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.



Rhea Silvia said...

But not black. Black is not a camouflage colour.

Sir-boss-Patrician'ji, bilkul.

Great sketch. I especially like the racial backstory and the food habits.

RBC said...

hmmm. A very interesting character, with lots of potential. Would work well in the visual medium as well. Only a few minor factual beefs. E.G. tigers in the wild don't mate with blood relatives, 'alpha male' is a category only for social animals and doesn't really mean anything for solitaries like tigers. If tigers need to sort out hierarchy they fight. However you could say that the dwindling numbers of tigers forced him to mate with his mother. I'd love to see what you would do with this character, not necessarily in conjunction with the other one. He seems a little too comfortable as a human. How would you push his story forward?

Monidipa said...

rhea: *grin*

rimi'di: thank you! :)

point taken about alpha males, will get rid of that expression. the mating-with-mother bit is not extremely important either. i'm wondering if (and how) i can use this character in another story.