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Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

“எத்தன தடவதான் மா சொல்லுவ?? ஒரு லிட்டர் பால், அரை கிலோ ரவை, ரின் சோப்பு, புரு காபி. வாங்கிட்டு வரேன் நீ phoneஅ வை.” கட் செய்துவிட்டு கடைக்குள் நுழைந்தேன். ஒரு விஷயத்தை குறைந்தபட்சம் பத்து முறையாவது ஞாபகப்படுதவில்லை என்றால் அம்மாவுக்கு நிம்மதியாக இருக்காது. முன்பிருந்த அண்ணாச்சி கடைகள் ரொம்ப ஈஸி. துண்டு சீட்டில் எழுதிக்கொடுத்தால் போதும். கடைப்பையன் ஓடி ஆடி எல்லா சாமானையும் எடுத்து வந்து பில்லை போட்டு கையில் கொடுத்துவிடுவான். கடைக்கு முன்னால் கலர் கலராக தோரணம் போல தொங்கும் கவர்களையும் பாக்கெட்களையும் மோட்டை பார்த்துக்கொண்டு நின்றால் போதும். இந்த சூப்பர் மார்க்கெட் கான்செப்ட் எனக்கு பிடிக்கவே இல்லை. அலைந்து திரிந்து வாங்கி பில் போடுவதற்கு specialஆ சாப்பிட்டு விட்டு வர வேண்டும் போல. வாசலில் இருந்த ஒரு கூடையை எடுத்து கொண்டு ரவையை தேடி அலைய புறப்பட்டபோது தான் அவளைப்பார்த்தேன். 

ஒரு நிமிடம் எதுவுமே புரியவில்லை. Mind blank ஆகிப்போனது.அவள்தானா அல்லது எப்போதும்போல வேறு யாரையாவது பார்த்து அவள் என்று நினைத்துவிட்டேனா? அதே சாய்ந்த நடை. அவளைப்போலவே யாருக்கும் பணியாத சுருள்முடி. கருநீல நிற சுடிதாரில் அவளேதான். கூடையோடு திரும்பியவள் என்னை பார்த்து வேறு விட்டாள்.

“ரவிவிவிவி!!!! What a surprise! எதிர்பார்க்கவே இல்ல!! எவ்ளோ நாள் ஆச்சு மீட் பண்ணி… 4 years or more?? நான் திருப்பி சென்னை வந்து மூணு மாசம் ஆச்சு. ஒன்ன விசாரிச்சேன். London போயிருகேன்னு சொன்னாங்க. எப்போ வந்த?? என்கிட்ட சொல்லாம கல்யாணம் கூட பண்ணிகிட்டனு மட்டும் சொன்ன.. கொன்னுடுவேன்…” பொறிந்து தள்ளினாள். பெரிய புன்னகையுடன் அவள் பேசியதை கேட்டுவிட்டு சொன்னேன், “நீ கொஞ்சம் கூட மாறவே இல்ல.” “எதுக்கு மாறணும்? என்ன மாறணும்? இரு bill  பண்ணிட்டு வரேன். ரொம்ப நாள் கழிச்சு மாட்டி இருக்க என்கிட்ட. சீக்ரத்ல எஸ்கேப் ஆக முடியாது.” அவசர அவசரமாக நானும் வாங்க வேண்டியதை வாங்கி விட்டு வெளியே வந்தேன். “Coffee??” “என்ன வெளையாடரியா? Treat வேணும் எனக்கு. கல்யாண Treat” பெரிதாக சத்தமாக சிரித்தாள். “எனக்கு கல்யாணம் ஆகி நாலு வருஷமாச்சு. கல்யாணத்துக்கும் வராம இருந்துட்டு இப்போ Treat கேக்ற. ஹ்ம்ம்.. ஒனக்கு இல்லாத Treat ஆ ரவி. அசோக் out of station. அவன் திரும்பி வந்ததும் ரெண்டு பேருமா சேந்து Treat வேக்றோம் ஓகே வா? Let’s catch up over some coffee now” 

அவளை நான் முதலில் பார்த்தது மண்டையை கொளுத்துகின்ற உச்சி வெயில் அடித்துக்கொண்டிருந்த ஒரு மத்தியான போழுதில்தான். பரிட்சை முடிந்து பத்து நாட்கள் நிம்மதியாக அம்மா கையால் நல்ல சோறு சாப்பிட ஊருக்கு கிளம்பி, ஹாஸ்டல் வெளியே இருந்த பஸ் ஸ்டாப்பில் நின்றுகொண்டிருந்த அந்த நாள் இன்னும் ஞாபகம் இருக்கிறது. கையில் ஒரு பெரிய பையுடன் கண்களை சுருக்கி பஸ் வராத அந்த ரோட்டை நொடிக்கொருதடவை எட்டி எட்டி பார்த்துக்கொண்டிருந்தவளை ஓரக்கண்ணால் நோட்டம் விட்டேன். First year ஒ?? காலேஜ் ஆரம்பித்து ஒரு வாரத்திலேயே First year பெண்கள் அனைவருக்கும் rating கொடுத்து மார்க் போட்டாயிற்றே. அப்பொழுது கூட இவளை பார்த்ததாக ஞாபகம் இல்லை. அப்படி பார்த்தே ஆகவேண்டும் என்ற அளவுக்கு அழகியும் ஒன்றும் இல்லை. சுமார்தான் என்று நினைத்துக்கொண்டே மறுபடியும் நோட்டம் விட திரும்பியபொழுது அவள் என்னையே பார்த்துக்கொண்டு நின்றிருந்தாள்.

“Excuse me, அடையார்க்கு டைரக்ட் பஸ் இருக்கா இங்கேர்ந்து?? நா First year. இப்போதான் மோதல் தடவை வீட்டுக்கு போறேன் தனியா… ”

இப்படிதான் ஆரம்பித்தது அவளுடன் பழக்கம். கொஞ்சம் பாட்டு பாடு, school rhymes சொல்லு என்று எனக்குத்தெரிந்த ragging செய்து விட்டு அவளை வீட்டுக்கு பக்கத்தில் இருந்த பஸ் ஸ்டாப் வரைக்கும் போய் இறக்கிவிட்டுவிட்டுத்தான் அன்று வீட்டுக்கே போனேன். இப்போது நினைத்துப்பார்த்தால் என்னை கொஞ்சம் கேவலமாகவே நினைத்திருப்பாளோ என்று தோன்றியது. லீவ் முடிந்து வந்ததும் முதல் வேலையாக அவள் பயோடேட்டாவை அலசி ஆராய்ந்தேன். பின்பு லைப்ரரி, கான்டீன், பஸ் ஸ்டாப் என்று சில பல எதிர்பாராத சந்திப்புகளை எதிர்பார்த்தே உண்டாக்கினேன். அப்படி ஒரு நாள் காம்பஸ் உள்ளே இருந்த கடையில் கும்பலாக உட்கார்ந்து கூல் டிரிங்க்ஸ் குடித்துகொண்டிருந்த போது தனியாக ஏதோ நோட்டு வாங்க வந்தாள். இன்னிக்கு இவள அழ வெக்காம விடமாட்டேன் மச்சி என்று நண்பர்களிடம் பெருமை அடித்துக்கொண்டே அவளை அழைத்தேன்.

“Hi Senior!” பளிச்சென்று சிரித்தாள்.

“என்னது hi ஆ? இதுதான் நீ சீனியர்க்கு குடுக்ற மரியாதையா? ஒழுங்கா ரெண்டு கையையும் சேர்த்து வணக்கம் சொல்லு. தமிழ் பொண்ணு தான நீ?? என்ன பத்தி ஒனக்கு தெரியாது..  ” வாய்க்கு வந்து வீண் சவுடாலை எல்லாம் உளறிக்கொட்டினேன். இரண்டு நொடி என்னை உற்றுபார்த்தவள் கண்களில் பெர்மநென்ட் ஆக குடியிருக்கும் அந்த குறும்பு திரும்பியது.

“ஏன் தெரியாது உங்களபத்தி. நல்லா தெரியுமே. நெறைய கேள்விபட்டிருக்கேன். ”

கூடியிருந்த நண்பர் கும்பல் ஓ போட்டு தொண்டைகளை கனைத்தது.

“என்ன? என்ன கேள்விப்பட்ட??”

நேராக என் கண்களைப்பார்த்து சொன்னாள், “நீங்க பெரிய பொறுக்கியாமே.. காலேஜ்ல ஒரு பொண்ணு விடாம எல்லார் கூடையும் flirt பண்ணுவீங்களாம். உங்ககிட்ட பேசறதுக்கே பொண்ணுங்களாம் பயப்படுவாங்களாம்.. இப்டி இன்னும் நெறைய. இதெல்லாம் உண்மையா சீனியர்??” எங்கள் கூட்டமே கப்சிப் ஆனது. “எனக்கு டைம் ஆச்சு சீனியர். தாத்தா ஹாஸ்டல் கேட்டை பூட்டிடுவாரு. See you all some other time. வணக்கம் சீனியர்.” கை கூப்பி சொல்லிவிட்டு திரும்பிப்பார்க்காமல் நடந்தாள். எப்போது காதல் வந்தது உனக்கு என்று கேட்டால் சொல்லத்திணறுவார்கள் என்று கேள்விப்பட்டிருக்கிறேன். ஆனால் எனக்கு துளிகூட சந்தேகமில்லாமல் தெரியும். அவள் வணக்கம் சொல்லிவிட்டு நடந்த அந்த ஒரு நொடியில்தான் அவள் மீது எனக்கு பித்து பிடித்தது.

காதலிக்க ஆரம்பித்துவிட்டால் உலகமே அழகாகத் தெரியும், கவிதை கூரையைப் பிய்த்துக்கொண்டு கொட்டும், பூக்கள் கொஞ்சம் அதிகமாகவே வாசம் வீசும் என்றெல்லாம் பிதற்றுவது பைத்தியக்காரத்தனம்தான். இப்போது நானும் ஒரு பைத்தியக்காரன் ஆனேன். பெண்களுடன் தினமும் சகஜமாக பேசிப்பழகினாலும் இது என்னவோ வித்தியாசமாக இருந்தது. அவளுடன் பேசுவது ஒரு பக்கம் சந்தோஷமாகவும் இன்னொரு பக்கம் பதட்டமாகவும் இருந்தது. வயதிற்கே உரிய இனக்கவர்ச்சிக்கும் மேலாக, அவளுடன் கழித்த பொழுதுகள், தெளிந்த சலசலக்கும் நீரோடை ஒன்றில் காலை நனைத்து விளையாடும் இனிமையையும் மன நிம்மதியையும் தந்தன. அவளைப் பார்க்கும்போதெல்லாம் அந்த நொடியே அம்மாவிடம் அழைத்துப்போய் , எப்போ பாத்தாலும் என் selectionஅ கொற சொல்லிட்டே இருப்பியே, இப்போ சொல்லு பாப்போம் என்று நெஞ்சை நிமிர்த்தி சொல்ல வேண்டும் போல் இருந்தது. ஆனால் அவளோ அவள் classmate சிவாவுடன் சிரித்து பெசுவதைப்போலவும், சங்கர் காலை வாரி கிண்டல்  அடிப்பதைப் போலவும் தான் என்னிடமும் பேசினாள் பழகினாள் சிரித்தாள் முறைத்தாள். I was nobody special to her. Or to put it better, everybody was as special to her as me. அது எனக்கு நன்றாக புரிந்தது. அதனாலேயே அவளிடம் கொண்டிருந்த நட்பு என்ற அந்த வட்டத்தை தைரியமாக தாண்டி உள்ளே சென்று என் காதலைச்சொல்லவோ, அந்த வட்டத்தை உடைத்து வெளியே வந்து விலகிச் செல்லவோ என்னால் முடியவில்லை. சொல்வதற்கு நான் சுத்தமாக முயற்சியே  செய்யாமலோன்றும் இல்லை. ஜாடை மாடையாக நீதான் எனக்கு எல்லாம், ஒருநாள் கூட உன்கிட்ட பேசாம இப்போலாம் இருக்கவே முடியறதில்ல, பாக்கலனா என்னவோ போல இருக்கு என்றெல்லாம் சொல்ல தான் செய்தேன். பலமாக சிரித்துவிட்டு கூலாக சொன்னாள், “என் friends எல்லார்க்குமே அப்டி தான். I become indispensable after a point, you know?” நிஜமாகவே இவள் இவ்வளவு மக்கா இல்லை புரியாததுபோல் நடிக்கிறாளா என்று பல நாள் யோசித்திருக்கிறேன். ஆனால் அவள் எனக்கு புரிய புரிய அவள் மனமும் புரிய தொடங்கியது. அவளுக்கு உண்மையாகவே நட்பு, நண்பர்கள் என்பதைத்தாண்டி யோசிக்கவேத் தெரியாமல்தான் இருந்தது. அவள் சிந்தனைகளை நட்பு என்ற ஒரே கடிவாளத்தைப் போட்டு காலம் முழுக்க ஒட்டிகொன்டிருந்தாள். அதைத்தாண்டி காதல் என்ற ஒன்று அவளுக்கு இன்னும் பரிச்சயப்படாமலே இருந்தது. அவள் பாராட்டிய நட்பின் தூய்மையையும், ஆழத்தையும் பக்கத்தில் இருந்து பார்த்து ரசித்து அனுபவிக்கும் போது, அதன் பயங்கர அழகிற்கு முன் என் காதல் கூட எனக்கு கொஞ்சம் கொச்சையாகவே தெரிந்தது. இருந்தாலும் செக்கு மாடு போல அவளைச் சுற்றியே மனம் அலைந்துகொண்டிருந்தது. என்றாவது ஒருநாள் அவளாகவே புரிந்து கொள்வாள் என்ற, நிறைவேறாது என்று எனக்கே தெரிந்த, நப்பாசையில் நாட்கள் நகர்ந்துகொண்டே இருந்தன. 

எதிர்பாராமல் நிகழும் பயங்கரங்களுக்குதான் வலி அதிகம். அவள் கல்யாண பத்திரிக்கையை நீட்டும் போது மனம் ஏற்கனவே மரத்துப்போய் இருந்தது. காதல் தெரியாதாம் ஆனால் கல்யாணம் மட்டும் கரெக்டா பண்ணிக்க தெரியுமாம் என்று அவள் மீது கோபம் வந்தது. கல்யாணத்துக்கு போகவில்லை. லீவ் போட்டு வீட்டில் ஒரு வாரம் அடைந்து கிடந்தேன். Gtalk, Yahooவில் அவள் sign in செய்தால் உடனே offline போனேன். போன் செய்தால் எடுக்கவில்லை. அவளைத் தண்டிப்பதாக நினைத்துக்கொண்டு என்னையே தண்டிதுக்கொண்டிருந்தேன். நாட்கள் செல்ல செல்ல காதல் என்பதை சற்று தொலைவில் வைத்து தெளிவாக யோசித்த போதுதான் புரிந்தது. I missed being her friend more than anything else. அவளை அறிந்த அந்த நாட்களில் அவள் காட்டிய பரிவு, அன்பு, பேதமற்ற பாசம் அனைத்தையும் நானாகவே வலிய சென்று தொலைத்து விட்டேனென்று தோன்றியது. தொடர்பு கொள்ள முயற்சித்தேன். அவள் அதற்குள் பறந்துவிட்டாள் வெளிநாட்டிற்கு. நான்கு வருடங்களுக்குப் பிறகு இதோ இப்பொழுது இந்த காபி ஷாப்-இல்.

நிறைய நேரம் பேசிக்கொண்டிருந்தோம். அவள் கணவர் நலம் விசாரித்தேன். அம்மா பற்றி கேட்டாள். குழந்தை பெயர் அனன்யா. சதா cartoon networkதானாம். வீட்டுக்கு கண்டிப்பாக வர வேண்டும் என்றாள். Address குறித்துக்கொண்டேன். Phone number, mail id யும். “Let’s keep in touch Ravi. ஒனக்கு எப்டினு தெரியல. ஆனா எனக்கு நீ always special. One of my bestest friends”

அவள் கண்களை நேராக பார்த்து தெளிவாக சொன்னேன். “Of course. Always.”

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The Lord’s prayer

Dear children,

I have been meaning to write to you for long. But never got around to it. Now the time has come when I cannot put off the unpleasant talk any longer. I’ve been dreading every second of waiting for this moment to come. Who would have thought that one day the creator would end up praying to his creations? No I’m not on my knees, I’m not rolling around a temple in wet clothes, I’m not going to print this out and tie it with a piece of yellow thread on a banyan tree or brainwash you saying the end is near and you will burn in hell if you do not read this. I am simply sitting in front of my PC and keying in this mail. Yes, it is only a mail if you choose to look at it that way but to me it is more than that. To me, it is a cry from the heart, a plea for mercy and ages of unshed tears put together. Ironic, is it not? To be truthful, I find it a bit humiliating but what has to be done has to be done. Please do not take offence to anything in this mail and go around burning temples, churches, dargahs and other places of worship to showcase your anger at me. Remember children, that we will definitely meet some day. We can settle scores then. Once and for all.

First of all, I have to tell you how difficult my job is. For example let us just consider one day. Today. In Earth, I have approximately 346528364 prayers being sent to me in all possible means every second. Right from how Raju wants help to clear his entrance exam to join LKG to Yangste Ki who desperately needs the rare AB- blood to save her husband who’s in the hospital to Abdul-Muhaimin in the Guyanese river basin who wants to catch a Piranha for dinner tonight. You get the drift don’t you? Add to this the Martians, Venusians and all other life forms alien to you. And then I have to be present at 237252930346297383633 places of worship including churches, temples, mosques, Kabbalah centres, gurudwaras, etc during the prayer times. I have to be there for Mundakarumaariamman kovil கூழ் ஊத்துற function as well as the Ramadan season fasting prayers. I have to be at so many places at the same time that I’m finding it so difficult to be omnipresent. And I have to take up the million identities you have thrust on me, that I am getting a multiple personality disorder. I have to monitor tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, flood situations, droughts, famines and terrorist attacks since prayers at a huge scale are directed towards me from regions affected by these. And above all I have to save the ecosystem, flora, fauna and your fellow human beings, who you are so keen on destroying ruthlessly day after day. Tough job? You bet.

I know you have little time for lectures from God (you are too busy killing yourselves in my name). But I have to tell you some more about my job. My job has three faces to it – Creation, Sustenance and Destruction. I would like to believe that you all are being too kind these days. You seem to be hell bent too keen to share my work and make life easier for me by creating and destroying by yourselves at such an astonishing rate. You are, in fact, creating more than I can sustain and destroying much more than I ever want to destroy. For one, making holes in the ozone layer and destroying it never occurred to me ever since I made it. For every new species of fauna that I create you seem to destroy 10 other species and wipe them off the face of the Earth. Most of the rivers I created are nothing but poisonous toxic wastes and mass cemeteries today. And for each and every single baby that is born you destroy the lives of a million others. After all, it did not take ‘God’ to kill 11 million people. It took only one of you – one man known as Adolf Hitler. Now that leaves me with the most difficult job of all – protecting the precious lives that you want to destroy. And this mail is a plea from me to you, to let me do this job.

You know what pains me the most? The fact that most of this mass destruction and cruelty takes place in MY NAME. Children, I was only God. You created Shiva, Vishnu, Brahm, Allah, Christ and every one of those 321721519 identities I have today. Did I ever come down in a cloud and roar amidst thunder and lightning that I wanted to be called by any of these names? You gave me those names. You gave me those identities. You made your rules and religions and now, you use the very names you gave me to shed the blood of millions. You built me magnificent temples, majestic mosques and heaven high churches over the graveyards of hundreds of my children, burying them and burning them under the name of Ram and Allah. Children, remember? I made you. It was not the other way round for you to know or fight over my exact birthplace. You pray to me for peace and prosperity. Then you go out and train your children to become suicide bombers and religious terrorists and call that a holy war. What you forget is that a war is only a war. It can never be holy. You name political groups after me, calling yourselves my army. Then you go around humiliating women, raping them in public, robbing them of their rights and treating them like dirt. Do you not remember children, that one of the very forms you created for me, the Arthanareeswara is half woman? Or the deity you worship in hordes every morning is another woman, Kali? You murder and maim, burn and kill, rape and mutilate and then smugly say, We did it for God. I only have one question. What exactly did I, as God, have to do with all this?

The Aesthetics Atheists seem to be a more peaceful group. They do their work and let me do mine. They don’t pray to me and do not make me pray to them. They seem to be ‘cool’, so as to say in Earth lingo. I have only one request to make of you, my children. Do not think I am being impertinent or rude, but mind your own business please. Each one of you. I know to create, I know to destroy and I most certainly do not need your help. You have done enough damage. Let me undo a little of it now. If you cannot see your fellow men as friends and brothers, at least see them as strangers, but not as enemies. If you cannot serve to protect, you don’t have to, but please don’t destroy. If you cannot treat women with dignity and respect, well, there is only one option – please come to me. There is no place for you on Earth.

This is a prayer, children. To you. From the old chap who has the toughest job in the Universe.

With love (that is running out day by day),

God.

P.S. Can I please be addressed only as God hereafter. I don’t remember all those million other names. And frankly, I don’t care.

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The Judgement

They rained kicks on his groin and stamped his face with boots. He did not make a sound. He did not move.

“Oi Maari! Stay here. Inside the jeep.  No coming out, ok? Veera you stay here with him. You can go for tea after we come back. Yena??

He sat crouching inside the jeep. His arms were wound tight around his knees. The skin around his clenched fists was paler than the dark brown skin of his hands. His eyes were red as he watched the Inspector pull up his pants to rest on his paunch and walk away. He thought of Shanthi and Viji. Shanthi would have created a ruckus by now, sitting in the hut entrance, near the tin door and open sewer, surrounded by women folk. She would be wailing and heaping curses on him, his parents and forefathers.  Avan kai kaal velangaama poga. Andha padupaavi paya nallaave irukka maaten. Aiyooo yen pulla saava kedakudhe… No, he thought. All that would have been over by now. She would have pawned the one or two ever silver vessels that had mostly been on Marwadi shop shelves than the hut ever since being bought 5 years ago. You didn’t buy them for me, Shanthi always used to retort. Yengamma veetu seedhanam.

Yenna pa Maari. It was a matter of 1000 rupees. Now see what happened. 2 weeks in jail. Who will look after you wife and family. That too in temple. Even if the court pardons, God won’t. Saamy kuththam aagidum pa…

He stayed silent. Who will look after your wife and family? Shanthi and Viji. His wife and his sick daughter, who would be lying on the cold General Hospital floors now. Free treatment, they said. But you need to bribe the nurses for a bed. You need to bribe ward boys for the free medicines. You need to bribe everyone from the watchman to the woman at the pharmacy counter. He couldn’t bear to think of Viji. Some mysterious sickness seemed to sponge out his little daughter’s spirit until she could do nothing but lie in a corner of the stone floor and lift her hand with a weak smile when he entered the house. It was more than a week since she fell sick. No money, take her to GH, the doctors said. 100 rupees for a bed, the nurse at GH said. He remembered the last words Viji spoke to him as laid her down on the hospital floor, the cold seeping into her body through the torn blanket. “Appa, yeppo pa varuva.. Na sethuda maaten la” The last words she spoke to him before he left to get money for her, for his little daughter. He tried asking all his friends. There were only bare hands and empty eyes. After all, where would they get the money from ? They were in the same state as he was since the strike hit them two weeks ago.

His mind wandered back to Viji. He couldn’t stop the sobs this time.

“Ada Maari, Yenna pa… Be a man. Stop crying now. Hmmm… What’s the use crying now.? You should have thought of all this before breaking into that temple..” The jeep driver took a long puff from his cigarette and looked at him. “Do you work anywhere or full time thief only?”

He sobbed louder. He had told all this to the judge in his room only ten minutes back. He had begged for mercy and had almost fallen at the man’s feet. He had told the judge that he worked as a cleaner for a private lorry company. That he had been out of work for two weeks since the lorry strike began.  His meagre savings had only lasted for one week. He had no work, no money and then his Viji fell sick. He had nowhere to go. No one to ask. Then he went to God. His last resort. He didn’t want one paisa for himself. Only for his daughter’s life. If God won’t help him save his daughter’s life, who will? He broke that hundi. He took the money. And he got caught. He was not a professional thief to do clean work. Ironically it was a group of beggars who slept in the temple entrance who rounded him up and beat him up till the police came. He had to tell everything to the judge in person. He had somehow thought that the judge would understand. He looked like a good man. He couldn’t be so insensitive to a poor man’s misery. When I tell him the reason, when I tell him about my Viji, he will understand and help me, he thought. He had begged and pleaded with the policemen to let him meet the judge once.

District magistrate Nagarajan V looked impatiently at his watch first and then at the stooping man before him. Had been hit quite badly. The damn policemen never listen. They blame the public. Especially in these damn theft cases, the public almost kill the man before handing him out to the police. He had a meeting at 2.30. A very important meeting. Another five minutes. He was usually assigned the important and tricky cases but sometimes petty thefts and minor issues came up and he couldn’t help it. Like this man in front of him. Maarimuthu. Lorry Cleaner. Broke into a temple and stole from the hundi. 1000 Rupees found on person. 2000 fine or 2 weeks RI. Rigorous Imprisonment. The man had been talking nonstop for the past ten minutes. Could hardly make out what he was saying. These damn slum people and their Chennai baashai. Something about a sick daughter and God. He looked at the watch once more and cleared his throat. Such people have to be handled carefully. They could get violent sometimes. He had seen angry convicts break his colleagues’ noses and throw acid on their faces. He didn’t want to risk a broken nose when the important meeting took place. It could, after all, change his life.

“Idho paaru pa, un per yena? Ahhh Maari, Nothing is in my hands now. I may be a kind and compassionate person. I understand your difficulty. I want to help you. But I cannot overrule the law, can I? The law says that taking another person’s money is wrong. Whatever be the reason, you have stolen what was rightfully somebody else’s. If I let you go this time, Next time when you pick somebody else’s pocket or break into a house, you will think that you can justify it and walk away. And that too you have stolen from the temple. Judgement has been passed. You make sure you don’t resort to such means again. Don’t lose your integrity and honesty. Death is better than that”

He looked at the watch again and then at the constable standing next to Maari. “Take him away. I have a meeting”

He could do nothing now. He had no money to pay fine. None to bail him out. He didn’t know if his daughter was alive or dead. He didn’t know if he would ever see her again. He had nothing more to live for. He lifted his head for the first time and ran his eyes through the court compound. Black coats and khaki shirts filled the campus. A lot of people with a lot of problems. It was then that he saw the man in the ill fitting safari suit standing near the jeep. He was holding a shoulder bag that screamed Nike in bright fluorescent orange colour. The student bag looked like a mismatch in his pudgy hand. He seemed uncomfortable with it and kept shifting it from one hand to the other. His eye wandered around the building restlessly. He looked unsure about where to go. Maari kept looking at the man. There was something wrong about him but it was difficult to point out what it was. The man took out a mobile phone from his suit pocket twice but put it back inside without making a call. Now Maari couldn’t take his eyes off him. Veera, having finished his smoke, went back to sit in the driver’s seat mumbling about how long it took for the Inspector to have a coffee. That too with a convict in the jeep.  The man took the phone from his pocket again and hesitated for a second. Then he nervously punched the numbers.

“Hullo Saar? Aiyaa’s PA.. Saari for calling saar. Aiyaa is in the car. He asked me to hand over the bag to you. I didn’t know where your room is. Aiyaa will scold if I ask. 3C hot cash. Saari saar saari saar.. Ok saar I’m coming. Saari saar.. ” He put the phone hurriedly in his pocket, wiped the sweat from his shiny forehead and started walking. Maari saw him knock lightly and enter the same room he had left five minutes ago.

He had almost reached the magistrate’s door when the policemen saw him running and started behind him, pulling out pistols from their holsters and yelling loudly. When they entered the room, they saw him spitting on the magistrate’s face and slapping him repeatedly. They saw a man in an ill fitting safari suit cowering in a corner , his mouth and eyes open wide in shock. They saw a black shoulder bag with Nike written on it, a bundle of currency notes peeping out through a slightly open zip. They quickly looked away.

They rained kicks on his groin and stamped his face with boots. He did not make a sound. He did not move.

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The pigeon nest

Nilanjana sat sipping coffee at the front porch of the three storied duplex house. It was a conservative old fashioned house which seemed to be an eclectic mixture of aggressive raw looks and elegant neatness. The porch which seemed to be built more of raw stone and lime rather than bricks and cement gave the front façade a rather cave like appearance which was in sharp contrast to the passive quiet elegance of the rest of the house. But the carved wood railings and imitation Chippendale furniture somewhat smoothened the effect. Ashima sat on the couch next to Nilanjana, legs stretched on a table, dozing. Looking at Ashima sleep with her head tilted on the neck to one side, forming a double chin, Nilanjana felt sleepy and light headed. The coffee was for sure not doing its trick waking her up. Three in the afternoon, the perfect time for a nap but she had chores to do. The washed clothes had to be put up for drying and the dishes were to be done. Moreover Ashima would put a long face if she saw Nilanjana sleeping when she woke up. Sleeping in the afternoons was a strict no-no according to Ashima. But that didn’t stop her from ‘dozing off lightly while looking at the papers’ every afternoon day after day. Nilanjana glanced at her sleeping mother-in-law, drank the coffee to the last drop and went in to the kitchen. As she drained and washed the coffee cup, her eyes fell on the calendar. March 16, 2009. Exactly four months since she first entered this house on a cloudy day, blessed, wished well and surrounded by dozens of friends and relatives. Four months since she married Ashok.

She carried the bucket filled with washed clothes up to the terrace. This was the place she loved the most in the house. The only place which gave her solace when the loneliness threatened to drive her senseless on some days. She thought of Ashok. Her husband who had a time table for everything. Eating exactly 20 minutes after bath, sleeping half an hour after dinner at night. He loved her but showed it only when the time table permitted him to. He asked her if she wanted anything while knotting up his tie everyday. And kissed her goodbye when he put the car keys into his pocket. As per time table. She thought of her father in law who barely acknowledged her presence in the house. In fact he acknowledged nobody’s presence. All he cared about was his hot water bath, three meals a day and cricket on television. She thought of Ashima, who pretended to love her but complained about the new bahu to every single guest who came home since the wedding. Complaints that Nilanjana found ridiculous at first, rebelled at later and then accepted with a stoic silence with time. She reads such thick books written by foreigners, god only knows how corrupt it would make her! Listens to English songs with obscene lyrics and even hums them in the bathroom. Wears imitation jewellery, such a let down for a dignified family. Sits cross legged on the chair before husband and mother in law, no respect for traditions. Tired of the arguments and rebellion and fighting, Nilanjana gave it all up. Reading, English music, writing poetry, laughter, everything. Her days were now an endless cycle of household chores, mind numbing television soaps and gossip of which she never wanted to be a part of.

She wrung the clothes and put them up to dry. As she was placing a clip to hold the last one in place, she heard strange noises coming from a side of the terrace. Like water gurgling from a running brook. She went over and looked along the edge of the terrace. There, she saw it. In a corner of the terrace wall, along a crevice on the outer side, was a pigeon nest. With a mother and its baby pigeon inside. The mother pigeon sat with its wings spread out and its baby was nestled underneath. The mother looked at Nilanjana with wide benign eyes but made no effort to move or make any sound. She saw the pigeon as a reflection of herself, frightened, hopeless, cramped and lonely. She saw it as a being which lived only out of love for its baby. Just like how she lived only out of love for Ashok and her parents. She felt connected to the pigeon by some unknown common thread and the pigeon nest became a part of her life from then on. She would make an early morning visit to the terrace to see the mother and baby ruffling their feathers and waking up, making gentle noises as if to assure the dawn in. She brought them grains after serving Ashima breakfast and watched with pleasure as the mother opened up the baby’s beak gently and dropped the grains down its throat one by one. She stroked the soft flaky feathers of the baby when the mother was not around, having been nipped once trying to touch the baby in the mother’s presence. She watched sometimes, with a lump at the throat, the two pigeons cuddled together looking like a single white ball of fur late in the evenings, thinking of her own mother who was now all alone by herself a hundred miles away. She watched the mischievous glint in the baby’s eyes as it nipped its mother’s beak playfully while being fed.

Nlanjana watched, smiled, laughed. She felt light, relaxed and happy when she was in the company of the pigeons. She began to hum to herself again, initially only in the solitude of the terrace or her room but later sang occasionally while cooking in the kitchen. She felt herself grow out of her loneliness as the baby pigeon grew day by day. Seeing how careworn and unkempt she looked, she made a visit to the beauty parlour to have her long hair trimmed a little. She went shopping for colorful bangles and bindis. She smiled a dazzling smile when Ashima complained about the changes in her. Ashok noticed that her eyes shone when she spoke and was happy to see his wife finally stop looking miserable and unhappy all the time. She started reading Tagore and Shelley again. She visited the pigeons five times a day, feeding them once, singing to them another time, reading out poetry to them some another time and just watching them together sometimes. The happiness the pigeons passed on to her spread over to the other parts of her life as well. Life began to look more tolerable and a lot more pleasant to Nilanjana.

It happened on a Sunday, a week after Ashok came back from his business trip to Bangkok. Nilanjana finished her morning chores, made lunch for the family and went shopping with Ashok. While sifting through sarees she suddenly remembered that she hadn’t fed the pigeons in the morning. How forgetful, Should feed them first thing after going home, she scolded herself furiously. Back home, she found her mother in law in a very good mood. Ashima welcomed both of them with a smile and said she was waiting for them so that the whole family could have lunch together. As she set the plates for lunch, Nilanjana heard Ashima talking to Ashok in the hall.

“Guess what Beta, I’ve made a special dish for you today. I made it as a surprise after you and Nilanjana left for shopping. Have you ever tasted pigeon meat? It’s such a delicacy. Especially the young tender meat of a pigeon that’s only a couple of weeks old. I’ve been waiting for the right time ever since that pigeon built its nest on our terrace and laid egg. I know exactly the time, when the flesh would be just right for cooking…”

Nilanjana ran blindly across the room and clobbered up the stairs to the terrace. Her eyes rummaged the pieces of straw and rubbish from the nest on the terrace floor and slowly with dread fixed on the empty nest. Then her eyes fell on the mother pigeon sitting on the terrace wall with its beak open but with no sound coming out of its throat. She retched and began to vomit uncontrollably on the terrace floor.

* All names from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth.

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