Autopsy of A Dead Body

Analysis and interpretation of Anton Chekhov’s short story A Dead Body*.

The narration is deceptively simple. The portrayal is intimate. And though the denouement is uneventful, the story is tellingly conclusive.

It is with a cold welcome that Chekhov invites the reader into the story. A still August night. A mist is rising slowly from the fields and casting an opaque veil over everything within eyesight. Without wasting words and the atmosphere set, we close in on the dead body, swathed in white and positioned under a young oak-tree: an oxymoronic image I will be returning to at the end of this analysis.

Two peasants from a nearby village are keeping vigil over the body – not of their own accord or for any personal motive, as the watch is clearly outlined as one of the most disagreeable and uninviting of peasants’ duties.

Image result for anton chekhov a dead body

Courtesy: Wikimedia

One is young, just starting to grow moustache, the other is Syoma, aged. The young peasant warns the other not to doze off, asking him to tell him something, revealing that without active company, he would be very frightened to stay there. When the other speaks silence, the young peasant is annoyed, spluttering without regard to age or respect, that Syoma is a dullard, a simpleton, and that he should gain more sense.

At this point in the story, the young peasant comes off as an intelligent, motivated kid, probably even a rare personality among his type. But what is also established is his frightful nature. In his bout of attack at Syoma, he is pushed to the extreme by the impulse of his fear. He is also definitely green at this kind of job; experiencing these wee hours for the first time, perhaps. When there is a distant rustle, he looks at Syoma enquiringly, to which Syoma, calm to the point of contrast, clarifies what must be behind the sound.

This interaction reveals the length of experience Syoma must have under his sleeves. He might be a simpleton from the perspective of the young and mindful peasant, but he is aware of the elements of his environment, the demands of the watch – so much that he is calm and usual in a situation that would rattle most of us. Why, the very sensible kid who advocates practicality sets to work with still more nervous haste.

Enter the religious man, the pilgrim. After the initial conversation he has with the young peasant, he comes to know of the dead body they are waking over, and this has, in Chekhov’s words, an overpowering effect upon him, flustering him to the point of stammer and repeat benedictions.

Though he has got his route mapped by the kid to proceed in, he is unable to weigh off the dead body from his mind. He keeps returning to the spot with questions as to the deceased’s background and nature of death. To one of the religious person’s frantic exclamations, the kid says the dead man’s soul is still hovering near his body and that it does not depart for three days, with which the religious man concurs.

Furthermore, when the religious man wants to share some money for the burial, the kid says the act would become a sin in case the man had committed suicide.

What does this interaction say? Clearly, the religious man indulges in the topic of aura, and more importantly, the young peasant is evinced as superstitious and believing. However, by Syoma’s absence in this conversation, it is safe to adjudge he does not have similar opinions, and that such imaginations have no hold for him. The person who was called a simpleton a while ago, is shown to have no irrational thoughts in him.

At the last stroke of his brush, Chekhov paints a transparent character. When the religious man offers five kopecks for company, the young peasant is unable to resist. There is a chance of escaping the eerie timepass of staying with the body during such a misty night, and then, there is tempting money.

“For five kopecks I might,” says the young man, scratching his head, “but I was told not to.”

Despite a superior’s order, the young peasant agrees to discontinue his vigil, unveiling his material desire.

Taking note of these characteristics of the young peasant, namely: inexperienced, fearful, believing and materialistic, it could well be concluded that he is the simpleton in the story, while Syoma, devoid of these characteristics, is the silent sage.

Finally, the image Chekhov introduces at the beginning of the story: A dead body, covered from head to foot with new white linen, is lying under a young oak-tree. To me, this one line summarises the entire story. We have a dead body – representing the saturation of life, the culmination of all knowledge and experience, a person who has been through life to the end of it, like Syoma. He is relaxed throughout the story and swayed least, physically and morally. (In fact, we are made to imagine him as close to dead in his introduction.) Having seen much of life, he seems to have risen above the mundane. And then we have a young tree, which has just sprouted out of earth and has got much to see in its lifetime, like the young peasant. He sways, he talks, he shivers, but only out of inexperience and what he assumes is wisdom. To me, the body-tree duo mirrors the characters of this story, visually arresting their lifetimes.

*If you have not read the short story, it is available here. This is my go-to website for searching and reading literature. Do share your own thoughts of the story; it would be enriching to know what your takeaway was.

Revenge of the Orangutan

FLASH FICTION #19:

‘He’s 97% human. This fellow. Can you believe, son?’ Alex taps the cage.

‘But I wanted a Komodo dragon.’

‘And I wanted to spend the vacation in our island, not in this forest flicking mosquitoes,’ is the complaint of Alex’s daughter, as she applies a squeeze of lotion on her wad of face and throws away the pulpy tube. Its crinkled body shows it contains palm oil, possibly from Alex’s plantation a few kilometers away in Sumatra.

‘Darling, only this summer. Dad has to iron out his business here,’ enters Mother in a flaring skirt and sunglasses. An Asian brings her a basket, bows, and departs watching the orangutan.

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Referenced from web* [labelled for reuse]

Outside the guest house, shards of sunlight fall through the porous green cover. All around is air chill and herbal. Deep into the woods, whereto the Asian is now driving Alex, empty patches of land are expanding, like an aging man’s balding head. Hired lumberjacks fell trees in a hormonal surge of productivity. Fires engulf the rest and reduce to charred lumps. Elephants try to flee the puissant intrusion, but elsewhere seeing only lands stranger to their nature, they fall with the trees. The feet of orangutans, unaccustomed to the touch of earth, jiggle in search of their crusty habitat, umbrella leaves. Meanwhile, Mother clicks photographs of her surrounding and shares with her clique and calls out serenity, inner peace, natural unction and unhurried relaxation in her self-pandering captions.

In the backyard, Nick pokes with a twig the orangutan captured for him. It jumps and rattles the cage. The nail on one of its toes has been uprooted, leaving the cuticle to the flies. Nick slowly brings his finger into the cage; the orangutan watches closely. He takes his finger to its underarm; it smiles. As he wriggles his finger there, the ticklish ape responds with laughter. Nick, satisfied, next inserts a banana; the orangutan grabs his hand. Nick drops the fruit in panic and shouts.

A flaring skirt is lifted as it anxiously sails across the courtyard, the living room, disturbs a jar of cookies (containing palm oil) in the kitchen and enters the backyard, overflowing with tension. Nick smiles to Mother and motions it is nothing. The orangutan has just picked a flea from his arm and stuffed it into its bulbous mouth.

Hearing the gasps of Mother, the ape turns in its cage. Moments later, rills of tears stream down its eyes. In them, if you watch closely, you can see the flare of smoke rising in the wild brown yonder. It figures the burning place as where it has lived all its years and raised its children. The sight of the smoke is a plunge into uncertainty regarding its family. The last it has seen its family was during their expulsion after their home had been toppled into a plantation of oil palms.

It stands crying, as Mother drags Nick away from the cage. After all, the orangutan is only 97% human. The remaining animality does not render it capable of inflicting the kind of harm natural only to humans.

*Image referenced from here.

For further factual reading of this topic: Guardian article on how palm oil producers are wiping out orangutans.

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A baby dreams…

The vending breast exfoliates its black skin and peeps into the burrow of a little snake. The round organ balloons as milk fills it on the inside. Musical notes leak from the other breast, but feel fainter. A melange of this milk, soap that gropes her breasts and my own synthetic lotion pervades my nostrils.

The man who keeps pressing ‘Pa’ into my ears enters in sounds, notices I am full of life, and turns a dial. The stream of notes falls loudly from the other breast, impressing my closer ear. The notes, as if having limbs, disturb the hairs on the nipple on their way out, making them rhythmically sway.

The milch breast and music breast return underneath their black skin. My right ear is now cushioned by the thin folds of her stomach, and its telephoto image brings to me an echo of sounds – industrial sounds. Of gurgling fluids and grinding muscles. Solids, forcefully consumed on my behalf, turning upside down in a smelly cauldron.

I am lowered into my cage. Soon cold, dark winds scare my bare. The warmth of my amniotic residence is but only a placebic salve these days…

…Sunny light suddenly fills. Empty faces rush above and form a shameless crowd. Their saccharine words and squeaking tones newly scare me. If I cry, she pushes through the crowd and comforts – the only voice I recognise and relax in.

Some more darks and sudden fills later, my memories are erased and old delights are quietly stopped.

Now, as I sit on the bed and dangle my legs, my half-dressed wife juggles coffee and eggs and complains of my prickly moustache.

Ashamed to Narrate This

The rain still sprayed at my face when I decided to step out from under the overhang. The wind was harsh, sending stormy clouds hurling into one another in a confused somersault. I decided to brave anything just to attain home and sleep well before tomorrow’s marathon.

I had never in my 21 years exercised my limbs, except only to wave at one of my parents to get me what was away from my arm’s reach. But I was running this marathon tomorrow because she would be there.

Locating my bike in the dark was difficult. All of them in the line were glistening with cold pimples on their naked skin.

When I finally identified, there came a lash of wetness, back to back, upon my back. Post a short struggle to start the vehicle, by which time I had become as wet as a dripping leaf, I took to the road, driving as fast and as slow as I could manage on the glossy surface.

It was raining pins and needles. Icy cold prickles syringed my nape, making me cringe as if in embarrassment. The new monsoon freezed my exposure. I struggled to view the road through the coloured water on my glasses. Blinking red, constant yellows. An occasional green granting us permission to move, in a smudged tone. It was like running around in a pub, pushing through a hybrid of psychedelic colours; but since my knowledge of pubs sprouted only from books and films, it felt immature to imagine this. Also, I had to concentrate on the road.

I left OMR and scurried into the service road. And immediately regretted. I was cutting through the logged rainwater, sending waves on both sides and inviting some quantity into my shoes. They were new shoes and new socks, bought especially. I lifted my feet and placed it awkwardly on the crash guard. Thankfully the road was empty with no audience.

*

I hurried up the steps and stopped outside the closed door. Shaking my shoes and wringing my socks, I dislodged murky water in the corner of the veranda and silently reclined my shoes on the wall. As I pushed open the door my nose picked up the acrid smell of extinguished candles. Father was there on the sofa, sitting with no vest, and not bothering to towel his wet chest, mother emerged from the kitchen carrying a ladle, sticking to the insides of which was hot pulp of some vegetable.

I crossed the hall on my toes into my bedroom, and stretched the socks on the clothesline there. ‘Why are you drying them here?’ Mother asked, following me.

‘I want them ready for tomorrow’s marathon.’

‘Don’t you have another pair?’

‘This is Puma.’ I hoped she would appreciate that.

I had dinner, but only a little, prompting a question from my mother, ‘You can’t eat properly either when you are too happy or too sad. Which one is it?’ I thought I blushed.

Ashamed to Narrate this

Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

All I knew next was jumping onto my bed. I had slept like a dead. In the morning, I responded sharply to the alarm – later a great surprise to mother, father and the alarm clock – and hoisted myself and beamed at nothing. While telling myself that I was a brisk young man ready to run a marathon, I jumped down from the bed and landed on the pool of water formed overnight from the clothesline. Shluck! Something dragged my feet and I banged my left arm on the frame of the bed. There was a momentary blankness; freaky heartbeats and mind full of emptiness.

I brought myself to existence, like pushing the head out from a dark womb, and searched for meaning, looked for cause and effect from my position on the floor. I tried to get up, to open the door my parents were banging, but I was lying flat on my back with legs undecidedly hanging in the air, unable to voice anything except buckets of breath.

*

But all is well that ends well, isn’t it? She called me after returning from the marathon, asking in a tone of concern (I would like to assume) why I didn’t show up that morning.

Should I ask her to read this?

 

*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

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The Goddess in the Backyard

WITH ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATION BY SWATHI

I. Birth

I wiped the black soot and the beads of sweat decorating my face with the unused corner of the already dirty cotton rag. What colour it had once been as a part of one of my old saris, I can’t think; but I was sure it could still be of some use as there were one or two less dirty places available in it.

I closed the aluminium vessel cooking the day’s ration of rice, and stood up to leave the kitchen and go to the shady backyard where the ‘city woman’ was waiting to interview me.

The one plastic chair we owned was positioned for my seating, while the chic woman sat opposite on one of the stone blocks we used to wash our clothes on. She was making ready a big black camera that sat atop a three-legged stand beside her. On her lap were a notebook and pen. Pinned to her breast-pocket was a circular insignia with the words ‘Centre for Action and People’s Development’ cribbed together at the centre.

‘Thank you for agreeing to this conversation,’ the lady’s face radiated, her gratefulness very evident. My mother-in-law, after putting on the clothesline the last wet sari from the iron bucket, turned round to get into the house. On her way, she gave us each a disapproving glance; the more intense one was surprisingly targeted at the other lady. Surprising as it had gone to another person even as I was there to uncomplainingly receive it.

The lady across me, unreceptive to the frigid look of my mother-in-law, crossed her leg and picked the pen. Without taking her eyes off me and with the smile on her face intact, she tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear and then adjusted her thick-rimmed glasses. These trivialities brought to the forefront of my mind a very recent memory – of the personal discovery of my own modest beauty… only a month ago. Though before this period my eyes had many a time chanced upon the hazy mirror in the hall, I had rarely taken in and acknowledged the ‘look’ of the woman in it. But this one month had been very different. I was unable to discern the new feminine changes stirring deep within me. Yes, I had looked into the mirror scrutinisingly in my early adolescence, but they had only been curious examinations to measure the rate at which my hips curved and breasts developed, and vainly to find out why I felt strangely insecure even in the same environment I had been living in for 12 years. They were not, to put light on the matter, objective assessments of myself through the simulated gazes of the opposite sex. This one month had been very different.

‘Can I have your name?’ The lady brought me back into this world.

‘Kaveri,’ I caught myself uttering the word I had long lost touch with. No one in the house now called me by my name. A wave of a hand or, at times when I had probably seemed of some importance, a ‘You!’ would be my summon.

‘Your date of birth, please?’

‘September 20, 1990.’ Possibly the worst crime I had committed during my long intolerable existence was my birth, maybe also bearing the unluckiest of birthstones. Not because I had unapologetically killed my mother while coming out of her, but because I was born a girl in this society (the place being Manachanallur, Trichy), which had as its punishment for girl children not the relatively acceptable female infanticide, but this crueller inveterate notion of child marriage. My father brought me up with the little motherhood he was allowed to assume, to bestow on me the little packets of happiness I was lucky to receive, only to be robbed of everything on my sixteenth birthday.

A gush of wind blew past me. It rustled my hair, and I thought it also brought to me the scent of his sweat. The lady, looking up at me from her notebook, resumed her questioning. ‘How long have you been married?’

 

II. Death

‘I was married for three years, until my husband died in 2009.’

Maybe I had made the lady uncomfortable, because the smile was now receding, and the tucking of the strand of hair was unsteadily done. ‘I am sorry. I didn’t know –’ she blurted out.

‘Uh – you… can you tell me about your education?’ She asked, clearly intending to change the topic.

‘I have studied till tenth standard at one of our local schools here.’

I still vividly remember the day I was told I had ranked first in school in my HSC examination. I came home, walking on the one-foot broad pathway and showing all my teeth at the appreciatively nodding rice crops, to share my great news with father, but he had news of his own for me. I was to get married soon to a man twice my age. I had realised very early in my life that I was meant to become a teacher. The interest I had for helping out my peers at school, and the lady teacher who continuously encouraged me to take up higher purposes had cast their shadows upon my reality. Until that day, I didn’t know I was harbouring unrealistic dreams, unsuitable for women to even subconsciously dream.

‘Can you, if you don’t mind, tell me about your early married life?’ The question was obviously hesitant.

I smiled in return. I didn’t know if it was because of my uncertainty in replying, or if I was masking a trace of snigger at the inexperienced, unworldly woman sitting opposite me.

‘The extreme effort on my part when in my own house with my father was to sit by the working cooker and keep count of the whistles while he was shortly away. But once I entered this house, with a millstone round my neck, I was expected to do all the household chores with the utmost perfection. When something went wrong – which was often the case – living in the house became difficult for me. And by the time I could adapt myself to what I had been pushed into, the man I was married to died, thrusting on me undeserved blame, and around me an ominous air for the society to smell wincingly. The millstone got heavier.’

Silence prevailed, only to be later broken by the strident sound of a metallic object hitting the stone floor inside the house. It sounded more intentional than strident.

I tried to recover the distracted woman with a question. ‘Have you stopped child marriages?’ She gave me a few exemplary cases and highlighted in them all her organisation’s timely intervention. She then returned the question and added, ‘You must be very cautious after what happened in your life. Always meaning to stop the injustice served to you.’

The question took me on a journey via many memories, but I kept returning to the memory I shared with him.

 

III. Life

I came to know that Manimekalai – a girl who had only crossed her fourteenth milestone – was to be married to a merchant from the next village. With courage that had by then become familiar and a newfound determination, I set out to do what I had done on a couple of other occasions. I dialled the government helpline and informed them of the proposed ritual. It was duly stopped by authoritarian intervention, and when enquired as to the informant, the officers maintained the case of anonymity for my benefit. However, the family on the girl’s side was strongly bent on finding out the Samaritan responsible for their failure to get their daughter married into a monetarily undemanding house. They eventually succeeded.

Untitled

Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

Karikalan – a man I had scarcely known until then – came to my rescue, and into my acquaintance, during the confrontation with the family of wounded honour.  It was patently clear from his supportive arguments that he understood my case well. And as far as I knew, he was the only person in this small but terrible world to look at me as a life. His compassionate sight was welcomingly new.

Karikalan had come to my village only a few years ago. He moved in, with his blind parents, to the dilapidated house at the end of our street. The word was that he had completed his diploma in some branch of engineering from the town college, and that he was going to work for the sugar mill that had recently come up in our village. His skin – I noticed when he first came to our backyard carrying a sack of raw mangoes for my mother-in-law – possessed a dark tone. His exposed torso was muscular, and very uncomfortably, to my morality, admirable. He displayed a warm smile when his eyes first met mine. I immediately bent my head down and rushed to the kitchen. There, within the smoky, smothering dark walls, I clicked my knuckles, repeatedly asking myself what possible charm that man could hold to my irrevocably damaged, monotonously routine life. I trained my senses, my mind importantly, to ignore the substance of his presence in my small, terrible world.

My training reined me in well until the day he raised his voice for me during that seemingly inextricable, but ultimately futile confrontation a month ago.

‘Have you ever thought of starting a new life?’

The question caught me unawares.

‘You don’t really have to spend the rest of your life this way. We can offer you any help towards your moral and social upliftment… you need only ask.’

~~~x~~~

All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am becoming.

The street I was taking was moonlit (the streetlamps worked only occasionally on their own temperament). A bright little star was coming into view from behind a dark monsoonal cloud. Everything around me suddenly seemed hopeful and no longer intimidating. Maybe the ‘city woman’ had a hand in this, in my decision. Because after her departure at lunchtime, I was immersed in a cascade of thoughts, mental conjectures, and their possible consequences, only to come out anew a few minutes back. Yes, I was heading to Karikalan’s house.

A stray dog snarled at me from somewhere in the darkness enveloping my surroundings. I walked with my head straight and chest high. A couple of men crossed me from their trip to the local liquor shop, their unsteady eyes were disbelieving about my external presence. I walked with my head straight and chest high. I passed the house of the head of the village Panchayat; he was sitting on the pyol chewing betel leaves, with his grown-up daughter reading a chick lit. The completely bald man narrowed his eyes and stuffed me with his silent dogmatic questions. I walked with my head straight and chest high.

I entered Karikalan’s house.

 

*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

You may also like Kalyana Samayal Saadham.

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Design

WITH ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATION BY SWATHI

In the year 1933, while India was trying to wriggle her wrists off the strong grip of George V, the Lever Brothers Company was doing good business in the country with its popular brand of Sunlight soaps. The Presidencies were registering surprising demands for the brand, indicating the entrance of Sunlight into most households.

To further its popularity, the administration pushed for some intense marketing. As the year was nearing its end, a creative mind in the company lighted up with the idea of publicising the brand on print calendars. This was succeeded by a noisy, smoky debate, over crystal jars of iced brandy, on what should be the visual of such a calendar. While some voiced for the painting of a British model wrapped in a thin bath towel and displaying the soap in her open palm, the others felt this could only alienate the brand in the eyes of conventional Indians. After a long period, it was decided, amid empty bottles and coughing clouds,  that the calendar would have lord Krishna standing with Sunlight soaps at his feet.

A celebrated painter came up with a quick design that was at once shipped to Lever Brothers’ partner printer in Germany. Mr Karlheinz’s first impression of the design was singular. Unlike his apprentices, he didn’t dismiss it with a casual glance and proceed to printing. Mr Karlheinz was forced to pause, soon disturbed in ways inexperienced by him, and for the rest of that night, remained awake and affected; as if the design, by mistake, had been imprinted on him.

The figure in the design had muscular arms, flat, sturdy chest and an unwavering look, all as of men, but the angular position of the head, curving of hips and glistening of facial skin suggested femininity of the extreme. Man or woman, Mr Karlheinz was yet to decide, but was sure the figure’s attractiveness would appeal to both sexes, with the obvious exclusion of unfeeling men.

The eyes that looked back from the design possessed a teasing mystery. The long, linear nose directed him to the lips, stretched below in a smile that could have as well meant the man knew everything about him, his printing press in Rothenburg, all he had done and all that was coming. His well-groomed wavy hair and rouges on cheeks could only be the decorative interests of his mother, Mr Karlheinz guessed, and the long, slender garland round him the bubbling love of young, wanting ladies. The velvety stole rounding the shoulder, with its one end sailing on the floor behind, and the peculiar turquoise feather at the top of the crown, looked like perfumes of times past, nevertheless potent and fascinating to Mr Karlheinz’s eyes.

A carefully chosen green sash, perhaps by an admirer, girthed his yellow Indian lower cloth. And many ornaments of gold, intricately shaped with all senses in oneness of their outcome, were fit round neck and waist, and on wrists and anklets.

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Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

Even the sun, as if with only one purpose, shone directly behind the man’s crown. After all, Mr Karlheinz felt there was one serious misplacement in the design; whoever thought it right to mar it with a bar of English soap at the bottom!

Upon spending months personally making facsimiles of this design, and overseeing their shipping to India, Mr Karlheinz could no more resist taking a trip to India, to learn more of the man and possibly visit him. So with the last batch of calendars were packed Mr Karlheinz’s baggage of daily necessities and the original design covered in secure layers.

On one stormy night, it was announced that the ship had docked at Madras. An hour later, our German, with one hand roofing his eyes and the other clutching his baggage under his wide armpit, jogged into a ticket booth at the port’s exit. A middle-aged man in a black coat and white turban was sitting busy at the counter. Seeing a red mark on his forehead, very similar to the one worn by the man in the design, he asked in a loud, exuberant voice, ‘Sir! Where I can meet this man?’

Mr Seshadhri, removing his eyes from the bills between his fingers, turned to see a foreigner holding an image of lord Krishna. His practised eyes and ears not registering English, he decided it must be a foreign fool in search of Moksha. ‘At Srirangam, Trichinopoly,’ he quoted the first thought that flashed across.

Mr Karlheinz caught the immediate train to Trichinopoly (which he had reverently written on a piece of paper now in his breast pocket). To all the locals, he seemed an enchanting white man noble enough to travel alongside them. To him, they seemed gifted people to be able to easily travel to his place on their whim. After a day of travel, Mr Karlheinz stepped down the compartment, unidentifiably covered in coal-black and different only in attire and height.

Being weary from the journey, he slept under the tattered roof of the station, and rose in the wee hours to resume his search. A couple of enquiries landed him just before the broad stone gateway of the Srirangam temple complex. Like the hundreds of visitors walking past him, he too marched in with rising eagerness and pumping blood. The design was closely held to his chest.

As he crossed corridors, courtyards and entered countless concentric walls, his pace became faster and faster in expectancy, but also slower and slower in an unreasonable fear entering him, like he was visiting a great authority, the lord of men, or even the lord of lords. His mind revolved endlessly in the mysticism of the man in the design, wondering, when it had the power to, how much more captivating he would be in real. With every step, the fluty music fuelled his yearning and drew his feet like magnet attracting innocent scraps of iron. Clockwise tracks and spiralling queues brought him closer and closer. Pairs of palms, enjoined and raised high, became a common sight among the visitors. Mr Karlheinz deposited his baggage in a corner he wouldn’t remember later and shoved the design within his wet shirt, and gestured similarly. Damp sweat, trickle of blood from a misstepped footing, an advancement of swoon and shut eyes were elements of his own design. He felt his body move with the crowd, sometimes being pushed, sometimes being pulled, but in the end, decidedly moving towards him.

As sounds, human and instrumental, rose in a confusing chorus, he felt the stoppage of a firm hand on his chest. Opening his eyes and wiping the stagnated tears, he could see a man before him, with no upper cloth, but with a lower cloth and that red mark on forehead. Mr Karlheinz however knew this was not him; because this had a pot for his belly and furrows on exposed skin, and that smile in the design was absent here. The man pointed to a board above. It read, ‘Only Hindus allowed.’ Now, Mr Karlheinz didn’t know if he was a Hindu. He forgot to consult his mother and wife in his haste for departure.

After an argument, which clearly upset his fellow visitors, who later proceeded on their way to meet him, Mr Karlheinz was removed to the main courtyard of the temple complex and shaken the index finger at. But he clearly could not be put off so easily. All around him were images and statuettes of him, also the red mark, and music emanating from the inner chambers. His want was immersed in all factors capable of its amplification. And so, Mr Karlheinz remained reclining on the pillar he was shown for the next 23 days.

His Holiness, Parthasarathy Kothandaraman, the Chief of the temple, observing a white man at the same place every day, with eyes towards the centremost block of  the temple, one night, went to stand by him, albeit maintaining a safe distance. As minutes passed, as the eyes didn’t seem to turn his way, as if fully consumed by their object, the Chief understood the man and his condition, and hoisted him.

Supported by the Chief, Mr Karlheinz, now reduced in his width, with his perilously wobbling trousers, began to walk by himself. With every step towards his chamber, life began to flow into him; eyes grew bigger, shoulders realigned, chest puffed and pace strengthened. Soon, the Chief was only an accompaniment in the darkness, a guide to this visitor. A line of doors were unlocked, little bells tinkling during such movements, and at last the door that led to his chamber, called the Garbagriha or Womb, was solemnly opened by the Chief, and Mr Karlheinz was shown the way in.

A mammothian human, darker than his surrounding darkness, emerged at an arm’s distance. He was lying on a coiled snake, which seemed terrifyingly gigantic, but unharmful. That smile was present on his face, now maybe in a gesture of welcome to this faraway visitor. The large, silvery eyes, seemed imposing and as if they were seeing him even in his sleep, which he must have literally fallen to, because he had not removed his crown, like tired children who doze off before changing their day-dress. At the other end of the chamber were resting his feet, tired from all the standing and posing for calendar designs, maybe.

Mr Karlheinz enjoined his palms and wished to raise them, but before he could, he fell face down, as though two fingers snapped somewhere and life was sucked out of him.

*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

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Kalyana Samayal Saadham

Flash Fiction #15:

The most anticipated marriage of the 1997 NIT-T batch was performing in Madurai. Inside the hall, every body smelt of rose water and every forehead of cool sandal (except Mary’s). Festoons of red and yellow patterned every wall and silks of all colours parcelled every woman. Shankar, Ravi, Prem, Hema and other classmates entered the hall as one cheerful group.

‘Poovalan’ Pavan soon started sighting the young ladies of the occasion, as though reliving his college days, and Latha was already sharing recent gossips with Malini and sister Shalini. Gradually everyone melted in the cacophony of music and chatter, but Chandran, in an aisle seat, looked like he didn’t belong there, like tomato soup placed at the corner of a pure non-vegetarian buffet.

A strong yellow glow filled the stage where the bride was posing with her soon-to-be husband. A photographer was clicking endlessly as family and friends from a long line spent brief moments onstage. Hema waved her hand at the couple until Vidhya noticed and waved back. She then nudged Karthik to see their classmates. The group stood up, waved and cheered at the couple. Vidhya and Karthik teethfully welcomed them all. The hall, many guests and Vidhya standing at a distance were but only a confluence of colours to Chandran; like objects seen through a glass of water.

Cups of Badam Kheer with soaked saffron were being served to all guests. Chandran received his and kept staring at it. Prem, sitting beside, swigged his and inferred that the distributing ladies were not as kind as to serve him another cup. Noticing one full in Chandran’s hands, he plucked it for himself. Chandran loved Badam Kheer, but what could he do! it was his friend’s now.

As time passed, the chairs in the hall were rearranged to form batches of circles. Some joined in at the middle of conversations, some excused themselves out for early dinner. Vidhya and Karthik could no more naturally smile; their cheeks were aching from continuous stretching. All through, Chandran alone stayed stiff.

Malini felt it was time they all went upstage to meet Vidhya and Karthik. So the group got up, adjusted shirt sleeves and sari ends, and approached the stage with Chandran at its tail. With Prem’s urging measure on the ladies to march quickly (he feared dinner would fast get over) the group was soon onstage. Embraces and handshakes were conducted. The photographer had a hard time fitting everyone in his frame. Some had to go behind the couple and some bend knees at the front. Their collective gift – a blue velvet case containing a silvery pearl necklace – was proudly displayed before the camera. After a couple of flashes, Vidhya received it with a natural smile.

‘Chandran, put it on!’ Vidhya sounded and Karthik, pure-heartedly, seconded. After all, Vidhya and Chandran had been thick friends in college. He was pulled to the front and handed the jewel. As his hands neared Vidhya’s neck, they seemed to go out of control and shake obviously. While knotting at her nape, the necklace slipped and beads came unstrung. The wire fell dead at Vidhya’s feet while the beads bounced and settled all over the stage.

Anatomy of Love

Flash Fiction #14:

When Koushik met Ramya for the first time, he changed his image of the girl he had always wanted to fall in love with.

It was a New Year’s Eve party. As an antonym of the people she was with, Ramya stood in a corner, away from the maidens laughing and dancing. She was a wallflower.

During the next six months, Koushik built his mind and body, all for that day he would go and speak to her to champion her heart. Wanting and needing and coveting and dying to be her ‘Yes’ candidate, he took care not to let slip the confidence and courage that had never been his.

On the marked day, he walked into her classroom after smelling his breath and adjusting his sleeves. Ramya was there, distributing to her classmates her marriage invitations. ‘It can’t happen without you, Shreya,’ she said to a girl in the front row. They went for a long embrace.

Koushik felt deeply disappointed. But when he met Shreya for the first time, he changed his image of the girl he had always wanted to fall in love with.

That Family Festival

When Tabu’s mother breathed for the last time and closed her eyes, Tabu’s plastic clown, the wacky battery toy he calls ‘circus man’, clapped his hands and smiled his painted smile. The boy’s father, entering the room to stop the clown’s noise, discovered his dead wife and started.

After the doctor had come and gone to do the unnecessary vetting, after chests and breasts were beaten, the body of the young lady – not beautiful, but all the world to Tabu and father – was lowered into the rented glass box. Soon, plies of coloured flowers began accumulating over the box. Friends, relatives and neighbours visited to do the same ritualistic enquiry. Tabu’s friends, all little like Tabu, came to gape and whisper at the glass box and leave with their parents, attaining a sense of maturity.

The incense stick was replaced. Flowers and garlands were shoved off to leave way for the oncoming batch. Tabu’s father’s manager dropped in with his decorated wife, and before leaving, announced a week of paid leave. Tabu’s paternal grandmother, a mentally weak old woman, settled down at the head of her daughter-in-law with a large bowl of flour. Mindless of her surrounding, she poured in tumblers of water and began kneading as hard as her age and mind permitted. She had been meaning to do this for many days. For that night’s dinner, Tabu’s mother had planned to cook the packet of penne he had picked in the supermarket. But now with no one to intervene in her kitchen activities, the old woman concentrated her energy on the solidifying mass to get out of them soft rotis. Her husband loved her soft rotis.

That evening, Tabu’s father and three uncles shouldered their dear dead to the cemetrey a kilometre away. Once at the ground, a tussle erupted between the elder uncle and his two younger brothers on whether to bury or electrically burn. Tabu’s father pleaded with the warring factions to stop arguing, but they kept vetoing the opposite’s decision. Losing patience, Tabu’s father slapped the elder brother. As if suddenly realising their bereavement, all three calmed down. Tabu’s mother was presented in a copper container an hour later.

Back at home, Tabu’s grandmother had washed the floor and was waiting for others and her husband with set plates and a hotpack of soft rotis. Tabu was on her lap, trying to retain his mother’s face and silently praying it should stay with him forever.

A week later, Tabu’s father nailed his wife’s newly framed photograph beside his father’s.

Co-authoring with Mr Tharoor

 

Jan 25, 2016;

The Hindu, India’s national newspaper and a reputed fourth estate, organised its annual literary fest The Hindu Lit for Life 2016. As a part of this festival was its new addition, the Tweet-a-Story contest, that used Twitter as a platform for budding writers to contribute to a short story initiated with a line by the popular author, politician and former UN under-secretary Mr. Shashi Tharoor.

I, to grab the chance to write alongside such a widely know personality, entered the contest. Many of my tweets being selected to contribute to the development of the story, at its end, after a week, I was selected by the team behind the contest as one of its four Top Contributors.

The rife word is that the story is getting published, and that the top contributors would be acknowledged as co-authors of the story.

You can read the complete story here.


May 25, 2016

The result of the contest is published, with my name under the eminent Shashi Tharoor’s. I take great pleasure, and a little pride – just a little – to present the same here: LFL_TweetAStory