing more was ever said about the
issue of age. He guessed that she was probably really more
like 35, deceptions of this sort being quite common in the
era of hi-tech. You never knew how old an online acquaintance
would turn out to be until you saw her in person.
But when he finally did meet her, he realized that
everything she had said in her chats with him was
Meanwhile, Perumal’s wife Meera was “healing” a 17-
year-old boy. She held her magic wand, touched the end of
it to the boy’s head, and began to chant. She went on for a
good five minutes. Then she removed the wand. But the
boy no longer seemed to be conscious. For over half-anhour
he just sat there, still as a Buddha statue, and Iswari,
the boy’s mother, began to panic. She had never seen him
sit this quietly for even five minutes. Iswari’s heart beat
fast, and she prayed that he would regain consciousness
before he suffered some sort of permanent damage.
What does an Indian middle-class housewife do with
her day? Make frequent trips to the ration shop. Bargain
for vegetables at the street vendor’s cart. If she’s a working
woman, then she stands at the section officer’s desk,
sheepishly explaining her late arrival to work. In PTA
meetings, she nods her head vigorously to anything the
teachers say, like one of those fortune-telling bulls that
bob their heads to the beat of a drum. She does the same
thing when her husband is verbally abusing her. Perhaps
she can pick a quarrel with him once in a while; there’s no ban on that.
Imagine if 4,000 such women were gathered together,
made to sit through one of Acharya's spiritual training
programmes, then put on a stage and told to preach to an
audience. How many of them, after that, would have any
respect left for the institution of family? Perumal had no
doubt that if all the middle-class housewives were introduced
to this eminent spiritual leader, they would all run
off behind him.
THE WAR was drawing to a close. The last remnants
of the liberation force were using thousands of
civilians as human shields. The military advanced,
firing. A mother stood in a narrow street, clutching
a child to her breast in desperation. The child was
already dead. The mother knew she would not be able to
make it all the way to her home; but she did not want to
abandon the child here in the street, either. She did not
know what to do.
There were lakhs and lakhs of people scrambling to
rush out of the town. Finally, she discarded the child on
the street and was carried off with the crowd. She had to
leave the body behind and go. She had no other option.
Though he had sworn that he would never resort to
spirituality, Perumal finally did arrive at it in his fiftieth
year. He could have at least
kept it to himself, you might
think, but no; instead he told
Meera about his spiritual
guru. And that was it. In an
instant, Meera converted to
|He zealously tried to
get his first wife to drink
deeply of the essence of
communism. The moment
she tasted it, she left him
Activists — whatever kind
of activists they are — have no
concern for individuals. Once,
Perumal was down with viral
fever, and there was not a soul
around to care for him. When
he messaged Meera at the
ashram, she messaged back
saying, “Pray to god; he will
take care of you.” But neither came, neither god nor
Meera, and he had to wait to recover.
Twenty-five years ago, Perumal had been a communist
sympathiser. He lost faith in the cause later, but that was
a different issue. Back then, he zealously tried to get his
first wife to drink deeply of the essence of communism.
And the moment she tasted it, she became a communist
activist, and left him.
Eventually, he realized that activism — whatever sort of
activism it was — had the end result of separating himself
from his partner.
Today, his mindscreen was bursting with images of
corpses. There was the leader of the Tamils, his face
shaved clean, the back of his skull split with an axe. This
was the same leader who, to chase his promise of an independent Tamil homeland, had consumed the lives of thousands;
but the second he felt the shadow of death flash
across his face, he had shaved his cheeks and gone to surrender,
carrying a white flag.
In 1996, the presidential post of the village panchayat
was reserved for Dalits. Murugesan and others had filed
their applications for the post on 10.9.96, but had later
withdrawn them because of threats from the upper castes.
Then there was a peace meeting. But in the elections that
followed, several ballot boxes were stolen. There was a
re-polling on 31.12.96. The upper castes boycotted. Only
the Dalits cast their votes, and so Murugesan was elected.
On 30.6.97, a gang of thirty people murdered six Dalits,
including Murugesan. The one who chopped off Murugesan’s
head forced the other Dalits to drink the blood that
spurted out from it.
Perumal, I get the same pleasure spending time with
you as I do playing in a gentle drizzle: the same peace, the
same beauty, everything. Sometimes your flawless love,
affection, and truth infuses me with the beauty of nature
bathed in rain.
It’s the same ecstasy I felt walking in rain while strolling
through the tulip gardens.
Tamilarasan was an old friend of Perumal’s. Twentyfive
years ago, they had both been so penniless that they
had to beg for money to buy a single cup of tea. That was
around the time they translated Foucault’s The Archaeology
of Knowledge together. After that, Tamilarasan joined
a political party and made it as an MP in his very first attempt.
A rumour began circulating around the state media
that he had earned over 800 crores in a single political
deal. The deal was actually worth 10,000 crores, and 800
crores was his kickback — or so they said. Of course, there
was no substantiating evidence of corruption, so it wasn't
presented as actual news. It just stayed a gossip tidbit.
Hacking wound at the level of the umbilicus, 5 cm x 1.5
cm and slicing through the intestine. 1.5 cm x 5.5 cm laceration
with contused margins, 4 cm below the umbilicus,
curved at the left end, piercing through to the bowel.
Stab-wound triangular in form, 2.5 cm x 1.5 cm, in the left
This generated some animosity against Tamilarasan
among the senior politicians of the party. They had been politicking their entire lives, but had never reaped anywhere
close to this amount. “Look how much this chap
made in a single deal!” they fumed. But the party president
and the chief minister had a soft corner for him. “He
drops unpronounceable names like Foucault, and writes
articles in the Economic and Political Weekly. Doesn’t the
party need a person like him?” they said.
|Before an actress’ body
could be handed over to
the family, many people
were desperate to have
sex with it
On Saturday, the military raided Valignarmadam, Mullivaikaal,
Irataivaikaal, Amabalavan, Pokkanai, Maathalan,
and Idaikaadu, attacking mercilessly and relentlessly. A
seventeen-year-old boy, Santhan, was huddled in a trench
with corpses raining down on top of him. The corpse of a
child, the corpse of an old hag, a man, a woman… after a
point he couldn’t tell the difference. He stayed there
squashed between those corpses for a whole day and
night, until the relief team arrived and saved him.
MEERA WAS admitted to a government hospital.
She had been caught in the crossfire when a
gang that had it in for Perumal had broken into
their house. Luckily, Perumal’s dog Writer had
started barking and creating havoc; otherwise Meera’s
story might have ended that very day. Those thugs were
massive mountains of muscle. But Writer was not a people-
friendly dog. Even when friends dropped in, he would
bark away, loud enough to quake the street. He had torn
the thugs apart.
She had a large bruise on her neck. One of the thugs
had banged her roughly into the wall.
An incised wound 8 cm x 3 cm x 2 cm over the back of
the right side of the chest. First and second right ribs
chipped in many places.
The air conditioner in the morgue would often stop
working. Just the day before, instead of presenting this
fact in its own column — for he did not think it very
important — he buried it in at the bottom of a page in the
classified section. He never imagined that he would feel
the effects of this carelessness so early. Meera was attacked
the very next night. As it was a police case, she had
to be treated in a government hospital.
There was an unbearable stench emanating from the
morgue, so Perumal decided to check it out. There he met
Kadiravan. Perumal had known him back when he was a
communist sympathiser. Kadiravan had stayed in Perumal’s
room once, when he had gone underground because
he was suspected of involvement in a bank heist.
Perumal knew that Kadiravan had later been nabbed
and sentenced to five years, but after that he had lost track
Now, he learned, Kadiravan had two kids. His family
was staying in the village. He had driven an auto for a
while; then he'd got this job in the morgue, through the
recommendation of a former comrade, and had stuck
with it. There was a time when he had digested all of
Engels and Mao, when the revolution was all that he
lived and breathed for. No matter what he started talking about, he’d end up with dialectic materialism. Perumal
was in despair, seeing his comrade now reduced to a
Was this a sacrifice, and if so, for what? Perumal had no
objection to sacrificing one’s life for human freedom. But,
he thought, so often, we spend our lives on the wrong
path, and then we look up to find we’ve already reached
our middle age. Here was Kadiravan, ten years younger
than Perumal, a mere forty-six years old. And yet to look
at him, he seemed ten years Perumal’s senior.
Laceration 7 cm x 3.5 cm x 2 cm over the outer side of
the left elbow.Kadiravan told him he sometimes wished he had kept
driving an auto. The morgue room could properly accommodate
only thirty corpses, but there were around a hundred
in it: accident deaths, suicides, anonymous corpses...
and several other types, he said. Apparently accident
deaths were the majority.
|First, decided Perumal, let
me figure out how many
zeros there are in ten
thousand crores. Then
we can discuss poetry
“But when actresses commit suicide... things are
different. I think maybe I should keep this job just for
What he said was, before an actress’ body could be
handed over to the family, he would come under pressure
from many people who were desperate to have sex with it.
“They come here with approval from the dean of the hospital,
and offer me bribes in thousands… it’s hard to refuse.”
Perumal, I have seen the world. I dream about going to
the moon and watching the earth rotate on its axis. That's
the reason I’ve been studying and earning… Valentina
Tereshkova, the documentary camera-woman, circled the
earth 48 times.
We should see it, this blue globe, glittering in the darkness.
What an incredible experience it would be, to gaze on
the only place we know as ours! Let’s go around it once, visit
its satellite — the moon — and then return.
Are you beginning to suspect she’s loony? Because she
talks about seeing the aurora borealis, or orbiting the
earth in space?
BUT IT wasn’t Tamilarasan’s writing skills that had
made him the darling of the party higher-ups. It
was simply the fact that he would happily lick the
bum of anyone who happened to be in power. He
would shamelessly fall at their feet. He had fallen at the
feet of the chief minister so often that people started calling
him the chief minister's adopted son. Tamil politics
abounds with adopted sons; they are seen as some sort of
Yes, the leaders were on his side; still, it doesn’t help to
make enemies of the seniors, does it? Tamilarasan realized
that his 800 crore windfall had sparked envy in everyone’s
eyes. He tried to stay away from active politics. He dusted
off his fossilised poems and soon had them published in
He started nagging Perumal over the phone to attend
his book launch. Irritated, Perumal demanded, “Are we
intellectual prostitutes?” Just because he entered politics
and made it rich and now he’s publishing his poetry to give
himself intellectual credibility, I’m supposed to go there and
speechify for him? First, decided Perumal, let me figure out
how many zeros there are in ten thousand crores. Then we can discuss poetry. So he dismissed Tamilarasan’s invitation.
To avoid Tamilarasan, who didn't seem to tire of calling,
Perumal asked for a donation of one lakh for his
website. After that, the calls from Tamilarasan stopped.
at the sound of our whispers.
The ears of night,
fearing our fierce kisses,
seek the comfort of dawn...
at the dreams of
the snail-paced day, and celebrate…
Nudging time with
a single finger,
makes our world
Millions of words like this from Chandini — or maybe
a zillion. Perumal didn’t know how to react to it all. She
told him she was born and grew up in Norway. Perhaps
teenage girls from all over the world send the same sort
Suddenly, one day, an urgent call came from Chandini.
He went to see her, and found that her hands were trembling
violently, like the hands of a drug addict. The doctor
said it was a symptom of SMS addiction. He even had a
name for it. Only I forget it, now…