the clouds to the hills

the clouds to the hills
Somewhere in Imphal

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Burn (Fiction, 2009)

I was reading yesterday's newspaper which I had bought from New Delhi train station. But my mind had already reached the congested and moist bus station of Guwahati. The train was late as usual. We had already crossed the Kamakhya temple. I was peeping through the windows to have a glance of the mighty Brahmaputra and its slim coconut trees. Before the train crossed the river, I could hear a heavy voice shouting, "Anyone from Imphal, there is a Bus at 9 PM!"
Despite his heavy voice, he turned out to be a small 5 feet man with dark skin, he must have been forty I guessed. He could speak all sorts of languages. I kept mum, not hinting anything to him that i am going to Imphal. So he just passed by my compartment with his voice fading away.

After I walked out of the station I met the chap again. Finally I asked him the whereabouts of the bus. He asked "Going to Imphal?"
He took me to the bus station where I booked my ticket for the last bus which would be at 10pm. He too got his share of money from the bus counter for bringing a customer.
I sat waiting at the shed blowing away a smoke. I heard the guys next to me saying the bus won’t leave tonight, as a bandh had been called at Senapati. I asked the strangers what the reason was for calling the bandh. Later I found out , a Manipuri civil servant had been brutally killed by some outfits. At the same time it struck me, "What was I escaping from?” I was escaping from Delhi and its cruelest month April . Nothing was happening there. Life got fucked. No money. All I felt was me evaporating away to sweat and anger. I didn’t know why I was so angry.

So I started looking around for a hotel after confirming about the timings of the bus. I met the guy again sitting in front of a pan shop. I enquired of him about nearby hotels. He took me to one of the cheapest hotels. The last thing I asked him was where could I get a bottle rum, he said, `Wait I will bring it to your room'. So I waited for him in room 23. After fifteen minutes he came with a bottle of Old Monk, I requested him to give me company so he sat drinking with me. Slowly he opened up himself with every peg he threw in his little throat.

His name was Shanti, I told him mine was Akhu and he asked me what do I do and such sort of things. I said I write poetry. He was curious about whether my poems were published or not. It was a surprise to me, how a guy like him bothered about publishing poetry.

He told me he was in a Press some years back. He was married and had a life but it seemed to be quite a bore. He recalled me "Do you remember the 1984 general election?" I said " No.."

He started his story " I was once a worker in this daily news service "Yahouro" you might have not heard of it, it was stopped as its office was burnt down long ago. I enjoyed the work in the beginning, but later their dirty politics made me mad. You know! I was the guy who rode that printing machine deep into the night for the morning newspaper. And those were the times when the rebels started getting involved in everything. As you know, what is happening now is what they started during those days.

Thoiba was a guy who worked with me whole night. We were paid 250 rupees per month. But my wife was never happy with it. I was married for three years. The first six months were romantic, you must have known such thing if you are married.
What made me and my wife sick of each other was our childless life. I was told by a doctor that I am infertile, May be that news brought the silence to my wife. Even when we were having sex, she wouldn't look at me. She stayed still like she was knitting or just sitting. She never looked at me. I got frustrated with my life. My parents were dead long ago and I had a brother who later shifted to Cachar. The last I heard of him was he was opening a pan shop in Cachar. I know he must be doing good. He was always flexible, and to survive with a full grown tummy one needs to be fucking flexible.

What made me more sick was my job apart from my personal problem.
Sometimes Thoiba and I were asked not to print the news as ordered by our boss and we knew he too was ordered by some rebel or some big politicians.
We were the one who sat and gazed at the printing machine whole night. Sometimes we played cards, sometimes we talked of our lives. Sometimes I wrote the diary whole night. I knew my wife read every page of it. That made her more sick of me, as I had mentioned explicitly how I had sex with her like I was some poet obsessed with sex, you know ! like those poets.

But that night of the 1984 general election was something which later led me here to this place. The next few days people would be reading news of so many important things. They would read about the politicians promising to bring harmony and peace, some promising to solve unemployment issues, some promising water and electricity to every house hold. From the side of the rebels, they tried to expose the dirt in our society covering their own misdeeds.
That night would be the greatest night of my life as we were going to print the most important news of that time. There were other important news which I don't want to tell you now.
That night ,Thoiba and I entered the room after we were advised how the front page should look , what should be the head lines and blah blah.
The printing machine to me seemed like something which was going to shoot everything it doesn't want. Thoiba seemed uninterested with that great night and the great news of our times. So I asked him to go home and sleep with his wife and have the best digging of the night. He asked me not to inform the boss about his absence in the room.

So I alone owned the night and I alone was going to ride the machine.
I tore up all the news that had been given to us, I chewed it, I shat on it, I burnt it.
But I printed news, a story of a frustrated guy who sought no attention from this world, who died everyday in his diary with his 250 rupees per month salary, who cried every time he saw his wife and childless womb.
I printed the news with all my most poetic words, I was a poet that night. I was so happy to know I would be read, I would be heard, even if my wife didn't look at me during our copulation.
So at dawn I left the room and walked the empty streets of Imphal as if I was the highway man who robbed the kings and the queens and made love with the princess.

The next evening they took me to the riverside and beat me black and blue. And they were not the police. I knew the police too would come for me. So I hid away from them and that night I went to the place and burnt down the office. I know the machine too must have gotten burnt.
The next morning I took a bus to Guwahati and landed up at this place. From that moment I have embraced this land with my heart. This place has given me the love I deserved. I heard my wife got married to a rickshaw puller and had two babies. I was happy to hear about it. I was unkind to leave her all alone. But I knew she was strong enough to take care of herself.
Now I can have sex with smiles with many sex workers. They love me. They say I am as energetic as virgin. "

Shanti's story ended here and he left the room with his drunken eyes and steps.
Next evening I took the bus and wondered the whole way about Shanti's story whether it was all a lie. Next morning I reached Imphal. The moment I stepped down
from the bus I saw a copy of "Yahouro" at a magazine stall
and the headline flashed as " Here we come at your service after 25 years.”
I smiled and walked the road.