Namah Tulsi Kalyani…

The AttaGalatta -Bangalore Lit Fest, Book Prize 2017 has announced the short list.

THE FICTION SHORT LIST

Anees Salim for This Small Town Sea
Penguin Random House

Arundhati Roy for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Penguin Random House

S.L Bhyrappa for Saakshi
Niyogi

K.R Meera for The Poison of Love
Penguin Random House

**

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Tulsi epitomises the blindness of passion. The sort that we typically associate with the gopikas of Vrindavan. Such obsessive love sees only the idol of worship: breathing him in, dreaming of him always, worshipping him with body, mind and soul.

The loved one is soon bored of such a love. He gets it from every single woman he courts. He loves a hunt and a chase. He values the woman who holds herself back, and taunts him with her haughtiness. Ah, that means she is covetable. If others too covet her affection, that makes her all the more invaluable a prize!

Tulsi is bereft of the tricks of love. She has been invited into love by a Player-God!

What happens when such a love is thwarted and treated with disdain and complacency? What happens when you desecrate what is sacred? And tell her that the  actual pursuit is of another woman, who is ‘ extra ordinary’, and ‘ not like her.’

Is it a tale which rings true only in the precincts of myth? Or do we see such on a regular scale?

The story of the worshipped  – both male and female-who use their powers of attraction for ticking off a virtual ‘ I got her/him  crawling on the knees list’, and then ticking another ‘ Now I am bored with her/him for overwhelming me list’ is playing around us all the time.

You occasionally draw blood with such games. It happens when what was once love, curdles into something frighteningly deadly.

The basil , Tulsi being its cognate, happens to be one herb which would never rot or stink when it dries up. Instead, it remains fragrant, and slowly fritters away, bit by bit.

There is something divine about Tulsi. And her love.

**

Virunninu Munpu : Before the Dinner ( Story by Madhavi Kutty, Translation from Malayalam)

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Before the Dinner: Virunninu Munpu

Madhavi Kutty, 1961

That day too, they were getting ready for a dinner party. He felt that in their lives, the posturing before the mirror, and the careful checking of the face, were like the oft repeated chorus of a song. These occurred frequently and never changed their nature. The way she sat,  the way she combed her hair, the way she would ask stupid questions without turning to look at him…

She pinned up her hair and went to the bathroom to wash her hands.

“Which sari should I wear ?” She asked,  “Mohan, just decide finally and tell me…Blue or white?”

“White,” he muttered.

“But I have worn it for Mitra’s party last month. And we cannot rule out the same crowd from being there tonight… “, she said.

He straightened the knot of his tie and pulled on his white coat. Pursing his lips together, he walked away to the verandah.

“Oh, have you finished dressing so fast? I am just about to start…”, she called out.

Pulling a chair near the iron bars of the  balcony , he seated himself. The gardener was trimming the henna shrubs of their neighbour’s garden patch using huge scissors.

“Mohan!” The young woman called from inside the house.

“What is it?”

“I have a  feeling that those people would be there too for the party tonight.”

“What people?”

“Those people staying above us…”

“Hmm..”

“I heard the sound of the stitching machine in the morning! She must have been stitching her blouse for the party! What is the need for such miserliness? As if there are no good tailors in Calcutta!”

“Hmm…”

“Yet she goes out wearing such ugly blouses! I feel such pity for her husband…Mohan, are you listening?”

“Yes…”

She appeared in the verandah momentarily , looked at him, and then vanished immediately. Her face was caked with rouge and face powder. He felt that it was the face of a cheap doll. He lighted a cigarette.

“She is so proud about the fact that she writes poetry! ‘ I am a poetess, why do I need beauty? ‘ That is her attitude! Now that infuriates me!  Even if she is not fair, if she carefully works on her  make up, she might escape being utterly plain…But..”

“Even if  she does not carefully work on her makeup, I find her beautiful,” he replied.

She appeared outside yet again; this time with a smile.

“Oh, Mohan! Now you are trying to vex me, aren’t you dear? No one can ever think that she is beautiful! Beauty indeed! Haha…”

He stared  for a few moments ,emotionless, at his wife’s  face and thin frame wrapped in white silk. Then for  some reason, he too started laughing.

“I am looking fine, right? There isn’t too much face powder on my face, is it?” She asked.

He made agreeable movements of his head.

“I get mad when I see her vanity,” She waxed on.

“Vanity? Where did she show off her vanity?” He queried.

“Imagine! You have never seen that? Lord, men are such fools! Haven’t you seen her walk?  The way she holds her head high, never looking down at the ground for  a moment?  Then that lopsided smile!  Her various  conceited  affectations…I feel so…”

“It is seven thirty now,” He said, getting up from his chair, “We have not yet attained the stature  for reaching late at cocktail parties.”

She trilled with fake laughter. Then turning on her heels, she went inside their bedroom.

He heard the  tremulous sound of a top whirling from the flat above theirs. It was followed by children’s laughter. He raised his eyes upwards. He wished that she was standing there- leaning against the iron bars of her verandah. What would happen? She might smile at him once. She might query whether his wife was hearty. Were these of any significance?

With a fury that had no obvious cause, he stamped at a flower pot with his shoe clad foot. All the flower pots on their verandah were full of thorny plants.

“I am ready!” His wife announced. She held a vanity bag of silvery satin in her hand.

“What happened to you ?” She asked,”You look so pale!”

He sat down heavily in the chair and looked down; his forehead was ensconced in his hands.

“What happened Mohan?” She asked again. He was extremely irritated by the thick fumes of her heavy perfume.

Without lifting his head he replied, “Please let me sit here   for a while. I don’t feel like going anywhere today.”

“What do you mean?” Her voice became sharp, “Not going to the party after committing? You have forgotten all basic manners! You are absolutely fine!  I know that. Get up now! Let us leave- it is quarter to eight now.”

The children staying in the flat above them, were still playing with the top: pulling at the thread. That sound rose like a sliver of excruciating pain and then thrummed within his heart.

“I am not going anywhere,” he announced.

“How childish you are, dearest!” She was sweet- talking him now. “It is your boss’s party! As if you have a choice! Can you afford to aggravate him?”

Yet, he continued to look down. He muttered, “I will not go.”

She caressed his hair, and then dropped kisses on his fingers.

“Get up darling!” She whispered softly , “We cannot have him vexed at us…”

He got up and then without glancing at her, crossed over the drawing room and reached the main door. She accompanied him with a smile.

“We have not yet attained the stature of reaching late…”, she teased. As they descended the stairs, she inspected his face. A smile? An angry, brooding silence ? She saw nothing. Consequently, she tried to change the topic of discussion.

“I wish it will not rain tonight! If it rains, even if I take extreme care, my sari will get dirty! The hems will get wet, by the time one gets inside the car! That is what scares me!”

When he started driving, a sudden rain fell all over the lane.

“I told you, did I not!” She trilled, “I knew it! My poor white sari! Oh my poor white sari!”

He thought that if she mentioned that sari one more time, he would most definitely strangle  her. His hands started shaking.

“Mohan! What happened to you today? Are you feverish? Your hands are shaking dear!”

“Fever?!” He burst into laughter. Praying that the unwanted laughter would cease soon, she sat there quietly. The rain drops kept dashing against the glass panes.

He kept on laughing for a long time. She realised that he did not love her. ‘Has he ever loved her?’ She wondered to herself. There was no answer to that question.

During the dinner, the host accosted her: “I think that you have become more beautiful…!”

Her eyes overflowed for some reason at that moment.

**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakshiyude Manam: The Scent of a Bird (Translation from Malayalam) Part 2

The Scent of a Bird : Madhavi Kutty, Pakshiyude Manam, 1961

‘…. Once upon a winter, a bird got trapped in my bedroom. It had pale yellow and rusty hues. Something like your sari’s shades. It pecked against the glass windows desperately; then flapped frantically trying to break down the glass. All in vain. Finally it collapsed on the ground. I crushed it underfoot, of course.’

After a few moments, he asked her , ‘ Do you know the scent of death?’

She raised her eyes to meet his own; but could not even whimper out a word. She knew the answer. Who knew about the scent of death, indeed the various scents of death better than her? It smelt of festering wounds,  of sweet orchards,  of sandal wood agarbatis…

Inside a small, dark room, her mother lay on a cot on the plain ground. ‘ I am not well my child…I am not in pain…but I am not feeling well…’ White maggots  had wriggled from within the wounds on her  mother’s leg. Yet, her mother said, ‘ I am not feeling any pain…’

Her father. When her diabetic father had collapsed one day, she had felt that a breeze  had blown in from  the orchards…The scent of sweetness had been so prominent…It was the scent of death too.

She wanted to say all that; but her tongue had weakened by then.

The young man seated in the middle of the room was muttering even then.

‘You don’t know that, do you? Death smells like the feathers of a bird….You will learn that shortly enough. Do you want it now? Is there a time that you prefer most? This world lies shamelessly naked beneath the stare of the sun : would that time suffice? Or do you prefer twilight? What sort of a woman are you? Courageous or prone to timidity?’

He got up from his chair and moved towards her. He was a very tall man.

She said, ‘ Please let me go. I never intended to come here.’

‘ You are lying! How many times have you wished to reach here! You have wanted an easy end for such  a long time, have you not?  Are you not like a languidly flowing river which wants to  simply merge with a deeply sighing sea that is filled with gentle waves? Tell me darling, don’t you yearn for that endless caress?’

‘ Who are you?’ She struggle to sit up. The man’s fingers- she felt a loathing pull towards those.

‘ So you have never seen me before?’

‘ No…’

‘ I have come to you many times. You were hardly eleven the first time around. You had jaundice and was exhausted. When your mother opened the windows, you said, ‘ Amma, I see yellow flowers every where.’ Do you remember that?’

She nodded in agreement.

‘ Only your eyes saw those yellow flowers. I was standing amidst them. I was waiting to take you away…But you did not come with me that day…You did not know about my love for you. You did not recognise that I am your guide- not just yours, every single person’s guide and philosopher…’

‘ Love? Is this love?’ She asked querulously.

‘ Yes. Only I am capable of revealing the perfection of love. You will offer to me every single part of yours: your red lips, your dancing eyes, your seductive body…all of that…every cell shall be offered to me… As a reward for your sacrifice, I shall grant you freedom. You will turn into emptiness, but you will become everything.

You will be in the  hum of the seas, and you will move in the old trees when they sprout new lives in the rains. When the seeds cry in birthing pangs beneath the sodden earth, your cry shall arise along with theirs. You will turn into wind, into rain drops, into specks of sand…You shall become the beauty of this world…’

She rose and stood still. All her tiredness had vanished. With a newly acquired strength, she said, ‘ Perhaps you are right. But you have got the wrong person. I am too young to die. I am only twenty seven. I am married. I am a mother. My time has not yet come. I came in search of a job. It must be around twelve thirty now. Let me get back home.’

He said nothing. Opening the door for her, he gave her permission to leave. She hurried forward, searching for the lift. Her footsteps echoed balefully all around- or so she felt.

She stopped near the lift. The peon who operated it was not to be seen. She got inside and closed the shutter, before pressing the button. With the initial rumblings of a break down, it jerked to a start and then shot upwards. She felt that she was in the sky and that it was thundering loudly somewhere. It was then that she saw the board dangling inside the lift: ‘ Lift is under repair. Danger.’

It became dark all around. It was a darkness which made sounds, and growled ferociously. She never had to get out of the lift again.

**

 

 

 

The Scent of a Bird- Part 1 – ( Pakshiyude Manam by Madhavi Kutty ; Translation from Malayalam)

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Pakshiyude Manam : Madhavi Kutty, Short Story, 1961.

The Scent of a Bird

**

It was after one week of their return from Calcutta that she had seen the advertisement in the newspaper.

‘Needed:  A smart, intelligent woman to be Incharge of our wholesale business. She should have basic knowledge about the designs and colours of clothes in vogue. Visit our office with  a self written application.’

The office building was situated on a bustling street. It was eleven in the morning when she reached the place. She was dressed in a pale yellow silk sari and was holding a white vanity bag. The building was monstrous: it had around seven storeys, innumerable verandahs and more than two hundred rooms. It had four lifts. Before each lift, there was a throng of fat business men, and executives holding leather suitcases. She could see no woman in the vicinity. Her confidence started waning. She regretted that she had ignored her husband’s objections to try for the job.

There was a peon standing near-by. She queried, ‘..Textile Industries. Do you know on which floor it is located?’

‘ I think it is on the first floor,’ he answered.

She felt that all eyes were focussed on her. She was mortified. Why was she standing amidst this milling crowd of sweaty men? Even if they paid a thousand rupees, would she like to  come and work in that building on a daily basis? Yet, she could not easily go back from there.

It was her turn. Trying assiduously not to touch another body, she cowered in a corner.When she emerged at the first floor, she took a look around. The verandah seemed to spread out in all four directions and had huge doors opening into different rooms. ‘ Export and Import’, ‘Wine Business’ and such were written on these boards. However, even after checking multiple name boards, she failed to trace the one she was seeking.

Her palms had started sweating profusely by then. A person came out from a room nearby, and she stopped him with a question.

‘..Textile company…where is it located?’

He looked her all over with his shrewd, narrow, red tinged eyes. Then he said, ‘ I do not know. But if you come with me, I will check with the peon and guide you.’

He was a rather short, middle aged man. His finger nails were filthy. Perhaps due to that, she decided against following him.

She said, ‘ Thank you. I shall find out myself.’

Hurriedly she walked away and turned a corner. There was a new verandah with  many closed doors. Over one  closed door was written, ‘Dying.’

She smirked on seeing the wrong spelling. Instead of colouring the clothes, did they manufacture death over there? She pushed open the door, determined to get some clarification about her destination. Inside was a huge, vacant space akin to an inner courtyard; a glass topped table  and a few chairs could be seen. There was no one around.

She called out, ‘ Is anyone in here ?’

The curtains hanging over the entrance of the inner room swayed a bit. Nothing else. Gathering courage, she moved towards the chair at  the centre of the room and seated herself. She felt that unless she rested, she would not be able to move an inch further. A fan twirled above her in a desultory manner.

‘ What sort of an office is this?’ She  was left wondering. Leaving the door unlocked, switching the fan on, where had all the inmates gone? Since they were in the dyeing business, they would surely know the company that she was searching for.

Opening her vanity bag, she retrieved her hand mirror and checked her face. She reassured herself that she was well qualified for the job. Should she demand eight hundred rupees? They would be lucky to hire  someone like her. She was educated, came from a privileged background, had travelled the world…

She woke up on hearing the popping sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle. What sort of a fool was she! She had dozed off in a strange place! Rubbing her eyes, she stared around. A young man was busy pouring whiskey into a glass  containing soda. He was seated in a chair right opposite to her. His shirt was made of white terelene. Thick bristles of hair grew over the upper portions of his fingers. Seeing those strong fingers, a tremor of fear ran through her. Why had she come to this devil’s home?

He lifted his head and looked at her. He had a long face, it was reminiscent of a horse. He asked, ‘ Did you sleep well?’ Without waiting for her response, he lifted the glass and gulped down the drink.

‘ Are you thirsty?’ He asked.

She shook her head in negation. ‘ Do you know  where the Textile company is situated? After all, you are into dyeing business,’ she said, with a polite smile.

He did not smile back; instead poured himself another drink. His demeanour was as if there was infinite time for casual conversations.

‘ Don’t you know?’ She asked impatiently. If only she could get out of that place and go back home!

Suddenly he broke into a grin. He had very thin lips. That made his smile ugly.

‘ What is your hurry? The time is only eleven fourth five now,’ he said.

She got up and walked towards the door. ‘ I hoped that you would know. You are familiar with the cloth business.’

‘What familiarity? We are not into dyeing clothes. Did you not read the board? It is written Dying…’

‘ That means…?’

‘ What is written. Haven’t you heard of death? We arrange for easy dying.’ He leaned back into his chair lazily and winked at her. He was grinning broadly. She felt that the white smile had  completely enveloped  her eyes. Her feet became unsteady. She raced to the door. But her sweaty hands could not open the door knob. Helpless tears filled her eyes.

‘Please open the door for me. I have to go home. My children are waiting for me!’ She hoped that on hearing her plea, he would discard his cruel intentions and help her out. ‘ Please, please…open the door,’ she begged yet again. He continued to drink his whiskey and kept on grinning at her.

She started knocking desperately at the door. ‘ Don’t you dare harm me! What have I ever done to you?’ After some time, her sobs subsided. Exhausted, she collapsed near the unopened door.

He was murmuring in a soft voice. She could make out a few words…

***

To continue…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thenmavu: Basheer’s classic short story (Translation from Malayalam)

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Thenmavu : The Honey Mango Tree

‘ What you have heard is all nonsense. I adore no tree; neither do I worship nature. But I have a special affinity for this mango tree. My wife Asma has it too. This tree is a token of an exceptionally great endeavour. I shall elaborate..’

We were seated beneath that mango tree. It was resplendent with mangoes. There was white sand spread out in a big circle all around it. Roses of various hues were planted on the outlying fringes, protected by stone and cement sentinels.

His name was Rashid. He lived with his wife and son in the house nearby. The couple were teachers in the neighbourhood school. His wife sent over mango pieces- peeled and cut exquisitely- on a plate carried by their teenage son. We relished the fare : it was sweet as honey.

‘How does the mango taste?’

‘ The tree is undoubtedly Thenmavu!’

‘ That we are able to savour this mango fruit… I am awed when I reflect on it!’

‘Who planted this mango tree?’

‘ Asma and I,  we planted it at this place. I shall narrate the story of this tree. I have told it to many. But they forgot the incident, and propagated it as tree worship! There is no worship involved, just the memory of a great deed.

My younger brother is a Police Inspector. He was working in a town almost seventy five miles away from this place. I had gone to visit him. I was out strolling one day. It was the peak of summer. Even the wind that blew was hot.There was a scarcity of water at that time. It was then that I saw an old man, lying exhausted, underneath a tree, on a by-road.

He had overgrown hair and beard, and seemed around eighty years of age. He was extremely fatigued and was on the verge of death.

As soon as he saw me, he said, ‘ Alhamdulillah! Son, please give me some water.’

(*Alhamdulillah: Praise be to Allah!)

I immediately stepped into a near by house and seeing a woman reading a newspaper, requested her for some water. The beautiful woman got some water in a brass tumbler. Seeing me walk away with it, she enquired about my destination. I told her that someone had fallen by the way side, and I was taking the water for quenching his thirst. She accompanied me. I gave the water to the old man.

The old man got up slowly. Then he did something astounding!  He staggered to a dry mango sapling- drooping in the heat-on the  road side, and reciting Bismi, poured half of the water from the vessel over it.

( *Bismi: Bismillah or Basmala means ‘ In the name of God’. Usually invoked before any action soliciting the Lord’s grace)

Someone had eaten a mango and thrown away the seed carelessly on that roadside. The sapling had emerged. Most of the root was visible above the ground. The old man dragged himself back to the tree shade. He recited Bismi and drank the rest of the water. He praised the  Lord again : ‘Alhamdulillah.’

Then he said: ‘ My name is Yusuf Siddique. I am more than eighty years old. I have no relative. I was wandering the world as a fakir. I am going to die. What are your names?’

I replied, ‘My name is Rashid. I am a school teacher.’  The woman said,’ I am Asma. I am a school teacher.’

‘May Allah bless us all,’ said the old man and he lay down on the ground. Yusuf Siddique died in front of our eyes. Asma stood guard while I fetched my brother. We hired a van to carry the dead body to the mosque. After bathing the corpse, we enshrouded it with a new cloth and conducted the burial as per norm.

There was six  rupees in the old man’s bag. Asma and I pitched in with another five each. Asma was entrusted with the task of purchasing sweets for all that money and distributing those among  the school children.

In the course of time, I married Asma. She kept watering the plant. Before we shifted our residence to this house, we uprooted the mango plant carefully and shifted it into a mud filled sack. For two or three days it stayed like that- leaning against the wall- in Asma’s bed room. Then we brought it here and transplanted it; adding dry cow dung and ashes. On regular watering, it sprouted new leaves ; then we added bone meal and green compost. Thus the mango sapling turned into this tree.’

‘Absolutely marvellous! The old man,  before dying , gave water to a mango sapling  which could not voice its thirst! I shall remember that.’

I had just said good bye and started walking, when I was hailed from behind. I turned to look.

Rashid’s son was approaching me. He wrapped four ripe mangoes on a paper and offered it to me.

‘For your wife and children.’

‘ Are you a student?’

‘ Yes, in a college.’

‘ What is your name?’

‘ Yusuf Siddique.’

‘ Yusuf Siddique?’

‘Yes, Yusuf Siddique.’

***

 

 

 

For Rumi and other poems: Prof.VeeranKutty( Translation from Malayalam)

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1. Less and Less

Before we saw each other,

How big we thought of

Each other!

After meeting, we became a tad

Smaller

In each other’s eyes.

Now, when we start walking together,

Will we become less and less

That we render each other

Totally insignificant?

Isn’t it such a relief

That God keeps Himself

Beyond our sight?!

**

2. Opinion

My words were firm like rock,

In those times.

How many could refrain from stumbling

Over its sturdiness?

How many escaped bleeding a bit?

Later,

Like flexible, obedient

Clay,

Certain water- tricks happened;

It thinned out.

Afterwards,

Like water

Which adapts to the vessel,

It shed its original form.

Today,

It is like vapour,

Wind,

Floats around: beyond my own

Control.

Like an aging body,

Yearning to merge with the earth,

Why is it systematically

Acquiring the habit of lightness?

**

3. For A While

How very stupid

Of me,

That I presumed

That the light you carried,

Traveller,

Would forever render

Bright,

My small house by the way side!

Although the truth remains

That for a while,

It sparkled too,

In your light.

**

4.  Every Leaf

We sit and count

The  total number of leaves

In all the trees

Of this earth.

The leaves do not cooperate

One bit.

They do not care the least.

Every leaf,

Ultimately

Is a single entity.

Although the realisation

Strikes,

Only when it is shed.

**

5. For Rumi

The flute sings:

What if I got hurt?

I could stay awhile

With your lips.

**

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sentence and Other Poems: Professor VeeranKutty (Translation from Malayalam)

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1. Memorial

Watch the flight of the milk weed fluff,

A very humble effort indeed.

Wingless,

It is disallowed the crossing of borders,

And denied the  ownership of the skies.

Yet it flies, carrying the seed

Cradled like an infant.

‘Under the shade of the tree

It imagines-

Some one will  rest tomorrow.’

The milk weed fluff is unaware of these lines.

In the weightlessness

Of its ignorance

It flies.

In the compassion that we show

By not calling it a bird,

It might float a bit more distance.

A humble but valiant effort!

Where it falls,

Unknown to anyone,

A plant might stand

In memorium

Tomorrow.

2.  Embrace

The trees that we planted

Far apart from each other,

Terrified that their leaves would touch-

Their roots are embracing ardently

Under the earth.

3.  A Dazed Mind

That day you waited

For the ants to leave,

Before you washed the tea cup.

You stepped softly on the ground

Not wanting to harm any living thing.

You did not pluck any flower,

Instead opened the bird cage wide.

Really,

Who can  ever hide

A mind dazed with love?

4. Silent Girl

Hey girl,

You, who do not speak much!

Your undisplayed love

Is like the  splendid flowering of a tree

Unseen by anyone,

Hidden far within a deep forest.

5. Yet

Yet God does not decide to end this world.

Why?

He must be waiting for those two

Deeply in love,

Sitting in some corner of this world,

To stop their conversation.

One can safely surmise that

The world will not be ending very soon.

6.  After You Left

Some colours disappeared,

Some fragrances vanished,

The sounds stopped in entirety.

This place  here-was constructed from

All those shortcomings,

After you left.

7. The sentence

As punishment for the crime,

The sentence was to circle the world.

The plea was to request

That both should endure it together;

And circle a million times,

Not just once.

****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Light: Basheer’s Neela Velicham ( Translation from Malayalam) Part 4

 

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One night- it must have been around ten. I had been writing for the past one hour or so. The content had intense passion in it and I was quite engrossed in my task. It was then that I felt the light dimming.

Lifting the  hurricane lamp, I shook it a bit. The kerosene was almost over. Yet I persevered- I wanted to write one more page.  I was deeply involved in my story. Then again the light flickered.I checked the oil again, and extended the wick a bit more before continuing to write.After a while the wick became  very short and flamed red: it was on its dying throes. I lighted up my torch and snuffed out the hurricane lamp.

‘What should I do for a light now?’ I wondered aloud. I needed kerosene. I decided to visit the lodgings situated in the bank building and get some kerosene from my friends. Holding the torch and the kerosene bottle, I locked the front door. I shut the gate and walked out onto the desolate street lighted by a faint moonlight. The rain clouds were heavy in the sky. I walked briskly.

When I reached the bank, I called out from the street, and one of my friends responded. We went to the lodgings in the bank building through the staircase in the back. The three had been enjoying an uproarious game of cards.

When I requested for some kerosene, one laughingly responded: ‘ Why don’t ask your sweet heart  Bhargavi, to get you some kerosene? Have you finished writing her story?’

I did not reply. I was yet to write Bhargavi’s story. While I got my bottle filled, the rain fell heavily with a lurch.

‘Give me an umbrella too!’ I requested.

‘We do not have one. Join us for a card game. When the rain abates, you can return.’

So we ended up playing a  card game. My team mate and I lost thrice . It was my fault. My mind was still on the half complete story. By one in the night, the rain stopped. I quit the game and picked up the torch and kerosene bottle. By the time I reached the street, my friends had gone to sleep. The lights were shut down.

There was utter silence on the street. There was darkness all around. I walked towards my dwelling place. In that mild moonlight, the whole world lay embraced by some misty wonder. I was unaware of the thoughts buzzing in my mind. Or perhaps I was not thinking anything at all. I walked- my torch lighting up that lonely, empty path. I met not a single creature in that journey.

I opened the front door of the house and got inside. Then I bolted it from within. I had no reason to suspect anything extraordinary happening at that juncture. Suddenly, without any reason, my mind became  overwhelmed by an ineffable sadness. I felt like crying. Usually I laugh easily; but it is very hard for me to shed tears. An ethereal feeling takes over my heart at such times.  That feeling came over me: compassion welled up in my heart. I climbed the stairs in that state of mind.

Then I saw something strange. It was like this:

When I had locked my room, the lamp had been snuffed out and the room was in utter darkness. Afterwards, a rain had fallen. Two or three hours had gone by. But now, the room was  wonderfully lighted up from within! I could see the light through the gap in the door frame.

It was this light that my eyes saw and my sub conscious mind acknowledged. But that mystery was yet to penetrate my consciousness. So, I took out my key as usual. Then I turned my torch  light on the padlock.  The lock glittered like silver…it flashed a smile at me!

I opened the door and stepped inside the room. Then  as  uneasiness crept in, I became aware of everything  around me. Each and every atom of my body knew it- yet,   I did not feel fear. My mind was flooded with a deluge of emotions: compassion, love or rather a mix of both. I stood there dumbstruck,  drenched in sweat.

Blue Light! The white walls, the room- were luminous with blue light! The light was emitted by the hurricane lamp. There was a blue flame rising from the two inch wick!

The hurricane lamp which was snuffed out due to lack of kerosene: who had lighted it up? From where had that blue light appeared in Bhargavi Nilayam?

****

( The End)

Note: If you have read Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’s Guest’, you would appreciate the mastery needed to create dread in a reader. To create dread and a sense of calm equitably, is a skill the great Basheer had mastered!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Light…Basheer’s Neela Velicham, StoryTranslation Part -3

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I told myself that it was my imagination. I could not swear  that I had actually seen that glimmer. Yet, how could it be possible that without seeing anything, I sensed a light? Was it a lightning bug?

I walked for a long time. I gazed from the windows for a long time. It was futile. I tried to read something. I could not concentrate.The chair was  still empty.

Deciding to sleep early, I made up my bed and snuffed down the light. Then I felt like listening to a gramophone record!

I  got up and lighted the lamp again.I fitted a new needle into the sound-box. Then I keyed up the gramophone.

Whose song shall I play? The world was eerily silent. Still, there was a rumble. The sound was emerging from my own ears. Was it terror? The hairs on my back stood on end. I wanted to shatter the horrible silence into a million bits. Whose song shall I play for that?  I searched and found a record by Paul Robson. The gramophone started singing: a sweet and magnificent baritone!

‘ Joshua fit the battle of Jericho.’

It got over. then it was Pankaj Mallick’s turn.

‘Tu darr na zara bhi…’

You please do not be scared even a bit!

Then came the enchanting, soft, dulcet female voice:

‘ Kattinile varum geetam…’

M.S.Subbalakshmy too finished singing.

Somehow, I felt at peace after these three songs. I sat like that for a while. Then I invited the revered Saigal himself. He sang in that sweet, melancholy, gentle voice:

‘ So ja  Rajkumary…’

Princess, you please sleep now; sleep dreaming beautiful dreams…!

That too soon ended.

‘Enough  for today. The rest tomorrow!’ Muttering that, I shut the light, and lighting up a beedi, lay down on my cot.

Near me was my torch, my watch and a knife. Then that empty chair.

I had shut the door which opened to the portico. The time must have been Ten at night. I was alert and listening.

Except the mild tic, tic of my watch nothing could be heard. Minutes moved, and then hours. There was no fear in my mind. Just a cold, creepy wariness. It was not a new experience to me. Across many a country, many a place, during a long time period….during a twenty year stint of loneliness…I have had many experiences whose meaning had been indecipherable to me. Hence my attention spanned across the past and the present. In between, came the doubts…will someone knock at the door? Open the pipes? Try to suffocate me? I kept on like that till three in the morning.

Nothing happened.

‘ Good Morning, Bhargavi Kutty! Thanks a lot! One thing has become clear to me! People are just spreading rumours about you! Let them! What do you say?’

Days and nights passed.I would think about Bhargavi Kutty. Her father, mother, brothers and sisters…there would be so many stories that were unknown to me…Almost every night, after I grew tired of writing, I would play the gramophone. Before every song, I would announce the singer, the meaning of the song etc..

I would say,’ Listen…the next song is by the great Bengali singer Pankaj Mallick. It evokes sadness and memories. The times past…listen carefully!’

‘Guzar Gaya woh zamana kaisa…kaisa…’

Or I would say:

‘ This is by Bing Crosby! ‘In the moonlight…’which means in the light of the…Oh I forgot! You are a B.A degree holder! Sorry!’

I would say all these…to myself. Two months passed by in this manner. I made a garden. When the flowers blossomed, I told Bhargavi Kutty that it was all meant for her. I finished a novella too in that time period. A lot of my friends came and spent the night there. Before they slept, unknown to them, I would slip downstairs and speak to the darkness.

‘ Listen, Bhargavi Kutty!  Some of my male pals have arrived  and plan to sleep here tonight. You please don’t throttle any of them. If something like that occurs, the police will catch me! Please be careful! Good Night!’

Befor leaving the house, I would say: ‘ Bhargavi Kutty! Look after the house. If some thief creeps in, feel free to throttle him. But do not leave his corpse hereabout. Drag it at least three miles from here. Else we will  both get into trouble!’

When I returned after a  film’s second- show at night, I would submit: ‘ It is me, okay?’

It all began like that. With the passage of time, I forgot Bhargavi Kutty. No intense conversations. Just an occasional remembrance, that was all.

A remembrance which I shall describe. A lot of poeple have died on this earth. Since the origin of human life, how many had passed away! They are all a part of this world-as dust, as water, as smoke. That we know. Bhargavi remained a memory like that.

It was then that the following incident occurred. That is what I shall describe now.

**

( Will Continue)

 

 

 

 

 

Basheer’s Neela Velicham: The Blue Light…Translation of Story Continued…Part 2

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I was aghast. ‘ Aw. And I had paid two months rent in advance too,’ I thought. Then I said,’That is irrelevant. It will just need a spell or two. You please arrange that my letters reach that address.’

I spoke bravely. I am neither a hero nor a coward. What scares others usually scares me. You might surmise that I am a coward. What would you have done in my place?

I walked very slowly. I do not chase experiences for the sake of it. But what if an experience comes running towards me? I did not even know what was going to happen!

I went to a hotel and had some tea. My hunger had died. My stomach was on fire…the turmoil of fear. I told the hotel manager about my address- where he was supposed to send my lunch. When he heard about the house he responded.

‘ I do not mind sending food during the day time. But none will go there during the night. A woman killed herself in that well. She might be hanging around there. Aren’t you afraid of ghosts, sir?’

I felt half of my trepidation vanishing. Ah, it was a woman!

I said,’ I don’t care. Besides, I know a few spells and charms.’

I had no clue about spells. But as I had said, I was relieved that it was a woman’s ghost. I guessed that she might be slightly amiable. I went to a nearby bank. A few of my pals were working as clerks there. On hearing about my new home, they became furious with me.

‘Utter foolishness! That place is haunted. The men are particularly vulnerable to attacks!’

Oh, so she hated men, was it so?

‘ Why did you not cross check with us before renting out Bhargavi Nilayam?’

‘I had no clue about such a story. By the way, why did the woman kill herself?’

‘ Love!’ One f them replied.’Her name was Bhargavi. She was twenty one years old, and had passed her B.A. Degree. She was in love with someone. Big time love. But he ditched her and married another woman. Bhargavi committed suicide by jumping inside that well.’

My fear reduced by leaps and bounds. Ah, that was the secret behind her hatred of men.

I said,’ Bhargavi will not hurt me.’

‘ Why not?’

‘ Spells! Spells!’

‘ Let us wait and see! You will end up screaming the house down at night time.’

I did not deign to reply.

I returned to my residence. After opening all the doors and windows, I went towards the well.

‘ Bhargavi Kutty!’ I called out softly.’ We are not acquainted with each other. I am a new resident. In my opinion, I am a very good human being. Eternal celibate too!  I have already heard scandalous stories about you. You do not let poeple reside here. You open the pipes at night time. You bang the doors shut. You throttle people…I heard all that about you. What am I supposed to do? I have already paid two months of rent in advance. I do not have much money with me. Besides, I like your house so much. This house is in your name, is it not? Bhargavi Nilayam.’

‘ I need to work in this place. That means I have to write stories. Let me ask, do you like stories  Bhargavi Kutty? I will read aloud all my stories to you. I have no fight to pick up with you, Bhargavi Kutty. There is no reason why we should bicker. I did drop a stone earlier inside the well. I did it absent mindedly. I shall not repeat such actions in the future. Listen, Bhargavi Kutty! I have an excellent gramophone with me. I have a collection of almost a hundred songs too! Do you like songs?’

I sat quietly after speaking all that. Who was I speaking to? To that yawning well, which seemed ready to swallow anything at all? Was I addressing the trees, the house, the atmosphere, the earth, the sky or the universe? Was I speaking to the agitation within my own mind?  I was speaking to an idea, I decided.

Bhargavi. I had never seen her. She was twenty one years old. A young woman  who was deeply in love with a man. She dreamt of being his wife, his companion for life.But that dream…yes, stayed a dream. Depression overcame her. Humiliation too…

‘ Bhargavi Kutty!’ I spoke,’ You should not have done that. Do not think that I am blaming you. The man whom you loved, did not love you enough. He loved another woman more than you. Life became bitter for you, true. But then, life is not all that bitter. Forget it. As far as you are concerned, history will not repeat itself.’

‘ Bhargavi Kutty, please do not think that I am pointing out your fault. Tell me, did you actually die for love? Love is the  golden dawn of an eternal life…You were a naive donkey who did not know about anything! That is what your hatred for men proves! You had known only one man. For argument’s sake let us suppose that he hurt you really bad. But then, is it proper to look at all the men through that lens? If you had not committed suicide and had lived your life a bit longer, you would have realised how wrong your assumption was. There would have been a man who would have loved you and adored you . He would have addressed you as ‘My goddess!’

‘ But then…as I said, for you, history cannot be repeated. What is the way to know about your history, Bhargavi Kutty? But you please do not attack me. I am not throwing down a gauntlet. It is an earnest submission. If you throttle me to death tonight, no one will wreak vengeance on my behalf. Because, I have no one at all.’

‘ Bhargavi Kutty, you must have understood my situation. We are going to live here. That means I intend to stay here. Legally speaking , the house and the well now  belong to me. Let that be! You use the well and the four rooms on the ground floor. We will share the kitchen and the bathroom. Are you agreeable to that ?’

Night fell. Having had my dinner, I came in with a thermos flask full of tea. Lighting up my electric torch, I kept it to a side. Then I lit the hurricane lamp. The room was replete with yellow light.

I went down with my torch. I stood still in the darkness. I intended to lock the pipes. I opened the windows wide. Then I went to the well and then proceeded to the kitchen. Then I felt that I should not lock the pipes.

Having locked the doors, I climbed up the staircase and had some tea. Lighting up a beedi, I started to write. Suddenly I felt that Bhargavi was standing behind my chair.

‘ I do not like anyone looking when I write!’ I objected.

I turned to look. There was no one.

Somehow, I did not feel like writing again. I pulled a chair near me.

‘ Bhargavi Kutty, you may please take your seat.’

Empty chair! I started strolling through two rooms. There was no wind. Not even a leaf stirred  on the trees outside. As I stared through the window, I noticed a light!

Was it blue, red or yellow? I had no clue. I had glimpsed it only for a moment.

****

(Will Continue)