Levels of Life

The candle light was swaying to the music of the Indian summer breeze. The silence of the night consumed Ganga’s ears. Her eyes were aching to welcome her dreams of peace and freedom. In her dreams, she did not worry about her husband, her in-laws, the men and yes, the women. She did not worry about the tiring long walk to the well to fetch her family two buckets of water when the sun was hot or about dreamless vile men in shabby clothes who ogled at women’s breasts. She was aware that such men were capable of crimes. She was prepared to fight against them if such a situation arose. But it was her own folk, from the other side, who disappointed her. The gossip they indulged in. Chandra! She hated everything about her.

‘Amma!’, Eswaran’s voice broke her agonising chain of thought.

She looked deep into those innocent eyes yet to explore the world in all its shame.

‘Can I take the mud pot for fishing? I want to catch keluthi meen.’

‘And you think you are smart enough to catch the fish with a mud pot?’

‘I think I can. See, I will get it. I don’t want Appa to know about it.’

‘We can’t go there Esa. Stop dreaming and sleep. How many times should I tell you not to hang around Kavin? Your friendship shall not last longer.’

Eswaran couldn’t get himself to sleep that night. In the eyes of six-year-olds, life on earth was still a magical place waiting to be explored. And so, he decided that he would silently pick his mud pot and walk in the woods when the sun was yet to wake from his slumber.

By the cawing of a few crows, Eswaran woke up. Taking the mud pot silently from the floor, he looked around to check whether he had disturbed the sleep of his kin. His grandfather’s coughs had reduced but his mild snoring had not and his mother was locked in the tight embrace of his father. Their limbs hadn’t moved slightly. As he stood out of his thatched roof house, he looked around to find none. He set off at a brisk pace towards the small stream a hundred and sixty-seven paces away.

Darkness never scared him. This was his first experience of finding himself caught in the excitement of indulging in an adventure without the permission of his parents. His ears were sharp to hear the sound of a snake moving stealthily a few feet away to his left, to the melancholic hoot of the lonely owl, and his own feet moving rhythmically in tandem with his hands.

As he approached the silent stream, he bowed down and muttered a silent prayer to himself, ‘Oh God! Fulfill the wish of this innocent boy. Make a keluthi meen, neither too big nor too small, fall into the mud pot. I promise to offer you a hundred tamarind seeds.’ Esa then went into the stream till the water levels reached his stomach and lowered the pot. After minutes of frustrating wait, a fish, the size of his lower arm landed in his precious earthenware just as the sun rose in the village.

As he landed on the banks, he heard voices of young men approaching the stream. One of the men clad in a dhoti, with a towel covering his chest and well-built arms, shouted at him, ‘Hey scoundrel! You child of filth, what are you doing here?’

His heart was quick to sense that these words meant trouble. Clutching his precious catch, he began to run. Stones, the size of his fist, swished past him. Perhaps for the first time, he was experiencing fear. He thought of all the things his mother and father told him but never explained why. His heart reminded him of scenes from his brief life thus far — how his father set fire to the body of his motionless grandmother in the dead of night, away from the painted houses with roofs; how his mother comforted the wounds suffered by his elder brother when all he did was play with the goat of the stout milkman (and from whom they were not permitted to buy milk) and how his father had always warned him not to approach the stream at any time. His dad permitted him to see the stream by climbing onto one of the branches of the tamarind tree near his house when the moon was right above his head. Hot tears muddled his vision as he tried to hide from the chasing men.

A middle-aged woman in bright saree stopped the boy and slapped him. The pot in Esa’s hand fell on the ground and the freshwater catfish he caught lived its last moments in agony.

‘I am sick of your sight. Before the men catch you, run away from me!’

He sped from that place at the speed of a leopard and hugged his fear stricken mother searching for her child. Ekalavyan returned home and snatched Esa away from their loving embrace.

Looking angrily into Esa’s eyes, he twisted the boy’s right ear and shouted, ‘You little donkey! One more time I see you going anywhere without telling me or your mom, I shall cut your legs and feed the vultures.’

The experience buried his dreams in the graveyards of oblivion. From its memories rose the burden of his identity.

 

Author: Kavir Nair

A bespectacled lad from the filter coffee preferring south Indian coastal city of Chennai. The Japanese coined a word just for me - Tsundoku, which means the act of buying a book and leaving it unread, often piled together with other unread books. Although I must add, having an unread library is the way I could truly honour the late Umberto Eco. When not watching movies in theaters or beach walking on Marina, you can find me at home reading a book or writing a journal or Netflixing. While I do all this as Ravi Kiran, my alter ego - Kavir Nair needs an exclusive space to write. Hence, he has chosen this abode.

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