Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Excerpt from my novel ZORAMI A redemption song


A blue-grey haze covered Aizawl town and the hills around.  The morning sun shone through dully, like an orange ball enfolded in gauzy cloth.  The smell of smoke hung in the air.

Charred-black hillsides lay naked under the April sun, waiting for rain.  As was the normal annual practice, the forests had been slashed and burned for cultivation.
Sunday morning church-bells pealed.  In different tones and rhythms.  Some chimed a musical ‘Tong-tee Tong-tee’, some clanged a hurried call like school bells, while others boomed a dignified bass.   They rang out from all directions.
People of all ages hurried towards their churches, going up or down steps on the hillside, depending on the location of their houses.  Men in suits and ties, women in tops and colourful puan.  Older women with hair tied in a bun or cut short and curled.  Younger women in high-heeled shoes, long hair let loose.  Little girls in pretty dresses, little boys in shirts and pants. 

A few well-to-do were dropped at the church gates by cars; most walked the distance from their homes.  None had to walk very far as each locality had its own church.  “Chibai!” men and women greeted one another as they met.  They walked along in twos and threes, chatting.
     “The rains are late this year.”
     “Our reservoir is empty.  With the government supply not at all regular, water is a big worry.”
      “Cultivation can’t be done without rain.”                                                                
     “They’ve all finished lo hal.  It’s high time for the spring showers.  At this rate we could face another famine…”
Others discussed the political situation.
      “The peace process is not moving forward.  After the new government came to power at the Centre, it has slowed down and then stopped altogether.”
     “True.  We are all longing and waiting for peace and yet…”
     “If only the leaders would bring some solution!  We are all tired of the unrest and the army operations.”

A young couple was heading towards Mission Veng church among the others.  The man, in a medium-grey suit and matching tie, walked a step or two ahead of his wife with long, easy strides.  He exchanged pleasantries with some people in a cheerful voice.  The woman, moving along silently behind him, was struggling to keep step with her husband.  Her high-heeled shoes made the walk down the slope rather difficult.  Her petite figure was clad in a brown puan with geometrical designs, and a lime-yellow top.  She had straight, fine black hair, blunt-cut at chin level and parted in the middle. 
An elderly woman turned, offered a hand to the young wife and said, “O, Sanga, here, let me shake hands with the new bride.  How should we call you?  ‘Zorami’, or ‘Pari’?”
     “Most people call me Zorami,” the young woman said, smiling, as they shook hands.
      “So we’ll also call you Zorami.  We could not come to the wedding because my husband was down with fever.”
     “That’s too bad.  How is he now?” Sanga asked.
     “His fever is gone, but he’s at home.  He doesn’t yet feel well enough to come to church.”
     “I hope he gets well soon.”
     “He should be fine in another day or two.  So, you’ve got yourself a pretty wife after a long wait!”
     “It takes patience to get the best things in life!” he said with a smile.
     “You’re right,” the woman smiled back.

Inside the church, the singing started with drumbeats.  Those who were standing outside, conversing, moved in.  They passed the open porch and entered through either of the two doors.  Inside, the wooden pews were arranged in three sections – two of them close to two walls, lined with windows, and one in the middle, all facing away from the entrance.  Two aisles divided the sections.  At the far end, opposite to the entrance, was a raised platform, on which the pulpit stood.  On a chair right in the middle of the raised platform, in front of the pulpit, sat the chairman, facing the pews.  There was a small lectern to his left.  On the right and the left sides of the pulpit, on separate small tables, stood big brass bowls of skilfully arranged Easter lilies. 

The worshippers poured in, rapidly filling the pews.  The singing went on until the wall-clock struck ten.  At the same moment, the second bell rang out.  The chairman stood up and announced, “We now call on our tantu Pi Rimawii to open the meeting with Bible reading and prayer.”

A middle-aged woman came forward.  She stood behind the lectern to the left of the chairman, placed her Bible on it and began reading in a clear voice: “The Gospel according to Luke, chapter thirteen, verses ten to thirteen.
     “One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit.  She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight.”
Zorami kept very still as she listened.  She was sitting in a pew at the back-most row.  She and Sanga had been married in this same church four days ago.  “I, Zorampari, take you, Lalliansanga…” she had vowed.  They had both sworn to have and to hold each other until death should part them.
This was the first Sunday they had come to church together as a wedded couple.  They sat apart on different benches.  He went to sit with his friends some rows ahead, while she slipped into one end of the last row.  Next to her sat a young couple with a baby.  The woman held the sleeping infant, wrapped in a floral blanket, on her lap.  The fragrance of baby-oil and baby-powder drifted towards Zorami.  The father seemed unable to keep his eyes off his sleeping child.
     “When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are healed of your sickness.’“ 

The reading continued.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Short story: The return

The morning papers came right on time, at 6.30.  Just as I settled down on the verandah chair with my mug of black coffee, they fell with a thud on the floor.  I picked up the bundle and opened The Assam Tribune first.  I glanced through the headlines on the first page.  They were mostly the usual fare.  About the travels and speeches of the Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, and the activities of the militants; an abduction here, a shootout there.  At the bottom right corner was a small heading, ‘Christians prepare to celebrate Easter with religious fervour.’  I smiled to myself.  I really can’t see how seemingly sane people can keep on believing that a dead man buried for three days could come back to life.  Well, to each his craze!
Then under the column 'News Capsule’ I saw an item that caught my eye: Sepoy Bipul Das of Kachubari village, who was captured by terrorists in Kashmir, has returned home safely.
The news interested me.  “I must interview the man before someone beats me to it,” I thought, and decided to go at once.  If I caught one of the morning buses that pass through Tamulpur, from where Kachubari was four kilometers away, I could hope to be back by evening.  
     “Anu, don’t bother about my breakfast, I’m going out at once,”  I called to my wife.  
She ran out of the kitchen with a troubled look.  “What’s the matter?  Why can’t you have some roti before going?”  she asked.
     “I have to go to Tamulpur.  I must rush so I can be back by evening.  I don’t want to stay the night there,”  I said, and hurried to get ready.
Poor Anu!  We had been married only five months, and she already had to put up with a lot of such incidents.  I sometimes wished she had married someone else, for her own good.  A long bachelorhood and freelance journalism were sure ways to develop erratic habits.  And the fatal combination didn’t make a guy any easy to live with, especially for a na├»ve, sweet girl who had lived a sheltered life in a small town.
She now followed me into the bedroom and pleaded, while I put on my shirt.  “Please, why do you have to go so suddenly?  Why didn’t you tell me before that you had to go?”
     “I just read in the news that a missing person has returned.  I want to talk to him and find out more,” I replied, hardly able to contain my impatience.
     “What’s all the hurry to do that?  Why can’t you have breakfast and go?”  she pressed.
     “Enough!  You can’t understand these things.  Don’t bother me now,”  I said.
As I set out, I thought about Anu and the way I talked to her, and regretted it.  She was only twenty-three, fifteen years younger than me.  It’s often so hard to make her understand things, and I usually ended up talking gruffly.  I wished with all my heart that I could be kinder to her, but didn’t seem to know how.  I thought of getting her a present on my way back.
I was just on time to catch the ASTC bus plying between Guwahati and Mela Bazaar, on Bhutan border.  I luckily got a seat too.  Being Sunday, there were fewer commuters. We jostled along slowly.  The lahe lahe, easy-going syndrome, affected everything here. Slow and sweet, sweet and slow.
The village roads were bad, terrible, really.  Not that Guwahati roads were anything like good, for that matter.  No wonder our Chief Minister had to be treated for a bad back at AIIMS, Delhi, some time back.  He did say that he thought his trouble was due to traveling on the bad roads.  I’ll soon need treatment too, I thought.  Traveling by the crowded bus was far from comfortable.  But I wasn’t about to bring my rather battered, newly-bought third-hand Maruti 800 either.  A friend of mine, an aspiring writer, had sold it to me rather cheap.  He had bought it second hand from the Sunday Car Bazaar.  I call it third-hand, since I was the third owner.  Before that I had been driving a Vijay Super scooter for thirteen years, but it conked out on me and couldn’t be repaired.  The needed engine parts were not available as the company had stopped production long ago.  My new old car was pretty doable on the rare smooth roads in the city, but a trial on the rough, pot-holed ones that made up most part.
At last, we neared Tamulpur.  The army men on duty, in their normal high-handed fashion, stopped the bus and made us all get down for checking.  The empty bus was moved ahead about ten metres.  All the passengers lined up and walked forward with hands stretched out, to board the bus again.  All this just to prove that we were not carrying arms, were not part of a militant group!
When we reached Tamulpur, I got down and hired a cycle rickshaw to Kachubari.  On reaching the chok, the village square, I asked the way to Bipul Das’ house from a teashop.
     “Oh, the Kashmir hero!  Go straight on this road, and when you come to the stream, cross it and go towards the east.  Bipul’s house is the third hut from there,”  the man told me.
I paid the rickshawwalla and followed the dirt road, wondering which way east would be.  The village folks had this habit of describing directions as east, south, and so on.  After a while I came to the stream and walked across the bamboo bridge.  Then I approached the first hut and shouted “Konu ba aasene?  Is anyone there?”  An elderly man came out in response, and I asked him where Bipul Das’ house was.  He pointed to the path on my right and said, “Number three hut there. But he has gone to Sualkuchi, only his mother will be at home.”  This was bad news, but I went on all the same.
Bipul’s mother welcomed me into one of the cluster of little thatched huts with mud walls and floor.  She was dressed in a home woven mekhela-chadar, frayed but clean.  Her wrinkled face crinkled into a smile when I started asking about Bipul.  She made me sit down on the only wooden chair and offered me taamul paan, betel nut and leaf.  She became animated as she talked about her son.  She recounted how she cried and cried when the news of his capture reached her.  Bipul was part of a patrol party when they were ambushed.  During the exchange of fire, he slipped and fell.  He was taken prisoner by the terrorists though his companions got away.  But after two days he miraculously escaped from their clutches and reached back the army camp.  Then he was given leave to visit home.
     “I’m so happy that my son is back safe and well,” she said, between tears and smiles.  “If he were here you could have talked to him.  But he has gone to visit his mama, maternal uncle.” 
When I at last reached back home in Guwahati, it was nearly eleven in the night.  The bus had a puncture and changing the tyre took a long time.  I had forgotten to charge my mobile phone; so it had gone dead, and I couldn’t contact home.  Anu was almost in a state of shock.  “I kept calling your mobile but it was off.  I thought you had been kidnapped by ULFA.  So did you meet the man you went to see?”  She asked.
     “I didn’t meet him, but I talked to his mother,” I said.
     “I know!  You told me a lie and went to meet your girlfriend!  That’s what you have been doing with all these long outings!” she burst into tears.
Tired as I was, I tried to calm her.  But she would not quiet down.
     “I don’t even believe the man came back from Kashmir.  When terrorists catch someone, they shoot them.  They don’t send them back without any exchange.  You didn’t meet him, how can you say he had really come back?” she challenged.
     “I met his mother and talked to her.  A simple old woman, why should she say her son is back if he isn’t?  And she was so happy.  She would be crying if her son were still missing.”
     “Maybe she is mad.  She must have gone mad with grief and made herself believe all that,” she argued.
     “Interesting theory!  Even if the mother were mad, the news reporter, the tea-shop keeper and Bipul’s neighbour can’t be all mad.  What do you say?” I countered.
     “They’re all telling lies.”
     “Whatever for?”
     “I don’t know.”
I was amused by her un-reason, in spite of my irritation.  “How like a woman!” I muttered.
     “What!  What did you say?”
     “You said something about woman.  Tell me,” she insisted.
     “I said ‘how like a woman’.”
     “Now you’re insulting women!”
     “No.  But I’m angry with those who refuse to believe that a poor soldier has returned safely.  Even if you don’t care for him, aren’t you happy for his mother?  Why don’t you want him to come back?”
She softened a little.  “I’m happy for his mother.  But I don’t want my husband to go roaming late into the night,” she confessed.
     “So, because you’re displeased with your husband, you would say that all who said Bipul has come back are either mad or lying!”
She was silent.
     “Anu, you’re not a child.  It’s necessary to learn to think straight,” I lectured.  “What you wish or feel does not change the truth.  Everything points to the fact that Bipul has come back.  That’s that.  And I’m very hungry and sleepy.”

                                                                                                                           Malsawmi Jacob

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Mother

Chapter 1 (The Messiah)

How could a mother’s heart go through all that and not stop beating? Mariam had suffered more than most mothers. A sword had indeed pierced through her heart, as was predicted early on. Due to the mental agony, her gentle life was on the verge of ebbing out. She had lain unconscious for many hours. No one could tell whether she would wake up again. And those who loved her best thought it best that she never woke up again in this world, but passed on from the swoon right into the other world. Why should she come back only to be endlessly tormented by memories too horrible to live with?

Who could have foretold or thought of, even in their darkest imagination, the events that took place? But it all began with such bright wonders! Celestial beings moving back and forth to deliver messages to humble humans!

It started with a strange incident thirty three years before, when Mariam was just a young woman. As usual, she had been busy that day, helping her mother with household chores. She had fetched water, ground flour and kneaded it, cleaned the house and done several other small works. She was also getting her wardrobe and other things ready for her soon-coming wedding.

She was engaged to be married to a carpenter named Yosef, living in the same town of Nazareth. Though of humble status, Yosef and Mariam had a royal lineage. They were both descendants of David, the great king who ruled Israel about a thousand years before.

In the evening, after finishing the household chores, Mariam went up to the terrace to relax and get some fresh air. She sat down and meditated on some of the teachings about God in the Synagogue, where she went with her parents every week on the Sabbath day. Her thoughts stayed especially on the expected Messiah, who was to come and save the people according to God’s promise. Many thought that he was going to save the nation of Israel from foreign rule. ‘When is the Messiah coming? Our nation has waited for such a long time,’ she thought.

She was suddenly shaken off her reverie. A stranger appeared and stood before her. He was a man in white clothes, she noticed. But she dared not look at him. She shaded her eyes with a hand and turned her face down. Her surprise turned to confusion when he greeted her with the words “Peace to you, highly favoured one! The Lord is with you. You are a blessed woman!”

She was greatly disturbed, but kept silent. ‘What a strange greeting! What can it mean?’ she thought. Her hand on her forehead shook.

“I am Gabriel, a messenger of God,” the stranger said.

Gabriel! She had come across that name in the sacred writings, the Scriptures read out in the meetings in the Synagogue. ‘The angel who appeared to the prophet Daniel in olden times! O Lord, what is happening?’ Her mind screamed, though no sound came out of her mouth. Her whole body trembled violently. She felt she was about to faint.

“Don’t be frightened, Mariam, God’s special grace is on you,” the angel said.

“Listen! You will soon be with child, and give birth to a son. He will be God’s own son. You must name him Yeshua, Saviour. God will give him the kingdom of his forefather David. And he will rule forever, without end.”

She couldn’t take it in. Her mind was in turmoil.

In a soft, shaky voice she asked, “How can I have a baby now? I’m a virgin.”

“You will give birth through the work of the Holy Spirit. The power of God will work it out. So the child will be holy, and he will be the Son of God.”

After a short pause, the angel gave her another piece of news. “Your cousin Elisheva is expecting too, in her old age. This is the sixth month. They used to call her barren. For God, nothing is impossible.”

Mariam was deeply troubled and excited at the same time. Have a baby that has no human father? What would people think? Wouldn’t she be accused of illegitimate pregnancy? Who would believe her explanation that it was God’s doing? She could be stoned to death as punishment for immorality. But then, what a great privilege to be the mother of God’s son! That’s worth dying for! In any case, one must obey the Lord, whatever happens.

At last she replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. I accept whatever he says.”
Gabriel left.

Mariam sat on, thinking. She recalled a Scripture line that the teacher in the synagogue read out some days back: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel, God with us. Her heart started thumping wildly.

‘How can this be? Am I to be that virgin that the Scripture talked about? But I am only an ordinary girl, how come I’m chosen?’ she thought.

‘And the news about Elisheva, it’s so wonderful! I wonder why she didn’t inform us about it. Anyway, I must visit her. There’s so much to catch up on. I hope my parents will give me permission.’

It was a pleasant journey, in the company of happy thoughts. She was excited at the prospect of meeting her elderly cousin after many years. In age, Elisheva was closer to Mariam’s mother than to Mariam. But they had much in common, and were good friends. When she reached the house, she exchanged greetings with Elisheva, who welcomed her warmly. As soon as Elisheva heard Mariam’s voice, the baby inside her leaped.

Then, through divine inspiration, Elisheva called out loudly “You are the most blessed of all women! And blessed is the child who will be born from you! But how is this, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me? When my baby heard your voice, he jumped inside me with joy. How wonderful that you believed the Lord’s message, that will be fulfilled!”

In reply, Mariam chanted praises to God:
“My heart praises the Lord;
My soul is glad because of God my Saviour,
For he has redeemed me, his lowly servant.
From now on all people will call me blessed
Because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me.”

The cousins had a lot of news to share. Elisheva talked about how God answered their prayer for a child after so many years. Mariam told her about the angel’s visit. They sat talking till late into the night.

“Why didn’t you send me news of your pregnancy? I came to know only because the angel told me. Why did you keep such a happy thing secret from me?” Mariam asked.

“You see, it’s a wonderful thing that has happened to me. I’m happy beyond words. But it’s also slightly embarrassing. I’m too old to be having my first baby, aren’t I?” Elisheva laughed as she said this, and Mariam joined her. Elisheva continued, “I told my neighbours and relatives here about it only this morning. We had lots of visitors coming to congratulate me today. The last visitor had just left when you arrived.”

Mariam stayed on for three months, till her cousin’s son was born. The baby was named Yohanan.

Soon after Mariam returned home, she confided about her physical condition to her mother.

“What have you done, Mariam?” hissed her mother in shock and white rage.

“Mother, please listen. I take an oath in the Lord’s name that I have done no wrong. Remember, I told you. That evening, when I was on the housetop, Gabriel the angel brought a message from the Lord God. He was the one who told me about Elisheva too, and what he said about me has come true.”

Mariam related the incident and the whole conversation again. Her mother listened in wonder. Mariam had told her about the angel’s coming before, but she had not fully grasped its significance, or hadn’t taken it in complete seriousness. Now that the thing actually happened, she realized its gravity. She knew her daughter well; she was not a liar. She was godly and idealistic, but was down to earth as well. She was not the type likely to have delusions. The vision she saw must have been real, she concluded.

“We cannot hide this from Yosef, we must tell him at once,” she told her daughter.

“Yes, mother. But he will find it hard to believe.”

“I will talk to your father. Perhaps your father should inform Yosef. And we cannot blame him for whatever decision he may take about it. If he declines to marry you, we cannot complain. Oh my daughter, what will become of you!”

“Let the Lord’s will be done” was Mariam’s calm response.

Monday, March 19, 2012


A narrative of the life of Christ


The world waited. For centuries, it waited for the coming of the promised Saviour. He who would defeat the Devil and save mankind from his clutches. His coming was promised early on in human history.

The first human couple lived in an idyllic home in the Garden of Eden. For food, they just had to reach out and pluck any fruit they desired to eat. Their employment was a pleasant one of tending the lovely garden. They had all the social life they needed in the company of God and each other. All the wild animals were their obedient pets. God blessed Adam and Eve saying “Be fruitful and multiply.” What more could anyone ask for?

In the midst of this plenty, joy and blessing, there was one thing, only one thing that God told them not to do. Surely, it shouldn’t be too difficult to observe just one restriction? He said they shouldn’t eat fruits from one tree in the middle of the garden. Everything else was allowed.

Here, Satan, the enemy of God and man, made an appearance. Earlier, he was a bright, high-ranking angel until he rebelled against God and was thrown out of heaven. He had a large number of followers among the angels. They fell along with him and became demons. Now Satan wanted to hurt God and destroy his cherished creation. The best way to do that was to seduce the humans and make them break God’s command. That would break their relationship with their creator, who loved them more than any parent could ever love their children. And that would break his loving heart.

So he came to Eden in the form of a shiny serpent. He caught up with Eve while she was alone. He approached her with seeming friendliness and started a conversation. After a while he asked, “Let me check this with you, if I heard it right. Did God tell you not to eat the fruits in this garden?”

“That’s not true. We can eat all the fruits except from one tree. That’s the tree of knowledge of good and evil, right in the middle of the garden.”

“Why on earth did he forbid you that?”

“He said if we eat it, we will die.”

“Ha! Just what I thought! You see, he doesn’t want you to eat that fruit because it will make you wise. You will become just like him, and he won’t be able to keep you under control. That’s what he doesn’t want to happen.”

“You don’t mean that!”

“I’m serious. If you eat it, you won’t die but will become like God. In other words, you too will become gods.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, her voice trembling a little.

“Yes. Don’t lose your chance. Go at it before he decides to remove it. He is all knowing. He probably knows now that I’ve told you.”

She plucked the fruit and ate it. She persuaded her husband to eat it too.
A small act, eating a fruit. A rudimentary deed of defiance. A simple sign of disobedience. But with eternal impact.

With that one act of treason they had changed sides, shifted loyalty. With that one decision they stepped from life into death. They turned their back to light and entered darkness. And they fell into the power of the Devil. And this sin-nature passed on to all their descendants.

Filled with sorrow, but endless love, God came calling, “Adam, where are you?” Like a father searching for a lost child. Like a mother mourning over the dead body of her son.

“I’m afraid to face you because I’m naked. So I had to hide,” Adam replied.

“I commanded you not to eat fruit from that tree. Why did you do it?”

Where there was love before, accusation took over. The blame game started right there. “The woman you gave to be with me made me eat it,” the man answered.

“The serpent deceived me into eating it,” the woman tried to excuse herself.

Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden. Though God still loved them, he could not tolerate their sin. A holy God cannot embrace anything unholy.

But he made a promise to send a Saviour who would re-unite mankind with God. He would be born out of a woman without a man’s involvement. This ‘seed of woman’ would crush the Serpent’s head, and the Serpent would ‘bruise his heel.’

So God planned the rescue operation, for which he had to pay a terrible price. A plan far, far beyond human imagination, for there was no other way. And as human history progressed, God’s plan for their salvation unfolded, gradually but surely.

Abraham, ancestor of the Israelites and the Arabs, lived around 20th Century BC, in the present day Iraq. God called him out from there, with the purpose of building a new nation through him in which the promised Saviour, the Messiah, would be born.
Abraham’s grandson Yacob had twelve sons, from whom came the twelve tribes of Israel. Out of them, the tribe of Judah was selected for the Messiah’s parentage. About four centuries after Yacob’s death, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Moses led them out, and told the people that God would raise another Prophet like himself. This Prophet was to deliver them from spiritual slavery.

Many years after the Israelites settled down in Canaan, around 10th century BC, David of the tribe of Yehuda became their king. It was announced through prophets that the Messiah would be born as David’s descendant. Over the years many prophets gave details of the life and work of the coming Messiah.

The world continued to wait, until all those prophecies were fulfilled in God’s own time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jacko, Me, And Rainbow Maker

He was a freak, just like me. Jacko the gecko. To begin with, he was a vegetarian, the first of his kind I've come across. While his friends and relatives lie in wait for mosquitoes and other insects, he crawls to my kitchen table and helps himself to bits of chappatti dough. Wonder what turned him into a vegetarian! Was it a matter of taste or incapability to catch prey? I saw no sign of physical handicap or deformity on him, but noticed he was very slow in movement. Perhaps that was it. In a world where speed and push is required for success, the likes of Jacko and me stand little chance.

What made him seek me out? Was it some primeval instinct that drew him to a kindred spirit, though of a different species? I imagine him to be the laughing stock of his peers for not being a hunter like them. Just like me again. I'm a flop and failure by most human measurements. I've neither made it as a housewife nor as a career woman. I'm not part of that class of kitchen smart ladies who handle the work so efficiently, making it seem easy. Nor do I fall in with those savvy office or business women. I don't belong. Am a misfit.

However, I'm glad I haven't been stoned to death or burned at the stake as a witch. Such things happened in the past and still happens today, in different forms. The society punishing and persecuting someone who is a bit off beat.

Read George Macdonald’s story 'Purdie and the Princess'? In a village lived an old woman who was considered a witch and treated rather badly. Her fault? She troubled nobody and tried to live within her means! In other words, she was different. Well, being different, for better or worse, can be dangerous.

One day, trying to clean the ceiling , I tied the broom to a long stick. Joking, I told my daughter that I used it to fly on at night, taking Pele (our black cat) with me. She exclaimed "Mamma, people will really think you're a witch. Keeping a long broomstick and having a lizard and black cat for pets." See? Aren't I lucky I haven't been charged and tried?

It's a boost to my self-esteem to have Jacko contentedly eat the dough I kneaded, while it's not that easy to satisfy the rest of the family. Even Pele the cat often curled his nose and walked away in disdain from the fare I lay before him. But Jacko never complained.

Though I chose to call him 'my pet lizard', it was he who took the initiative. He came for his breakfast every morning, but I didn't get to see him rest of the day. And that's why, when we moved house I left him without even saying goodbye. Did he miss me? Did he feel betrayed?

The likes of Jacko and me would've been scrap, losers, were it not for Rainbow Maker, because of whom we survive, even thrive. Once Rainbow Maker takes over, whimpers turn to songs, crawlers grow wings and see rainbow. There's rainbow for Jacko and me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sumo Sunu

"Shillong, Shillong, Somu, Shillong!" shouted the agent’s hired agent, looking for passengers. Sunu, the driver, stood by the jeep, amused at these boys who would call the vehicle he drives 'somu' instead of 'sumo.' “Perhaps everyone likes changing the names of things, and of people,” he thought. For instance, his own name originally was Sunil. But ever since he could remember he had always been called Sunu. And since he drove a sumo he came to be known as 'Sumo Sunu'.

An elderly couple, the man carrying a suitcase, looked towards the vehicle. “Shillong somu!” cried the young boy in a shrill voice, walking towards them. Then another agent, a tall dark man, went after the couple with a determined air. As if frightened at being chased, they turned and hurried away towards the Transport bus station. Watching this, Sunu could hardly keep from laughing aloud. “You scared the people away!” he said to the agent. “You’re so fearful looking, you shouldn’t have run after them like that.” The other man grinned and gave him a thump on the back.

A group of five foreign tourists approached--one hefty man with fair skin and fizzy hair, a Negro chap in a pony-tail, a tall, fair skinned, fair haired man, a plump, dark haired woman and another woman. On seeing this last person Sunu's heart nearly jumped right out. She was the girl of his dream! He had seen her many times in his imagination--tall, slim, fair, large eyes with thick curly lashes. Only, there were minor differences in details. In his dreams her hair was black and wavy, but was now straight and brown. In his dreams she always wore light pink salwar-kameez, but was now dressed in blue jeans and white T-shirt. In his dreams she spoke Assamese, but not now. But these details did not really matter. He had found her at last! Oh, one thing more--her face had a quality he did not see in his dreams. “Beauty from inside” was all he could think of to describe it.

When the seats filled up they moved. The fat man sat next to him on the front seat and made conversation in English. From the way he spoke Sunu could make out that he was not fluent in English though he himself did not speak the language. "We come from Brazil. We come to see India. India very nice," he said. Sunu smiled and nodded. He wished the man would keep quiet and leave him in peace to concentrate on his dream-girl. She was sitting, he knew, on the far corner seat in the middle row. He must start making plans for their future life together!

Of course, he would take her with him on that tour around the country he planned to make when he gets his own sumo. He would visit the big cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai. He would get to see the sea with the big, foaming waves. He would drive up the high ranges of Ladakh. His heart throbbed as he thought of these. He was sure she would enjoy it all. “And what about Mother?” he thought. “I wonder if she would like to come along. She doesn't seem to like going out anywhere. But I wish she would come.”

He felt a twinge as he thought of his mother, spending all her time in that dingy little house, and waiting up for him every night. Her life revolved around him. She had nothing else to live for, nothing to look forward to except his coming home late in the night. He was usually too tired even to talk to her properly. He would gobble down the food she kept ready for him and then drop down to sleep. Sometimes he would be woken up by the sound of her wheezing, struggling for breath. He would jump up, apply Vicks on her back and neck, rubbing vigorously, while she weakly protested that he should try to get some sleep. Of late this had been growing more frequent. Sunu had been telling himself that he should take her to a doctor.

Mother had brought up Sunu single-handed. She used to work as a part time servant in several houses and sent him to school. He used to be good at studies. He especially loved Social Studies subject. While reading, he would picture different places and people in his mind. His ambition was to get a job that would take him around the world. But then, when he was in the ninth class, his mother became too ill to work. So he dropped out of school and worked at odd jobs to support them both. After some years of working this way, a kind hearted acquaintance gave him free driving lessons, and at the age of twenty Sunu became a sumo driver plying between Guwahati and Shillong. For the last four years, the road between these two cities had been his sole world. He was often seized with a great desire to explore beyond, but this desire was not yet fulfilled. And so.

They had passed the pot-holed, dusty Guwahati road and were moving smoothly on the well maintained Meghalaya road. Sunu loved this stretch. He felt a surge of power as the wheels ate away the smooth black ribbon. He only wished there were less traffic and he could drive faster.

A little boy, just a toddler, suddenly darted on to the road in front of the vehicle. Sunu managed to brake just in time. Had the tier rolled one more round, the child would have been under it. His mother came running behind and caught him. Sunu’s nerves were badly rattled. “You only know how to have children, but don’t know how to take care of them!” he shouted at the woman. He drove on, but his hands shook so badly he had to stop. He parked on the roadside, got down and smoked a cigarette. He was still cursing under his breath.

After another short drive they reached Nongpoh. They stopped for tea at a restaurant. Sunu had his standing in a corner, with sly glances watching his dream-girl as she sat talking with the others in her group. She spoke in some strange language to them, but with the tall man she conversed in beautiful English. The two looked alike, thought Sunu, they must be brother and sister.

All of a sudden, he wondered how it feels to have a brother or sister, or a father. A powerful longing took hold of him. How nice it must be to have a whole family! He and his mother seemed to be all alone in the world. When he was a child he used to ask his mother why he had no father or brothers and sisters or grandparents like some of his friends. She always gave him evasive replies. Then when he turned fourteen, he once demanded to be told about his father. Even then, all he could get out of his mother was – “Your father was from a rich family. He was a good man. But his parents could not accept me.” Then a convulsive sobbing with “O, my son, you are suffering for my sin. I deserve to suffer, but you.....” A few days later she fell seriously ill and he had to leave school. Since then he never questioned her about his father again.

As they entered Mayong, there was a heavy traffic jam. They had to stop still for a long time. The passengers got down, some walked about and others stood by the vehicle. Still others walked a little way and peed on the roadside, facing the bushes. But Sunu kept to his driver’s seat, in case the traffic should move any time. His dream girl was standing in the shade of pine trees on the opposite side of the road.

There was a long line of vehicles in front and behind of Sunu’s sumo. But all had put off their engines, as traffic was completely blocked. It was fairly quiet except for some talking voices. Above these, the musical sound of breeze blowing on pine needles. And then, a little beyond, the clear, sweet call of the cuckoo. Sunu’s heart leaped with delight at the sounds of nature. He was deeply thankful for the traffic jam that has given him a chance to hear the beautiful music, and to look at his dream girl at the same time.

And then some movement began on the road. All drivers started up their engines, all passengers climbed back on the vehicles and the traffic rolled forward, slowly and erratically, moving, stopping, moving again. After about five minutes of going in this way, the sky suddenly darkened and a few big drops of rain fell. Some of Sunus’s passengers got worried about their luggage on the jeep top. So he pulled out a tarpaulin sheet from under his seat while driving with one hand. As the traffic slowed again to a stop, Sunu climbed up and got about throwing the canvas over the baggage. Then the vehicles in front moved, and the vehicle just behind gave a loud honk. So Sunu jumped down back to his seat and drove. After a while a stop again, Sunu climbed up to continue the rain proofing work, then down again. After he had repeated several rounds of the stunt, the task was completed. And the raindrops stopped. Shillong weather has always been uncertain, “like a woman’s mind, always changing,” some guys loved to comment. Not fairly, of course.

The air got colder as they went on. By the time they reached Shillong, the sky was completely covered with dark clouds as if about to rain heavily. But it did not rain. The passengers got down. Then with a pang, Sunu realized that his dream-girl was also walking away, walking out of his life, forever. He wanted to stop her, to call her back. To tell her that her place was by his side, to go on a countrywide tour with him in his sumo. But all he could do was gaze after her in dazed silence. As if understanding his thought she turned back, flashed him a bright smile, waved, and then went on.

That last gesture of recognition affected Sunu strangely. It made him feel loved and cared for. Though his heart still ached at her departure he also felt glad. Glad that he had met her, that she had acknowledged him as a fellow human being. Inexplicably, he felt less alone now. As if he had suddenly got a sister or a brother. “If I at least knew her name,” he thought. “If only I knew English and could speak to her. If only......”

Sunu felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see an elderly bearded gentleman, his passenger of the back-row right corner. He spoke in Assamese. "That was very good driving, fast but smooth except for the jam and all. And the tarpaulin circus was great," he said with a smile. Sunu’s heart danced. He always knew he was a real good driver. But no one, certainly no passenger, had told him so before. He responded with a broad grin. As the man turned to go, he looked at Sunu in the eye and said “God bless you.”

This parting shot startled Sunu. He automatically looked up, as if expecting to see some sign in the sky. There was a small break in the clouds and sunrays filtered through.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fly as Birds

by Sam N Jacob

Sitting on the second floor verandah of the house in Guwahati with its picture post card scenery of the green hills and the river Brahmaputra, one would forget the stench and filth of the garbage down the road.

Mornings, the birds gave us company. Often we were woken up by the call of the Kulis and the melodious singing of other birds. We did not know their names, but they made our lives meaningful in the middle of the busy city.

We would sit riveted at the antics of the birds as they made their morning rounds. The spotted doves fly up in the air and dive back, spreading their beautiful tails as they come for landing on the Neem tree near the house. The starlings and mynahs—brown, speckled, some with yellow eyeliners, some without, brought colour to our monotonous lives as they fought for the leftovers of our pet cat’s food even as he sat at a safe distance and remonstrated. Add to that the yellow birds with black stripes, the kingfishers with the brown neck and sparkling blue wings, the blackbirds, magpies, each with their own flight patterns. Some flapped their wings rapidly; some flapped once and made a dash in the air.

Come late spring and the migratory storks come in hoards and speckle the blue sky white and brown. Many a tree top will be painted white, and so will the roads below. The strangest visitors we had were the black cormorants with their long necks. They came to the eucalyptus trees for collecting green twigs for lining the nests for their little ones. Their arrival heralded the coming of cold season. Then there was the kite that made its nest on top of the banyan tree. But in the middle of all that there were the black bullies of the air, the crows.

After the morning routine with tea mugs on the front verandah, it was time to move to the back, into the kitchen to join my wife as she made roti for breakfast. But the backyard was the abode of smaller birds of various colours. Even Salim Ali’s book on Indian birds did not help in identifying them. We knew only the sparrows as they came into the house and sometimes ended up in our cat’s mouth.

Why were they all there? Were they trying to entertain us? No. They just loved the place allotted to them. They love to be what they are—birds. They were enjoying themselves. Are they teaching us something too?