Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Excerpt from an unfinished story

It was a day in January. I was on the terrace with Virang scouting the skies, when I spotted a bright red kite severed in some duel of threads heading our way. It was dipping fast, and went between the building we were in and the one next to us; it dipped further and went beyond, but only just beyond.

Later, from the bedroom window of my parents’ first-floor apartment, I saw the kite wedged in the roof of a patchworked hut. The hut was part of the slum that sprawled right next to the flats we lived in. Our window framed the disconcerting heart of the slum. The view was one of disorder and squalor: cramped, hastily built huts, somehow erected using long sticks, rags, sackcloth, cardboard, and tarpaulin. The abjectness of it all was brought sharply into focus by the well-defined colors and box-like symmetry of the 3-story flats that seemed to victoriously overlook the slum.

Miraculously, the kite stayed wedged, and interested no one. After a few months, it was still there – like other kites trapped in trees and electric lines – and though it was torn and crumpled, I could easily pick it out from the window owing to its bright color.

I would come to know their names only later, but since they lived in that low hut marked by the presence of the kite, I felt I had always known them. I saw Valli almost every day, thin and frail until her belly began to swell oddly. I saw Murugan in his ubiquitous colored dhoti and nothing else, his skin dark as chocolate, hair neatly curled on his chest, squatting outside the hut. Afternoons, when he came back from work, he used a rusted can to splash water over himself. Valli sometimes brought out a blackened stove, and a few utensils that she cleaned using the coir of coconut.

The slum was full of quarrels. Valli and Murugan quarreled too. And I wasn’t sure if Murugan was abusing Valli physically, but in some of these verbal fights – which, because of their intensities and overlapping voices, remained mostly unintelligible – I could sense that something physical was involved, for Valli’s wails would stop rather suddenly and start afresh, louder, fiercer than before. In these discontinuities, I thought I heard vague noises that sounded like slaps – sharp, I imagined, when the open palm landed on bare skin, muffled otherwise. Finally, Murugan would come out with a blank stare that conveyed nothing of what had gone on while Valli would stay inside; her wails ebbed until they were lost the din of the slum.

2 comments:

Pallavi said...

Hari,
You have a very interesting way with words and the description they portray are warm and leaves one reminiscing about Indian earth. Keep up the good work.

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