A Little More than Stories...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beach Side Stories - 2

It was 1933, I guess. Or '34. I don't remember now. It doesn't matter. People generally don't remember things that don't matter. Like I don't remember when I was born. Not the date. Not the month. Not the year. It does not matter. It never did, I guess. Not to me. Not to anyone. So, 1933 it was. Or maybe, 1934. As I said - it doesn't matter.

Back then...
Right across the waters, I spotted this house. It was nice. Lonely. Like me, it stood as if there weren't a care in the world. When I spotted it, I was drunk. To the brim, if it conveys my state better. I couldn't tell darkness from light. So, I am not sure if it were day or night. On its door-step, I collapsed. Maybe 10 minutes later, I could feel the grip of some hands tighten around my ankles and wrists. I say maybe because obviously I had no sense of time. It made me rather uncomfortable. I remember trying to wriggle. I also remember that I couldn't.

When I came to senses, it was dark. So dark, that I thought the earth's shadow had fallen upon itself. I saw beneath - there was nothing. Nothing above. Darkness all around. I had this feeling I was afloat. Obviously I hadn't come to my senses. I went to sleep again.

So, when I woke up - this time for real - I found myself on the bed. I was stripped naked - down to the bare minimum, that is. I wasn't feeling cold. I was feeling wet. I was sweating. In spite of this I felt my heart was beating fine. The pumping was top notch. I felt like I could spring out of the bed and work out. Right away. Just like that. Except, I couldn't. I couldn't move my limbs for nuts. I tried to lift my head, off the damned pillow, but I couldn't. All of a sudden it felt like a huge rock was gently placed on my head. I collapsed back to peace.

I dreamed. It was bad. A 100 men were after me. They all seemed to look the same. The face, I couldn't remember. It did not matter. They had weapons. All kinds of weapons. I could tell right now who had what. It mattered. I ran hard. I fell hard. I woke up with a start.

I wasn't sweating this time. I found that weird. I also found a cup of tea. I looked around. No one. I took a sip.

'Ah! Finally.'

I swerved. She was walking in with some breads.

'So, you are up! Nice long sleep, eh?'

I did not know what to reply. I did not know who she was.

'I think you should have a bath - heck brush your teeth and all that. You look stoned. There is a tooth-brush in the wash. I have used it only once. A month back. Too hard on my teeth. I have cleansed it - in spirit. Safe to use.'

I quite liked her. There aren't many girls I know who would share their toothbrushes. Anyway. I got up and walked for the first time in what seemed to be 6 days.

'So, your first step in 6 days, huh? How does it feel?'

I gave her a look which was pretty blank. I couldn't emote. She gave me a look which said, well, I don't know what it said. It is difficult to say what a woman's look says.

I completed the morning routine. Came out to buttered breads. I had quite a few. And then threw it all up! She said it was okay and that she would clean it up later. I went to the bed suddenly feeling weak. I couldn't sleep though. Just lay down. She asked if I needed a doctor and I nodded a 'no'.

'Your hand is wounded, what happened?' I pretended to be asleep. She left a note on the table beside the bed and left.

I will be back by evening. Please do not leave the house. We need to talk. Under any circumstances, please do not leave the house.

I stood up. Stretched my limbs. And went for the door. It was locked from outside. I walked around the house. I realized I had to wear something before I go out. I hunted down my dress. I found a back-door which was locked too. I opened the window and climbed out. Found a brick and placed it on the window sill, so it remains open. Fresh air hit me on my face. It felt nice. It was a small garden. Well tended to. I walked around the corner and my eyes popped out.

It was the single-most beautiful sights I had seen. The water was blue-green. The sands were white. There was a narrow tar road in between. The beach wasn't huge. Small little beach. But the expanse of the water overwhelmed me. The color of the water charmed me. Sun was shining down hard. The sands hadn't heated up yet. The water was cool. It was a peaceful easy feeling. Some time passed and I came back home for food. Did I say home? Well. I climbed back in. Found the bread - cold, but eatable. I slept.

'Who are you?' I asked. And realized that it was a weird question. Really. I was sure she did not know who I was. She had attended to me - for presumably 6 days. And here I was asking her who she was. I should be telling who I was. She smiled a smile which sort of said that it was a weird question. The smile is easier to read. Yet. I waited for an answer.

'Does it matter, really?'
'It does. To me.'
'Well. Hard luck, then.'

I smiled. She noticed. 'Who are you?', she asked.

'Would knowing that affect the hospitality you extend?'
'Would knowing this change your identity?'

She was smarter. And one thing I have learned is not to waggle much with smarter people.

'It would have. But now that you realize it, I think I could tell you who I really am.'
'I appreciate it.'
'Well. I am not a good person. Alcoholic. Drug addict. The wound is out of the medicine. My name is of no consequence, so I am going to hold that back. I have been on the roads for more than what 5 or 6 weeks now. I am not from around. I think the police were hunting for me. I wish to conceal names here - of people, places. Hope you understand that. I had burgled a house. For money - to buy stuff.'

She seemed surprised at all this. And though that is fair enough, it surprised me that the facts surprised her. I had sort of expected her to expect nothing more of me. No one had expected more.

'Hmm. I wasn't this bad always.'

'Y..', she began to say something and I cut her short.

'Which is to say, I had been worse. I had attempted rape twice on the same person. I couldn't. So, in the rage I did it to someone else. I also killed the person. And later killed a couple of others while I was at it. It gives one an unparalleled high. Once I came to senses, I realized I was screwed. In my mind. I was totally screwed up. I ran into the mountains. That is where I took to drugs. It sort..',

'You are kidding aren't you?', it seemed she took it from where I had earlier cut her short. 'You are making this whole thing up, only to make me shudder. To disturb me. Why? I cannot fathom. But I am convinced you are kidding me.'

Both of us remained silent. She wasn't convinced of anything. I wasn't convinced of anything either. We just remained. Silent.


'You should look out for some work, you know. Earn something, maybe.' She was taking the clothes out to put it to dry.

'I think I can learn to cook. Is there anyone nearby who would need a cook. And a maid maybe. I don't know anyone around... so I was hoping you would put me through to someone.'


I dreamed. It was bad. A 100 men were after me. They all seemed to look the same. The face, I couldn't remember. It did not matter. They had weapons. All kinds of weapons. I could tell right now who had what. It mattered. I ran hard. I fell hard. I woke up with a start.


House work pretty much interested me. I made friends with the children and the dogs of the house. The house was around 3-4 miles away. I did not mind the walk. It was along the beach. I loved the walk. It freed my minds of the thoughts. Which was very scarce in the first place. And those primarily revolved around guilt. Of having done what I had in the past. Of having taken a life. And in some weird sense I felt guilty that she did not believe me. Work was good. I tried to be sincere. The masters were nice. It was a nice little family. They made me wonder if I would ever have had a family. To no avail. Anyway.


'What happened?'
'You are sweating.'
'Is everything fine?'

I drank the cup of water and went back to sleep.

'What was with you last night? It seemed as if you had seen a ghost.'
'It was a nightmare; nothing more.'
'Oh. Ok. I spoke to Mrs. D'Souza. She seemed quite impressed by your work. The marks on your hands disturbed her a lot. Seems her brother was into drugs. She was concerned. I said you were out of it. Completely.'

I hated how she believed me. Maybe because I hadn't managed to regain that belief in myself. But, how could I? Anyone who knew me as I was, wouldn't. She did. Maybe because she doesn't know. Maybe she doesn't want to know.

'I haven't ever asked you. What work do you do?'

She looked surprised. And smiled. I did not know how to react to that. I smiled back - I think.

'I teach. There is this place 12 miles from here. I teach children.'
'A school?'
'Well, depends.'
'How one defines school...'
'Does that place fit your definition of a school?'
'Would you like to come?'
'Yes! Sure...' And then a moment later. 'Though I would rather that the wounds heal completely.'

She smiled that smile again. I smiled back.


I dreamed. It was bad. A 100 men were after me. They all seemed to look the same. The face, I couldn't remember. It did not matter. They had weapons. All kinds of weapons. I could tell right now who had what. It mattered. I ran hard. I fell hard. I woke up with a start.


I started going to the market with her. To get groceries. Or just maybe to walk around the place getting to know people. She knew a lot of them. I made friends with the florist. A nice young lady, of maybe 17. Very charming.

My wounds were fast healing. She used to apply milk cream over it. Every night. It wasn't long before I could go to school, I thought. Somehow, this was the first thing I could remember having waited eagerly for.


'Is it the nightmare again?' She almost startled me in the kitchen where I had come in for a glass of water.

'Tell me what about. It helps.'
'I don't know. It is the same thing over and over again. A 100 men, all look the same, chasing me. With weapons. And I am running hard. So hard, I can't feel my legs. They just don't stop chasing. It makes me feel so weak. I don't know... I mean, this damned thing - ever since I have ...'

'Just stop running.' And she smiled. Patted my back. And went to sleep.


I had saved ever so little of my daily wages. I went to the market alone one day and got the cycle from the florist. I had paid half of what she asked for - the rest I promised I would pay in due time.

She was surprised to see the cycle standing at the door. She came in and stared at me. I said it was for her. She smiled. She went outside, came in again, stared at me.

'I don't know to ride one!' We both laughed. I said it was easy and that she would need some practice before she could cycle her way to the school. I taught her to ride a bicycle. She learned it in a day. Less than that.


We went to the school one afternoon. The D'Souza family were out for a wedding. They weren't to come back for a week. I had brought Rox, their dog, home. Anyway - the school was fun. There were about 17-20 children. And all of them, varying about 3 years in age were made to sit in one room. There was no blackboard or anything. No books. She told them stories. She asked them to tell stories. In about an hour, more such ladies came in. They soon formed small groups and started discussing. I chose not to sit with any of them. I wandered around. The place was kind of eerie. The families were mostly fishermen. Poor. Their houses were made of straw. Rebuilt every monsoon. I kind of got the idea about the school. I wondered who paid the teachers.

'The Portugese government does. They are a concerned lot. They pay well. Well, well enough for us to live a reasonable life. We teachers voluntarily spare some part of our wages to give to these families. It isn't substantial for us - but gives them a week's food, maybe. Good people all of them. That is how much fishing pays them - and they know nothing else.'

I spoke to them. I thought to myself that these guys needed some exposure. They were selling their stuff to the 3 merchants who bought from them ever since they could remember. It was almost a tradition. A family affair. I promised to myself that I would take some of them to the bazaar sometime.


I asked my master if I could be relieved of some work - I want to go to the fishing village. I would like to learn fishing, I said. I would get some fish for you every weekend. He agreed. Mr. D'Souza was a generous man. From behind the newspaper reading bespectacled and whiskered face, 'Oh! Sure!' he said.

I went to school from that very day. She was a only too happy with the arrangement. I hung around with her for some time - before I could learn the way the place worked. I did learn pretty quickly. The children loved me. I played a lot of games. They were good with football. We made a team too. It was a lot of fun. The petition for an additional room for the school went through. There was celebration all around. Mr. D'Souza was made Chief Guest for its inaugural ceremony. He was delighted. he arranged for the evening feast for the families. He even played some local songs on the guitar. There was general frolic.

'That was a lot of fun.' She said. She smiled and said thanks. I did not know how to react. Again. I tried to read sarcasm - there was none. I reflexively wanted to say welcome but refrained, and thanked her instead. She smiled once again.

'I want you to continue once I am gone. Will you do that?'
'Where would you be gone to? What do you mean?'

She was abstract. I did not ask any further. 'Should we adopt Joe?' She was startled. She smiled. She raised an eyebrow. I smiled.


All of 2.5 years, Joe was a bundle of laughter. The very home that our house embodied changed. Did I say 'our'? Oh! Well...

The D'Souzas would often drop by. I still worked there so I would take Joe along too. The fishermen improved. I wouldn't say time flew. Days were slow. Months were slower. Years were even so. And I savored every moment. I had learned the guitar - some basic work so I could keep the students entertained now and then. Also, started to teach a couple of them.[:)] It was fun - I used to learn from Mr. D'Souza and teach the same in the evening before I would forget! The children loved me. I loved them too.

Joe was 6 now. We were deciding on whether to start his schooling. She always opposed. She said, it wasn't necessary yet. Maybe a year or two more. And that was what she was saying for the past couple of years. She knew best - I thought.


'I had been to the bazaar' today. Mascarenhas' came with me. They got a great deal. The merchants don't know about this yet. But I told that once all the fishermen were convinced that they could get a better rate - they could bargain collectively with the merchants. Do you think they will listen to the Mascarenhas'; or should I go about talking to them?'

She smiled. I smiled back, but what the heck, I hadn't got the answer. 'So? What do you think?'

She gave a small laughter. I was sort of embarrassed.

'I think Joshua was interested in going too. Maybe I would take him along tomorrow. He is young, and people quite listen to him. Let us see.'

She gave a reassuring look. I smiled. We went to sleep.


'Maa?' said Joe looking at her. 'Can I go to school?' she looked at Joe, and then at me. 'Yes' she said.

I took Joe along the very next day. We had a lot of fun. The children took to him immediately. I assigned Mary to teach Joe - she was a very bright young girl.

'Joshua...' I called. 'Are you ready? Where's your stuff?'
'Coming!' the voice came. I waved Joe goodbye and went off to the bazaar with Joshua.

'How was schoold, Joe?' she asked as Mary came by to leave Joe home.
'Mary Dee is so nice, Maa. She told me stories. You had told them already. So I guess all the endings. Mary Dee was very happy.'

She smiled. I smiled.


I was resting with a cup of tea when the police came. They barged in and pushed her aside. Joe ran out. The D'Souzas had shown me in. Who wouldn't? The police were looking for a rapist. A murderer. I obliged. She collapsed down. Not a single tear. Joe ran out. I smiled at her. She did not know how to react. For once. I did not allow the tear to trickle down. That house had never seen a tear.

They led me out. I saw the beach once more. The vast openness. The air once again caressed my tresses. For a moment, I felt like the sea invited me to enter her and rest in peace. But that was only momentary. The sun was setting. The white sands shone a brilliant orange. I dragged my feet along. I saw Mary stand a distance away. I turned to see the D'Souzas crying. Rox stood wagging his tail as we passed the D'Souza residence.

So turning back to my cell-mate, I said, 'So, now you understand why I took a liking to you, Joe. I was sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment for first degree murder. And not until I saw you did I realize that I could lead a life here. It feels nice to share my story. About the extraordinary people who have been nicer to me than I deserved. It has made me feel better about myself. I will introduce you to Maria the next time she comes. She will like you. She likes everyone.

Good night, Joe.'
'Good Night!'

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beach Side Stories - 1

Amma’, he said waking her up. ‘It is 5:30 already. Wake up. Make some tea.’ She opened her eyes to see her husband’s face as she had done ever since they were married. She would chant a little prayer for her husband’s long and able life. Habit made him make his bed; and hers too, immediately after she got up to make tea for both. After 35 years of marriage, having lived every single day in the same fashion made life a habit for them. Each morning she would be woken up by him at 5:30; not precisely though. The first glimpse of a sun ray was 5:30 for them. She, almost mechanised, went to the kitchen and kept the milk on the stove before going to the bath outside from the back door in the kitchen.

‘Aren’t you supposed to go to the doctor today? He had asked you to be there by 9 a.m., so you could beat the rush. Such a good man, Ramanathan is; we must get him something this Deepavali. After all, there aren’t many doctors who would treat at such discounted rates’, she said vanishing into the bath.

He made ready his morning dose of medicines, herbs and one tablet that the doctor had recently got him from the city – for ailments ranging from the heart, blood pressure to diabetes. Since yesterday, the tablets had started leaving him in a delirious state of mind. She even feared that he was having hallucinations. He would keep staring into blank space in the afternoons for long and would flatly refuse when she would ask him what he was thinking. ‘Nothing amma’, he would reply. ‘Where was I thinking; what would I think anyway! I was only reading’, he would say pointing to the manuscript he had, though she would have noticed him quite obviously staring into space.

She had spoke to the doctor last evening without his knowledge, and informed the doctor about this new development. He heard her through, as a good medic would. Initially, Ramanathan ruled it away saying that it was a common old age syndrome, and that she needn’t be bothered. But, when he heard her voice a bit shaky and with a slight hint of panic, he asked her to send him to the clinic the very next day. ‘Let him be here by 9 in the morning; that is when I would be absolutely free. Else, people queue up till evening. I want to spend some time to see what it is’ he said, which gave her some assurance.

‘Ramanathan said everything is fine. The tablet that he gave me is a bit troublesome. That is all. Just need to walk a little more. I have to take only for a week more, he said. So, it would be alright then. Don’t you think we should both go for walks together?’ he surprised her, in a rather rare flirtatious tone.
She blushed; a bit. ‘Sure we could, if only your friend would spare you some time!’

Koppaliyar and Mr. Iyer had been long walking partners. This Mr. Iyer was the only person to talk to this guy from the lower caste. The village loathed him for that, but Koppaliar was too handy to get rid of. They gave in to Mr. Iyer, accepted his behaviour and respected him for all his knowledge and devotion to God. They would set off at 4 am every morning – on the dot – for the past 44 years. However, since Koppaliyar moved to Vellathoor recently, to a new place about 2 miles further away from the beach, it had become 4:30 for Mr. Iyer daily. This meant shorter walks for him, as he would be back by 5:30 to wake his wife up. ‘Amma,’ he would say waking her up ‘wake up and make some tea.’ There were days when Koppaliyar would join them for the morning tea, but those were rare occasions, when Mrs. Iyer would insist or Iyer and Koppaliyar would be engrossed in an argument.

‘Hey! That is a morning affair. We have the whole of evening.’ He said holding his cup of tea up in the air, ‘I hereby dedicate all my evenings for the rest of my life to my dearest’ making it a surprising second attempt at flirting –something he had done never before in his life. She blushed a bit more and shied away.

‘Isn’t the breeze lovely?’ he asked.

‘Hmm... I like the sound of the waves more. It gives me immense calm to listen to them. Close my eyes and listen to them – I can do it for hours’, she said enacting it.

Just when he tried to close his eyes to check that out, she continued ‘The beach is an amazing place. It reflects your mood. The waters – they seem to be happy when you are happy. Angry when you are filled with anger. And sad when you are down. I haven’t told this to you before, but I have spent a lot of time by myself in the beach when you would be off to work. I even got a couple of friends around here.’

‘Boyfriends?’ he teased.

‘Please... what is wrong with you?’ she seemed to be hurt. ‘I used to miss you a lot when you were away. I would sit by this beach, and the waters would soothe me saying you would be back soon. And before long, it would be time for me to go home.’ Deftly changing the topic, ‘What else did Ramanathan say?’ she asked. ‘Did he mention anything about side effects of the tablets?’ She found him staring emptily into space – beyond the waters.

Amma...wake up. It is 5:30 already. Make some tea. Koppaliyar is here.’ She woke up with a start though saying the silent prayer hurriedly for her husband’s long life. A guest was at home and she was not even presentable. Oh! How she detested that. ‘Give me 5 minutes, ayya Koppaliyar’ she shouted and rushed to the kitchen from her room without even looking up and making sure that Koppaliyar wouldn’t notice her. She almost spilt the milk in a hurry to keep it on the stove.

‘I will make it, you go get ready. A spoon each of sugar and tea, right?’ he asked in confirmation. She ‘yes yes’-ed him and rushed to the bath. She hurriedly got ready, simply tied her hair into a nice little roll and entered the room asking, ‘How was the tea, don’t blame me, it was ...’ Koppaliyar was gone. Mr. Iyer just placed his cup of tea and was just about to enter the staring phase when she called out to him.

‘Are you listening? Why did Koppaliyar leave? You two fought?’ she asked clearly concerned over the guest walk off. ‘Oh no! We didn’t fight or anything.’ Said he snapping back just in time. ‘Make some tea for yourself. I didn’t make it for you – One, because it would get cold. And two, I didn’t want to punish you early morning!’

She made tea and came to where he was sitting. ‘So, what did Koppaliyar say? I am going to ask him when I meet him; he found some time today after nearly a month and he couldn’t wait for 10 minutes? I am surely going to ask him why.’

‘Hey. You are taking it too seriously, he was meaning to meet you, but you took forever getting ready. So, he drank his tea – waited for some time and left.’
‘I didn’t take any longer than usual. Just that I had oiled my hair last night – so it took a couple of minutes to wash it. Still I rushed through. I wore the first sari I could lay my hands on. See, I haven’t even dried my hair properly’, she said sipping the last drops of tea. ‘In fact, by all measures I was early today than...’ as she said this she realized that he wasn’t listening. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling. She shuddered. Whatever is happening to him, God please bring him back to normal, she prayed to herself. She got up, took his cup and then Koppaliyar’s. At once, she dropped them all.

Koppaliyar’s glass was full. He hadn’t drunk the tea. He hadn’t even touched the glass. In fact, Koppaliyar hadn’t come home with Iyer this morning.

The sound of the dropped vessels brought Mr. Iyer back to consciousness. He saw the spilt tea, muttered a sorry as if he had dropped it and went about cleaning the place as she stood frozen to the ground.

Later that morning, she went to Ramanathan and told this little story. It had Ramanathan worried. ‘Amma – we might have to take him to the hospital in the city tomorrow. I will arrange for the cart, Nachiappan would surely lend his cart.’ Thus assured, she came back home to find him sitting silently staring at the ceiling. The evening walk that day was unnervingly silent. He didn’t talk much and was nodding profusely to whatever she was saying - a clear indication of him not listening. She prodded him back home a lot early that evening.

Amma, wake up. It is 5:30 already. Make some tea.’ She woke up with her eyes red. She muttered the prayer a bit longer than usual. She hadn’t had a proper sleep. Her mind was troubled with all kinds of thought. She hadn’t told him yet about their planned trip to the hospital and knew very well that he wouldn’t come if so told. Ramanathan had suggested that they would tell that it was a check up for her, and that she had some pain in the right shoulder.

‘Koppaliyar was asking for you today. He said he would come home tomorrow and meet you surely. Such a nice man, this Koppaliyar is.’ He sat down on the parapet at the very entrance. She quickly got ready and left for the doctor’s place under the guile of going to the temple. ‘Go inside and close the doors...’ she said to the man staring at the ceiling.

‘Sorry amma – Nachiappan has gone to Vellathoor today and is not going to come back until 4-5 days. I have spoken to Chellappa. He can get his brother-in-law’s cart tomorrow morning’ Ramanathan said clearly concerned that the visit had to be delayed. There wasn’t much they could do now.

When she came back to the house, Iyer was nowhere to be seen. She held back her panic. She went in and sat inside the prayer room – praying, fighting back tears, for her husband’s well being. ‘Amma’ he called. She almost ran towards the voice only to see him standing with some vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. ‘Koppaliyar had come here; he has some work with the village head. I asked him to stay for lunch, so you could meet him too. It is fine with you, right?’

‘Of course! Of course!’ she said wiping the tears which found their way out in joy. She hurried to him and said, ‘Why did you trouble yourself, I would have gone again’ taking the vegetables from him.

‘A little walk would do no harm. Besides, Koppaliyar was going the same way. So good company too.’

‘What shall I make for you? Would avial be fine?’

A funeral procession passed on the road just then. The conches were blown in vigour and drums slung around shoulders beaten as if in celebration. Kids danced along, as the procession moved in its own slow pace. The cremation grounds were by the beach. She rushed to the door to close it. It wasn’t considered good omen to keep the doors open.

‘What does Koppaliyar like? I do not even remember the last time he had come home for lunch! Must be years before. Was it not after Janaki got married?’ Janaki was Koppaliyar’s only daughter and indeed it was about 13 years since Koppaliyar had come for lunch. The Iyers had made sure the wedding was a grand one. For she couldn’t bear a child; they cared for Janaki as they would for their own child. The Iyers were so happy that day, they treated the Koppaliyars for lunch. ‘Yes, indeed. Thirteen years isn’t it?’ she asked. There was no reply from Iyer. ‘Are you listening? Ayya? Where are you?’ No reply.

She came out of the kitchen and checked. He wasn’t there. She opened the door and saw Ramanathan pass by hurriedly. ‘Ramanathan, did you see Ayya?’ she called out loud. ‘Ramanathan...’ he heard her call the second time. He came rushing and seemed worried. ‘Did you not hear? Mr. Koppaliyar is no more. They found his body late last night by the shore. It seems he wasn’t to be seen for the past four days. His body was washed ashore in the nearby village and they brought it over to Vellathoor late last night. His wife Kannamma lost consciousness. I am going to attend to her.’

She had heard every word coming out of his mouth. The words echoed in a surreal manner. She could feel her head spin and she lost balance. Ramanathan guided her inside, made her sit and gave her some water. ‘Koppaliyar, he has been missing for the last three days, is it?’ she asked.

‘Four.’ He corrected her and left to attend Kannamma.

She sat still. She fell on the floor, semi conscious. ‘Amma’ she heard her husband call out. Her heart started beating doubly fast. ‘Look. Look who is here for lunch’, he said entering the room. ‘Koppaliyar, this lady is mad at you because you did not wait longer the other morning. Now, you better apologise, else...’ There was no one beside him. Or anywhere else in the room. ‘Ayya...’ she said in a begging tone. ‘Please come here and sit.’ She held back her tears. Her heart was heavy. Her husband had lost all sanity. He was talking as if Koppaliyar were there in flesh and blood.

He sat down in the only chair. ‘Go, get water for us.’ She obeyed. She did not know what else to do. It was a habit now. The first cup of water she gave him, he passed it on to Koppaliyar. The cup fell down and broke. Water spilt around the place. Some drops splashed on to his legs. He was completely oblivious to that. He spoke as if Koppaliyar was right there. She grew white. Fear was building up. Her heart was now beating audibly loud. Her legs were shaking. Not even nine yards of sari could hide them. Of course, her husband noticed none of these. She even laid two banana leaves for them and served them both. Mr. Iyer had a sumptuous meal while the other leaf was left as served.

She did not clean up that day. She could not. She wanted to rest; to sleep and never get up. She could simply not bear to see him this way. She prayed all afternoon. She cried all afternoon. Mr. Iyer slept through all. They went for their walk that evening.

‘Nice breeze, eh?’ she asked. ‘Quite a few people here too. I will introduce you to my friends if I see them around. They would be elated to see me, after so many years, if they still come here that is.’ Mr. Iyer was silent. Not a sound from him. That is till he saw Koppaliyar. They stayed late after dark. Iyer spoke a lot to Koppaliyar. He spoke a lot about Koppaliyar. A lot about the time they spent all these years. He would prod Koppaliyar to speak, obviously to no avail. He told his wife all about them. She had never heard him speak so much. They walked up to the waters. He took both her hands in his; pressed them against his forehead and cried. They walked back. Both got no sleep that night. They spent it in troubled thoughts.

The next morning, Mr. Iyer took his wife to the beach for their walk. He told her about how he saw Koppaliyar walking into the waters as he stood shouting. He told her how he stood helpless and cowardly. He told her that Janaki was his daughter. Kannamma and Iyer’s daughter. And that Koppaliyar could not stand the truth. ‘He died because of me’ he said in a stoic manner. ‘I killed him’ he said wiping a tear. ‘Amma, go home. I am alright. I want to stay alone for a bit. I will come in some time, you go home.’

She obeyed. He never came back. She never searched for him. She did not cry. She wasn’t angry. She went about as if it was daily. She slept early that night; long and tight.

Amma, wake up. It is 5:30 already. Make some tea.’ She opened her eyes to find no one there. She did not pray.

--------------------------------- Disclaimer ---------------------------------

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Driver Kaka

Just when the colour of the sun changes from orange to yellow, our bus arrives. Any season of the year, this is the precise time the bus arrives. When the colour of the sun changes from orange to yellow. Every morning, even when people from Chetana's colony had a big fight with our colony, the bus arrived. Nobody ever bothered with his name. We just called him 'driver kaka'. He always had a smile. Even at times of such great tension he smiled. He has never spoken a single word to the 14 of us. We travel by the bus every day to school. But somehow we have the feeling he knows every one of us, by name. Not that he has ever asked. But we have the feeling somehow.

Two weeks since the fight, he has been unusually grim. Very serious. Doesn't smile, but his face does not show any seriousness too. He has a plain expression we are not used to. All these months, this is the first time we see him wear his head gear. A cap similar to the one that abba wears all the time. That has not changed anything else. Not his timings, not the way he drives, not the route he takes. He knows precisely who gets in at which stop and how late each one of them usually are. He knows it. Noor, Jihana and I, we are the first ones to get in. And we are always in time, well within time.

Yesterday evening, he was more tensed than ever. He would try hard not to show it. But we are only too accustomed to his ever smiling face. We could feel it. All the 14 of us did not speak a word. Today morning, the bus was late. The sun had turned yellow long before. He wasn't there. Then, we saw the bus coming from the opposite direction. He spoke for the first time. 'Sorry! I went past...sort of forgot.' Somehow, it is difficult to believe that driver kaka could forget. It was too routine a thing for him, for us. We climbed in anyway. He forced a smile as we climbed in. He went a bit faster today to make up for the lost time. The evening passed as usual. At night as I told abba about the bus getting late, he acted as if he knew it. He was not in a very good mood.

Today morning, again the bus was late... rather it never arrived. Noor and I were waiting. 'Jihana is not keeping well beta, you both go', her father said from the window. That is odd, because we played together yesterday night till 9. She was quite well then. We waited anyway.

Meanwhile, the bus had picked up Rakesh from the next stop, just beyond the bridge that runs over the dry river. We often wave to Rakesh from the bridge. Our heads way outside the window. It was a very tall bridge, and a very old one. On not seeing any of us, Rakesh was a bit surprised. He asked driver kaka whether we hadn't turned up. 'No' they are not coming to school he said. We had to go by an auto-rickshaw that day. At school, this was the topic of discussion. Rakesh and I were wondering why driver kaka had lied. We even decided to ask him, but then as Rakesh said, may be driver kaka is not keeping well. The long bell rang immediately after recess. This meant that we could go home. The last time around, the principal of our school had died, of heart attack. However, this time around, situation looked a lot more serious. There were policemen around the school gates.

Rakesh and I were scared. Noor joined us. We saw driver kaka talk animatedly with a policeman. On Rakesh's insistence we went a little ahead; to eavesdrop. 'I will drop them all home. The whole route takes just 25 minutes. At least these children of them would be safe.'

All of a sudden Rakesh rushed towards them,

'Driver kaka, what happened?'
'Nothing... I will take care!', somehow Rakesh felt safe, actually we all felt safe with driver kaka.
'Police uncle, we will go with driver kaka. Please.'

Driver kaka asked Rakesh to go and ask all of us to stand together. After a few more minutes of discussion, the policeman had to give in.

Driver kaka got the bus into the school gates. We boarded the bus. Once beyond the turn, he drove the bus really fast. When we passed the police chowki, we could see a huge crowd gathered below a tree. They all seemed to be from Chetana's colony. All Hindus. On seeing the bus, a few of them rushed towards the bus. Driver kaka stopped the bus. He got down and told them something. Chetana's brother was one amongst them. He climbed in and asked Chetana to get down. Sangeeta, her best friend also got down. Driver kaka then proceeded. Usually the route would have been through the tree side and crossing the temple would turn left. However, today on seeing the crowd, driver kaka took an early left. This way we would reach our home first; Noor and I.

At our bus stop, we saw a few from our colony standing together. My father was ready for me. As soon as I got down, he went by the driver's window and spoke something. Driver kaka's face went pale. Rakesh looked very tense by the window. But, he would never cry. He was the bravest amongst us. Driver kaka climbed down. My father and him had a very heated argument. Father was shouting at him. I felt bad. I went to stop him when Noor's father interrupted me. Driver kaka was now begging, on his knees. A couple of other uncles from my colony joined them with the Koran and said something. I couldn't understand what. But immediately, driver kaka got up and turned around. He was crying.

He got into the bus. The next stop was Murali's. It was an immediate next stop. As the bus started, I heard Noor's father asking my father, 'You asked him to jump?' My father nodded.

The bus now left. Driver kaka turns behind and, 'Murali, it is not safe around here. I will drop you all at Rakesh's stop.' He then drove like a mad man. Crowds had gathered at many places. Every one tried to stop the bus, but driver kaka wouldn't stop. He drove straight on. We could see the bridge. Beyond that bridge was Rakesh's stop. We could get down there.

Just as the bridge approached, the bus swerved heavily to the left, it crashed through the age old side wall, went head first into the dry river. Driver kaka did not jump.

Disclamer: All incidents and characters mentioned here are purely fictional and bear no reference, except purely co-incidental, to any in real life. Usage of names of any place and dates have been deliberately avoided.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Disclaimer ...

Please be informed that all contained henceforth in this blog and in this blog only, is a piece of imagination, co-incidence or just plain bad luck! None of the stories, if I would ever write, have any implication, direct or otherwise to any one I know... I do not deny influence, plagiarism or inspiration! However, any allusion to any event or character is absolutely unintentional...

All views expressed are to be read in the context of the story and restricted to the same! They have nothing to do with my views of life in general.

Due to sheer lack of knowledge of varied names, usage might co-incide with existing friends and aquaintances! Please remember Shakespeare... 'What's in a name?!' In this blog and in this blog only, I do not know any one by the name of Abinav, Ram, Shetty, Uttam, Ruchi, Danny, Gauri, Anup, Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan, Kumar, Smitha, Pooja, Arun, Amitabh, Amisha, Rekha, Kaustubh etc. These are just combination of letters to me... which I may use as a name!

Character sketches are not meant to depict a living entity... they are just sketches.!

No! I am NOT going to write anything from anyone's life (including mine...)! Questions will be entertained (in the form of comments...) but may not be answered!

Suggestions/ critique are hugely welcome... This blog-space and this blog-space only, is specially for me to pass my time and for interested readers... I DO NOT intend to HURT or PRAISE anybody by means of anything in this blog... In spite of all this, if you are still offended... please do not hesitate to let me know! However, that may or may not change my style of writing in future posts...

Please read stuff, and comment! :)


Friday, December 1, 2006

Y! Talk...

No promises made...
Yet hopes not to fade!

Probably Yarns (now you know where the Y! comes from... no royalties to Yahoo) that I spin, or hope to...