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To Sivanath that place looked like an enclosure which had an electrified wire-fence to prevent the entry of elephants. The crowd suddenly started to gather and was moving in dense groups.

When Sivanath got from the bus, he thought for a moment to jump into the Noyyal river. The river was not flooding. It had a little bit of dye- effluents and ditch water. If he jumped into the river from the Noyyal bridge, death might not embrace him. Instead, he would have broken limbs. Then he would have to spend his time in some hospital experiencing excruciating pain, he thought. He set aside his desire to jump into the river and started walking on the road that housed the Universal Theatre.

face paintingHe was very sad and tears welled up in his eyes. How could that man have thought that he was fit for such a job? He knew him only for the past three or four months. From his very looks, he instantly knew that he was a Malayali, a native of Kerala. Whenever he talked with his nasal accent, he knew for certain that he was a Malayali. For the past three or four months, that man was seeing him almost regularly. He was living alone in the opposite house for rent. He was having a two-wheeler.

Once he smiled at Sivanath. That was the only day he talked for quite some time.

With a strong Kerala accent, he asked,

“From where?”

“What?”

 “Do you know Tamil?”

“A little…”

“What’s your native place?”

“Odisha”

“You have come here all the way from Odisha, eh..?”

“Yes!”

“From such a distant place to here just for a job?”

“I want to escape the clutches of slavery and caste fanaticism!”

“Are you comfortable here?”

“Yes. Here, there’s nobody to thrash me. I get some work and some food!”

“Are you staying alone?”

“I’m staying with four people. All from Odisha.”

“Married?”

“No…soon!”

“Are your neighbours also from Odisha?”

“No. They’re from Bihar.”

“Are they also from faraway places?”

“Yes. PrabasDhoss, Mannan, Kathathar”

“For food?”

 “We cook ourselves. We share our work.”

After that, he didn’t talk with him much for a long time. In fact, he looked at him for the past ten days as though there was nothing to talk.

“What?”

“Okay”

“Would you do some work for me?”

“Tell me. I don’t have much work now!’

He told Sivanaththat some fellow cheated him in supplying material to a banian company. He wanted Sivanath to teach him a lesson-to beat him. There was no need to take his life out. But his legs should be broken so that he could not walk anymore. That fellow was not here. He was living in a big town nearby. He told Sivanath that he could make a gang of four or five people. Whether he was interested he asked.

The more Sivanath thought about it, the more he felt like weeping. What made him entertain such a thought! It was not a question simply directed at him: rather it was a question shot at a man from Odisha. Rather it was a question that might be asked to a Bihari or for that matter, to a man from Nepal who had come there to work in a banian company. Why, it might be directed to someone from Nigeria, who appeared in the town in large numbers recently. As he thought that that question was not particularly directed at him he got some consolation; but still, it was so painful that he felt like weeping.

He came there to see Sursen. On knowing that he was going home, Sursen asked through his cell to meet him. They are from the same village. He thought that Sursen might send through him some shirts and banians. There was no difficulty at all in sending the money- the A.T.Ms had made that easy. When Sursen talked through cell he asked him, “Do you know a helicopter fell in our village?”

“I heard!”

“It fell right on our munsiff’s house!’

“Is it?”

That munsiff who tortured us for generations might have gone!”

“Sure!”

“If not he, at least some of his relatives! We would know within two days. How many chappal-beatings, how much humiliation, how many strip offs to nakedness - we tolerated all to appease our hunger.”

“Do you think everything has come to an end?”

“If this end could have come earlier, we would not have come here leaving our villages!”

“How nice it would be if a helicopter or a plane fall on the villages there!”

The Noyyal Bridge turned into “Sunday Market” on Sundays. Everything except groceries and vegetables all other things was dumped from the Northern side extending beyond the electric crematorium.

Madhav asked him, “I’ going to ‘Daekka’ today. Are you coming?”

“’Daekka’? That is in Singapore!”

“Here also there’s a Daekka. On the other side of the MGR statue in the Sunday market at the Noyyal Bridge.”

“Shall we meet there?”

Madhav was from Bihar. He was working with Sivanath in the Dyeing factory.

“Any particular work?”

“I can meet my friends from Bihar there.”

“Where can we meet?”

“There is an old burial ground by the side of the electrical crematorium. We’ll meet there.”

“But there will be ghosts!”

“What are we then?”

When he turned his eyes left side, he saw the police patrol vehicle that was slowly moving without making much sound.

Suddenly his body sank in fear and he sweated profusely. His whole body was filled with fear as though the police had come searching for him!” His eyes saw the letters, ‘Police Patrol’ written in English.

Those people would have their ‘collections’ there. Perhaps it was they who had selected that place for the Sunday market or they themselves might have suggested it, he thought.

Whenever he saw a police vehicle, fear, like an insect crawled into his body. In his native village. police visits were rare. Whenever they came the whole village would go into chaos. The villagers would assemble in groups and they would be in constant fear as to what will happen.

One day the police asked them to come to the police station telling them that they would be given identity cards. They made them sit in a marriage hall near Anupparpalayam for a whole day. When the crowd grew they made all those who were sitting, to stand. When it was afternoon, they felt the pangs of hunger but they could not move anywhere. The drinking water that was provided lasted barely for an hour. No water came in spite of repeated requests. Some drank the water in the toilets.

They looked at them and asked them questioned them as though they were thieves. They took all details from their purses and xeroxed them. They took their fingerprints and made a note of the iris of their eyes. When some people opposed with shouts, they shot back: “Keep quiet!” They scolded them with filthy words in Tamil. They repeatedly shouted at them: “Why do you mumble so much… why are you asking so many questions… why you people come all this way… you should have stayed in your home towns!”

The Sunday market started with towel and bed- sheet shops. In Sivanath’s home town T-shirts and banian clothes are not a rarity. There was always somebody who took them there. Sivanath thought that it would be consoling to see somebody who was going to his native place.

Trying to overcome his senility, Murugesan showed Sivanath the photo of a man in the swelling crowd. His face was like that of a dead man.

“What?”

“Have you ever seen this man?”

That young man’s photo was in the size of a photocopied sheet. There was a little smile in his face. He might be around thirty.

“What happened?”

“You must search and find this man!”

“What is his native place?”

“Nepali or Bengali, I don’t know. But I’m sure he is from the North!”

“What did he do?”

“He owes me some money. I’m living with my pension. This fellow borrowed from me a big amount as a loan… He didn’t repay it!” His words were quite louder overcoming the noise of the crowd and the bargains.

“Why such a big photo?”

“Earlier I showed his photo in my cell phone to a man. Under the pretext of studying it that chap seized my cell phone and ran away with it. It’s worth less than five hundred rupees. Quite an old model; I ran after him, caught him and got back my cell.

He gave me a hundred rupees. I went to a studio and got the picture enlarged. Have you seen this fellow ever?”

“Name?”

“Surendra Yadav.”

People with a name like this will not be a Nepali or Bengali”

“Then?”

“May be a Gujarathi or Bihari.”

“You?”

“I’m from Odisha!”

 On hearing Murugesan’s words, the four or five young men surrounding him smiled.

“Only money?’ they asked.

“Yes!”

 “No ladies?”

“No, no! Nothing like that!”

“May be… may be!” they mocked.

“Keep quiet!” Sivanath shouted angrily. The young men left with a mocking smile. His cell phone rang.

“I don’t know!” Sivanath replied. Murugesan moved a bit away and was showing the photo to another man.

“Do you know him? He got some money from me and cheated me!’

It was Sursen who callled him through cell.

 “Where are you?”

“Ha, I’m in the burial ground.”

“Are there any ghosts? There are many ghosts sitting in the grave. There are many men and women from our Northern States. It’s not dark enough still for the ghosts to roam around. There is good light… they have put up many lights. The lights from the nearby electric crematorium make this place still brighter. The smell of hashish also comes from there.”

“The body that is burning nearby may be that of someone who might have died because of an overdose of hasish.”

“You come… we’ll taste his ashes and find out!”

Four young men molested Sursen’s sister and threw her on a railway track. There was no time to collect even the funeral wood. There was no wood in the house. They had to get the wood from the Mem Sab’s shop. The four young men were her relatives. As they did not want to get the wood from her shop, they took a bullock cart to the nearby town, got the wood, poured petrol over her body and burnt it. The Panchayat people got a letter that stated that she had committed suicide due to intolerable stomach pain. Surasen’s father was quite grief-stricken. It was Sursen, who wrote the contents of that letter as demanded by the Panchyat- the village committee. Four or five days after that incident, Surasen left his village thinking that enough was enough. He couldn’t raise even a murmur that his sister had not committed suicide.

The vermilion dot on that woman’s forehead was glittering in red colour. In her hands were things necessary for a household like mattresses, pillows and clothes things necessary to run a household. It appeared as though they were hanging from many tree-branches.

She dropped a welcome smile. The young man with her made one think that they were a newly married couple. “Have they married after having come here or they have come here to get married… whatever it is I must congratulate them,” Sivanath thought. He let out a smile.

“Greetings!” Sivanath thought that he could have said a better word.

“Thanks!”

“Congratulations!”

There was quite a big crowd-people were moving in all directions in all directions. It seemed that in the bright lights. they were identifying the tombs that lay quite interior The cells whispered too much. The people there seemed to think that they should not be identified-it seemed that they purposely disappeared into the darkness. Would Sursen also be keeping himself in darkness, thinking that he should not be identified, Siva Nath mused. Sanath switched his cell on again.

“Brother, where are you?”

“I’m coming. Wait.”

Sivanathmoved to the Northern side. The nearby electric crematorium was spitting out some song. Sivanath thought that it might be some song expressing the transitory nature of life. Such songs always reminded him of the songs of the film ‘Devadoss’. “This life is an illusion… an illusion…”-that theme was the same irrespective languages, he thought.

Sursen came with a young man and sat on a tomb where Sivanath was standing. That was a ‘dilapidated’ tomb expressing its cruel ugliness. His fingers danced on his cell.

“Is it your friend?”.

“Yes. He’s PrabasDhoss, a Bengali!”

“He has come from a place far away from ours. He’s looking tense!”

“One fellow offered him a job. He said that he would pay him three hundred and for a local, he would pay five hundred. This fellow shouted, ‘Am I a bonded labourer?’ That fellow was shouting in Tamil and this fellow in Bengali. I dragged this fellow out and brought him here.”

“What work?”

“He has arrived only a few days ago. He went to a dyeing factory. He could not tolerate the smell of dyes. He wants some other job.”

“Instead of coming over here travelling such a long distance, he could have crossed over the border and gone to Dhaka. Now Dhaka is the only substitute for this place!”

“He went there also! The work was excruciating and the wages were too low. As he was fed up, he went to work in a jute factory. There he was caught in the cruel hands of an agent. So, he’s come here!”

 “Brother, are you searching for some other place in your cell phone?

The man sitting on the mound of a tomb looked up and said:

“I think it’s enough. I think I may get some peace of mind here.”

“You’re settled then.”

“Almost! I‘ll be fully settled if I get a woman.”

“Do you want a Bengali only?”

“He wants a Tamil girl!” Sursen interrupted.

"Be careful. They will drive you to Dhaka again!”

“I’m going home. Do you want me to carry some money?”

“It’s easier to credit the money in the bank account. It’s enough if you go and see my mother. How’s your work?”

“I am pulling on somehow. I get enough food. There is no rowdy or dada to breed trouble. That’s enough.

“We’ve reduced our needs!”

“I think it’s a good thing.”

There were big plastic bags in the hands of those who approached the tombs. They put down those bags on the ground and breathed a few breaths freely. Some smoked cigarettes and some were talking with their cells.

“Okay. Shall we take some tea?”

 Sursen waved his hands and Prabas Dhoss followed him looking at his cell. They were nudging over the people who were near them and came near the compound wall of the burial ground. A temporary tea shop had sprouted there.

“Looked at this… it’s a Sunday tea shop.

“Sunday is the only day when we, forgetting our jobs, emerge out from our dead bodies and behave like human beings!”

“Yes!”

The tea shop was a simple one. There were two benches, a boiler, two plastic containers having buns and biscuits. The light on the compound wall of the electric crematorium shed considerable light on the shop. The new bridge on the opposite side ended at the Sellandiamman Temple. There was an old dam there earlier. That crumbled even when the bridge was being built. The new bridge was exposing its youthful freshness in the light emitted by the electric bulbs.

The three occupied a bench. The people, who occupied those benches earlier rose up, took their bags they had put on the ground and left.

“In our village, we can’t even sit like this and take a sip of tea. We won’t be allowed. Standing at a distance we must get our tea in dried coconut shells or we should bend our bodies in innumerable twists to get tea.”

“Once my father received heavy blows for having sat on a bench. Even after receiving the thrashing, he took the tea. It was necessary - he was so hungry.”

“But he need not have died so, Sursen!”

“What can he do? He’s not young enough to run away from his home in search of places like this. He was ripe for dying. But there was no way to die. He was hungry. He ground some leaves, took them and died. As he could find nothing to appease his hunger he appeased it with poison.

“Your father need not have done so. How is your mother? I hope she’s quite all right!”

“She told me over the phone that she was living very comfortably. She told me that she could get good food three times a day with the money I send.”

“Okay. I’ll call on her!”

Three more people came and sat on the opposite bench. One of them was Murugesan. His handheld that photograph high. “Have anybody seen this fellow? He is a North Indian. He was staying in the house that was opposite to mine. He borrowed money from me and cheated me. Has anybody seen him? His name is Surendra Yadhav.”

“That is the name he has told you. His real name may be different?”

“Are you searching for him here?”

“In the Sunday Market, many people gather. One day I’ll find him. I come to the Sunday market hoping that one day somebody may tell me that he has seen him.”

 “Brother what do you want? Tell me!”

The man who was sitting by the side of Murugesan said: “Black tea!” He looked at the photo in Murugesan’s hands and the man who was sitting nearby alternatively.

“Have you seen this fellow, Surendar Yadav?”

“Anybody else wants anything else?”

“I want tea without milk- black tea.”

“That you’ve ordered already!”

“You put more sugar for two of us. Prabas Dhoss, what will you have?”

“Without!”

“Without Sugar!”

“Okay!”

“For me only a little sugar. The tea must be strong with fresh powder.” Murugesan said, bending down the picture.

“Yes sir! Do you want biscuit or bun?”

“Black tea with less sugar.”

“That you’ve told already!”

The Sunday market was extending beyond the tea shop and the electric crematorium for more than a furlong.

***

Written by Subrabharathi Manian

Translated by P. Ramgopal


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