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Friday, July 13, 2018

The Death of A Writer - Part VI


(Part V has been skipped - will be published soon. 

Recap: A writer and a PhD student investigate an incident in a village where the landlord's house is burnt down. They hear that the Naxals are involved, hence they arrange a meeting with them. Subsequently, they meet with the local government officials - the Panchayat Secretary. In the unpublished Part V, an attack on the writer-student duo contributes to them returning to their university town.





NELARATNA


I was sitting in my office when the librarian walked up to me and said I had a young lady visitor.

Back then, only selected PhD students were entitled to an office. I wasn’t one of them. My research was barely underway (under an advisor so distant that I could feel the entire asteroid belt whiz past between us) and I was a student of lowly humanities. I used to work out of the Public Library – the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. The name was a misnomer: the collection was modest, certainly not befitting a bibliophile such as Nehru. Also, I still don’t know where the “Museum” is.

The reading room was on the first-floor. This room was vast and rectangular – the sort with thrown-open windows allowing for shafts of light where motes of dust danced dervish-like – and filled with row upon row of benches and tables stacked with newspapers and magazines. Readers were few and preferred to keep their distance.
A month or so after my first appearance, the librarian– a quiet middle-aged woman whose kindness never made it to her eyes or words – took me by the hand and pointed me to an unused ante-room to a long-shut entrance. “For you to use.”, she said.  

The room had a table and a chair, with a window that overlooked our town’s main road. Shelves comprising books no one read lined the walls, giving the illusion of the room being smaller than its dimensions. On that first day, I remember looking from the window to the chair to the librarian’s stern, weary face. Without warning, I hugged her and said: “This is perfect, thank you.”

I couldn’t tell if she was mortified or happy.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Death of A Writer - IV


(This is a fiction piece - the fourth in a series of ... many.)

(
See: Part 1Part 2, Part 3)

(Recap: A writer and a student - who is also the narrator - make a trip to a village to investigate a curious incident involving the burning down of a landlord's house. They realise that the Naxals may have something to do with this and arrange a meeting with them. Now, they meet the Panchayat Secretary to get his sense of what is going on. This series is set during the time Gavaskar retired - late '80s/early 90s.)

The Panchayat Secretary offered tea: the writer’s broad smile suggested enthusiasm.

We were in the Panchayat office – a recently constructed one-room structure, narrow and long, like the compartment of a train. At one end was the entry door and the peon’s table. Next to it, was a sturdy wooden chair bearing the letters “PCT 02” in white paint, on its arms and legs. Cupboards bearing brown files overflowing with yellowing paper lined the walls. Paperwork was to bureaucracy what debate was to democracy: superfluous, painstaking, vital. (Surely, I thought, somewhere in there, will be a file on a list of furniture items in the office with a row marked “Peon’s Chair” and “PCT 02” written adjacent to each other). A clock that was six hours behind (six hours ahead would be incongruous in a government office) and a calendar bearing the picture of Saraswati adorned walls whose paint still gleamed.
     
The Secretary seemed distracted, drumming his hands on the table, eyebrows knotted. The writer’s gaze went from the Secretary to the spread-open sports page of the Udayavani – the Kannada daily – that lay on the Secretary’s table.

“India doing badly?”, the writer asked.
“This Kapil Dev”, the Secretary responded, “He should retire.”
“I am not sure, to be honest.”
“Why?”
“Kapil is still two players for the price of one: he’s a frontline bowler, a respectable batsman and the best outfielder in the team. That is very hard to replace.”
“Have you heard of Prashant Devadiga?”, the Secretary asked, “He bowls in the Mangalore leagues – he’s faster than Kapil and can hit just as many sixers.”
This was usually the point where a serious cricket-fan would disengage: Mr Dev and Mr Devadiga in the same sentence was a laughable construct. 


Monday, January 22, 2018

The Death of a Writer - III


(Recap: The writer and the narrator are making their way to Sesha's village to investigate an incident where a landlord's house was burnt down.)

See: Part 1, Part 2.

Another song played on my faithful transistor as we were on the bus
to Shesha’s village. A music teacher and her wards, on AIR Bangalore, were singing a paean to the new year. 

In October

The announcer, a humourless voice with perfect Kannada diction, didn’t seem bothered by this anachronism. I don’t remember the Kannada lyrics anymore, but I remember the main chorus (in English): the teacher and one section of her wards went “Happy, Happy, Happy New Ye-ear”; another section sang similarly, except, the “Ye-ear” landed on the harmony notes.

“A Kannada song to the Gregorian new year, in October, with an English chorus and a harmony – sign of new India?”, I asked the writer, who seemed to be preoccupied.
“Huh?” he said, shaken out of his reverie.
I pointed to the transistor.
“New India?”, he said, “More like the old woman has lost her marbles … and is now trying to locate them with an electron microscope.”

I laughed.

“Old woman? How can you tell – she could be twenty-five, for all you know?”
“This is AIR Bangalore: you have to look a certain type if you want a spot for you and your wards. And listen to her voice – it’s got that MS-type quiver.”

I stared out of the window. It was an unusually cloudy day: we were making our way through thin, winding paths that bisected forests; the trees seemed to dance around us, the wind brought the smell of firewood and wet earth; the hills, in the distance, stuck out like poorly glued-paper to the grey cardboard that was the sky.

We got off to change buses at Narayana, a prominent temple town back then, now rendered soulless by neo-pilgrims. The writer and I drank tea and made small talk with the tea-seller. When we told him we were going to Shadymane, Shesha’s village, a shadow crossed the tea-seller’s face. He said, quietly: “You may get there, but will you return?”
The writer laughed: “Why do you say that?”
“Things are not so good now. They don’t like your type.”
The hissing buses sounded oddly ominous.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Death of A Writer - II

(This is the second part in a series of ... many. Continued from here)

The writer’s question was more prosaic: “Do you enjoy fiction?”

“Yes”, I said.
“May I tell you a story?”
“Of course.”

Perhaps, my memory fails me or a lovely marmalade nostalgia has tinted my perspective, but it strikes me as perfectly natural that he should propose to tell a story and I would readily agree. Time wasn’t an immediate constraint for either of us: my PhD was barely beginning and there were miles to go (though that never prevented me from sleeping well); he was a writer, who wrote in the mornings and researched – “gossiped” or “idled away” being less charitable adjectives – from noon to night. The larger point I want to make, though, is somewhat less immediate: time was rarely in short supply, for many of us then. 
    
“I want you to picture a man of forty-eight: tall, beard as white as salt, the island of baldness forever encroaching on the sea of his hair, his nose being his only distinguishing feature, though its excessive length made him look more crooked than distinguished; his – “

“— Are you describing yourself?”
“Ah, I gave too much away, didn’t I?”
“You might as well have said: ‘Picture me.’”
“But, I didn’t want to say it, because I wanted your objective opinion.”
“On how handsome you are?”

He burst out laughing. An old Purandaradasa song chiding the disrespectful tongue played in my head.

Luckily for me, he didn’t seem to mind.   

“Let me cut to the chase, then”, he said. 

Our tea and bonda had arrived. 


Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Death of A Writer - I

(This is the first part in a series of ... many. It features a writer and his ward - the narrator, a young social science student - getting embroiled in the local politics of a village in coastal Karnataka.)

On the 7th of January 1995, the writer was murdered. Shot. By a bullet fired from nine feet away. The writer had a half-smile on his face. I didn’t see the body, but Ramesha –  the old chemistry lab assistant at our high school, famed for his penchant for hyperbole – did, and said to me: “What a crazy guy the writer was! To see a bullet – death – in the eye and smile? Unique in human history!”

I was sure it wasn’t unique. In fact, I had evidence of the contrary: on the seventeenth day of the Mahabharata war, which both the writer and I considered more fact than fiction, Karna did the same. The scene is gutting: desperately attempting to dislodge his sinking chariot wheel, Karna - unarmed - pleads for a pause in battle. However, goaded by an unforgiving Krishna, Arjuna fires an arrow aimed at Karna’s neck. Notwithstanding the injustice of it all, Karna embraces death with a smile.
Karna smiles because death comes as relief from a tragic life; the writer, on the other hand, must have had a joke strike him as he eyed the bullet.    

*

The writer and I had a conversation about death once. I had gone to see him and as was my wont, took some charmuri along.

As I entered, the old grandfather clock in the living room struck four. I found the writer in his usual position. On the floor, by a window, his back against a pillow propped by a wall; papers, filled with neat cursive ink, strewn across the carpet. A single sheet, a Parker pen and an ink-pot adorned the “writing table” – no more than a two-foot foldable contraption with a wooden surface – by his side. He was very proud of that table for he had built it from scratch. He had just made tea.  

“Ah, charmuri! What timing!” he said, making to get me a cup of tea as well.
“I have a knack, you know – serves me well, especially through the off-side”, I said.
He smiled and asked:
“How is work coming along?”
“Not bad – I may finally be funded to collect data on some of these village santhes

“I was born in a village”, he said and paused dramatically.
“I was born in a village
I will die in a city
What a real pity,
Makes me feel shitty.”

He was pleased with himself.

Such a clever ditty”, I said sarcastically.
“Don’t mock me, young man – these ditties, born out of ennui, composed in a flash, will die with me, unrecorded, unwritten.”
“This shitty one will survive”, I said, “when I write a novel, I will write you in as a character just so you can spout this nonsense.”
When you write your novel … I will be gone by then.”
“Why do you think you will die? Fifty-five is too young to go – you have another twenty years, at the very least!”
“I won’t die of ill-health”, he said, “I will die because my time would have come.”
“Whatever that means.”
“It means nothing. I was just spouting faux-abstruse stuff – “
“—making sure you don’t only come across as a one-note impromptu ditty-writer in my future novel?”
One-note impromptu ditty-writer: you read my mind like it’s the top row of the optometrist’s board.”

Now that was a truly great impromptu line.

We spoke, mostly about cricket, till the crickets, frogs and owls were well into their nightly symphony… The writer was right though. He didn’t die in his village, nor did he succumb to ill-health.

And while you are reading this, he never did.

*

When I first met the writer, he was walking briskly, like a man attempting to keep pace with his thoughts. I was walking briskly too – a man keeping pace with his racing heart. It was a typical October day, the air bit like a swarm of stingless bees. As we crossed each other, the writer looked at me and smiled. Back then, strangers smiled at each other. I smiled back and squinted to look beyond him, at the entrance to the girls’ hostel.

“Are you the young economist?”, he asked. We lived in a small university town, where everyone knew of everyone else.
“No”, I said, unthinkingly.
My subconscious mind had made a heuristic choice to answer in the negative when faced with a question from persons a generation older.
“Liar”, the writer said.     
“Yes, yes”, I quickly corrected myself, “I am the young economist.”
“Well? We must meet then!”
“Sure!”, I said, somewhat too enthusiastically, attempting to compensate for the lack of eye-contact.
“Ice Land hotel? Tea and bonda? Four in the evening, Friday?”
“Huh?”, I said, “Okay, okay.”

*

“You’re early.”, the writer announced, when I turned up at Ice Land at five to four on Friday. His beak-nose peered from above the Udayavani, the local Kannada daily.
“You’re early too.”, I said.

He returned to his newspaper as I drew myself a chair.

“You know what they say about great minds”, I said.
“That they think punctual thoughts?”, he muttered, still staring squarely at the newspaper through his brown-rimmed glasses.
“That they make terrible jokes.”, I said and laughed, to hide my embarrassment. I was somewhat taken aback by my audacity: I didn’t usually wisecrack with people twice my age, especially if I have just met them.  

He smiled and put his newspaper down. A waiter walked up to us.

Yenuntu?”, I asked the waiter. What do you have?


I knew exactly what they had (they serve the same things to this day, twenty-two years later). I leaned back on my chair and shut my eyes: inside, the clang of vessels clashed with the sound of scuffing chappals and wooden chairs; outside, a city-bus engaged in friendly fire with another. 

And sure enough, there it came, the familiar answer to my question: a torrent of sweets, savories, beverages – twenty-one items on the menu, rattled off in a rushed four seconds. 

In that instant, had the writer had asked me, “What is home?”, I’d have answered: 

This is.” 

(Continued: Part 2Part 3)

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Last Laugh

“Ye Nastika, I have an offer for you”, Seemanna called out.

Seemanna’s offers usually spelled trouble.

As I saw him approach, I remembered our conversation from a week ago: he was falling short of vanaras for his performance at the jatre and was on a mission to recruit volunteers.  

“Seemanna”, I said pre-empting his offer, “Don’t bother trying – I am not acting in that godforsaken dance-drama of yours.

Godforsaken dance-drama? Aiyo Nastika, how can you say such things? If there is no God, how can he forsake things?”

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Blue

My novel -- published by Harper Collins -- releases on the 15th of June!


To regular readers of this blog, a BIG thank you. Early drafts of this novel was serialized and written here. Then, I didn't know what I was doing. I wrote because I liked the idea of writing on the Ramayana. I continued writing because some people liked reading it, a smaller number commented here and encouraged me to plough on -- it was fun!

The novel has four sections: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4. With three of those Books, I wrote for the sheer joy of seeing where Reddumone would take me, where Rama would take us both. With the fourth, I took Reddumone back into his past. It is the most personal of the Books because I cannot tell where his past ends and mine begins.

Do grab a copy, if only to re-read an edited, crisper, modified version of posts long forgotten!