Before we fight each other
Before we preach and then kill
Before we organize meetings
Before we form armies
We must find solutions
We must be kind
We must learn to love
We must give and give even more
Beggars lie on pavement
Skin clinging to bone
Hands unused to the feeling of coin
Life knowing nothing but pain
Scared, the boy runs away from
The strong smell of cheap liquor
Coating each beating, each abusive word
Her feet fail her
Unable to take her any further
She falls on the hot gravel
Looks back to see if he’s still chasing her
Innocent animal, large wondering eyes
He’s scared and backs away on to a wall
He feels the cool blade slicing through his neck
Blood spills as life leaves him, now a mere chunk of meat
Mosquito flies from man to man
Looking for a sip of blood
Hungry for food she lands on skin
Only to be slapped by man
Whimpering, it howls and cries
Orders and loud voices don’t help it calm down
It yelps when broom hits him
A silent night follows
“Smells just like home.” Govind moved quickly along the paths crisscrossing the area of tightly packed slums and finally arrived beside a small street that partitioned the slum housing complex into two. The scent of the tanneries was like nectar to the noses of the crows and bluebottles which hovered around eagerly. The latter buzzed greedily around the sweaty, naked backs and chests of the tanners who held their breath as they continued their task. They were joined by an ever-growing fleet of slighter, nimbler houseflies which, with eagerness just as great, buzzed in to soak up the stinking soup of perspiration that flowed down the men’s bronze skin, like peasants living off an emperor’s land, Govind thought as he passed.
The last house on the left of the street was no more that a tumbledown shack-a queer sight in the otherwise very well-built city of Thanjavur. Govind saw the mangy dog that had been coming and going out of this area, hoping for even the smallest scraps from the people here.
He couldn’t help smiling at the wretched little creature’s bulging eyes, staring at his soul from its skeletal face. It tottered as it walked out of his way and he let the scent of burning wood fill his nostrils as he walked inside. A tall man, Govind had to bend a bit as he stepped in, only to see the filthy, fly-covered heap of rotting humanity that lay sprawled out on the sooty dirt floor.
A moan came out from behind the pile.
The head that stuck out from it was a Spirit of Death in the body of an ever-smiling and half-man skeletal jester. His single ninety-eight-year old left eye regarded the young man bleakly; the other was dun white with cataracts. The hole in the ceiling made a shaft of sunlight peer inside, washing over the ancient being.
Govind, who was on the right side of that room, was caught in darkness and shadow.
A few minutes of quietness passed between the men. The own sound of the young servant’s heartbeat terrified him in this unnaturally cold and sweaty room from which rose the mixed staleness of sweat and age-old human waste.
“Child,” he started, trembling, “when them damned….damned….gods told me I could live a century I never asked for eternal youth! Why did I not? Don’t they all say that a life of a hundred and twenty is a full life? Them…them…bast….bastardsss….” He hissed as he pronounced the words, sharp as a serpent. “Your mother….why is she leaving me to die? Ten damn children with me, my boy, except for yourself and why the hell is she leaving me? And…and why does your accursed face show itself to me? Begone, vision! Begone!”
He cackled and coughed dryly, writhing under his sheets. “Shivan…,” his jaws clenched tightly as he spoke the accursed name. But then a new growl of resilience and stubbornness found itself into his throat and he continued. “Leave my mother out of it! You…you raped her, don’t forget that. This is justice, Shivan, no more. You think that you can do anything because you claim to be so wise. All I want to do is…I…I don’t even know why I am here anymore.”
“When these….these people are asking for Shivan Aruldas Chelvanayagam, they think, oh an old man, a man who has a century’s wisdom!! Damn their souls to the seven hells! Damn them, damn them all! When you are asking those other people…those….those big city people like your whore, those people they don’t, don’t know! They think you are the madman,” the withered old monster told him, “and I told you, you have…have.,…your, your place in this world. Your pretty little whore doesn’t think so, oh no no!! Neither does the other whore, the other…Minakshi! Daughter of Gautam and Shoba Devapala, damned foreign woman! Doesn’t know how our Tamil names are! How the hell does she name her son? His first name is a second name in this city, stupid stupid foreign bitch…cannot speak our language clearly, stupid whore, works in the bloody big temple….stupid….”
“You know I am right, child. This rich whore…this…woman named Ishwari, this…this whore, this one….her mother was a demon and sinner, stupid boy.” He ran out of breath. Govind wondered why this horrid old thing was left to even suffer on earth. Why was he not yet dead? What perverted gods held the strings of his life for a few more minutes without cutting them? Turning his back on the living corpse Govind continued, “Ishwari is a good person! Don’t ever talk about her that way! All you people are the damn same! At least she doesn’t think I was born from the feet of God. I’m a man to her, and I….I love her for that, Shivan. Besides, I never came to talk to a decayed worm like you! I want to see my mother.” “Yes, that stupid cow who’s leaving me to rot away in my clothes!” Shivan hawked loudly, spitting a gob of phlegm at the ground.”Go to her! Suck on her nipples for a few more years, young bastard! Go, go! You think she feels anything for you? These…these womenfolk…! Ha, to latch their talons onto an innocent young Chandala man like you, just some pariah dog….”
“I am not….” How could he tell Shivan what he wasn’t when that was how he’d been born? Born with the mark that the cruel person known as God had given him. A species. Chandala.
“The bitch holds you by a chain around your neck, you little fool! Rich folk, these Kshatriya, these Vaishya, these….these peoples do not give a damn! Look at me! What the hell do I need a bloody woman like that for? Put a damn brat in her belly and let her bleed and suffer like that mother of yours is making me suffer!” he screamed at the top of his voice. “The daughter of a sinful woman! Nobody knows who her father is, and who the hell could it be? This Ishwari, this…bloody….she plays with your feelings! You’re a toy in her hands just as the whole world is in the hands of the gods.”
( I really can think of nothing else to post nowadays)
Govind’s little trip took him down to the little market sandwiched in between two large alleys that opened out onto the main street outside Ishwari’s house. He sighed at first, pausing for a while, uncertainty showing in an old puddle on the ground. Looking again, he spotted the poorer traders who sold their own people simple things, only those that they needed. The skinny little old man on the corner argued noisily with a customer about the price of his brooms. Noticing Govind’s eyes on him he waved, a smile spreading over his cracked lips.
Another man like himself, but younger with a large belly and a curly mustache swore and spat out a red wad of paan, enjoying the intoxicating contents within the leaf. His large shoe and slipper stall was a wooden contraption with a sturdy frame and a canopy of discarded sailcloth. Dutifully he and his assistants hammered away at the broken shoes that customers gave him to be repaired. One of the assistants tried to say something but the fat cobbler cut him off with one wave of his hand.
A beggar woman played with her young puppy as she squatted eagerly under her dusty and torn parasol.
“These are all your people, eh?” quizzed Govind, brushing his long, greasy hair out of the way as he gazed upwards.
Crossing the street, he saw the old building that’d been converted into a complex of shops. Dark and dusty though these were inside, the outside was welcoming, with strings of flowers and flower petals hung just above the vendors. Any flies that landed on the vegetables would be whisked away briskly with a bunch of horsehair fitted into a hollow wooden handle. Govind wasn’t really interested in buying anything much though. Why would he buy anything from here, from this place of the poor and downtrodden. This was the shudra part of the city, the place of stinking sewers, rubbish and plagues. These were the kings of those scavenging, grave-digging chandala people, those who had been trodden upon by both men and gods for many a long millennium.
“I am not one of you…”
The very though of his unfortunate and accidental ancestry made his tongue feel like sandpaper.Clenching his fists against the rising negativity, he started to imagine the large beds, the enameled jewelry, soft silk attire and carved ivory lamps that Ishwari had shown him…and he ached for her again. Her light footsteps and beautifully tanned complexion always pulled him in her direction. But he remembered how she looked after her bath one night before a major festival. The oil made her freshly scented skin loose and supple; the lithe dancer’s muscles behind her limbs and stomach and the large flare of her welcoming hips and bosom looked like they belonged on a goddess.
And she had smiled gently and invitingly at this poor young fellow off the streets…
But he had seen the dark shadow against the wall. A huge and shapeless mass lifting itself in the manner of a horrid vetala rising from its grave. He looked at her in fear as the shape seemed to consume her. The vetala consumed human flesh and blood, that he knew. But Ishwari smiled at him in confidence as she walked delicately towards her sari and bodice. Still the shadow remained…his voice could barely say it…”Mistress…Ishwari…” and then he sank to the ground.
She had looked at him confusedly, but then his fear grew and he backed away from her as she came towards him. “What’s wrong with you?” she questioned, puzzled. He had lost all feeling in his throat…and earlier that day she had been screaming at some nonexistent thing…
“Govind! Oi, Govind!”
The rough voice was music to him, cutting the memory out of his head.
The two sunburned men waved to him with large smiles and he promptly went over to the roadside eating-house where they were seated. “How’s everything eh? Rich people! Give you the works eh? Eh Hari?” The first man’s rough hand slammed into the back of the other. The vendor smiled bleakly but kindly at the two shudra workmen. Looking down at his feet, Govind pursed his lips.
“So how’s it all, eh?” the happier of the shudra continued to jabber while ripping off a piece of his chapati.
Govind had other things to worry about…
He finally walked on till he had to navigate through a very old part of the city, closest to the walls. He moved along the narrow path that lay in between the multitude of small, tightly packed, flat-roofed houses. His nostrils encountered a tender familiarity of sorts which tugged the strings of his heart forward. Running water was distributed throughout the city, that he knew. At least his people had that here.