(In the genre of the adbhut)
“Bastards! They must have phoned up even after eating the green backs, getting their palms greased!” the truck driver burst out spewing mouthfuls of the choicest and most powerful abuse against the double crossing constables. The road was almost blocked by a crowd.
“No, Guru! They look just like you and me, ordinary folks. Stop the vehicle,” said the cleaner reassuring his pal.
Apparao brought the vehicle to a stop and asked a man in the crowd, thrusting his head out of the window: “Whatever is the matter?”
“No way, man! A big truck. You cannot overtake. If you go further you are in trouble…A hundred vehicles ahead. There is a jam.”
“An accident? Are there any khakis?
“Not yet! A corpse lay in the middle of the road and in both directions vehicles have stopped.”
The driver got off asking the cleaner to reverse a little and park the truck on the edge to the left and walked quickly ahead to see what was wrong.
“A dead woman! Without a shred of clothing on her. Terrible …terrible it is!”
Driver Apparao forgot his worry. Everyone was clucking saying that law and order had disappeared after people began to govern themselves.
A fruit vendor from the clock-tower area in the city returning from taking a look at the corpse was almost in tears. “No safety for a woman, specially when she is young and alone!”
By then, fruit sellers with wicker trays of fruit began making their appearance. There were bananas, cheeku and oranges too.
“Guru, Guru! Did you see the face? The mark of vermilion is all spread over. It is red all over. Whoever could the woman be?”
“Not a college student?”
“Difficult to say with not a piece of clothing …” A vice in the crowd said,
“Looks like one washed in a flash flood like a bramble covered with flotsam…”
“Looks to be twenty-two at the most”
“Must have suckled at least two …”
“Ring up the police!” Somebody suggested.
The moment he heard the voice, from the crowd, emerged Mukundam, a linguist and in the earlier phase of his life a Sanskrit teacher.
“Look here, Bhadram!”
“Oh! It’s you, sir, we must call up the police immediately”
“This is not your class room, young man!”
“What’s a class, sir? It is two months since I saw even a single fellow in the class.”
“Stop! Stop this very moment! I can hear more of noise than naada in your voice. Look at that!’ said Mukundam.
The crowd had thickened. Even school children left the school to take a look at the corpse.
An old fellow brought a small machine in which he showed little children scenes of Kashi and other big towns, singing a song in a grating voice while changing the scenes he showed. Young students from the boys’ college keeping a beat at the gate of the women’s college (in what was once the Maharajah’s palace in the fort) wandered into the highway.
“Phone …” Bhadram was about to say something but was promptly restrained.
“You speak just like a teacher! The moment you contact them, they would ask you for your name, age, address and then shoot questions first. ‘Who’s the woman? How long have you known her? Who killed her and how?’ Till you give all these details you rot in the lock-up. And so would the woman’s corpse here!”
So saying Mukundam dragged Bhadram aside to a place of safety beyond the earshot of possibly lurking plainclothes policemen.
He took in a pinch of snuff with great relish and explained: “In this there is a good deal of naadam and this varies from individual to individual and from mood to mood. This is indicative of the mental state of the snuff-taker also.”
“Mahanubhava! Please let me go. Houses around are ablaze and you expatiate on the different timbres and tones of naada here!” He tried to free himself but the old man’s grip was surprisingly firm.
“Whose houses? The one dead is dead and then a corpse is a corpse. You say there are men, young and old, who see beauty in it. Young man, that shape there is a shell, which transcended, hunger, intoxication and desire … Judging from the tightness of the flesh and the quality of the skin, you can easily estimate its age, occupation, the class it belonged to et cetera. Each has his own system of calculation to apply. Now the police would arrive and there wouldn’t be much to see or mull over. Let’s go!”
The police van came with a siren and there were a number of batons and whistles – barks and groans. The mob drew back to form a bigger circle. There was the silence of a real graveyard.
“Isn’t she the woman in the Shaven Head’s oil-mill?”
“Looks like the sister of the school teacher”
“Two nights ago in Rangamma’s brothel…”
“This lass along with a young man got into my vehicle… But now…! Here!”
Some were the voices of the officers and some of those in the circle of idle onlookers.
The jeep of the tehsildar drew up with a screech. The policemen came to attention.
“Clear the way first!”
The Sub-inspector called four three-digit numbers.
There was loud blowing of whistles. The jeep left. The corpse couldn’t be shifted.
The real story began there.
“Do you want to know about this corpse – no – the history of woman? Do you want to see it?”
“How is it possible?” Bhadram asked in wonder.
“Do you see that Kashipatnam machine I have?’
Bhadram wore a puzzled, sheepish look on his normally intelligent face.
“Before all those college girls and in the presence of those young men on your attendance register, if you feel it delicate to see my machine you come home with me…”
“But the college…?
“When the corpse on the road is stubborn why go to college?. The need of the hour is the graveyard. Don’t be squeamish. Come along!
“Absurd! “ That was all Bhadram could bring himself to say.
“Nothing absurd in history if you look back. It is from the absurd that the actual emerges. From chaos to order. From the absurd to the actual.”
Bhadram couldn’t free his hand from the professor’s grip. Who would think the old man had such vice-like grip!
“Doesn’t this corpse go to the burning ghat?”
“A silly question! It cannot and it would not. That’s the reason why it manifested before everyone around here. Science tells us that Time has no backward motion.
“But the mind’s eye has motion both ways. Like the poet’s eye it can roll in a fine frenzy. The corpse you thought you saw was a consonant – a symbol – a curry dish, a moustache – it’s not of today. It was there in Kanishka’s time, in Alexander’s time, in the Age of the Guptas and in the Kingdom of the Nawabs of Hyderabad. It could be from anywhere. It had always been in all ages, even in the days of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Only we couldn’t dig it up. … Just to alleviate the trouble and the bother of the journey, run my earlier discourse in your mind – rather recite it to yourself. … In this world of ours there is sound and naadam as well. Noise has no meaning, normally that is. It may communicate something but by and large it has no meaning. Articulated sound is naadam. In naadam there are both swaras and vyanjanas. Male principle is swara, the female vyanjana. If you call women just vyanjanas that would put their backs up. And then the violent feminists may be provoked to cut off …and then it is not altogether, literally true either. The basic difference of the two is discernible in both only if you have the talent to perceive it. Swara has more carrying power and then vyanjana is important too, for without it the articulation can never be complete. If word and meaning are inseparable like Parvati and Parameswara, swara and vyanjana are inseparable like light and shadow.”
“What are you driving at? Is the corpse a swara or a vyanjana?”
“I see your impatience. For the one in the gush and urgency of libidinous thirst, goes our adage, neither fear nor shame. For one in that heat , the very clothes are burdensome, says another.
By then they reached Mukundam’s place.
“Come along, I will show you the machine in my room,” said the host.
“Where is that instrument?” asked Bhadram looking around.
“Instrument? What instrument? Oh! That… That’s it!” said he pointed to the window.
“You call the window an instrument?
“Look, young man! For anything you need training. College lecturers and the grooms in the bridal bower for the consummation of knots exempted, of course. Like a slap on the cheek, you take your degree in the hand and appear in the lecture hall!” Mukundam made quite a speech and led him to the open window.
“What do you see, tell me.”
“A garbage dump!”
Mukundam came forward and ran his palm on the young man’s head. Bhadram didn’t have anything more to say.
In the oil mill premises a young woman was arranging the tins already filled, sealed and weighed, systematically.
Bhadram was all eyes at the beauty of the radiance particularly the glow of the armpits irradiated by the full-blown breasts of the lass, as described by the poets of the prabandhayuga in poetry.
With a heated branding iron one was tinkering close the small lids on the oil tins.
Lifting one arm into the air for balance the woman was bringing the full tins one after another into the open for final loading into a truck. A young man was looking at the same scene from another window not with the instrument of the prabandha poets but with the gift granted by cinematic writers.
“Come here, lassie!”
In the din of the mill the call was not heard. The young man raised his voice to a hoarse pitch. There was urgency in the wail like call.
The lass went in to see what the voice was howling for.
Her blouse was in tatters. No, it was torn. The sari came undone – no it was torn open. None ever heard her wails of agony and shame, possibly in the hum of the accelerated engines.
Darkness fell. The lust of the lad got quenched. A star fell down.
The lass came out, her sari done somehow. to see the garbage dump?”
“Only darkness all round.”
“Then look through this! Are you able to see the city of Kahsi?”
“The black magic banyan tree in the thick gloom”
“Come my way!”
“Which way?” The young man asked absent-mindedly.
“I’m able to hear some words of a drunken man. The truck driver was coming, his legs tottering, with eyes shining like burning charcoal. The driver got off. There is a verbal tussle between the owner of the merchandise and the truck driver.”
“Don’t tell me anything more. You look after that!”
A policeman’s red cap - another of an officer drew the rear. To facilitate the clinching of the bargain, the lass’s arm was taken and given to the officer. Then the three-digit number took the driver and the miller into the dark.
The woman was mum. Fazed. Flabbergasted. Famished. She had a cup of tea some ages ago. Severe head ache. A hundred more to carry. Darkness was settling. The baby was on her mind. ‘Special Tea!’ The S I said gruffly. After having his grub too, the SI left on his motor bike. The driver struck a bargain. The red topi got off and walked into the light.
“Can you see the girl?’
“Fine! Not just you! Her father is also searching for her”
“Whore, slut-daughter! Whatever should she be at? What is there to be done at the mill in this midnight gloom? Your daughter must have gone away. Serve me my food!” Narayadu waited at the bend of the road till it was beyond midnight and returned home.
“Where is the girl?” Bhadram was gasping.
“Why the girl now? The SI is agog. Do you wish to see how it came to be on the highway?”
“What’s that to me? Where’s the SI?”
“On the veranda of the CI’s house – Do you want to see him?’
“There on the road, dead.”
“Wasn’t the corpse removed?
“The effort is afoot, now.”
Bhadram didn’t move from his vantage point.
The SP phoned the CI and in his turn the CI called the SI.
The SI went out and returned to call the Commissioner of the Municipality. The Commissioner called the District Headquarters Hospital. The municipal hands couldn’t remove the corpse.
The truck staff appeared on the scene. They were in a great hurry for their own reasons. The merchandise had to be delivered at the destination. They too couldn’t find a way to move the corpse.
Officers of all relevant departments sent messages to their higher ups braving displeasure.
“What’s this stupidity, how can a corpse be stubborn?” Hyderabad was roaring. With downcast wandering eyes and almost husky, choked voices, officers were trying to explain to their bosses who scarcely heard any thing called an explanation.
“We want results!” was all that the CM had time to utter.
It was midnight. Past midnight too. Hours were rolling by. Nothing happened. There wasn’t a soul on the road, not even an officer or a red topi.
Traffic on both sides came to a stand still. The news was on the media: all vehicles to pass have turned back: buses were cancelled. It took a lot of time to get back for the vehicles in both directions.
The corpse lay undisturbed, untouched, as stubborn as ever.
“But then, what now?” Bhadram sank in a chair near his vantage point exhausted. He broke into a sweat and thought it might be an ‘attack’. Mukundam sprinkled cold water on the young man’s face and brought him to.
After a lot to time Mukundam gently woke him up. “Where am I? Did that corpse go away? I mean was it removed?”
“Where would the story be if it were removed?
“Did I really see it? When was it? Is it still there?”
“It could be nineteen eighty-four or seventeen ninety nine. May be two thousand-twelve. It may be Salivahana Saka or some other one.”
Again Bhadram stood up and slowly made his way to the magic box. He was getting fed up with Mukundam as though he was the culprit responsible for the corpse on the road.
“It couldn’t be my corpse: I mean the one I had seen. In your instrument Kasi is all hazy. Why are you deceiving me, Naadamuni?
“It’s my name three hundred and forty eight births earlier. How did you come to know it?”
“By sitting in that chair,” Bhadram could have said but bit his tongue and restrained himself. If he were to have said it, Mukundam would have just exploded. A look at his face would make one think that the corpse got up by itself to walk away. He was befuddled.
“Get up from the chair … go to the window again!” It sounded like thunder.
“How did a temple manifest here?” The temple stood between two roads, both paved with cement. Both ways vehicles were whizzing past at break neck speed. Vehicles appeared to be gaining speed just a little before the temple.
“Poor fellow! Shall I show you the history of the roads? Go back to your stand-point!”
Bhadram walked like one in a trance. For a sane man the events seen on the machine are befuddling.
The young woman and behind her a police officer and behind him yet another officer.
“Sir! We seek a donation from you! We are building a temple for balaperantalu, a girl-child goddess.
The oil mill young man was staring into the eyes of the woman.
“Here’s the pen and here’s your cheque book … I wrote out a cheque for the balance standing in your account. … Here are your wife’s ornaments. Here’s the money you have been hoarding. The one at the rear is an officer of the taxation department. If you put all these in the beggar’s bag none can touch you. You! Why is that scowl on your face? Put all these in that bag this very moment!” The thunder rolled on.
The young man obeyed. There was not a shred of clothing on her except the bag slung on her shoulder.
The visitor took the cheque, looked at the signature and put it in his pocket.
The young man failed to understand whether the naked woman was his sister, mother or just a spirit.
“Sir! Forgive me, sir: I have four children, sir! It’s that four-naught-one that dragged me into this. The man removed his topi and began blabbering again: “I wouldn’t do such things while on duty, sir! You can ask the CI, sir. I wasn’t drunk, sir!”
“You eunuch! Why a woman for you! Your sense of duty is exemplary! You kill yourself with a rifle in the station: that would make at least your wife happy!”
The naked girl pulled out the SI’s service revolver from its holster and shot the constable in the groin.
“Mother! You first get into some clothes1”
That poor man, who could not stand her sight pleaded.
“Weren’t you the one who ordered to pluck me out with the earth under me? Sir, there is a better and easier thing to do. See that two-lane roads are laid on either side and between the roads build a temple for me. People would begin worshipping you too. In the bargain, contractors, clerks and you all get richer. It would ensure your salvation too.”
“Are you able to see her?” Mukundam brought Bhadram back from his trance.
“No. She dissolved into the thick fog.”
“She became a spirit, no, a goddess.”
“Young fellow, see now and tell me.”
In a temple where men were not admitted any time of the day or night, worship is in progress for the girl-child goddess.
sarva mangala mangalye sive sarvardha sadhake saranyam triumbake devi narayani namosthute
Naked virgins were making pradakshnas round the statue in the sanctum. It has been the belief down the ages that that kind of worship would save any virgin from the atrocities of the wolves.
Bhadram was in no condition to pay any attention to the call.
“This corpse wouldn’t get moved to the burning ghat!” said the old man with a sigh.