Wednesday, August 26, 2009


NAME- Esther Rozarrio (maiden name- Esther de Silva)

AGE- 34 Years

Esther’s family, the de Silvas, are fifth generation immigrants to India from Portugal.
The Rozarrios are also immigrants from Portugal. Esther’s husband is the fourth generation immigrant.

The de Silvas and Rozarrios live in the town of Maldovi in Old Goa, situated about 9 km away from Panaji. The defining feature of this town is the world heritage monument of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, built in 1695.
Both the Rozarrios and the de Silvas live in what is known as a typical ‘old style’ Goan house. The roof is constructed with red "Manglorean" tiles. There is a long winding stairway leading to a balcony also known as a "balcao" in Konkani and Portuguese.
However, even though the Rozarrios continue to have their estate well looked after, painting it at least twice a year, and having original materials brought in from Mangalore and Panaji, the de Silvas have long relinquished any efforts to reflect their social status in the houses they keep. It is atrociously beyond their means.
As for the town, the only thing that can be said, is that, it resonates with the glory of Old Goa, but like Old Goa itself, it is struggling to brush away the cobwebs from a nearly dead heritage.

There is not much to talk about regarding Esther’s formal education. She never got much of an opportunity to explore that territory. She studied at the government school, a decrepit sickeningly yellow building that threatened to crumble under the weight of about a hundred students, and did crumble a year after Esther passed out of it. As for her higher studies, she had just started doing her Bachelors in Philosophy from St.Paul’s College. However, she could not even complete the first year. She got married off before that.

Esther teaches music to the choir at the Se Cathedral.

Esther has very scant hair on her head, that’s probably the most striking feature about her appearance. She has a slightly elongated face, with deep-set eyes, of a deep brown colour, very pale skin, and a snub nose. Another interesting fact about her physical appearance is, her sixth finger, growing from a stub at the end of the root of her thumb. Her body is a bit flaccid, almost formless, but she is not obese. However, the single inconsequential mark of beauty on this frame, is her chin. It has a beauty spot right at its tip which gives her face an air of gentleness.

The back stories of the two families merges with the history of the Goa Inquisition, established in the year 1560, abolished in 1812. (This office of the Inquisition acting in the Indian state of Goa and the rest of the Portuguese empire in Asia, was executed by the Portuguese Catholic Church. It was established to punish relapsed New Christians- Jews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism, as well as their descendants- who were now suspected of practicing their ancestral religion in secret. However, while its ostensible aim was to preserve the Catholic faith, the Inquisition was often used against these people as an instrument of social control, as also, to confiscate the victim’s property and enrich the Inquisitors.)
The tribunal of the first Inquisition had as its Deputies of the Holy Office, the two de Silva brothers, Diego and Aleixo de Silva. That is how the de Silvas sailed to India and became settlers in Goa. The de Silvas brothers were known for their highhandedness. They were largely feared and abhorred. Their opulence was a further marker of their gluttony. Then in 1812, when the British put pressure on the Portuguese to put an end to the terror of the Inquisition, along with the palace of the Inquisition, (known as the Big House) the sprawling estate of the de Silvas was also demolished. However, nobody was killed.
In a such a situation then, to revive oneself, something more than an unflinching faith in one’s pedigree is needed. It was then that the Rozarrios extended the olive branch of friendship to the de Sivas. The Rozarrios were among the first fleet of merchants to arrive in Goa with their precious and semi-precious stones. They profited from their enterprise and now desired to climb the social ladder as well. They felt that the only way to achieve this, would be to attach themselves to some church in Goa. The Se Cathedral in Old Goa, originally built in 1510, housing the Golden Bell (the bell of Inquisition whose tolling heralded the start of ‘auto da fes’, or, the brutal part of the Inquisition process) was the Church to which they desired to be attached in some way. The aim was to be one of its prime patrons.
The Rozzarios could be described as a family with no ethical or moral scruples, solely driven by a blind ambition for social respectability. For them, the Church is not a seat of worship, but a rite of passage, whereby, they would become members of a society of the privileged. The deepest fears of these people was, the fear of extermination, and they had a strange belief that by signing themselves into some hallowed establishment, like the church, they could be saved.
Thus, it was a sort of symbiotic relationship between the two families. The de Silvas had by then found a tiny space for themselves in the church (where the women took up the job of the mistress of the choir, and the men helped about in little duties of the priests and clergy), but they needed the money to get back to their earlier mode of existence, (for old habits die hard) and the Rozarrios helped them by making them shareholders in their shipping business. The Rozzarios in turn, helped by a particular smooth-talking de Silva, managed to be one of the patrons of the said church, i.e. the Se Cathedral.

Esther de Silva is born into a family that proclaims its dubious high status, but economically, they are almost impoverished. Esther’s father was not interested in the proceedings of the Church, so he worked as a master gardener in the estate of the Church. This is not to say however, that he was not a believer in Christianity like the rest, but he was definitely not of the orthodox nature. He passed away quietly in his sleep when Esther was twelve years old, and his brother David, six. Esther’s mother worked as the mistress of the choir till the day she retired and Esther took over from her. Esther’s mother is a dominating woman, a woman of determination and has a remarkable capacity for sustaining an argument. She was almost a kind of menacing disciplinarian to Esther’s father and the two children. Esther’s father on the other hand, was a man of few words.
The mother brought up the two children in an atmosphere of piety and discipline. ‘The Grand Cane’ was the great instrument of torture at their house, and its services were employed even on the day that Esther’s marriage was finalized when Esther coughed out the words- “I don’t want to.”
Though the two families had begun a sort of partnership, the losses slowly started loading up upon the de Silvas. The de Silvas were not able to understand the intricacies of business, and started suffering losses. The Rozarrios had then struck a deal- marry the de Silva daughter to our forty year old son, and we would settle all the accounts. The prospective groom, Peter Rozarrio had one damaged kidney (nobody knew the reason behind this) and had found it difficult to find a wife for himself among the wealthy Christian families. So now, because of their family lineage and the long history of a bond that the two families shared, the marriage between Esther and Peter was finalized.
Esther was twenty when she got married off. She was just in the first year of her college, doing her Bachelors in Philosophy from St.Paul’s College. Another important fact to be mentioned is that, at around the time that Esther’s marriage plans were being chalked out by her mother and the Rozzarios, (and Esther was weeping copiously in her room) David, her brother, had a final rather violent row with his mother (and he had had many such rows before) and left the house. He has never returned, and at present, no one knows where he is or what he does.

Esther has always lived a cloistered life, so there has never been much of an opportunity to make friends. However, her closest companion (and the dearest) had her brother, David. She has always adored him, but had fallen short when it came to the duty of standing up for and protecting her little brother. Esther lacks the personality to do that. But that had never created any strain between the two. In fact, David had shown stupendous courage by walking out on his mother. He had always been a boy of determination, and this had extended to his attempts to save Esther’s life from the clutches of their mother and the Rozarrios. However, when he could not do that, he left the house.
Apart from the brother, Esther had another friend- a grizzly looking cat. But that was finally removed by her mother to some other part of the town because Mrs. De Silva despises cats.
Therefore, in a nutshell, it could be said that, Esther had just two close friends in her life, and was separated from both very early in her life.
Now she has no friends or confidantes.

Esther hardly ever looks up at the world when she walks. And then again, she has never walked far into the world of strangers and chance opportunities. So, the chance of getting romantically entangled with anyone is beyond the question. Also, she has never really been the romantic sort. But not practical either.
As for her relationship with her mother, Esther shares a formal relation with the woman, and hardly ever speaks to her. She speaks only when spoken to. There was a time when she was mortally terrified of the woman, but now, after her marriage, since she doesn’t see too much of her mother, the fear is slowly dissipating, and drops of anger entering to fill that void.

After her marriage into the Rozarrio family, Esther has to make quite a number of formal appearances. There are occasional social gatherings, charities organized by the Church, where she has the role of a silent smiling attentive spectator, the wife of Peter Rozarrio. At these gatherings, she hardly makes an effort. She goes about it as though it is a duty. Her chief aim (and that has always been the case) is to do the duty\chore assigned to her deftly, indifferently, silently and then to fade with the background. She excels at this self-constructed game of ‘fading out’.
Her husband never takes her out anywhere. She does not feel the urge to complain or request either. In fact, she is swept by a wave of relief when her husband leaves for his work.

Emotionally, Esther is as fragile as a glass, but this glass is insulated from outside (and this process of insulation had begun the day her father died) so that whatever might pass in her heart, might not be reflected on her face.
She despises tears, but only when the urge to cry overwhelms her. Every time David had broken down, she had supported him with a warm hug, if not with anything else.
Esther might not have any great capacity for cultivating anger or hatred, but when she has a grudge against anyone or anything, she tries to fade out that person or thing from her sight and memory. It is a very conscious effort on her part, but she is perfecting it, just as she is perfecting the art of ‘fading’ out herself. However, what Esther is not conscious of, is the great cauldron of anger and wrath bubbling within her for quite some time now. She is still not conscious of it, though the symptoms are starting to show of late- sudden spurts of impatience, a violent combing of the scant hair on her head, talking to herself, slashing down beautiful blooming roses and petunias with her garden scissors when nobody is watching.
Esther does not love her husband, or any member in her husband’s family. She does not know the names of a few of them , and the rest are just as insignificant to her as they. For her husband, she tries to muster respect at least, but cannot.
Esther has often contemplating leaving all and running away somewhere, but years of servitude and acceptance of her mother’s orders, has washed away any traces of determination in her. She lacks confidence. The one thought that keeps haunting her is, of being forced to beg at street corners. By far, the fear of not being able to feed herself, is the greatest fear of all. This fear is the product of her insufficient qualifications, of the fact that, if let loose in the world, she won’t be able to fend for herself.

Esther’s father’s death is by far, the single greatest life-altering event of her life. The sudden feeling of being unprotected in the world, was a tremendously difficult feeling to cope with for the young girl.
Esther and brother had at one point (when Esther was thirteen) started putting together a sort of mystery story, largely a juvenile attempt at recreating a Secret Seven or a Famous Five. They got completely immersed in the project. They had just been introduced to the world of Enid Blyton by a friend of David of his school, (who had established a kind of personal library and was making a huge profit out of it) and were mesmerized. At this time, the dream of the duo had been, to get really famous by writing these books, and then, with the money, to run away somewhere and live life the way these British children did. However, one day their mother came across these diaries filled with fantastic stories, and she set them on fire and caned the children hard. This single incident of having their work burnt to ashes, affected Esther deeply. It was at this time that she became a complete recluse. And the feeling of being unprotected in the world, heightened.
Esther’s brother’s estrangement from the family was another event which affected her. It all went on adding up to her feeling of being a cornered beast and losing all the people and things that might have protected her.
The day Esther’s mother got rid of the grizzly cat, Esther dreamt of her father. It was not a symbolic dream or something, but when she woke up, she had felt a sudden blaze of anger, (not directed towards anybody particular) which had almost immediately died down.
After her marriage, she started suffering from insomnia. She has never been able to sleep at night since then.

Esther has suddenly, in the dead of the night, started writing again. It happened without any forewarning. Her insomnia probably drove her to it, but even though there are significant traces of the earlier threads of thought that David and Esther had put together in their childhood exercise, this time, her writings are more graphic, with lengthy (and completely inappropriate for the story) gruesome descriptions of rotten corpses and men murdering men. Also, there is slowly, a suspension of the storyline altogether. Now, it is more of an exercise, a kind of catharsis. Esther feels a sense of relief after these violent sessions. Often, she simply spills a huge drop of ink right in the centre of her paper, and starts describing a murder perhaps by dragging the tip of her pen from within that gleaming pool of ink, outwards, like words spilling out of a drop of blood.
Esther has been appointed the mistress of the choir at the Church, but she simply abhors the sound of the organ. She hates the touch of the cold hard keys against her skin.
Esther is probably the only non-superstitious person in the family of the Rozarrios. Her mother is highly superstitious too (which is why she got rid of the cat.)
Esther has no favourites- colour, music, sports, etc. One of the reasons could be that, in the kind of environment where she has been born and brought up, (and continues to live) one has never had the opportunity to develop one’s finer tastes, or concentrate upon one’s personal choices in matters of art, literature, music. Such things are not encouraged in her kind of an environment. Here, the idea of ‘duty’ dominates, and Esther has as of yet, not accumulated sufficient courage to break out of this tradition.
However, it should be noted that she absolutely loves the sea.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Character: Midori

Who is she?

• Midori Yamazaki (山崎 緑)


• 26 years old (born 20th March, 1983)


• Japanese

What’s her family background?

• Midori belongs to a middle-class family in Osaka. Her father Shoichi Yamazaki (b. 1950), grew up in a new, post-nuclear, pacifist Japan. Brought up the single child of his war-widowed mother, he learnt self-reliance at her knee. He completed his B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from Osaka University, and is today a well-paid supervisor of a car factory, working for a company he joined more that 30 years ago. A serious and hardworking man, he is a pillar of the local community. His mother died ten years ago, having enjoyed a full and happy life.

• Midori's mother, Tomoe Yamazaki nee Kusano (b. 1952), is a typical Japanese housewife: mild-mannered, supportive and accommodating. She gave up a career in nursing to marry, and eventually gave birth to two daughters: Aki (1980) and Midori (1983). After her third pregnancy miscarried, she was advised not to have any more children. She has one younger brother, Yusuke, in the Osaka Metropolitan Police Department.

• Midori's sister Aki is a jolly and fun-loving girl, a bit on the plump side, who currently works as a hair stylist in an upmarket Tokyo salon. She has a fiancé (Minoru) of three years whom she plans to marry (just waiting for him to propose any day now!). He works in the creative department of an ad agency whom she met on the job.

What’s her story?

• Midori was a good student in school, and also played volleyball at the inter-school level. She is a natural-born leader and is used to taking control of a situation. Admired and popular in school, she sometimes abused her wit and beauty to bully others. After school, she studied Physics at Osaka University. However, she felt she could do better in the business world and took a job as a bank clerk in Sumitomo Bank, Tokyo. Midori completed a part-time MBA from Waseda University while working.

• Midori met her ex-boyfriend in college. Ken was studying history and wanted "to become a star". He and Midori moved to Tokyo together, she to hunt for a job and he to hunt for acting roles. While she got her clerk's job, Ken continued to struggle as an actor, often depending upon her income to survive. This continued for almost a year, and it was pure bliss for her. Never mind that Ken doesn’t provide for the rent, or that he refuses to help around in the house. One day, she returned home early to find him sleeping with some female studio executive. Someone used to being in charge, this betrayal came as a shock to her. Midori threw them both out, with screams and fisticuffs… she had never cried so hard that night before she went to bed. That was three years ago.

• A few weeks after this, Midori moved in with her sister. Her behaviour has become colder and more aloof as a result of this experience, her mouth curling into an unpleasant snarl when she sees anything that reminds her of Ken. However, she still believes in true love, and hopes to find "Mr Right" someday: she has a marked weakness for romances with a happy ending. Midori lived with her sister till a few months ago, when she moved into the company dormitory to give Aki and her fiancé more privacy.

What’s she like?

• In a word, Midori is pretty. Not glamorous, or sexy in an obvious way. She has a full, expressive face (what in Japan would be called a tanuki-gao, or raccoon-face –don’t worry, it’s not as insulting as it sounds) with elegant features framed by a chic boy-cut with an asymmetric fringe (thank you, Aki). She has a tattoo of a blue dragonfly on her left shoulder-blade, which she got on her eighteenth birthday, much to the mortification of her father. She is outgoing, decisive and opinionated, a subtle contrast to her mother, as well as a discreet revolt against the highly patriarchal Japanese society in which she exists. Like most any girl, Midori is unhappy with her looks. The more her judo buddies tell her how cute she looks, the more she thinks she’s got a fat ass. Yes, she learns judo; for about two years now.

What about right now?

• Midori is by-and-large content with her lot in life. She still regrets dumping Ken; she was truly in love with him. After Ken, her longest relationship has been for less than a year. But then again she’s still young, independent and sociable. Settling down with a husband is a distant prospect for her. Her favourite pastime right now is going out shopping with her sister. Remember that MBA she did? Well, it finally got her promoted to a management job at the bank last year. But when Midori returns to her empty apartment, and says "Tadaima [I’m home]" to no-one in particular, she can’t help wondering, "What happened to my life?" That’s when she reaches for her cigarettes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Image Prompt.


The blue boy’s blue lotus eyes beckon,
And the sweet, sword-sharp smile,
And the dark nails on the dark fingers
Play with flute and heart-strings.

The boy slips out into the courtyard, and stands sun-dappled, blue pyjamas tinted purple in the setting sun’s scarlet light, yellow kurta gilded. “Come,” he calls.

“Wait,” you murmur, still within the corridor, still in shadow—you cannot move as fast as he does.

“Play for me,” he says, spinning on one spot, arms outstretched—you are afraid for a moment that he will hit one of the tourists, but he does not; he never does.

“I will,” you say, setting down a bundle to free one hand, tucking in your waistband again—it has been a good day, crowded with tourists, and your waistband is sagging with coins and your lips are chapped and throat dry.

“Now,” he demands, coming out of his spin abruptly, dark curls askew, and stalks close, makes to pull your flute from your hand.

“Wait,” you say again—you say it often, to try and get him to stop, to stand, to slow his wind-swift pace to yours. He listens, sometimes.

Now he frowns, forehead creasing, lips turning down, and pushes past you, back into the corridor, hair and skin and eyes and clothes fading into its greys and blues, even the bright yellow swallowed in the gloom.

You shift your bundle with your foot and sit, tailor-wise, knees creaking as you fold them, and put your flute to your lips, taking a moment to stop smiling before you begin to play. The sun, though setting, has yet enough heat to warm your bones, and you peer through the red-gold light into the shadows—you always peer into the shadows, when he leaves your side. He might yet leave, all these years later; depart as abruptly as he’d arrived.

Might, but has not. Not today, not yet. You make out the shape of him leaning slightly out, one hand braced against the dark red walls, weight on one hip, garments shadowed—all of him shadowed, like shadow made solid. He shakes his head, once, curls flying haphazard, and pulls himself back to lean against the outer wall and listen to the tendrils of music you send snaking towards him.

You cannot see the smile on his face, but his joy shows in the easy slump of the broad shoulders, the tipped-back head, the arms flopping loosely at his side—total abandonment. This is why you give in, creaking knees, and dry throat and all. This is why you play for him. You smile, the tune skipping a second before your lips resume the proper shape, and close your eyes. And still feel his joy, wrapping him warm—it will soon be cold, and he still shivers in the desert night. Just now, though, it is perfect, and you abandon your tune mid-way—it is only something you play to please tourists, or to warm up—and revert to the first tune you learnt—the first tune he taught you—and let the plaintive, unearthly strains change you—nothing changes him but he himself.

There is grass beneath you—you can feel, still, the flagstones heated in the long day’s sun, as the song quivers, and then they disappear under—transform into—soft lush grass as you gather breath and the flute volume. The sun is still a setting sun, but holds none of the harshness it should—even the westering sun is a cruel master in your land—almost its rays cradle you. There is perfume around you—the air is redolent with the scents of wet earth and new-bloomed flowers—and in the distance is the laughter of women, and closer, there is the lowing of a herd of contented cattle. When you open your eyes, there will be your god, too, his hand on a tasselled horn, his back against the trunk of a peepul tree green with spring. His bare body shall be tinted evening-dark, and his black curls will be adorned with a peacock’s fallen plumage. His free hand will hover over the flute in his yellow waistband. And when you open your eyes, he will smile at you, as though he is father, brother, friend, beloved, child.

He will, but not yet. It is not yet time to open your eyes and look upon him—the peepul is yet but brown shadow and green smoke, the tune must serpentine some little while longer—you must play him into being, pull him by the flute-enfolding hand into this green grove you have never seen with your eyes open—Vrindavan, where you have never been save in dreams and like this—and make him into the god your village temple hosted. You see him thus but once a day—less, when you truly lack the fortitude to worship him—it is a dusty, dusky boy that walks with you every hour, all these many years. Only at times, only like this, is your boy your god.

A rough hand shakes you, and the tune skips and falls silent. The grass browns and withers, and you open your eyes. The man before you is coal-dark, his face unfinished—nose flat, eyes staring—like the Jagannath you have seen only pictures of, and for a moment your heart stutters. And then you mark his clothes and the camera slung ’round his neck, and as the last plaint of the flute vanishes from your ears, you see Vikram squatting in front of you.

“He says you’re very good,” Vikram offers.

“Thank him,” you answer, bone-weary, eyes closed against the horror—you have never been so interrupted, where has he gone?

“He wants you to pose.” The man, when you look at him, hefts his camera. “He’ll pay you.” You look away from Vikram, look into the gathering dark for a glimpse of yellow, of blue, of tangled curls and laughing, impatient eyes. You can see nothing of him, he has melted so swiftly into the deepening shadows. “A lot, kaka.”

Today has been a good day. You are tired, bone-weary and throat aching, and your god has disappeared because others interfered with his worship. You look at your flute in your hand, at Vikram beside you, at the tourist with his camera, at the pillar where you last saw him, and you nod. You take up the flute, and you begin playing. Today has been a good day, and a busy one, and your waistband is sagging under the weight of coins thrown in Indian visitors and foreign tourists. Tomorrow might not be so kind.

This is not that first of tunes you were taught—there is a shine in this that speaks of coins, of gold—of Lakshmi and not her spouse—but it catches the tourist’s attention, and it comes easily to you. Easier, at least, than what you have played all day for tourists, for money. You fix your eyes upon the walls as the camera flashes, and when you reach the end of Lakshmi’s tune, you let the man put a crisp hundred rupee note in your outstretched palm. You even manage a smile.

You gather up your bundle and walk slowly from the fortress—it is closing time—eyes searching every shadow, every dark-skinned boy. Outside you slump by the road and put your flute to your lips and slip into your interrupted worship. The grass grows slowly, sparse and yellow, and the trees are stunted. There are no flowers, no women, no laughter. You are at the end of your tune, at the end of tolerance, when he walks into the withered grove, and loops an arm ’round the shrivelled branch of a tree.

You open your eyes and see him before you—hair limp curls, the yellow of his kurta faded to brick, blue pyjamas to grey. “Come,” he says, and you follow him into the dusk.
My image was an old Rajasthani man playing the flute.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nonsense Word Exercise

Queen Bee

I wake, slowly, limbs trying to unfold, wings trying to spread, confined, constrained in a shell that tastes like food. I push at the walls and they creak but hold. I push again, feel something give. I prod at the minute tear with my…my something, my sting? It passes through easily. I shift, trying to push my head down, to see what I am causing. The wall tears more, in a swift, smooth movement. Tears off, when I shift again, and I emerge from my shell, and spread my wings.

I have been in this place before. Without wings or legs or this body, but I have been here—the shell smelt familiar, and this place smells like the shell, though it is covered smooth, and the shell was torn when I left it. The floor is the colour of the walls of my shell, and the walls are the same. There is sound coming from within one of the walls.

It is a sound that sounds familiar, as though I have made it. It is a sound of joy—it is the sound I made shifting, trying to come out of the shell. There is a me in that shell. I watch as she stabs through the wall of the shell, as it comes off and hangs to one side, as she emerges. She is large, my eyes are staring, and her wings are spread. There are others, too, standing at a distance, some above, and some at the place as, me. But they are different. Only one other and I are me. The other me moves towards me, and I move towards the other me. My wings shiver and shift and I rise above her. I fly behind her and I open skin like I opened shell, but this does not tear as easily. The me I am tearing shifts, makes the sound again that she and I made, though this sounds nothing joyous. I pull myself from her, push in again. The other me makes a different sound and stops moving. I pull out again. She lies still. I repeat the sound I made earlier—the sound she made.

One of the others—one of the workers, I remember, I know—moves towards me, and then many others. They move around me, and take up the dead me, and move away, speaking amongst themselves, ignoring me. “Trepindesu,” one says, and the others bob in the air. Those not carrying the still me stop, move away from the crowd, dropping in mid-flight. I look into the torn shells—they are the same—that housed me and me.

I hear the sound again, this time from a distance, and I move to it. Workers move away from me, move together past me, and all mutter “trepindesu”. The shells with me in them shiver, and they sound. I stop in front of one, and I turn and stab into it. Something shifts inside, and I stab again. It stills. I pull out, stab a last time, then tear the shell open. What falls out is not me, is nothing like me—its eyes are larger, and it has nothing to stab it me with. Drone—I know this like I knew the workers. Drone and not me. But the sounds are still going on, higher and louder, and the shell beside the drone’s quivers, shifts. Something stabs out of it, and I stab in, keep stabbing till all movement stops. The shell rips and the me inside it falls out. She is still, like the me whose shell was beside mine. Two of me are still. I shift, spread my wings, rise and hover. Two of me are still, but I am not. There is still a sound. More of me are waking, trying to push out of their shells. They will try to keep me still. I will make them lie still.

The next me is already still when I find her—another me has made her lie still outside her torn shell, made her silent. The sound starts, stops—the other me has stilled another me.

The sound starts again, and I fly to it. This me is looking away from me, spreading her wings, and I stab her before she turns. Workers pass, carrying the drone; three stop to pick up the me who is lying still. I fly behind them. “Trepindesu,” one says. Another asks, “how long?” The first, holding the drone’s head, says, “Till all but one are still.”

I fly away from them. The shells carry only workers. I fly further, and see drones emerging. And then again I hear the sound—joyous, triumphant, the sound I made when I emerged, the sound I made when the other me lay still and I did not. There is a me lying still on the ground, and, hovering above her, a me in the air. I rise into the air and she flies at me, and I shift, move, stab at her wing. She falls and I hover over her, stabbing repeatedly till she stills.

I fly away from the me I have stilled and the me she stilled. I fly between the walls and above the floor that look like my torn shell, and I wait for sound. There is no sound, though all is quiet save the whirr of the workers’ wings. I see me lying still, outside and inside torn and pierced shells. I am the only me flying. I sound my joy, and no other me replies. I am the only me not silent. The workers carry away all the others—I have made some still, some have stilled each other. “Any more?” asks one. “It is ended,” another answers, shifts the thorax of a me I have not stilled. “Trepindesu is over.”

I am the only me left. I sound my triumph.
My word, as is obvious, was 'trepindesu'. All my knowledge of bees comes from this article and PTerry


(The elements' story- really trashy, 'tear jerker' is a bloated understatement for this!)

‘This collapsible canvas tent stretched above my head is a colossal web of deceit’
The thought troubled Bablu, as he lay on his threadbare ‘charpoi ‘, with the milk-white palms of his hand resting on his chest.
The collapsible canvas tent, with infinite perforations on its vast surface through which peeked countless blazing eyes, appeared a sham.
‘The eyes are not eyes at all!’
Not the flashing eyes of restless little children playing peek-a-boo from behind the punctured tent, but rather, a giant octopus with a beaming torch-light gripped in each of its several tentacles, gyrating obscenely to the nocturnal music of the universe from behind the canvas mask.
The eyes are not eyes at all…
“You know what they say about your mother’s eyes?”
“No Chachi…what do they say?”
“Two shallow cups of cheap country liquor!”
“Chachi! Please…don’t!”
Bablu felt his ears burn.
The woman went on.
“And know what they say about her lips?”
“Ma’s lips? Why? Ma’s lips are like…like a pair of orphans, blinded with red-hot pokers, abandoned on the busy highway.”
Bablu’s words came out in hurried spurts.
The woman sneered.
“Really? Blind orphans? Even with the layers of garish red rubbed on to them? And did you ever notice the way they appear swollen after she….”
“Stop chachi! Stop! I beg you! Please leave!”
Bablu felt a familiar searing pain in his chest. He fixed his eyes firmly on the ground as the woman started moving away from him. She smelt of the soil, the soil flecked with dust and grime, suffocated with non-recyclable polythene packets and thick glass bottles frothing generous amounts of green fungus at the mouth. Her brown skin appeared well-oiled, it was gleaming, like polished wood. The big vermillion dot on her forehead was the very celestial disk stamped on to the sky, poised to drop beyond the horizon with a mighty plonk!
She turned back once, as Bablu had sensed she would.
“Come with me darling. You know I would keep you happy…”

Bablu closed his eyes and pictured the torch-welding octopus shadow-dancing in the night-sky. But this time, the familiar jingle of fake gold bangles took over the rest of his senses. The wrists of the octopus glared a lurid shade of crimson and red…and its eyes…
The eyes were two chalices, cheap aluminium chalices overflowing with equally cheap country liquor, and men with blood-shot eyes were cupping their soiled palms greedily to get throatfuls of the elixir.
And the octopus?
The octopus was beaming, its garish red lips, stretched in a wide inviting smile…..

In another one of those seedy hotels in Suder Street, on a ridiculously familiar crumpled velvet sheet, under the lazily-rotating fan pasted haphazardly on a screaming pink ceiling, Bonhi went about her duty silently.
No more helpless shrieks.
The Padma river with its slippery banks, the Padma river with its teeming fish, the Padma river with the helpless muzzle tied to its face like a massive fishing-net….and the Padma river that had watched, as a twelve-year old Bonhi had been held roughly by the soft nape of her neck and thrown on the stiff wooden cot….that Padma river of her memory had long dried up. Now it was, a blazing desert.
Now Bonhi would simply shut her eyes and feel Bablu’s curious little fingers scavenging the contours of her body even as she lay on the velvety bed of a client. Now she felt no shame. Just occasionally, a sigh of sympathy would erupt within her, for those men who screeched their cars to a halt before her voluptuous frame and gave an enquiring nod. In that nod, Bonhi glimpsed vestiges of a dying man choking on mouthfuls of sawdust, kicking his dead camel in petrified disbelief as he sinks deeper and deeper into the sands of the desert….
Now she smiled, as she felt Bablu reach out two chubby little fingers towards her in the dark.

“Neeraj bhai! You need a haircut, you know?”
Shomir was grinning from ear to ear, and Neeraj, as always, felt the hostile gale of phony optimism blowing from the direction of the young man’s voice, from the direction of his rotten flute.
A haircut?
As if he cared!
He would not spare a ‘paisa’ for foolhardy Life that came immaculately groomed in stiff white collars, polishing its boots vigorously with polish of the blackest shade, only to be shoved, stamped and kicked in a cramped public bus!
Neeraj gave a snort of disgust as he felt the young man gazing lovingly at his own reflection on the still surface of the pond and trying to convince himself that it belonged to someone else.
“Come on now Neeraj bhai! Just because you are a cripple doesn’t mean that this is the end of your life!”
Neeraj stared down at the two stumps that had once extended into two perfectly agile limbs.
But of course! What would you know about this filthy immobile existence? look at me! I am a stagnant pond with nowhere to flow! Once I had the flow of a fish, in my sturdy little brown boat, I would infuse the rippling Dal lake of my adolescence with the very spirit of my being, screaming-
“Cabbages to sell! Fresh juicy cabbages to sell!”
“Neeraj bhai! What happened? What are you screaming about? What cabbages?”
Neeraj felt ashamed at the sudden lapse of self-control, and turned his face away.
“Now look here bhai. You shouldn’t lose heart. Right? Look at me! You can make a blockbuster movie on my goddamn life! See how the script would roll- a hard-hearted father who seems to have assisted his docile wife in the act of procreation only to beget himself a manager at his shop to do his accounts day and night without pay or rest; a son who grows up to detest those very astronomical units creeping and crawling on the walls of his father’s room which now threatens to trespass into his hallowed territory; the son therefore constructs his own little parallel world in the blissful holes of his flute, only to have his world crushed under the wrathful heels of his father’s boots. So what does the son do? Does he cry and mope around? Does he give in to his father? No! Absolutely not! This hero’s world might have been crushed to splinters, but his heart soared to the tune of the unheard- it shivered in delight to hear the soft bursting of clouds, the rhythmic ruminations of a cow chewing cud, the flirtatious touch of faded silk against stiff iron grills. So the hero cried out to the pigeons- ‘did you call me to join in your flight?’, and in their incomprehensible nods, he found the meaning of life….!”
Neeraj trembled with anger.
Do not give me your lie-infected life! Do not give me that! Do not!
“You think I didn’t try to make a career of my music? Of course I did! I rubbed my heels off on rough rude pavements, sliced opened my forearm while trying to board a running bus, won for myself shameful freckles and zits upon constant exposure to the merciless sun, and still, appeared in my best of forms when I glided into the sparkling music companies! I was flushed in the face….flushed with the intoxicating feeling of euphoria. Victory seemed but a few baby steps away… But you know what? They all turned out to be the same! The filthy little… And the worst part is that, they all speak my father’s language! The despicable language of profit and loss! They don’t feel music, they hammer it into parts and particles and sell them by the kilos! So I said- ‘No thank you sir!’ and left. Everyone knows why I came to live here in this slum. I came to live life on my own terms! Yes sir! Only that!”
Lies! Lies! Lies!
Neeraj felt his head burst.
Argh! Pride! The pride-in-a-vacuum! The dirt of the slums would never brush his heels, for he would forever glide over it…glide over it with leisurely flapping of his wings.
And Neeraj? Where had his pride taken him?
‘You are the pride of this revolution! You are the fiery youth of our Valley!’
The pride….the youth…all culminating in the grand finale…..
The army men, the weeks of torturous interrogation and finally, being rendered a cripple for life….
Now I am a stagnant pool! Come to me all you weeds, I would make a blanket of you and shroud myself!

Shomir appeared annoyed when he left Neeraj’s shack.
He had been there with a set purpose. He had expected the cripple to help him. After all, Neeraj was the only man in the slum to whom Bonhi would fly in her so-called moments of distress.
‘Hah! As if we don’t know what sort of consolation she seeks from the cripple! A cripple! A cripple alone has the power to satisfy a whore? Is that it? I will show her….’
Drug-induced desire that he would puncture into his veins….
She had rebuked him once- “You want to sleep with me? Ha! First get money to feed yourself! You think you are too good, don’t you? Let me tell you how good you are…you are as good as that street dog’s backside!”
And her gurgling laughter had hacked down his chiffon wings. He had felt the grains of earth touch his feet. He had recoiled in disgust.

“So? The flute-player had come to you again?”
Neeraj didn’t need to look up. He could tell what stood before him.
A thick black cascade of hair with the bottle-green plastic comb stuck on to it, dark caterpillar eyebrows that would huddle up in moments of deep distress, the unmistakable stench of soil…soil specked with dust and grime.
“Dhoritri. Don’t do this to the….”
“Don’t do this to whom? To that worn-out-whore of Birati? To that vulgar woman who sells her flesh by the kilos at street corners? From where does these sudden spurts of sympathy come, huh?”
Neeraj sighed. This happened every night. With tiring precision.
“I have absolutely no sympathy for her! Why should I care for a whore? Don’t I have enough troubles of my own? Who is she? Huh? Who….who is she?”
In a sudden burst of anger, Neeraj had flung an earthen pitcher towards the door. It crashed at the threshold…There was no water in it.
He now pushed open the tiny window beside his cot with the end of his crutch, and started screaming-
“Wretched whore! Does this slum look like a hell-hole for you cheap women? Get out of our lives! Get out!”
Dhoritri stood smiling by the shattered remains of the pitcher.
The oil on her skin gleamed as she said softly-
“So, if you hate her so much, why don’t you help the flute-player?”
“Me? But why…”
“Of course you! Everybody in this slum knows what the whore has in her dog-eared heart for you! She would eat the dust for you! Walk on a carpet of needles and shards of glass for you! “
Neeraj clasped his burning head in his palms and kept shaking them in fatigue.
Dhoritri continued-
“I know of course what pleasures you must have bestowed on her….after the first act, anything else could be expected of you!”
“Dhoritri! Please go away! Why do you keep coming back? Why can’t you leave me alone? And what first act are you talking about? Had I not done that, what would have become of our….”
“Stop! Not a word about my son! He is my son, and I will take him with me! You will see.”
Neeraj felt his hands shaking violently. Dhoritri was not done yet. She looked back for a last time and muttered under her breath audibly-
“All that I need to do is make Shomir sprout his wings….and fair too. The man has his grain of wrath. The whore had humiliated him once, snubbed his advances. But ah! Revenge! Only I could spur him to that! He was too flighty for a deep and profound thing like revenge! So now, he would have his revenge, scar her painted face perhaps? I don’t know. I don’t care. He will have his Bonhi….and I will have…”
So saying, she left.
Ah! Dhoritri….she was gone now.
Leaving a trail of dust and crumbled mud.
“Lean on me!” she had whispered into Neeraj’s ear the night he had been robbed and left on the floor, clawing at thin air for support. Then, pressing his ear on her bosom, he had heard the steady roll of the drumbeats of the earth, the vibrating throbs within the heart of her being.
The daughter of a sweeper, Dhoritri had never been alone. Her seven siblings had dived in with her in the painfully joyous scramble for space in their one-room shack. And here, Dhoritri had been the great rock of strength….
That strength Neeraj saw in her now…the malevolent strength of a woman who never forgot a hurt, who never forgave a wrong.
That strength…..the strength that made her return to this slum and haunt its lanes and by-lanes even after six years of her death….

Bablu was thinking again….
I could have been born anything…a flower, cow-dung, the curl in mother’s hair….
But would it have bothered me still?
The acrid words of Dhoritri chachi sped back to his mind as though they were waiting in ambush for the opportunity-
“You know Shomir? But of course you do! The young boy, the flute-player! The one who is hardly eight years elder to you? Now eight years is hardly a time gap, don’t you think Bablu? Such a guy could easily be your brother….so….he is your brother’s age, don’t you think?....And would you like it if your mother were to creep in to his cot in the dead of the night when you are asleep and in your dreams, smiling perhaps….so, would you like it if the whore were to creep into the bed of your brother and to caress him and love him…love him more she loves you? Would you like it if in that moment, she whispered in his ears- ‘Shomir! I love you so much!’, just as she whispers into yours?….”
“No! stop! Stop! Stop! Please chachi! Don’t say such horrible things about my mother…please! You are a liar! A liar!”
“We shall see….”
And Dhoritri chachi had vanished, leaving ten-year old Bablu to his living fears.
Bonhi had often warned Bablu against talking to Shomir. She had called him a boy of ‘bad intentions’. But now, doubt started snaking its way into the perplexed mind of the boy. Life at the slums was hard. It opened up windows and razed down walls to expose things that one did not want to see. Here, a boy of ten was expected to become a man of sordid experiences. But Bablu was still swimming effortlessly against that tide…
Bablu knew what his mother did for a living. But she had always come back to her little Bablu, taken him in her arms and shut out the din of the world. And now, she would divide her love?…give it to…to Shomir! The boy who would play his flute and incite the other slum boys to chant ‘son-of-a-whore!’ whenever Bablu would pass by him.
His mother could never do this to him!
In his little man’s mind, Bablu had declared a permanent war with Shomir.
“I would snap his wings in two and bring him down one day…”

Flute music reached her ears as she made her way home.
The flute that would elicit airy fetters…
Fetters that would fly to Bonhi, clasp her wrists and feet, and drag her to him.
Ah! The conquest would be done!
Shomir smiled.

“No chachi! I don’t want to go anywhere with you! Please leave me alone!”
Dhoritri appeared desperate.
“Come with me Bablu. All your false beliefs…all your faith in that whore will be wiped clean.”
“Stop calling my mother a whore! Stop calling my mother…”
“She is NOT your mother!”

Bonhi had felt the familiar fangs of force upon her. That old galling taste of coercion- of aged men forcing themselves into a helpless girl as her shrieks sprang off the pulsating floors of the Padma and diffused in the night air….
No more, she thought.
Shomir felt a jolt of shock as Bonhi pushed him hard against the wall and with a flourish of her bejeweled wrists, broke the lighted lantern over his head….

The hut was on fire.
It was steadily gaining momentum.
Bonhi had to escape.
But wait!
Through the smoke….who was that?
Bablu was standing a few steps away from the burning hut…from Bonhi.
“see…see her….she loves him so much that she has dived right into the fire to try and save his life!” Dhoritiri was hissing into Bablu’s ears.
“Bablu! Don’t worry! Don’t be scared. Go get some help…fast! I need a blanket to cover myself…go…fast….Bablu?”
The boy was standing transfixed on the ground. He barely moved an inch. A single tear was sliding down his cheek.
This is even better, thought Dhoritri gleefully. The whore would see the betrayal of the one person that she thought loved her! And now that bablu knew the history of his birth…..ah! What a death it will be for the whore! Now it was all coming to a head. Neeraj’s betrayal too! It had torn Dhoriti’s heart when after her death, her crippled good-for-nothing husband had given away their son, Bablu to that whore to keep.
Why? She had asked him again and again. She couldn’t depart because of that one act of betrayal.
Neeraj could have tried suffocating the musty pages from his dairy under the weeds of his immobile existence…but some things would forever defy death….
Like Dhoritri…
Or, like the memory of the eighteen year old Neeraj from Kashmir accompanying his uncle to Calcutta on his carpet-selling trips. Carpets they had sold under the scrutinizing gaze of the sun, and when the sun had been substituted by blinking street-lights, the boy had knocked nervously at the door…the door that he had pictured in his infinite obscene little dreams. No particular door really…but the door that would be opened at a half-knock by a buxom woman in garish paint, who would pull him in and concretize his lonely dreams with lightening dexterity….
But what stood shivering before him, was a stick-thin frame of about seventeen….Bonhi they had named her. He had been her first client. The ‘client’ for her was then, akin to some divine court of law at whose altar she had broken down, crying bitterly of her state, of the ‘men by the Padma’. The young Neeraj had been shocked, muted, the only expression of his extreme discomfort.
‘Why is she is doing this to me? Is this a ploy to extract more money?’
He had pictured his friends back at home, jeering him when he would recount his first ‘failed’ attempt….
No! Neeraj could not bear that. And here was this girl still weeping, asking him to help her…to give her ‘a better life.’
A better life?
“Hah! So, by donating our child to that whore, you feel that you have put to right whatever she expected you to mend that night? Ridiculous!” Dhoritri’s eyes had transmuted to a menacing shade of red.
“Maybe not quite. But yes, in my crippled capacity….yes! When, after so many years, I met her again here in the slums, I observed her closely. It was the same girl, now a woman. But there is another reason too….That night, when the young helpless girl had broken down so completely and recounted her horrific experiences to her uninterested audience, what the audience did not fail to notice in her tone, was the unflinching pride of a woman. This woman, I knew, would consume herself, but never let her loved ones burn…she would not ….”

“The Birati slums are on fire! Help! Someone call the Fire Brigade!”
People thronged the bridge that ran over the slums. Thick black smoke ascended the sky with increasing urgency. Down in the slums, tress, shacks, brick and mortar, all sizzled and melted…..and in that, in that flame, a little boy was found clasping the frame of a woman.
“You are my mother! You are my mother! I am so sorry, I doubted you….”
“But why Bablu?”
Bablu didn’t say a word….
He simply clasped on to Bonhi’s body and continued weeping in wisps and burps.
Neeraj the cripple stood at a distance by his shack. “Wretched whore”, he muttered.
And smiled.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Character Building: Naiwrit Ray

Naiwrit Ray

About 35 in human years, but Naiwrit Ray has not always been human and grows (old) faster than humans do. So in another year he will be close to 40 in human years.

Currently Calcutta, where he rents a decrepit rooftop room in an old building in a Selimpore slum. It’s extremely cheap, for which it is infested with insects, lacks one window pane, and the asbestos roof is nearly crumbling, but these things don’t bother Naiwrit. He never remembers to buy a replacement for the light bulb which has stopped working weeks ago, because he doesn’t miss that either. He switches on the fan sometimes, just because a normal city human requires something to show on the electricity bill (and conveniently often forgets to switch the fan off when he goes out); but he actually sleeps on the lichen-grown terrace just outside his room.

Currently working as a bouncer at a small, shady bar-cum-eatery in Kidderpore, near the port, a job he has joined a little more than a month ago. It is a night-time job, beginning at 6 in the evening and ending around 2 am.

What Naiwrit Ray isn’t, by definition, is a “mutant”, but he was nevertheless born a tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and is currently a human (Homo sapiens sapiens). He is not more of one than the other; and his mind and body are a mix of both. But since he started out as a tiger, his human social skills aren’t the sharpest.

- About 6’2’’ tall, wheatish complexion. Broad-shouldered and barrel-chested. Waist is narrow in shape but has acquired a bit of girth. Large hands and feet. Thick fingers, much like paws.

- Has a thick, dishevelled mane of wavy, dark brown hair down to his shoulders, which glows golden when sunlight passes through it. Has a profusion of hair on his body, but since the shade of hair is not strikingly different from the shade of skin, the hairiness is not grossly visible.

- Broad face. Prominent jaw. Large, blunt nose. Has an unkempt stubble but not really a beard, for he neither cares to shave nor keep a proper beard (He trims the facial hair occasionally, and erratically, when it gets too uncomfortable). Thick eyebrows. Small, deep-set dark grey eyes – if one looks carefully they will notice that it’s not the irises that are dark grey but the entire eye (i.e. the “white” of the eye), and the black pupils contract and dilate in adjustment with light. No one, thankfully, has required to look carefully yet.

- His front teeth have grown flat like humans, but from the incisors inwards he has an excellent feline set. No one, once again, has yet required to investigate this.

- Wears full-sleeves and full-length trousers, even in summer, but not of a tight cut or a heavy material (He likes cotton). Naiwrit Ray hasn’t got a sense of style in even the most basic way, so his dressing is often odd – not because it stands out, but because it doesn’t offer the unconscious indication of any particular socio-cultural background. He isn’t aware of this, of course, and consciously prefers to dress in a way that does not attract attention. His instinct is to wear dark camouflage colours – grey, brown, dark blue or green, more or less all dusty, faded shades. (But not black. Black is not a camouflage colour.)

The easiest way to perceive Naiwrit Ray’s movement is to remember that he is yet to come to terms with small, intricate human movements. He cannot sew or use cutlery, coins slip through his fingers and he doesn’t notice if he is not paying particular attention. His voice is guttural; he won’t be able to say a tongue-twister.

Therefore, Naiwrit Ray walks with large, slow steps. He also limps a little, dragging his left leg. However, while he does not possess the elegance of a dancer, there is a pervasive grace about this large, shabby man which is the grace of an impoverished king. Despite his gait and his limp, he holds himself up majestically. He can turn like lightning, run and swim faster than any man, has an exceptionally sharp sense of sight and smell, and can break another man’s arm by simply grasping it too tight. He also walks without a footfall. These talents, however, are not immediately visible to a person who casually runs into Naiwrit in the street.

Intelligence, Emotions, Social Skills:
Naiwrit Ray is, in fact, extremely intelligent and perceptive – what passes off as stupidity or clumsiness is the absence of the basic social training that a normal human being receives from childhood. Naiwrit has not been a human for long, never had a human to train him, but has acquired enough human skill by himself to pass off as a vaguely “weird” man.

He speaks Bengali in a mixed Medinipori dialect that he has picked up from all over his way from the Sundarbans to Calcutta (Its strangeness does not stand out as much in Calcutta as it did in the pockets of Medinipore; Calcuttans don’t know each regional variation of the Medinipori dialect). He even speaks a few words of Hindi and English that are used in day-to-day talk. He understands the alphabet and letters well enough to be able to use money or the transport, though he probably won’t be able (and is not interested) to read a book.

Naiwrit does not understand philosophy or politics. He merely imitates human behaviour from the outside. In human terms his nature is strictly fair, but that’s because he follows a strict, straightforward animal logic. He does not understand treachery, hypocrisy or violence without immediate cause, because the usual motivations for them – power, prestige or love – hold no meaning for him. (He does understand the usage of money, but to him it is only the human replacement of hunting as a means of sustenance. He has not met many rich people or got acquainted with the various prospects of money, some of which might be tempting to him if he knew.)

The pervasive emotions in Naiwrit’s mind are caution and apprehension. He is aware his difference other humans and the need to conceal it. For the rest, he is quite indifferent to human emotions, merely because he hasn’t been acquainted with them. Tigers don’t make friends, and in his human existence Naiwrit hasn’t yet encountered a situation where a human has turned to him for intimacy. He doesn’t know how to make conversation.

Naiwrit also hasn’t felt any sexual attraction for humans yet, and this is both the effect and at least one of the causes of his lack of intimacy with humans. As a tiger he had mated (one may suspect even with his own mother) and had cubs, but also as a male tiger he feels no adherence to any of his blood relatives, or has any knowledge of them. He is generally indifferent to mankind, but that is not because he doesn’t have human emotions, but essentially because most of them haven’t yet been called into activity.

However, he is also keen to integrate into human life, proven by the fact that he has struggled to learn its ways ever since his transformation, rather than attempting to return to the forest at the first chance he got. As a tiger he was an alpha male, and once (if ever) he gets that essential social training, there’s a chance Naiwrit will turn into a quite socially successful human being.

Food habit:
Likes his meat best raw and still brings some home and eats it that way, but Naiwrit is making a conscious effort to curb that, because it isn’t a very human thing to do. To that effect he usually eats his meals in public, where his favourite things are kebabs and steaks, followed by dishes with eggs and/or milk. He has also developed a reluctant appetite for cereals, and can stand rice or bread. But green vegetables he shall not eat, unless he requires to throw up.

He has never felt any attraction for alcohol or smokables.

Contrary to public opinion (or what it would be if the public knew what he was), Naiwrit does not crave human meat. He has never tasted human meat in his life, he isn’t going to try it especially now that he is one of them, and he finds goat, chicken, cow and other available meats quite enjoyable. (There’s no repression or compromise involved at this point.)

Racial Back-story:
An entity like Naiwrit Ray emerges not from factors that can be explained by science but from the edges of reality where it can be hardly distinguished from myths/belief. There are ghosts in the darkness because they must be there. A tiger can turn into a human because, deep down, anyone who has ever lived in a forest knows that they can.

Gods, demons and folk characters often arise from the same well of belief, gradually consolidating into steady characteristics if they don’t cease to exist. A god that survives in human belief gradually accumulates more and more faith, and everyone knows faith can move (quite physical) mountains. But what happens to a god that steadily loses popularity? It eventually disappears, but does it disappear till even one person remembers and maybe believes in it, since all gods are but formations of belief?

There are people in the Sundarbans who still speak of Dakshin Ray, though few remember who he originally used to be, and many children, being educated in the “modern” way, have not heard his name. But Dakshin Ray had once been the spirit of that entire forest: part-god, part-demon, with the body of a tiger but the voice and mind of a man. Modern renditions of the myth depict Dakshin Ray rather simplistically as pure evil – the adversary of the benevolent figure of Bon Bibi, who was the representative of the human dwellers of the forest, protector of the honey-gatherers and hunters and fishermen, who regularly forayed into the forest to earn a living. But the forest never belonged to the humans first, and Dakshin Ray had been the voice of the real forest, the forest of the beasts, its mystery and its terror.

The cult of Bon Bibi has withered long ago, and even earlier than that the ritual sacrifice that was compulsory to be offered to Dakshin Ray before any man dared to venture into the forest. With the dwindling of faith Dakshin Ray’s descendants have been reduced to nearly mere tigers: mortal, devoid of human-like speech or intelligence. But while the faith and terror has died, the cultural memory of Dakshin Ray lives on in highly distorted jatrapalas and bedtime stories for children; so the transformation to mundane has not been complete yet. Although no human can tell it, the descendants of Dakshin Ray still distinguish themselves from other mere tigers. Physically no different from other tigers, they pass down their ancestral legacy to their children through expressions humans will never interpret. Other tigers do not have names, but the descendants of Dakshin Ray do; and like their mythical ancestor, they are always named after a direction. (Not the major directions, for the name must be appropriate to the power of the individual tiger. But tigers can perceive so many more minor directions than humans do that finding a name is never quite so difficult.) To humans they may look like just a line of highly intelligent tigers, but the descendants of Dakshin Ray still retain the bare vestiges of what they used to be.

Personal Back-story:
Naiwrit Ray, as his name suggests, had from his birth been one of the most exceptional members of his line. (He is not named after one of the primary directions, for to attain that honour is to be as great as the Dakshin Ray himself; but he is named after one of the secondary directions – Naiwrit is the south-west – and that itself is a distinction rare enough to achieve.) In his tiger existence he had outfought all the other males in the forest and was the unchallenged lord of his domain. For generations that had been the highest distinction any tiger could achieve, and Naiwrit knew no better.

However, an unprecedented accident in his tenth year – much into adulthood for a tiger’s lifespan – turned Naiwrit’s life round forever. That monsoon, despite his exceptional intelligence in avoiding human traps, he was outsmarted by a group of highly skilled poachers. Wounded by a bullet at his left hind leg, exhausted till his lungs nearly burst, Naiwrit skulked one fateful night in the torrential rain in the flooding rice fields next to a village, entirely sure that death awaited moments away. He had lost too much blood; the poachers hunted him from the direction of the forest; and to move towards the village would only add the ignominy of battered bones and a charred corpse to the certainty of death. With his last gasps of breath Naiwrit struggled against the oblivion seeping into him… suddenly to find himself in a body and with a consciousness he had never known before.

Naiwrit’s first reaction at that instant was to drag his newly acquired human form to the village with the desperate urge for survival. He used his grievous injuries to conceal his first utter confusion at human society, but later, as he pondered, he could never understand how exactly his transformation had occurred, or if there was any way to turn back. None of the intelligence that had been passed down to him from his mother contained any precedent of such occurrence. As a highly intelligent being, however, Naiwrit soon got wise to the advantages of a human existence over a tiger existence, and decided that he did not want to return.

It did not take long for Naiwrit to learn – as he made his way into the human world – that large, cosmopolitan communities were the safest to conceal his dubious origin. (People in a village soon found out that he did not come from a nearby village, that he had practically dropped out of nowhere.) Naiwrit kept his head low, speaking little, observing intently, learning fast. He picked up small, paperless employment: working as farmhand, construction worker, porter or assistant to sweepers and truck drivers. There were jobs aplenty for big, strong men, and insults or poor payment did not affect Naiwrit, as long as no one asked questions. He moved quickly from place to place, always making his way to bigger, more amalgamated places.

Naiwrit arrived in Calcutta two month from now, nearly eighteen months after his transformation into human. The last truck driver he had worked for had dropped him into the city. After some initial, aimless roaming, he landed his current job. The owners of the bar-cum-eatery would also have employed him as a small-time goon, but on inspection Naiwrit was found too simple to understand even the basic premise of crime. His employers therefore kept him at his straightforward job and regularly swindle him of small parts of his payment, but Naiwrit Ray does not care enough to take offence. The life suits him fine. Soon he’ll go somewhere else.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Character Building: Tonmoy Sen

NAME: Tonmoy Sen

AGE: 21; (06.09)

SEX: Male

ETHNICITY: Indian; Bengali; Ghoti.

APPEARANCE: 5ft 8inches; thin (his mother’s perpetually trying to fatten him up); passably-fair; deep-set eyes; aquiline nose; limp, straight, black hair, cut quite short; no moustache or trace of stubble; wears pressed trousers and pin-striped/checked half-sleeved shirts and sandals; wears a black-leather-band, black-dialled Titan watch on left wrist.

LOCATION: 45 B, S.P. Mukherjee Road, a three-bedroom, single-floored house near Ashutosh College.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS: Middle-class-conservative.

EDUCATION: Schooling in Padmapukur Institution; graduated (English, Hons.) from Ashutosh College.

PROFESSION: Has joined as junior sub-editor at India Book House.

PARENTS: Father (Jitendriya Sen) works as a clerk in the Passport office and is nearing retirement; mother (Madhumita Sen nee Bagchi) teaches at Padmapukur Institution.

EXTENDED FAMILY: Has two uncles and an aunt on his father’s, and one aunt on his mother’s side, resulting in a total of five cousins, two of whom are older and three younger than him. Of the older two, the girl (Sharmishttha) is married to an NRI living in Colorado, the man (Hironmoy) is working on his post-doc thesis in physics, of the younger three, one (Deeptesh) is in his second year of medical school, one (Maitreyi) is a commerce student in Class XII, and the youngest (Niladri) is in Class VIII.

ROMANTIC ENTANGLEMENTS: None; he was in a boys’ school, his mother monitored his tuitions; in college, he was one of very few boys in a department full of girls, but was still invariably dismissed as far too geeky and/or not intelligent enough. This, he feels honour-bound to state, does not mean that he is abnormal, by which he means interested in men.

FRIENDS: Shatadru Mallick. Shatadru was as interested in marks as he, but rather more interested in science, a fact which meant Shatadru almost always scored more than he did. Their friendship lasted three years, at which point it dissolved under mutual maternal displeasure. Other, comparatively more mischievous people avoided him because of his mother; his mother made him avoid those she thought would only want his notes or the names of his tutors. In college he was quite as unlucky—his closest compatriot would never have considered being a friend; they were, after all, both vying for top position.

Colour: Light green, like the new peepul leaves.
Books: Gora; Roots.
Films: Paromitar Ekdin; Shatranj ke Khiladi; Fiddler on the Roof.
Song/Poem: Amar Mukti Aloye Aloye; Ode to a Nightingale.
Sport: none, though he does watch a fair bit of cricket.
Actors: Soumitra Chatterjee; Sharmila Tagore.
Food: Chilli Chicken; Chicken Momos (fried).

Feminism/Gender Roles:
He respects women, of course—ask his mother, or his aunt (mashi), or his other aunt (pishi), or even Sharmishttha-di (cousin married to NRI). And of course women are capable, and intelligent. But that doesn’t mean they need to act like men, no, just because western women do? What’s wrong with salwar-kameez, if sarees are ‘constricting’? And it’s a fact that smoking and drinking are worse for women than men—gives off a bad impression.
Democracy/Party Politics: It’s an interesting theory—democracy, that is. But his Political Science tutor in Class XI said that Aristotle said that democracy was mobocracy, and well, Aristotle was right. All political leaders are corrupt.
Globalisation/Affects thereof in the socio-cultural realm: Globalisation nothing. It just means western products in the market and western thoughts in the head. While the former are useful at times, the latter are utterly unnecessary. There’s a reason juvenile crime rates have gone up, and the number of old-age homes have multiplied.
Sex/Sexuality/Marriage: Tonmoy’s a virgin, and not really ashamed of this fact; he’s a bit apathetic about sex, in general, and all his experiences are with his left hand and the recent access to online pornography that’s arrived with the computer he was gifted just after graduation. Alternate sexuality is a concept he’s very vaguely aware of—he stumbled across a gay porn site once—and rather scandalised by. Marriage is for men and women, and it’s terrible that divorce is so prevalent—two of his classmates have divorced parents, his current boss is divorced—there’s a reason for the saat janmo ka bandhan spiel, really, people hardly try enough these days, what with ‘feminism’ and lack of tolerance.
Capital Punishment: No murderer should be left alive; how can you judge the severity of a murder? A person died, no? How is fourteen years enough for some deaths and only death enough for others?

1. Loves Sharatchandra novels, but doesn’t confess this; he’s been told that they are vaguely girly.
2. Believes devoutly in astrology, but not really in horoscopes.
3. Is secretly glad he didn’t have higher marks in the Higher Secondary exams, because he would have had to continue studying science otherwise.
4. Smokes (away from home) because he thinks it’s ‘cool’, but cannot inhale properly.
5. Saw the daughter of the owner of India Book House once and very badly wants to do so again.

1. Hironmoy-da (the cousin studying physics) was the only one who bothered to talk to him on his tenth birthday, once their parents left ‘the kids’ in the same room and left.
2. Nocturnal emissions.
3. Getting back the science answer-scripts for his Class X Tests.
4. Being allowed to study English.
5. Being harassed, first day in college.

BACK-STORY: Tonmoy has two lives—the one his mother thinks (and tells everyone) he lives, and the one he tells nobody, not even himself, when he can help it.
It is easier to describe Tonmoy by what he is not. (All the things he isn’t, are interesting things.)
He is not frivolous, loud, vulgar, incompetent. (He is overly-serious, painfully-quiet, pompous, and a workaholic.)
Tonmoy has always been well above mediocrity, academically. (Hours of slogging, till his head ached and he mumbled formulae in his sleep, bagged him a bare 80% in Class X, and a 65% in the H.S. exams.)
He got along very well with everyone in school. (He would have been bullied openly were it not for his mother, as it is, he was harassed in later classes by boys who made it a point of honour for him to not tattle to her, but ‘take it like a man’.)
He made friends easily in college. (After the initial ragging—which was one of the most traumatic experiences in his life—he was severely ignored by seniors, batch-mates and juniors alike.)
Everybody loves Tonmoy. (His father, another underachiever, truly does; likes him, too. His mother can’t see the real person beyond the construct she’s kept building as he’s kept failing her tests for success. His aunts and uncles feel sorry for his parents, and the only reason they don’t openly pity him is that they’re all scared of his mother. His cousins, save the one getting a physics doctorate, all ignore and/or pity him.)
He is going to flourish at his job. (It hasn’t been long enough to tell, but personal tradition avers otherwise.)
Tonmoy is a good kid from a decent family—bhodro barir bhalo chhele—and has no vices. He’s a lot better than most of the boys in his school; he never talks back, never raises his voice, and never disobeys his parents. (He smokes furtively; eyes women on the street and wishes he had the courage to cop a feel on crowded buses; used to fantasise yelling at his mother and wake up feeling guilty; sabotaged his chemistry practicals in Class XII; feels stifled and can’t say it; is in awe of every science-studying family member, though he knows he would never have managed; feels guilty for no reason because he isn’t what his mother thinks he is, but cannot pinpoint where he has gone wrong.)