Monday, August 17, 2015

The Bird

Sunday morning was lovely–blue sky, birds chirping and breakfast on time–till our neighbour rang the bell. From the look on his face, I could make out that he did not think much of the morning.
I got to the point. “What happened?”
“Where’s your son?” he barked.
“Which one…?” I asked.
“Which one…?” he repeated bemused.
I have only one son. I thought a bit of humour would reduce the tension. It did not.
“The one taking photos of my daughter,” he snarled.
I was about to say “Which one…?” when my wife came to my side and intervened with “Ah!”
She called my son’s name.
My son came from his room upstairs, looking disgruntled, hardly apologetic and carrying his camera. I shook my head when I saw that.
“Why are you taking photos of his daughter?” my wife asked.
“Why would I take photos of his daughter?” my son asked.
“Don’t be cheeky, lad.” The neighbour and I sang that chorus.
“I was taking photos of a red-backed eagle,” my son said. He turned to his mother and complained, “You called when I had the perfect shot.”
“Let me see your photos,” the neighbour demanded.
We crowded around the digital camera. The photos were ambiguous. The leaves were in focus. The bird was a fuzzy patch of reddish brown and white. There was a hazy patch behind the bird, that too of reddish brown and white, which could be a lady.
“See, that’s my daughter,” the neighbour cried triumphantly.
“That’s not your daughter,” I said.
“My daughter is my daughter,” the neighbour stamped his foot.
“That is your wife,” I said calmly.
“My wife is not my daughter.” He was nearing a nervous breakdown.
“Your wife is wearing the nightdress with reddish brown back and white front, not your daughter,” I said.
“How do you know?” The neighbour, my wife and my son sang that chorus.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


The week before payday is usually bad. That is when they come en masse. One or two I can manage. More than that, it gets tricky to get funds to pay back.
Sally, that saintly accountant, how she looks at me when I approach someone in office for a small loan. As if I am selling myself. I have never asked her.
The Director is the best. He does not even expect me to return his money. But I do not ask him too often. It is creepy when he stands close, advises like a dear old grandfather, lets his hand slip from my shoulder to my waist. That way, his assistant is a darling. He expects some of it back. He is so apologetic when he reminds me. Last time, he slipped me a note with the cash, ‘My wife suspects.’ I nearly laughed. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Comrade Lonappan and the Writers' Corner

Comrade Lonappan was born a comrade. His parents’ photo is still dusted and displayed by the party on Martyrs’ Day.
‘I was conceived in hiding,’ Lonappan says.
His essay on that (‘Can martyrs copulate while fighting for a cause?’), written when he was in school, made the party notice him. They bought all the printed copies and the essay never reached the public. The party wanted to admonish him for not seeking their approval but they could not. A warning can be given only to a true comrade. Whether Lonappan belongs to that category is a persisting doubt.
He has never claimed to be a comrade, nor has he indicated he is not. A section of the party thinks that that is a quality of a true comrade. He disagrees with the party’s views and that too in public forum. The party cannot fault him till he agrees with someone. His camaraderie cannot even be ascertained by the book of funds, as it is with most. The annual membership fees are waived for those congenitally inflicted with party membership. His looks do not help either. His usual costume of cotton shirt, dark trousers, umbrella and sneakers fits well. His relationship with the party is not mutually beneficial but that is the case with most comrades. He uses his parents’ names when that helps to oil creaking official machinery. Every party member listens to him; they think someone in the party listens to him. It is true that the party does not want him, but that must be the case with all true comrades. If and when the party finds a true one, they will have reason to warn and discourage. He does not want the party either. Strong lasting bonds have been forged with such mutual disregard.
His past, after the essay on conception, is rather vague. After school, Lonappan followed the crowd and left the state. He returned, many decades later, comfortably well-off. Some claim he became a slave to capitalist imperialist firms. Others opine he reached the highest levels of Academia and fell from grace. Many portray him as a misanthropist. A rumour casts him as a survivor of many failed marriages.
After the incident with the essay, Lonappan next caused a blip on the party’s radar when he turned up at the Writers’ Corner shortly after his return from foreign lands. That was the day the party organized, at the Writers’ Corner, a campaign against the testing of nuclear weapons. Writers of every hue turned up. The left side of the auditorium was with the party. The right side was vociferously against. Lonappan sat at the back. (That farthest loneliest point became his regular seat.) Lonappan caught everyone’s attention during question hour. He riled the right side with, ‘Only idiots will support the test of nuclear bombs.’ His next remark vexed the party on the left. ‘Is this a campaign against nuclear weapons or is it a campaign of a party by a party for a party? Only idiots will mix the two.’
Lonappan attends every Saturday meeting at the Writers’ Corner, irrespective of the group in action. The essay no one has read made everyone there regard him as a writer. That status, like his comradeship, is dubious. It is not known if he still writes. His questions and remarks sound like that of a writer. The smoky spectacled seriousness definitely fits the stereotype. ‘Who is not a writer?’ Lonappan asked at one session. If people knew the answer to that, Lonappan might not be a writer. ‘That is surely a rhetorical question,’ writers dismissed him, not wishing to rock their boat by finding an answer. No one, not even the clique of backbenchers that has formed around him, wants him there. That is partly due to the discomfort he causes during question hour and partly a result of his guarded aloofness. Even then, no one ignores him because everyone thinks someone considers him important.
He has not exhibited any affinity to the place or to any group of writers. It is possible he turns up at the Writers’ Corner because the city has few other distractions. There are no decent libraries. The last good one decided to teach people how to read instead of providing reading material. Education is more profitable than its application. The expensive theatres show movies that should be freely downloadable. There are clubs but none for those who do not like clubs. Eating joints try to copy what they are not, to attract those with a fetish for the overpriced. There is religion, plenty of it. Technology tried to be different, for a brief period. For types averse to organized idiocy and smartphones, there is little in the city. In that milieu, the Writers’ Corner has a peculiar charm.
Its central location, close to the Zoo, and the free admission suits Lonappan.  The half an acre plot remains green with old trees and minimal concrete. Tweets, chirps, honks and curses, from within and without, accompany the thoughts and words of the writers. Ugly flats surround the place. Those residents tried to usurp the writers’ meeting ground for their kids but failed. They continue to protest by displaying variegated innerwear on balconies. Some go to the extent of dumping their garbage in the Corner. None of that bothers the writers. They wear worse within, referred to as their fifty shades of grey; and, after the closure of the city’s waste-treatment plant many years back, no place in the city feels like home without refuse.
The Corner is fashioned like an ancient Greek theatre, though not so barren or regular thanks to the trees and natural landscaping. The stage is in a depression in the middle. The audience rests on the upward sloping ground around. There is space to be alone, even to smoke without offering passive comfort. The acoustics is good too. No speaker can escape Lonappan’s deep gravelly voice from the farthest corner.
 The accomplished writers often reminisce about the heydays of the Writers’ Corner in the seventies and the eighties. There were great writers then, they claim. Proximity to greatness and a great deal of schmoozing contributed largely to their accomplishment, they admit.
Lonappan likes to take on the accomplished. When they praise each other about form, structure, minimalism and poetic wording, he butts in with the disruptive, ‘What’s new?’ or when he is more expansive, ‘What new thought have you contributed in that hundred odd pages of trivial verbiage?’ That usually leads to literary filibustering from the proficient writer, till the meeting is declared closed and everyone races off for free tea and biscuits.
The party holds its literary meetings there. These are ‘to encourage the talent of the disenfranchised’, targeting the large vote-bank without enough great people in its ranks to encourage accomplished sycophants. During the question hour of those sessions, Lonappan makes one wonder if he would be safer trying to grab meat from an attack dog’s mouth. How else can one view questions like, ‘Is it insecurity or mercenary need that makes you put your writing under the banner of some caste/religion/gender?’ He receives the vicious pillorying that ensues with admirable equanimity.  When refreshments are served, he even mingles with that mob itching for his lynching.
He never asks questions during the meetings of the right-wing groups. A party member mistook his silence for affiliation. When confronted, Lonappan clarified, ‘What can I ask a group allergic to imagination and freedom?’
The women-writers’ meetings also leave him speechless. That could be because of a woman named Rajamma who dominates the question hour and attempts to commit hara-kiri, quite like Lonappan during the party’s literary sessions. She asks the women-writers questions like, ‘Isn’t it a bore if all of you sound angry all the time?’
Little is known about her. She must be of the same age as Lonappan. Her costumes have more variety. It is not always jeans, top and sandals; she wears cotton churidaar and sandals too. She is elegant, careless, petite, tough and, according to most, ‘a bloody nuisance’. She too has a regular seat, diagonally opposite to that of Lonappan, a few rows from the front. She too refuses to ask questions during the sessions of the right-wingers.
After one Saturday meeting, she walked towards Lonappan’s seat. He watched her, eyes squinted against the evening light, smoke curling from his cigarette, reminding many of the Clint Eastwood in spaghetti westerns. She smiled at him from far. He sat up, then looking like a kid at an ice-cream stall. She walked past him and took a roundabout route to the exit. People heard him mutter, ‘Fuck.’
The next Saturday, she approached him once again. He ignored her till she said, ‘Aren’t you Comrade Lonappan? I am Woman Rajamma.’
Both kept a straight face.
She came to the point quickly, ‘You treat women like right-wing goons.’
‘What makes you think so?’ he asked.
‘Your silence speaks,’ she replied.
‘They are similar, aren’t they?’ he taunted. He continued, ‘I am scared of angry types. Haven’t you yourself protested about the anger of women?’
‘I was not protesting about their anger,’ she said, ‘they have reason to be angry. I was protesting about the anger in their writing.’
‘As if there is any difference,’ he said.
‘Nuance is not your strong point, is it?’ she retorted and left.
Their subsequent meetings retained the same character, brief and quick to the point of discord. ‘Birds of the same feather flock together,’ the unimaginative said. The romantics wondered about, ‘the passion in their hearts.’ The writers said, ‘Now, we have two. What bloody fucking luck.’
It is not as if they ever teamed up. They prefer to attack from different flanks. They were quite cruel with a liberal writer who spoke, with a queer Oxonian accent, about reparations from old colonial powers.
Rajamma asked the twit, ‘Do you really believe what you say or do you just want to sound good?’
Lonappan asked that shaken toff, ‘Are you also for reparations from the privileged sections of society to the less privileged? Surely your family must have screwed the lower classes and castes for centuries to give you that accent.’
Those two nearly agreed once.
After a right-wingers’ meeting, Rajamma was depressed, ‘When these goons talk about being secular, it feels like I swallowed rusty blades.’
Lonappan said, ‘I feel like Edward II, ‘rectally impaled on a red hot poker’, quoting The Economist. But, you have got to admit it, they are secular.’
Rajamma turned to him, eyes red and all-over hot, ‘How you sound like them!’
Lonappan replied, ‘Look at all these idiots who carry their religion on their sleeves, idiots of different gods. They are actually happy with each other. Do you think they prefer the company of heathens like you?’
Rajamma said, ‘And, you think that is being secular. Lonappan, you are an idiot.’
‘Rajamma, have you thought of joining the party?’
‘Oh yes, posthumously.’
Do they meet outside the Writers’ Corner? No one knows. Nearly all hope that they will marry each other and live disagreeably ever after.