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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Flame : Short Story by Harish Mangalam

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar

That man sat for long clutching his leg. He was unconscious of time. Due to continually scratching he had black ugly patch on his knees.   Absent-mindedly he would ponder: how many ointments I applied and changed, what variety of allopathic tablets I swallowed, how many herbal medicines I have tried, the itch does not go. Again the itch would recur and   he would begin scratching. His nails were filled with the debris, his fingers would get tired, and he would stare at the fingers for long. Again thoughts would dog him: how many bacteria have hidden themselves under the nails? And how many would be in the eczema patch? Innumerable, cannot be counted. With sulfur ointment his skin had burnt   but why the bacteria remain unaffected?.. Is there no cure? There must be a cure, there should be. Then why the doctors do not treat me properly? If disease like cancer can be cured, heart valves can be replaced then why not the eczema be treated?  That doctor1 had said, it would take time before this eczema improves. It’s chronic, isn’t it? Forty fifty years have passed since then!
That man was expert and intelligent. His mind was sore because of the eczema.  Constant thoughts hammered his mind. He would stare at the tree opposite his home lost in thoughts. At that time his eyes would turn terrifying. Today too his eyes were bulging. The layers of past have peeled off, yes. In the chora of village Toda, a mosquito had bitten him. He   immediately scratched the knee. Since then, till today, it’s itch, itch and itch. With excess scratching his skin had become coarse and dry like a thorn. The white scale of skin was peeling off. The itching increased gradually, never reduced. The skin has grown like that of gho . And now.. How it has flooded with foul-smelling pus!

Looking at it causes nausea. There is a large ulcer and the white red, red white granules are exposed. Inside there are innumerable small serpentine veins . Suddenly the eczema smelled. He spitted with all his might, with loud thoo. The itching started again. He scratched fast. He applied ointment, rather than reducing it worsened. He was anxious. He merged with the surroundings. Now as if whole of his body does not exist, only the leg is perceived. Whole existence has drowned in the eczema. The empty boxes, bottles of medicines, the packs, prescriptions, tablets, herbal medicine, everything appeared very vividly before his eyes. He looked in the distance focusing his eyes. Then with strongest   repulsion he turned his head with a jerk...his mind was full of hate. He would curse. He would abuse the doctors, got angry, and would rise to thrash them. However pain in the   leg would compel him to clutch his knee and to sit down…

That restless man would discuss with intense, vehement arguments.. He would debate with his friends. If the eczema does not improve he even considered amputation of his leg above knee. His friends would advise that this extremist attitude would prove fatal. Then he would calm down. But he in his deep thoughts wonders: sometimes the extreme attitude may become fatal but at other times it can be beneficial too… but it is a pity that   the system is devoid of any  attitude too! We are two million and yet we live as it is, in the same old ways. Like worms swarming in the carcass of a whale washed away by a strong current on a lone island! Other friends would again be engrossed in the discussion. One person shook that man. Thoughts interrupted, he uttered ‘what?’. His friend gestured with his fingers to the tea kettle man to bring tea. He exclaimed:  “Not what! Have you brought book by Marx?” Like a lost man he stared vacantly, didn’t say anything. Gulped the tea, filled his belly with tea. And then he said: Marx? The so called intellectuals have made him only a subject of discussion. Empty discussion! As the itch starts, discussions on ’ art and ideology’, ‘art and reality’, ‘materialism’, ‘equality’ , merely ups and downs of speech and behavior only! Nothing more than that, my friend! And he had the itch again. He briskly continued to scratch. He liked the scratching. His friends were lost in thought. They found substance in his talk: continuous discussions, pamphlets, reports, exchange of ideas, and yet it had led them nowhere…

That man is tired now, is sick of it. Continuous same environment he does not like. He does not like anything. Even after tumult he does not get cure for eczema. He sighed deeply. He is sitting with support of a column. Files buzz around. Someone is driving away the dogs. From the dog’s mouth sticky saliva dribbles, a thread of the saliva that reaches up to floor and then breaks town. He always has to fight with the dogs of opposite street. After getting exhausted he becomes breathless like now. And with the quivering tongue the saliva dribbles. He is absorbed with watching the saliva that breaks and forms. His wife arrives and asks,” why don’t you say something? Why do you sit like this by yourself?” That man got startled. Without looking at his wife he said: This bloody eczema does not improve. And today it pains me more. As she could not see eczema anywhere, his wife laughed loudly as if her husband was talking crap. She began laughing leaning forward. That man got infuriated but he kept his anger to himself. His wife consoled him:  “Are you worried about eczema? Don’t! I will make paste of garlic and salt, if you apply it, the eczema  will be cured , it is as simple as  a whisper in your ear! But where is the eczema?

That man felt sorry for his uneducated wife. How can I respond to her baffling question? What is its solution? Is there one, at all? And how can I explain her? If the eczema gets cured then doctor’s practice gets ruined, his air conditioner stops working, spring of his revolving chair breaks , wheels of his car get stuck in the mud. Perhaps his tie would strangle him. He wanted to tell his wife all this, but he controlled his impulse and said only this much: I don’t want any treatment. Standing before the doctor with miserable face, tolerating his bragging, and encouraging behavior and pretense that a doctor is different from the patient, I don’t like in the least. Then do our heartbeats reach to his heart through his stethoscope? No, no. I won’t go for treatment. He collapsed, helpless.

That man seemed more serious today. Before his friends could start the discussion he began: this eczema is spreading everywhere.. Let it expand. It has no cure. At the worst, It would kill me isn’t it? I will embrace death with a smiling face. But I don’t wish to get treated by them. Then all of a sudden he shouted: friend, leave it! This is only a hospital. Dr.Vaishnav, Dr.Pande, Dr.Shukla, Dr.Swaminathan, Dr.Trivedi, Dr.Basu,Dr.Patel, Dr.Mehta, all of them have highest foreign  degrees. What treatment did they give? Did the eczema got any better? Look, how it has rotten down? I am afraid that bone inside may begin to rot. Then? Then? Did Ayurvedic doctors too get it cured? Dr.Gandhi, Dr. Andhi and Dr.Pandhi , how did they treat?

That man tried to calm down. For a moment he was calm. But today his friends seemed sad. He was stunned. He didn’t see his friends’ anger and impulse. Hence he asked directly:”why are you silent today?” and yet he dint get any response. He caught hold of his friend’s arm and gave him a shake.” Friend, tell me why are you silent today?” then he stared at his friend. Then the friend quickly unrolled his shirt sleeve and showed the eczema on his left hand. That man got surprised. He asked immediately: when did you get it? His friend straightened his neck and sternly said, 1981 Gujarat cyclone had bitten me. The time stood still. Everyone remembered the past. Another friend also removed his shirt and showed the eczema in armpit and ventilated anger: the burning flame of Jetalpur charred me here! Third friend too raised his fist: In a village in Bihar got married with a girl, people said she was Savarna. The ghost of castes possessed them and they stabbed his private part with spear. He removed the pant and showed big eczema plaque on the thigh. The fourth showed   the neck and the fifth   buttocks with the   dark patches of eczema. That man maddened with rage. He was stunned, immobile. He was silent for long: all of them had suffered silently. Why?  Why? He peered through the faces of all. He hated himself. He felt repulsed seeing foul smelling eczema. Those eczema patches were similar to his own. Foul smell spread all around. It crossed all borders- North-west, east- south. The environment got polluted. A friend proposed: Today we will observe silence. The statue that you see is of a world famous doctor.2 the real expert of the eczema. Everyone peered at the statue craning their necks. He continued: he found the cure of eczema.. But. That man asked “what but , friend?”    Saying rushed towards the statue. His face was full of joy. His friend with low head and voice said: constant anxiety and hard work lead to this doctor’s death.  Thereafter this eczema patches grew larger and larger, frighteningly larger. That man cried:  then let us go and shoot those bustards!  All directions rang. That man and his friends stared at the statue without blinkingly their eyes for long. Like the clouds in the sky, time passed swiftly. The statue shook. A deafening explosion occurred and from the statue  flames leapt out. The flame rose high. Whole sky burned turning into a red ball. With sound piercing sky, all stared at the sky.

Marad Kasumbal Rang Chade:Short Story by Praveen Gadhvi

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar


Like dry firewood, Duda was ablaze. Every vein was afire. In every pore burned with the flames. He was stretching the strings of the drum.  The drum was taut. Like that his daughter's belly, too, was taut. When he would beat the drum, the sky would fall, the mountains would thunder, and the clouds would burst. With one kick, lump of Babuji,  muscle and blood was out. The foxes stopped crying, the walls of the house peeled off. The village that was destroyed seven times, will now be destroyed the eighth time. This drum, Duda's drum, Father Abha had given this drum. This drum has got whole village married. The drum danced, hopped, danced in  circles,  throughout the nights on the occasions of  Koli  marriages. Now this drum will not dance, will not hop, and will not jump. One beating and it will burst and the village will burn. For the eighth time the village will get destroyed. One Babauji was born , the enemy of the village. Fire… Fire… Fire all around. Duda will dance on one foot in the burning fire like Shiva, he will dance in circles. He will beat the broken drum and the fire will ablaze. His veins were bursting.  Karsan blacksmith's large hammer was pounding on his temples, dhum…dhum…

As if he thrashed a bunch of fire-sticks, he beat his wife. daughter and two barely clad children. There was weeping, as if in the nest of street the birds screamed. Babuji is the wild he-cat with grey eyes. Duda had gone mad. He broke his poor wife's back without any fault of hers. He got hold of his daughter's braid and made her move in circles. He broke two pots, kicked in the belly.
'o father, help us, he will kill us!', they screamed. But Duda did not listen anything.  Duda was a master drummer, like his father Abha. If he beat war drum , fire blazed around eighteen miles. The swords would shine. If he beat the drum for dance, children in their mothers' wombs would dance.  He learnt the art by being constantly with his father. Like Abhimanyu, lying in his mother's belly he was listening drumbeats of his father, Abha. In the Koli marriages he would take a drink and begin to beat his drum, till sunrise next day. Whole night, neither Duda would tire , nor the Koli girls.

Duda was also mad about bhajans. He would sing whole night. From his throat, Raidas bhajans would spring like the village river. He would purify the tamboora with sprinkle of water, take it in his hand, sing bhajan and enter in some other world away from the earth. Duda bhagat, wonderful, wonderful! He would accept Prasad , he would take tea in the cup he used to bring in his pocket. Though in the durbar of God, all are equal, Duda would sit at a distance. Again purified with sprinkle of  water , the tamboora would return to Narshi Bhagat.

His wife and daughter would go to Babuji's farm to weed. Duda would remain at home, stretch the drum strings. Duda's hands   never took sickle to work on farm. His wife and daughter would bring firewood, beat bread. Duda is the king of drum, the devotee of tamboora.

Babuji , the wild cat with grey eyes. He would get drunk as soon as he woke up   in the morning. He would offer even his horse a bucket full of drink. When he would ride the horse, both   would be drunk. The moustaches like a dagger. Though he was barely a skeleton, if he got enraged he would consider nothing. He thrashed and thrashed  Patels    on their bare backs. He throttled his own sister, only because she faintly smiled to Magan Nai. Babuji is drunk all twenty four hours a day. If he passed through bazaar, banias would rise from their seats uttering , ' welcome bapu, welcome bapu,'

Duda thrashed his wife. Duda drank a potful of liquor in the Koli vas. "Slut, it's your fault only. Why did you allow the girl to go alone to weed in the farm alone? Why did you not die of cholera? Fever ? What fever you had? The village trembles with Babuji and you send the innocent, rabbit like girl alone in the farm? And then you say that Babuji tore away the girl's clothes? O slut I will break your back.."

Duda caught hold of the girl's hair and made her swirl. "Slut, why were you not born as a stone from your mother's womb? How could you nourish the sin of Babuji in your belly? Are the wells and ponds scarce in the village that you didn't drown?" Duda tightens the strings of the drum. He has drunk full pot of liquor at Hiraji Thakor's. The eyelids feel like closing. Every vein burns. Duda bhagat caught hold of Babuji in the open market. As if he were possessed with Ma Meldi, whole body shivered. "O bustard, you used force on a poor laborer's daughter? If you are so much   strength, why don't you go to Vadodara and catch hold hand of King Gaikwad's daughter?"

Babuji weighs spear on Duda's chest. Duda bhagat is the one in whose heart lives Lord  Rama.
Babuji is Ravana, the image of arrogance. Duda was a player of war drum and Now   Duda's heart also beat like a war drum.

With one blow the spear fell down. Kalka appeared in Duda's body.  "My daughter is daughter of the village. Are you not ashamed of   stripping honor of an unmarried girl?" Enraged Duda gave Babuji two strong slaps. Those sitting at the temple platform rushed, "what a kaljug ! A Dholi beating a raj darbar?"

Whole village turned into a war drum.  Dhrabang, dhrabang, dhrabang… in the square of Darbars, swords, spears and live torches gathered. Even a five year old child arrived with a stick used to drive away stray dog. Babuji is riding a horse. The taft of turban shines like a spear. He is totally drunk; his eyes are red, blood-shot. As if the outlaws have come to destroy the village, have set out to kill holy cows and Brahmins, and the villagers set out for combat, the Garasiyas followed Babuji.

The poor low castes shut themselves in their houses, Nayka women trembled like the flame of a lamp. "Duda, the sonless one, what came to his mind that he raised his hand on Babuji? Its dooms day, Its sign of Kalyug , o father!'
"O you live on the left over food of the village and you are raising hand on Babuji! What a justice?   The low castes girls, low character too! Can you show, leave alone an unmarried girl, a married woman with a good character? Duda is an artist of drum. The village respects him for that. 'Did he raise his hand? Bapa, gazab ! its a sign of Kalyug." They set out to burn the Dholiwada.
The green will also burn with the dry; the innocent will also burn with the guilty.

Poor kites! Where will they settle at night? 

Babuji is pungent like the chillies of Shanka Vaghri's farm. Darbars are given liquor since the first drink of life, since birth. They would drink from childhood. Very strong. Patels are also terrified with him. Did Babuji not grab breasts of Vanmalidas's daughter? But he belongs to a high caste. They would not utter a word. Urgently she was married off. Now, not tomorrow. He didn't do what Duda did. Now this will be the talk of the nation. The newspapers will caw caw like the crows. The village will be tarnished. How many ministers and social workers will throng the area, day and night? Who knows,   B.B.C.may broadcast it, too.

The high castes are silent, the low castes tremble. The valiant army sets out. The drum of Duda walks ahead, what a strange thing? Not Duda,  but his drum. Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang…in early days, Raj darbars would set out of the village like this,  to protect cows and Brahmins.

Dham dham dham… Duda's veins burst. He made a shining sword from the drumstick. "My father! Protect my honor, my brother, o drum! I have loved you day or night more than my son; with your sound let every child of this village and the sun and the moon in the sky above shiver. " Babuji darbar is the neighing horse, the   drink astray, a shining sword and the torches burn.   A bug of the village raised his hand on Babuji? If the head is cut the torso fights! Marad kasumbal rang chade! The kshatriya dharma will be in shame. Today it's a crisis for  dharm. Today it's Babuji's insult; tomorrow it will be that of the village.

The light of the torches appeared. The limitless dust flew in the air. There were noise and shouts, the army is marching.  The kites wonder, "what kind of Mahabharat is this?"
O cowards. The wife and the daughter, the father ,  the old men and women, no one is seen in the vas. Not even the dogs. Only Duda Bhagat, like Khetarpal, the protector God of the field. The drum on his shoulder, the drum sticks in hands. Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang…It's Dadhichi's bones, Duda's drumsticks. Run o run! Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang…run o run ..! Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang

A torch came flying like an arrow from Ravana!    Duda's hut got fire.. The mountain Meru may move, but not Duda.
In the blazing fire stands Duda.. the drum jumps,  the drumstick beats. Duda dances Tandava. In the blazing fire Duda turned into a roasted meat. Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang… If the head is cut the torso fights. Marad kasumbal rang chade! O Duda, be glory to the mother who gave you birth!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Hell

The Hell

Dharmabhai Shrimali

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar

The stink would not leave her nose alone. All the filth used to accumulate around. “Damn. The toilets, are just facing the vas1. Every morning I have to visit. If clean, then it’s all right. Or else they are not even worth sitting. Why to fuss, no sooner you squat, you rise. The smell plus smell… the spit will form till you come out,” muttered Ratan. Spit continued to gather in her mouth after coming out of the public toilet, till she reached her home.

She had gone to the public toilet after bath and yet she felt like bathing again. Her daughter who was playing in the vas came running to her and settled in her lap, hence Ratan paused and caressed her head. The daughter said, “Mother, mother, there are people with movie at uncle Kanti’s home.” She was astonished, “people with movie? There is no dearth of movies in the city...” then she thought, “Who knows …Kantibhai knows so many people. May be there is something new”.
She disengaged her daughter from her lap and went to wash. She took a soap powder lying on the parapet and began to scrub. The palms and face were full of froth. Seeing her face full of froth, the daughter laughed and clapped , again she left for the vas galloping.

She remembered her own childhood.

Ratan appeared before her eyes, in skirt and blouse. She could not help sighing; “with what joy my parents had got me married in the city!” she muttered and splashed a palmful of water on her face. The soap in the eyes smarted. She splashed and splashed the water… then from her wet eyebrows some memories began to emerge.
“Ratan, beta, please go and do the task. Go my darling”
‘No mother, do you think I would ever go for such a job?”
“I do not feel well, bai, this is our life. You can not turn your face like this. Go; make haste. There are, one after the other two, three messages from the village. If we do not go we will have to listen to their rebukes. People give only a fistful of grain. That too, they will not …”
Mother shivering with fever continued to speak and Ratan stamping her feet went to the village. The stench from the corpse of the swollen dog was so terrible that it would burst her head. Nausea gripped Ratan. She covered her mouth with the odhni end and bent down. As she tried to put the noose of the rope in the dog’s feet, saw the worms swarming the carcass. Trembling, she drew away from it. The nausea recurred in the held up breath, she left the rope noose there and then, ran to home. Her mother had rebuked her for long but she did not bother.
‘Rand, you are making so much fuss but when you will go to your in laws , you will have to do this willy-nilly; then to which mother will you complain?”
She recalled everything; pulling carcasses of dogs and cats, going on festival days and occasions for village feast, and being dragged after mother uttering, ‘ Give us the gift of the festival , o mother, o father!’ , from house to house.
Here in the city too, Gomati, living at the entrance of the vas used to send her children to the colony, to beg for valu. She had told her more than once,
” Gomti, it ‘s better to eat only chilies and bread, rather than to send children begging for valu.” But Gomati said, “Look at this woman! Keep your advice to yourself. To ask for valu is our dharm, what is wrong in that? Don’t teach me!”

Children, who had climbed up the jeep parked besides Kantibhai’s home, blurted a horn.
Ratan, lost in thoughts, stretched her eyes to the entrance of the vas.
Soma had not returned yet. There was again something sharp; screech of the horn pierced her. Once again she heaved a hot sigh.
“You are more beautiful than even Shahukar women...” saying Soma would draw her close and those moments bloomed with joy,, her shy face turning red …

The smoke of coal stove continued to encircle in the eyes.
“Look, the municipality people are bloody dirty. You do only household chores and look after children.” As if she were trying to catch Soma’s words in fleeing smoke, she closed and opened her eyes for some time.
The coals on the stove were glowing red. Her eyes steadied on the live coals .She stared. Her elder daughter cleansed rice bought from ration shop for cooking khichdi, took the coal stove inside the room and put water in the vessel for cooking.

When Ratan was pregnant with her younger daughter, Soma gradually changed. She spared no pains to make Soma understand, she was tired of beseeching. Soma, to begin with used to give his whole salary in her hands, now began to waste money giving a hundred excuses. Sometimes he would get drunk and mutter “If not today, tomorrow I will win… I will not quit the cards... I swear by Meldi, if I ever quit the cards...”
On the stove the water was boiling, and it was now overflowing, she rose and lifted the lid with her bare hand. The tips of the fingers got burnt; she blew air on the burnt tips. The eyes which looked at the tip of the finger gradually moved on each and every part of her body.

The open gutter flowed just ahead of the verandah, at some distance heap of city waste accumulated and mosquitoes flying from the public toilets were a nuisance. She tried to remove a mosquito from her body with a thrash of hand and the overseer’s words began to echo in her ears.
“Look the one who sweeps…! Today onwards you will clean the toilets of vegetable market.”
The overseer, black cap on head and with equally dark face and yellow teeth was moving to and fro , frequently spitting tobacco from black lips.
She was trembling.
Every evening Soma would return intoxicated, stumbling .He would blabber and rush to beat her. Soma who once did not want her to work for Municipality, now uttered- you are lying down whole day in the house and how dare you ask me for the account of my salary? The women, who have come to their in laws after you came, have been working for the municipality for two years now”.

And she had begun sweeping municipality roads along with women from vas. The dirt on road- all filth she would clean, sari covering her face. But the overseer who repeatedly crushed tobacco in his palm to make paste , his show off at time of marking presence in roll, and uttering Ratan Soma Bhangi’s name in long singsong manner…She again thrashed her face. There was a sharp mosquito bite on her cheek.
“This is hell, nothing but hell, o God, I am sick of such a life...”
“See this slut who talks of hell! When it comes to work, you feel sick.”
Late night, Soma would come besides her and would beat her even before she opened her mouth to tell about the overseer’s rudeness and harassment, Somo would say, “Shut up, don’t talk nonsense now.” He would roll on the other side. The darkness of the room would envelope her. The rising buzz of mosquitoes would not let her rest. In the passing night she would hear the lone vehicle’s scream, repeated whistles of the train at the station in the distance, some dog’s bark at the entrance of the vas, and cry of a child waking up for water amidst inaudible voices of parents in the neighboring rooms…

“Mother, o mother, the khichdi is burning and you are sitting without switching on the lights?”, the elder daughter who returned after buying tea and sugar from the shop , said and switched on the light and got down the khichdi from the stove.
The smell of burnt khichdi spread in entire room

She rose quickly, went to Meldi Mata shrine, could not find incense sticks in the pack , she left aside the empty pack , and folded her hands in prayer. Then she stared at the khichdi being served. The plain khichdi , devoid of any ghee or oil , and hungry children turned her soul restless. She came out and stood there for long. She continued to look at the entrance of the vas. She could not see Soma’s stumbles yet. Her body felt fatigue of the entire day. The wind from the other side that gathered a heap of stink surrounded her. The dirty toilets overflowing with piss and shit that afternoon, appeared before her eyes.
Since last week, the overseer was bad tempered. In the beginning he was chanting her name, but now as his intentions did not succeed, he changed her worksite. He assigned Ratan the cleaning of stinking toilets. She felt that she would vomit, retaining nothing that she had eaten. She had resolved in her mind, “Even if my younger one’s father kills me, I will not tolerate this bloody hell henceforth”.

The sweepers were coming to their rooms one by one. Some of them were blabbering after going to a bidi shop at the entrance of the vas, some were drunk, returning to vas stumbling. Before the quarreling dogs rushing through all this collided with Ratan, her younger daughter came out of her room with leavings of food on hands unwashed and ran to Kantibhai’s house.

The tube light on the pole in the middle of the vas was flickering, and insects had encircled the bulb that spread yellowish light from the other pole near the dung heap.

In the verandah of Kantibhai, people from vas were gathering together. Quickly doing the dishes, the elder daughter too left and merged with the crowd saying, “Mother, there is khichdi in the container. You have it.’
She wondered. “What would it be? Have they come to show a movie?” She closed her door and slowly went there and sat on the floor behind the gathering..

From the strangers in the chairs, an enthusiastic young man gave introductory information on the program of the day and then shifted the chair a bit to switch on the TV. With scramble the TV was on, there were scenes, incomprehensible, that moved up and down .Then the picture cleared and the voice also became clear.
The scene of a village spread over the screen. Then gradually the streets, royal houses with coats, mansions of seths and public roads appeared. Then there was a scene - a barely ten year old girl and her mother, all of them grew restless. ‘Oh, this is…’ someone from the crowd spoke. Then as if someone had sewn their lips, they grew silent. A series of scenes began.

That girl undid the lid on the toilet container, and was emptying the stinking feces in a tin, and then she helped to lift and put the tin on her mother’s head. The mother and the daughter began walking straight on the road, keeping themselves aside, careful not to touch anyone, shrinking their bodies and trying to cover their faces with cloth. A young man with microphone in his hand was asking some question. The woman was confused, staring for a moment towards the house from where they had just started, remained silent.
The scene changed…

One could see faint flicker In the innumerable wrinkles of the faces of the couple standing in the middle of a heap of feces,. The daughter and the mother of the previous scene arrived there with the tin on head. The tin was broken. Feces trickled down from it. It ran from head to face and swiftly trickled down her neck.

In the midst of silence Ratan mumbled something like a scream. Before her eyes everything began to swarm, from the time when she returned without pulling away the dead dog to the dirty overflowing toilets she had cleansed this noon, … Her eyes steadied on the mother and the daughter, the feces with the trickles, and the scene changed…

The old woman’s answer to the man with a microphone in the hand drilled into Ratan’s heart deeper and deeper. ‘Sir, please don’t ask. We live in hell… but for the belly we are forced to …”

It was difficult for her to sit there any longer. She began to rise; once again her eyes went on the trickle of the feces from the tin. She could not stand this on the tender girl’s face. She quickly averted her face. Now there was a crowd behind her , all their eyes glued to the TV. So many things simultaneously clouded their faces…She saw Soma with totally dry eyes and Ratan thought, “He will create a scene in public... look, woman, you were shouting so much ....’ ”
But Ratan saw that Soma who was watching all this with dry eyes, looked at her; he had begun trickling constantly.

Vas = colony
Meldi mata = Goddess
Seth = trader
Khichdi = a dish made by mixing rice and pulses
Shahukar = caste Hindu
Bhangi = Sweeper
Valu = evening food
Dharam = religion, duty
Bai = mother
Odhni =
Rand = woman, bad

The Prey

Dashrath Parmar
Translated By Dr.G.K.Vankar


Even after an hour's hot debate and exchange of ideas there was no consensus. The acting chairperson, the vulture maharaj , who sat on a babul stump, with a fleeting glance on other members spread his wings, cleared his throat and concluded,
"Silence friends! Silence…! If we will continue like this, it will be morning and yet we will not be able to reach any decision. Hence please stop the discussion and listen to what I say. With all the presentations and arguments we can surely conclude that the prey belongs to all, it is the joint property of all. Hence it becomes our duty to care for it closely. Now it's not far from night. The times are difficult, moreover we cannot rule out outer invasion. Hence using my chairperson's right I have decided that till this prey becomes worth eating, at least tonight, we should keep vigil turn by turn. Tell me, do you agree?"
"Yes, yes, we agree, we agree..!" all those who were present, agreed unanimously.
"Then listen to me carefully!" the vulture maharaj bobbing his neck said," I have myself decided the turns of the vigil. And I am sure no one has any objection to that!" pausing for a moment he continued,
"In the first prahar, it's the turn of hawk! His first half of the night otherwise also is spent in search of a prey. Moreover in the first prahar the risk is maximum, to deal with this he is competent. Isn't it so, Hawk hero?"
"As you order, Sir!!"
Hawk slowly came forward and leaning forward saluted.
"Second prahar it's mouse, third crow and the fourth …"
Before there was announcement of the fourth prahar, taking a circle of flight , going close to babul stump, the cawing craw said,
"Please pardon me, sir! But I don't get sleep the fourth prahar. Hence if you allot me the fourth rather than the third, I will be highly obliged."
The vulture maharaj threw a glance at the craw, blinked his eyes, then as if mediating , finally said,
"O.K. ,Mr.Crow , the fourth prahar is yours, the third would be that of the owl! Are you happy now?"
The craw, gleefully took a small circle of flight, fluttering his wings. As soon as he settled down, authoritative voice of the vulture maharaj was heard,
"That is not the matter of being inflated, friend. Reserve such expertise for the vigil…"
Then he warned the rest of the members.
"Please always keep this in mind. I myself don't join the vigil. I will supervise you all though. Hence while keeping vigil no one should move an inch near the prey, none is supposed to touch the body. If someone dares to be smarter, remember. The prey will remain as it is, and first you will be slaughtered."
"And Sir Mouse, this is for you, Your community has a bad reputation because of your habit of biting. If you dare to apply that hereditary skill here then.."
" O brother, why so much mistrust?" as if he were urging, the mouse said, " I am hungry for three days , Sethiya. But on oath to Gauriputra, I have not even looked at the prey."
"O.K., O.K." The vulture maharaj stopped him. "It was only to mention your abilities. Won't it be better if you don't become so emotional in such trifles?"
Meanwhile the crow had constantly fluttering eye on the prey. As there was slight movement in the prey's body he made din.
"Look, sir, he is still alive saala."
"That is the matter of mourning," The vulture maharaj muttered in disdain. Then got up from his seat and settled on the prey's belly and reassured all.
"It's only a matter of a night. Even if it does not die tomorrow morning, we will strike."
All came closer to the prey. The vulture maharaj had some knowledge of medicine too. He looked carefully at the prey's abdomen and said,
"Still it is alive. But my medical knowledge dictates that things will turn right. If tonight he is devoid of any food and water, in the morning for sure…"
This statement lit a flame of hope as they were now tired of waiting since morning. Stumbling the prey had come to the chowk and collapsed. Since then no one had even winked, eagerly waiting, no sooner it dies, they would pounce.
Looking at the body though, one would not get much. Is this a body or a cage of bones? The skin was glued to the body making it flat. It had several sores on the body. It was doubtful if this body ever had any meat.
"How how how…" A pack of dogs standing on the hill came a bit close and announced their presence. But their arrival made the vulture maharaj fume with anger. With red eyes he roared, "motherfuckers, keep away. How many time have I to say this? Go, come tomorrow evening .."
"But o father, we haven't asked anything from you," an old dog begged.
"We came to tell you that keeping a watch is our duty. The world knows that since time immemorial, it has been our monopoly. Hence please entrust us with one opportunity.."
Kaw kaw kaw. The crow laughed loudly. "See, one with monopoly! When will you get rid of your habit of going anywhere uninvited? Why don't you improve? And saala, how can we trust you? Once you have the prey then you become bullies, we know this well." He said this on basis of some past experience on food chat.
"But father, we do not ask for any share from yours. It will do if we get only the left over. Once you eat your fill then only give us.."
"That is why bloody, I say you just leave now, ." the vulture maharaj angrily said.
"O.K.,O.K., as you please."
The pack of dogs moved towards the hill mumbling. Climbing the slope the old dog could not help looking at the prey. Sight movement in the prey's body and low groans made his heart ache.
He knew the prey for some time.
In the youth, his life was glorious. But with old age, the difficult days dawned. Ten days back his owner abandoned him considering useless. Restless with hunger, he moved from outskirt of village to the farms. Finding nothing to eat, he used to drink water till his belly was full and collapse. Today he had some chance as the owner of the farm was not around. Opening the clearing he entered the farm, took green leaves of castor seed plant and was very happy. But as he came out of the farm, he felt dizzy and moved towards the chowk with unsteady gait.
"Damn, leave it aside giving our share; they do not even answer us properly." One young dog ventilated his burn. " I think we should gather our colleagues and take full charge of the prey .If we do so, what can they do?"
"You are absolutely right, Bhooriya!" Kaliya agreed.
"Now its beyond limits. Begging does not satisfy our hunger. We are like them only, and yet our vas is separate. We are even forced to eat their leftovers only. Is there anything like animalism?" the old dog could not resist, he coughed and said,
"Look, you are the younger ones, puppies. This is the tradition that continues from generation to generation. Our forefathers had suffered, there is nothing new that we suffered and now you are suffering. If you wish to live peacefully, there is no way other than to follow the traditions; do you understand my little ones?"
There was sudden dark.
While climbing the slope of their vas , they looked back. Nothing could be seen. They heard the loud laughter of the vulture maharaj dipped in the dark. That sound mixed with dark became a question in the dark eyes of Bhuriya. Can one not break the tradition?
It was long before dawn and the cawing of the crow rang in the whole region piercing the darkness . Leaving their beds, rubbing their eyes everyone rushed to the chowk. Shaking darkness , as they tried to see, the remnants of sleep also vanished.
The prey was not in the chowk.
The vulture maharaj's eyeballs bulged in anger. He was looked at each and everyone one with piercing eyes..
"You are useless ones, bloody weaklings! You have lost the prey from your hand. Now what will you eat? Your tambooro?"
"It was very much there until my turn was over."
With low neck, everyone tried to defend oneself, but when it was craws turn he began trembling.
"I tell you the truth, o brother, o sir. I had no sleep for three prahars as I had a suspicion that you all would finish the prey. And when I came here at the fourth prahar I had a small nap. Please pardon me, Anndaata, o giver of food!"
There was a flash of light in the vulture maharaj's mind. He walked a bit slowly, he closed his eyes, and rubbing his beak on the earth, he began to smell something. After some effort, as if he had grasped something, yelled,
" I have caught him. I have caught the thief. Come with me."
"Today I will not spare them."
They briskly went to the dog street.
Near the street hill, Bhooriyo and Kaliyo stood obstructing the way.
"Beware, if anyone dares to step forward, we will get your feathers scattered."
The vulture maharaj got a bit scared of the rage in their eyes .
He winked at his colleagues. Then he addressed those two,
"Look friend dog, we are the travelers on the same road. Then why such a split? Show us the prey, then we all together …"
"Now those days are gone, maharaj. The prey is in our possession. And we have exclusive right on it." Kaliyo sharply said.
"This does not befit you, friends. Look, you do all this in puppy-play, hence we would talk to your elders. Where are they?" the vulture maharaj's voice turned syrupy.
Meanwhile old dog also arrived.
"This is very wrong, dog bhagat!" the voice of the vulture maharaj changed.
"You live on the dead, breaking that tradition you kill the living. How can you do that? That too one can understand, but you take away the prey of someone else. Tell me, is that reasonable?"
"Maharaj, disgrace is your life! Have you any trace of being animal or not? You are waiting for someone's death, at the top of it you arrange vigil..! As you say we live on the dead, what do we do with your prey?" honor
"Then where is it?"
"It has gone nowhere. It is with us only. But you will regret to know that it is not dead. And like you we are not waiting for the death either. That much difference of sanskara will always remain. Look there.."
The vulture maharaj rose. Craning his neck, he looked in the distance in a cave like place. He was stunned. The prey was struggling to raise, four sturdy dogs supporting. One was offering water at his mouth, some gave grass to eat. The red, white puppies gleefully moved in circles. The victim, looking at them, falling and rising, struggled to stand up…
The vulture maharaj uttered. Then he turned his back and began walking. The others followed him. With withered faces, pressing their bellies, sighing, they began walking down the slope of the hill.


Maharaj= King
Chat=Stone slab with a hole scooped to collect refuse of food for dogs or cattle
Bhooriyo and Kaliyo= Common names of dogs, literally white and black, Dogs here represent Dalits, outcastes
Sethiya= Seth
Annadata=Giver of food
Gauriputra= Ganesha, mouse is Ganesha's vehicle
Prahar= Measure of time, three hours
Live on dead= Reference of dalits who eat meat of dead animals