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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Abstractness during a train journey

22nd Sep 2009 to Hyderabad

Train crossed the Ashok Leyland factory, like a jet piercing the clouds, leaving behind a white trail. My heart jumped to tell someone beside, “hey my factory”, but condemned the anxiety as childish. Well, many of the childish happiness nowadays are beyond reach due to consciousness of self behaviour.
I went towards the compartment’s exit to smell the gushing air kissing the steel sheets skirting the train. It was drizzling and the setting sun appeared behind the rain. It appeared as if the great orange ball is encaged behind the vertical water bars of rain. The sun, a ball of dazzling pure orange started sinking in the clouds beneath like an innocent victim of quicksand.
I felt helpless and inert, like my inertness towards corruption, inertness towards filthy politicians, inertness towards victims of social harassments and many other things in society. I then realized that my inertness was actually born out of my inability, a shameless failure of my will power. The so called inertness, a witness of helplessness made me feel abashed; the sorrow, heavy by itself climbed my mind and up to my brain. My neck couldn’t bear the additional emotional load above and my head hung down automatically.
My eyes then capsuled the green fields spread across halfway till horizon. Like nodes of a finite element mesh, the shrubs buttoned itself into the clay submerged in the sheet of water. The sun reflected its rays of hope from the cloud’s quicksand. The elongated orange rays from sun laid down on the sheet of water reminded me again of my muteness towards sun’s request to retrieve it from the cloud’s claw.
The train later passed a power plant, the flames as high as the 50 feet danced brilliantly. A sense of bliss and achievement was visible in the fire when it looked around the charred building, contentment over its dominance. Above the chimney, black soot rose and slowly, very slowly diffused into the transparent air.
I looked above; the sun has descended further, yielding itself to the power of clouds beneath. A great realization stuck me again, the whole sky, dark now must have been formed from the constant burning of the purest form of fire, the sun. I looked back at the fire in power plant, its notorious smile while vomiting the smoke was evident. I looked up again; the realization filtered the knowledge contained within. The evil smoke vomited by the sun in the past billions of years has formed the great sky and it has now re-formed to quicksand to kill the sun in the evening.
The heavy headed flames in the powerplant continued sending black smoke, without realizing that one day, all these smoke is going to engulf the very flame which had produced it.
It is very similar to our life. Every bad conduct sends a poison from us to the outside world. It quickly dilutes itself with the society. Haunted by our everyday activities, we fail to notice both its emergence and disappearance. One day all the poison emitted by us will definitely kill our soul and or our body.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

5 star ladies hostel- A short story

(The theme of the story is inspired from a true incident told by one of my dearest friends, whom I respect for all she is.)

The bus stopped inside usilampatti muddy bus stand with a heavy sigh from its brakes after a long 14 hours journey. I got down from the bus when the dust was still attempting to settle down. The dust took its revenge over the bus for disturbing its hibernation by settling down on my trouser perhaps because I travelled in that bus. It was still early morning and the yellow rays from sun had not picked up its temperature yet. I decided to take the shortcut behind the bus stand so that I could reach my house in ten minutes after 15 turns and 8 crossings. Velappan was coming back after his morning schedule of milk distribution. Seeing me, he smiled broad enough to expose his loss of one tooth in the upper jaw. ”sundara, have you forgotten us?  How are you? How is the weather over there? Huh! You seemed to have lost weight and I think you were much fairer last time”, he continued and pedalled away neither waiting for my reaction nor reply. I just kept smiling till he was out of sight.
I knocked my neighbour’s door to collect the keys. Kamalam mami emerged amidst her busy kitchen schedule with the remains of rice dough in one hand and saree is tucked in for swift and easy perambulation in her cramped kitchen., which hadn’t witnessed a single whitewash after Gopalan master’s ( kamalam’s husband) retirement 8 years back. She gave me the key, enquired about me, the same set of queries I’m encountering since velappan.
Though it is hardly one year since I had come here, I felt nostalgic, especially after my father’s demise last year. The emptiness of the small house devoid of his physical presence definitely reflected a part of heart’s feelings, which still haven’t recovered from the emptiness he had left back. He was an ordinary farmer by profession. But, his respect and love for my mother made him extraordinary, especially in this society packed with filthy male chauvinistic pigs. Somehow most of the men in the society think that wives are mere alternatives for cheap labor, a live machine to replace housemaid, mixie, grinder, washing machine and above all a dumb robot made just to vent her husband’s frustration. I thought the poor fate of the society’s fair sex is confined only to my town of usilampatti. In my past few years in Chennai, I can boldly claim that the male domination is a part of every single family, whether it is usilampatti or Chennai or for that case any society which has human beings. Even those gentlemen and ladies talking and writing at length about women freedom do not spare themselves from their attitude of male domination.
The freedom for women in its real sense can be achieved only by changing men’s mind and nothing else. Till men change their attitude to accept their counterpart as equals, women’s social freedom will be just but a distant mirage. My father not only understood this, but also lived by what he understood. He respected my mother and hence was an aberration in the small town. My father used to tell that only those families who can respect their ladies will prosper in their life. I sometimes feel guilty at my prosperity as it can be staked as evidence against my father’s hypothesis.
After enjoying nice fresh water bath in the stream nearby, I finished the customary duty of visiting all the houses in the street. Each family had a lot to share with, some joyous, some sorrowful, and the prize of patient listening would be a filter coffee at the end. The day melted quickly giving way to the milky moon light. I was relaxing in my father’s easy chair in our pyol, when ramaswamy, a grocery shop owner living in the corner house hobbled towards me, “Hey sundara how are you? Was busy on the shop for the whole day. Sita( his wife) told that you had come”. I welcomed him, hiding my irritation of his unsolicited entrance disturbing my solitary bliss amidst the moonlight and neem breeze. A casual chat on the climate, water problem and politics went on for a while. Ramaswamy, with a sudden curiosity asked, “What are you in Chennai?”.
“Well, I’m a real estate agent where I actually help people buy, sell or rent their properties. It’s basically a service business.”

“oh ! Broker a”

“Ptch!!, Despite my endeavours to avoid the ignominy of being called as ‘broker’, I fall victim to such affronts, especially at a place like my hometown. Why can’t people use ‘real estate agent’? Doesn’t it sound more decent? When I first came to Chennai, I didn’t intend to become the so called ‘broker’. I wanted to start a business of my own. “Business !!, that’s not for people like us”, amma had exclaimed when I told her my plan for the first time. I argued and convinced her later that business needs only acumen and is not confined to one set of people. Later, I had to convince my father for financing me and I carefully delegated the responsibility to amma.
“Sundar wants to start a business in Chennai.”
“Business!!!”, almost the same exclamation as that of amma.
“Like Tata and Birla?”, my father asked. Any one or anything related to business is extrapolated to Tatas and Birlas. For example, after my settling in Chennai, amma used to tell her neighbours, “my son is doing business, like Tata and Birla”, this time Tata and Birla are seated in a statement of pride. When I told my friends “I’m doing business”, they reply back “oh, like Tata and Birla?”, a hint of sarcasm.
Huh! I really pity Tata and Birla; for they are the most used and abused names in Indian family’s conversation on business.
Ramaswamy interrupted my flashback thoughts, “Sundara I have come to you for a favour. Who else I know in Chennai and who else could help me”. One good thing about usilampatti people is that they talk straight to the point. Though Ramaswamy tried to plodder around, he couldn’t manage to conceal his plea for more than a short interval. In less than 5 minutes, I understood that Ramaswamy’s daughter had finished her engineering and she was planning to come to Chennai for a job search and that I was supposed to take care of her. A sense of pride over powered my irritation, at being entrusted with the new responsibility of being the girl’s guardian. It meant that I would have to take her to Chennai, find a good accommodation, take long walks with her during the late evenings when the roads are relaxed from traffic, advice her like a father, listen to her childish narration, take care of her health and list went on. Coupled with my pride, a sense of satisfaction started creeping in; like that when you feel when you help a blind cross the road or that you feel when you buy a biscuit and a cup of tea to the road side crippled beggar and so on.
With my acceptance and within a week, the three of us (Ramaswamy, his daughter Gayathri and I) left to Chennai. When we reached usilampatti bus stand, half of the village had assembled to bid Gayathri farewell. Everyone had the same farewell message, “Gayu, you wont forget me, will you? And don’t forget to write letters”. Indian postal department should be proud about usilampatti as its still unaffected by internet and its viruses.
Gayathri proved in our journey, why she deserves such an affectionate farewell. Within the twelve hour journey to Chennai, I knew all her details, the schools she studied in, her friends and their families, her teachers and their families, her neighbours and their families and the list went on. Since I knew many of the people she referred to, she got even more excited at my acknowledgement and went into further details to ensure that she was able to feed me with some first hand information. Her main ambition, it seemed was to join a software company. And I also understood from her that most of the engineer’s dream and ambition is to be a software engineer, where a fat salary fills the pocket, enabling them to enter into a new culture characterized by Pizzas, latest English movies and an on-site trip to the western hemisphere. About a century back, Indians were transported to Malaya and Burma in bulk by the British for rubber plantation. Their families sent them with cheer and lots of hope for clearing their financial debts. Little did they know then that these people were going as slaves to obey the orders of a capitalist. When I see the software engineers slogging late hours and weekends under the pretext of competition and career development, I somehow see not much difference between software engineers and those rubber plantation workers.
“Wow, how beautiful sunrise is,” Gayathri got up. “It looks like an orange, but in usilampatti, we don’t get oranges like this. That mohan, the fruit vendor sells only lemon sized oranges. Instead we can buy lemon itself. Ha, why should we buy lemon? Mangalam mami has a lemon tree in her garden and she is generous in distributing her lemons, unlike Kavitha mami who guards her guava tree as though she won’t even let the squirrels touch it…….”, she stopped finishing one around of gossip about all her neighbours and friends. Suddenly she stopped, “what uncle, you are talking since I got up, let me brush my teeth”, and she left. There was complete silence other than the periodic lullaby of train’s wheels.
We soon reached my one-room apartment cum office in Anna nagar. Before evening tea, I had found an accommodation for Gayathri. It’s hardly few streets away from my apartment. A white board hung outside and within its faded area was encapsulated in small blue font, “5 star ladies hoste”, sacrificing the ‘l’ of the hostel to environment. The lady in charge, in a shiny chiffon blue saree matching the font colour of the board outside, welcomed us clenching her broad smile to her beautiful face. With age, she was overgrown and her cheek muscles drooped making her smile even broader. The tiny vermilion mark caught between her eyebrows melted in the Chennai sun and descended her long nose. When she assured safe lodging for Gayathri, all of us were convinced.
Next day Gayathri shifted to ‘5 star ladies hoste”. The lady was in a plain green cotton saree and more beautiful than the previous day. A sign of maturity and responsibility blended with love may describe her in brief. Ramaswamy couldn’t control his outpour of the gathered tears hidden under his eyelids. Before leaving, he thanked me thousand times for my service.
Days went on, I often met Gayathri, and mostly when she came to ‘M.G. internet café’, diagonally opposite to my apartments. She would go through all the job search sites, read tips to make good resume and keep applying. With hundred applications and no responses, she came there again to re-edit her resume and explore new companies. Often, our meeting would confluence to the coffee house nearby. Our one hour meeting would witness her talking for 60 minutes, with diverse topics ranging from job market, usilampatti, her friends and so on. And never had she failed once to tell some good things about the lady in charge.
Occasionally I used to visit her in her hostel, for after all I’m her local guardian. I felt a parental responsibility for Gayathri, may be because of Ramaswami’s trust over me, or perhaps the self-consciousness of ageing witnessed by the graying hairs over my ears. I would be able to hear Gayathri at the gate itself and would wonder whether there is a time in her life when she could remain silent for 5 minutes. She used to greet me with her cherubic smile and immediately start talking, “uncle how long have you been , you know what happened yesterday…. “, a lady in brown house coat passed us, Gayathri interrupted, “hey Kavi, I old you about an uncle from my home town isn’t….”, she continued for a while when someone else passed with Gayathri interrupting again. After some time, she turned to me as if gaining consciousness after an accident, “uncle, what were we talking?” I was amused by her use of “we” as she was the one who used to talk and I would merely listen.
I got a wealthy client who was looking for investing his big chunk of black money in real estate. Money in black pays well and I soon became busy. One day Gayathri called me and said that her lady in charge was planning to take all the hostel in-mates for new-year party. She sought my opinion and I encouraged her to go out as it would definitely be a good change for her.
Two days later, I got a call from her hostel conveying an unbearable message. Gayathri had committed suicide. I rushed to her hostel. The whole building was silent, evidencing the void of Gayathri’s departure. The wrinkled thin white cloth formed an opaque layer over Gayathri’s dead body. The lady in charge explained that she was in love with a guy and he had cheated her. She showed some letters from her bag.
The post mortem report confirmed that Gayathri was raped before the incident. Ramaswamy’s fragile hand trembled when he received her body from police custody. We neither spoke nor ate anything. The shock drenched in sorrow melted and mixed with my stomach fluids causing some uneasiness. The sorrow vapourized, expanded and occupied my abdomen and chest. It further expanded pressurizing my ribs and choked my lungs. Like a safety valve, my eyelids gave way to the sorrow fluid and tears flew.
Separation and sorrow are inseparable. Even earth enforces gravity on its objects to escape the sorrow of separation. Gayathri, was suddenly omnipresent; in my apartment, in the net centre, in the coffee shop, her memories dwelled everywhere. Her innocent talk kept echoing into my ears. I was like a parent or an elder brother to her, enjoy and relished the bits of services to Gayathri; sometimes it was posting her resume, sometimes it was buying some stationeries, sometimes even accompanying her for interviews. All these, however insignificant it may be, had acted as a catalyst to improve our relation. Thinking further on these lines, I was convinced that I was closer to her that we acknowledged. The revelation brought along with it some amount of possessiveness into my mind. I felt that she should have discussed it with me and my intervention then could have avoided this tragedy. Had I known about her affair with that unknown guy, I would have admonished her, or I would have dealt straight with that guy. I felt like killing the guy who took advantage of her innocence. With the anger drifting towards the guy, my possessiveness shared its positive side of compassion to Gayathri.
Often I missed her and more often I became frustrated. I wanted to take her to beach temple; wanted to buy her the pearl ear-stud which she sighed at with awe when we went to Hyderabad bazaar, wanted to cook her favourite pulaav and so many other things which were postponed added fuel to my burning frustration.
As time went by, my sorrow slowly melted like candle wax. Gayathri’s memories were only intermittent; her constant presence slipped to dreams at night. The rigidity of her thoughts relaxed its grips and my real estate business diluted it further. I became busy with the wealthy client to convert his black money to land. That day I went to internet centre to email my client about a property.
I heard a voice, “hey it’s the lady at 5 star hostel”, the voice belonged to a group of excited guys in my next cubicle. From my seat, I could see a portion of their monitor. Yes, they were right, it was the same lady in charge of 5 star ladies hostel. My astonishment in what I witnessed later sealed me into my chair. The lady in charge was calm as usual; but the girls around her were crying, some of them looked tired; some of them bleeding and yet the lady in charge’s tranquility was intact.
Oh my God, that’s Gayathri. What am I seeing? Is it true? No, this can’t be. I wanted to close my eyes, but couldn’t; I wanted to run, but couldn’t. My legs went tired, a solid mass of energy just escaped out of my body, like air out of a burst balloon. I was stone fixed as two men damaged Gayathri. She protested vehemently, but in vain. The lady in charge stood beside, smiling. Ahh ! I ran out, like a mad man towards unknown destiny to escape an unknown force following me. However, despite my restlessness and hasty running, a corner of my mind smiled at my consciousness and told, “How much ever you run, you can’t escape the guilt inside forever”.