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NOBODY LIGHTS A CANDLE
It was late by the time he got home. Buses were queued up on the roads and two wheelers wove their way from between them like squirrels leaping at great speed. Everyone was pressing on the horn to let the others know of their existence, screaming in top decibels, look at us, nobody cares two hoots about us at home or in offices, but we exist, strangers, look, we exist, and we are strong and we shall move ahead of you, look at us and get out of our way and salute the strength of our machines, they screamed. The syrupiness of mulberry, the enjoyment of his conversation with Bharat, the sweet anticipation of downing a peg of rum at home, everything turned to smoke in the cacophony. His mood was in shatters. If a person were being murdered here you wouldn’t hear the scream, he thought and said to himself like Bharat, ‘Agree, don’t you?’ He knew he wouldn’t find peace even at home or the house one is accustomed to calling home. It sat on the road, that platform of bricks on which walls had been raised to separate it from the road and justify calling it a house. He looked at the property they owned, carefully. His father had bought this small plot from DDA. A single room on some measly fifty square yards of land. Later they had built another room on its top. The stairs were outside in the lane that doubled as a community courtyard. This was not the home or even the house of Hindi films in which a curving flight of stairs inside the drawing room led to the room of the hero or heroine upstairs, like there was in Udairaj’s house. Here they lived on the street. Everyone can see them going up or down. All round the house was a uniform ugliness, rectangular rooms, jaundiced walls, windows that never closed properly, and on this stared the dusty screen door that always remained open in the day…
“The thickness of fingers, the colour of the arm, you have to recognize everything. Then you match them…”
“Just put any two parts together. Pack them in a bag and hand it over. Which sasura is looking to see if the hand is actually that of the man from his family or what…” he heard Daulatram's voice.
“…counted the dead by counting the hands. Every hand I counted. That is how we got to know how many died. Otherwise do you think the police would have been able to figure out how many died? You can’t trust people; they tell you four died when only two have been killed…”
“… in the end everything is just a handful of dust. We all come from the earth and have to go back to the earth. Even if you get someone else’s remains in a bag you perform the rites and are at peace that you have done all that is necessary. Who checks if the remains are of the person they lost? You just assume that it is and are at peace.”
“…fifty people will come to claim that they have also lost someone. Give us compensation, they will say. It is a task of great responsibility. Have to count piroperly and keep all record. I found two right hands only. Only right hands. The left hands may have been blown away. At least you got the suchchaa (clean) hand for the rites…”
Adhirath stood at the door listening into the conversation. Why had the man come this way today? Well, he was lucky to have arrived at the end of the narration of the story of the bomb blast. He won’t repeat the story now. Mamaji only tells the story once in a day. Adhirath ran upstairs and slid the trunk under the bed and sauntered back.
“Here he comes,” his father Daulatram said. “You don’t know how long he has been waiting for you. Where have you been going nowadays? Running around all day,” the smile on his face staid put though his eyes narrowed a little.
“Paon lagoon, mamaji,” Adhirath said.
“Only verbally? Do it properly, bend and touch his feet. Or stop pretending to keep the custom,” Daulatram admonished him.
Adhirath placed the half bottle of booze on the table and went in with the box of mulberries.
“Look at the young of today,” Daulatram’s voice followed him. “When they get a box it is of mulberries. Not of sweets. Arre, whoever buys mulberries?”
Pushpa took the box and asked him, “Tea? I am going to fry up some liver.”
Looked like there were preparations afoot for a nice party. When he emerged into the outer room having washed his face Bhikulal was saying, “I thought I should get some for you to eat also before the season is over. Have got payas (knuckles or the joint just above the hooves). Have you seen them? Aren’t they good! I roasted them at home. You can’t roast them here. It will raise quite a stink.”
“By God, if it comes to roasting I can do a real good job. But these neighbours will arrive to complain. The stink will stay for at least two days.”
“That is what. Now those days were different when we used to dhoono (roast on open fire) them. Mohallas were of the same community and nobody complained…”
“Why would anyone complain? They rushed in with big bowls, for the soup. Truly, you would run out of soup. It used to take three hours to cook. Now you will see, she will cook it within half an hour in the pressure cooker,” Daulatram was saying. He was very pleased.
Bhikulal was singing his own tune. “So I got them roasted. Could get only six. Four of them are of the front foot. That too of the khassi (castrated) goat.”
“I thought we could eat the liver to begin with. What is bahu doing? Doesn’t take even ten minutes to saute liver…”
Adhirath picked up the bottle and screwed it open. When he began to pour in three glasses Daulatram turned to Bhikulal and said, “This is today’s youth. Will get drunk in the presence of their dads. How different it was when we were young. By God, we would take a sip or two hiding away from the elders. Truly, we dared not enter the house till the father went to sleep. We used to be scared that if he smelt booze on our breaths he would thrash us right and proper.”
Bhikulal bent towards Adhirath and said, “I forgot to tell you something. At least two men had been with her. Did the job, the whole thing with great gusto. She was full to the brim inside. Could also have been three.”
Pushpa came in with a plateful of sliced cucumbers tomatoes and onions. In another plate she carried the fried liver, dark, almost black squares, triangles and other irregular pieces. Adhirath suddenly felt sick. He ran in.
“What was the matter?” asked Daulatram.
By the time Adhirath returned Bhikulal had begun relating the whole story. He picked up his glass and went in. Scooping out the paste of ginger and garlic from the grinder Pushpa said, “You went to see mama? Never even told me.”
Adhirath came back to the outer room. He was sure Pushpa’s ears must be fixed on their conversation. Today he did not hear the cooker being banged. She must have taken out the parat. Must have kneaded the flour too. But it was all soundless. The half bottle was soon empty. Daulatram brought out a bottle from his own stock that was still more than half full. When he began to pour Adhirath placed his palm on his glass silently refusing the refill.
“Arre, have some. Why are you feeling ashamed now,” Bapu shoved his hand aside and poured him a large drink. He wasn’t ashamed, the cucumber and tomatoes were boiling in his stomach seeking more acid. He knew he would not be able to hold any more alcohol.
“Make the rotis thick,” Bhikulal stepped up to the doorframe in the room to tell his niece.
“There is no need to tell her that. If your niece had her way she would make a single roti of the whole dough.”
“Thick rotis are good to mop up the gravy,” Bhikulal was paying no attention to him. He went into the bathroom and when he returned Adhirath watched his face closely. His face was wet but no ash was running. Adhirath always felt that his black colour was like a coat of soot thrown on him and if he as much as shook his head the colour would fly.
“At what time did she die?” asked Adhirath.
“Dhattere ki, always talks of death,” Daulatram said and laughed.
“I have just talked to someone about Pushpa’s promotion. You people sit around twiddling your thumbs. I know someone in the headquarters. Buddhan’s son is posted there. The same Buddhan, my saali’s (wife’s sister) dewar (husband’s brother). He does the dusting there. He will talk to the sicetary of his union and will get him to recommend Pushpa strongly. You have to have someone to push the case. It has been over ten years, she must get promotion.”
“Fifteen…” Daulatram was now beginning to get truly drunk.
“Ten years since she came here.”
“Mamu, what time was the girl killed?”
“Between ten and twelve. At night. Dactor said so,” Now Bhikulal’s tongue began to get slippery. “Were you also involved, or what? Knew her?” He winked at Adhirath.
Adhirath stood up. Went out. Then he slowly climbed the stairs. Varun may have already gone to sleep. When his father opens the bottle Pushpa sends him upstairs with his grandmother to keep him out of harm’s way. Upstairs he found both grandmother and grandson watching TV with full concentration. He fell on the bed and slipped into a comatose sleep.
2 years ago
જીગર _અનામી રાઇટર
2 years ago
Best English Stories
Anjali Deshpande Books
by Anjali Deshpande
English Social Stories
Total Episodes : 46
by Anjali Deshpande
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