I am no more a reader

November 29, 2018

I have lost all desire to read.  I, who once considered myself a reader, has stopped reading altogether.  I have tons of books in Kindle and also in paper copy, but I read none of them.  If I read anything, it’s some total useless self-help book like I’ll teach you how to become rich.  I am no more a reader.  I sleep within five minutes of starting to read.

So next time if I boast of reading some book or something, remind me I am no more a reader.

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Beyond love

November 23, 2018

What a loss!  To dream of a person for life, and then coming to a realization that you don’t dream of them anymore.

You meet her and see nothing has changed except these subtle changes, like you won’t touch her, and she’d keep a distance, and you won’t look into her eyes and stuff.  And then there are things like you tell her of The Milkman and she reads a page and something of it, and she tells you of some Guns and Roses and you know you won’t listen to them any time soon, but there will be some evening when you’ll dig them up and play those on loop.

Some things in life never change.  You loved her and you will love her.  Love acts in ways beyond making any sense; your dreams stop being your dreams and your love still keeps on being your love.

Fur Elise

November 18, 2018

Elise.  For long I thought I had forgotten you, but a split glimpse of you today, a photograph – a dream –, and the house of cards fell apart.

I am missing you like a poet misses a perfect word and a musician misses a perfect note until they find it.

Elise.

The Victim – a short story by Avinash Dolas

November 17, 2018

Avinash Dolas was a thinker and activist of Dalit Buddhist Movement in Maharashtra. He was also a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction related to the movement.

Here is one of his stories The Victim translated into English and published in Indian Literature, a journal by Sahitya Akademi, in its March-April 1985 issue.

For reading convenience, I converted the story into an ebook that can be downloaded freely from here: epub mobi PDF

The Victim by Avinash Dolas

IT is the fifth day today. I have developed an unbearable backache because of continuous attendance at the bedside of my mother. Our eyes that streamed with tears on the first day have gone dry now. It has been indeed beyond our forbearance to see her writhe in pain. For the past five days in succession we have been awaiting her last moment from dawn to dusk. Her piteous groaning today does not move us as we have grown immune to pain and emotion. She tries to move her tongue over her dry lips intermittently, indicating the dryness in her mouth. She can just suck a small quantity of water that is fed into her mouth. And like a lump of flesh she is lying motionless on the ground. Men and women attending on her have no other work than merely sit by her side. Tired of this monotonous duty, Bahi sits whiling away his time with a bidi in his mouth outside the hut. Meanwhile, one or two villagers casually drop in at the hut to see what stage the ailing mother has reached and they go back thinking that they have to wait for some more time before the inevitable happens. And nothing more!

To mother, Sumi is the dearest of all her children. On the first day, Sumi wept and wailed aloud. She did not take her food and vowed not to touch it unless mother took it. But all that was in vain as none cared to persuade her to take food, nor was anyone in a mood to do so. Sumi wept and wept till she fell exhausted and lay down on the ground beside mother. Father, who rivetted himself at her feet, saw her piteously writhe and groan. Whenever he felt drowsy, he just lit a bidi and exhaled smoke through his nostrils to keep himself awake. Last night we neither ate nor slept. Now everyone is awaiting mother’s last moment.

All this physical strain and mental fatigue have rendered me unfit to sit beside mother any longer. Mother’s room has gone damp and is stinking with the stench of her half-burnt body. Except for a torn dhoti of father, there is no cover over her ailing body. She cannot bear even the light weight of a blanket or a quilt as her skin has become highly sensitive to any covering. Whenever some covering is spread over her body, it extracts a lump of burnt flesh. She makes only a slow movement of her neck and legs. Otherwise she is as good as dead.

Like earthworms writhing in mud, our innards have now started convulsing with hunger. For the past five days, our hearth has been cold. Nevertheless, we could get a few cups of tea offered by our neighbours. That’s all. Nothing else to eat or drink. For the last couple of days, Sumi is sitting outside and Bahi is trying to quench the fire of his hunger with the smoke of the bidis. Now he is unable to bear the smell of mother’s body. Actually, he is trying to swallow open air under the excuse of smoking bidis. Everyone is dying of hunger.

Once, seeing mother try to move her legs, I went near her and saw that there was little trace of skin on her legs. It was all half-burnt pulp of flesh with flies hovering over it. Father came near her and I moved away a bit to the back as I could not face him. My eyes had lost their retentive power and were too weak to see anything. All the while, my conscience pricked me as mother was confined to deathbed mainly on my account. My heart was torn like a worn-out cloth.

As we could not send word to uncle and aunt, we felt guilty over it. The guilt was all the more as we could not send a message to Shanta at a time when mother was counting her last moments. Even the village dogs have gone dumb ever since the horrible incident took place five days back. Further, as we could not remove ailing mother to the hospital for treatment, it has been pricking our conscience all the more. At the time of the incident, her body, swallowed by flames, was actually dragged out of the hut. However, the residue of the gutted hut was thrown away into the river by Yesaji, the village chairman. We appealed to the villagers, prayed to them, prostrated at their feet, but they did not show even an iota of mercy on us. They burnt up mother and hut and all our belongings.

As a result of this, the rebel in us is also turned to ashes. We are all burning with anger, but are weak, meek and helpless. We are lifeless skeletons. Every day, the State Transport bus passes our village several times. Hundreds of villagers come and go, but none opens his mouth to talk of the dreadful incident. Everyone was to witness to the tragedy, but none cares to make a courtesy call on us. None wants to speak out the fact that our mother sustained burns and our hut was set on fire.

One day, remembering Shanta, accompanied by Kachru Baba, I myself approached Baburao, the foul-mouthed village boss. Kachru Baba imploringly appealed to him:

“Sirkar, now everything is over. Let Shanta see the face of her ailing mother at least in the last moment of her life.”

“Kachrya!” the boss roared.

“Yes, Sirkar,” said Kachru.

“Don’t you know what I told your father?”

“I quite know IL But, Sirkar…”

“Shut up. Don’t utter a word more.”

“No, Sirkar. Please be kind enough to allow Shanta to see her mother.”

“No, not at all. They have eaten dung. They have trespassed on our status and power. Let them go to the dogs.”

“Let me apologise for their offence, Sirkar.”

“You people wanted to call the police. Didn’t you?”

“Kindly forget it and forgive us, Sirkar!”

“Nothing doing! It is no loss if one Mahar woman died?”

On hearing this, we were crestfallen and returned home dumbfounded. Here at home all are impatiently waiting for mother’s last moment. Everyone wants her to breathe her last. If she does not die now, all will go mad. The watering-place will be forgotten within a short time. Henceforth there will be no resentment on that account. The rebel in me will die a premature death. It was mother who led the agitation for drawing water from the Panchayat well and setting the watering-place there. Father, being a damper, was of no use then as now. As he wants to befriend all, he never opens his mouth to give vent to our grievances and hence avoids all trials and tribulations.

I still remember how my militant mother, in contrast to my gutless father, was pitched against Chairman Baburao who was opposed by Aawloo in the Panchayat elections. On the day of polling, the Chairman called and brainwashed me at lnamdar’s house and threatened to crush me if I voted against him. The police had to intervene then. All this still lingers with photographic vividness before my eyes. Tired of sitting beside mother, I just stretched myself on the ground and saw whitish fluid trickling from her body. The foul smell of her body became all the more nauseating now. I tried to stand up, but very nearly collapsed on her body.

“What’s the matter?’ asked father.

“Nothing,” I said.

“If you are tired, lie down for a while,” he advised.

“No, no, I don’t want to relax,” I said.

However, I just reclined slightly on the pile of sacks for a few minutes, shook my hand and found that a lump of the burnt-up flesh of mother’s body was struck to my elbow. I was stunned. My tongue went dry.

Soma and Chimi quietly entered the hut. Soma sat speechless beside father and Chima started sobbing fast. Mother was seen struggling to open her mouth to speak out something, but in vain. When I started weeping loudly, she said in an indistinct voice:

“Don’t weep… Some day or the other, everyone has to bid good-bye to this world. Now, no use crying over what happened.”

She could speak no more. Father looked at me and said: “You bastard, you wanted to be an agitator, a leader. Didn’t you? Now see the consequences of your agitation. You did not listen to my advice then. Now, no use crying over spilt milk.”

Father wanted to say more, but his tongue did not cooperate with him. On Aawloo’s getting elected to the Panchayat, we had resolved to open the watering-place near the Panchayat well. The entire Mahar-Mang colony stood by us then, except father who is a coward of the first water. The villagers led by Salu Mali, Ganpat Teli and the Chairman were pitched against us. The two parties armed with sticks and lathis were arrayed on either side and the village had turned into a battleground. I still remember how one afternoon we started to offer Satyagraha for drawing water from the Panchayat well and how at about four o’clock we saw the police jeep descend on the village heath when the resistance was in full swing. The lathis of the police fell on our heads till we bled. The well turned red with blood. The police arrested the sarpanch and Ganapat Teli, and placed them behind the bars. They were released from the jail after a week.

The routine life of the village began afresh, as usual. All kept mum over the bloody incident. In this way, two months elapsed. Residents of the Mahar-Mang colony did not utter a word of protest. All over the village, there was a total lull. But, all of a sudden, to our surprise and shock, one night our huts were set on fire and burnt down. Everything went to rack and ruin. Mother, encircled by flames, was dragged out from the hut. She could not be removed to the hospital and treated for her burns. Sitya, who went to call the police was found dead in the river, with his backbone broken. All roads were blocked.

Five days have elapsed since this fatal incident. My mother became a victim of my ego and the brutalities of the villagers. Though she has been on her deathbed for the last five days, she said to me in an emaciated voice:

“Don’t be silly, son. Don’t kill your hunger, eat something. You have neither eaten nor slept for five days.”

Ignoring her advice, I just lay down by her side with my ears, eyes and entrails all burning with anger and agony. I heard something drop down. I strained my eyes and saw that the stinking hand of mother had fallen on my body. Whitish fluid started trickling from her mouth. I held my hand over her nostrils to feel her breath and found that she had breathed her last. Our eyes went dry with sorrow. My mother was an unwept and unsung victim!

‘Bali’

Tr. from Marathi by V.D. KATAMBLE

[epub mobi PDF]

Letter to my son’s class teacher

August 15, 2018

A photograph of my son (2012)

Dear Sir,

I wish you a very happy Independence Day.

I’m writing this to you to tell about an incident my son told me this morning while getting ready for school. It may seem a trivial matter to some, but I think it’s a grave concern and I should inform you about it.

Yesterday, during some class, the teacher asked “Who (which country) is celebrating their Independence Day today?” She was talking about simultaneous freedom of two countries: India and Pakistan. But it happened that as she was talking about Pakistan, some students pointed towards one of your students Parvez and said “Madam, aaj Parvez ka Independence Day hai.. wo Pakistan se hai..” From what I know from my son, the teacher replied, “haa re, tum Pakistan se ho?” The kid bit his tongue and kept silence.

I’m shocked to hear about such an incident happening in our class. I told my kid that this country is as much of Muslims as it’s of any other Indians. Incidentally, I was listening to the song “apni aazaadi ko hum hargiz mita sakte nahi..” I told him about this song: it’s written by Shakil Badayuni, music by Naushad, sung by Mohd. Rafi, filmed of Dilip Kumar – all of them Muslims.

This is not the first time he told me about such bullying of Parvez. Many a times, other kids ask him to go Pakistan.

Kids are kids, sir. They learn from what’s happening around them. It’s our responsibility to identify the problem and correct the course. I’m sure such incidents happen away from your gaze and they are almost never brought to your attention. Yesterday’s incident was a perfect occasion to talk about it and get the kids sensitised about the topic. Things can’t be washed out just by hiding them. I’m afraid – if such incidents are happening at our school where all teachers are well-trained in children psychology, I cannot imagine situation of private schools that run on poorly trained teachers.

I’m a parent to one kid. You are a parent figure to hundreds of them. I’m sure you can educate the kids in a better way than any of us. I request you to please find some occasion, talk to the kids, and sensitise them towards the issue.

I’m especially concerned about the poor kid Parvez. My son, also previously, had told me about some behavioral changes in the kid. Sometimes, he gets aggressive and replies with “हाँ, हूँ मैं पाकिस्तान से..” Please provide him special attention. The kid has done nothing to suffer this kind of bullying.

I hope you’d understand my concern and would excuse me for overstepping into your area of expertise.

Yours faithfully,

Of skipping meals

June 24, 2018

I have stopped counting the days I’m skipping regular meals.  We missed a lunch on 17th.  I missed it on 18th. Of 19th, I am not sure.  On 20th, we surely didn’t eat.  I ate a light lunch on 21st, again missed 22nd and 23rd.  This is early morning of 24.  I am hungry and I don’t find anything in the refrigerator.

With you, without you..

May 1, 2018

[Following is a translation of a letter from a collection of letters “तुझ्यासह आणि तुझ्याविना” by Dr. A. H. Salunkhe.  A well-known figure in Maharashtra for his scholarship of Sanskrit and his work in the Bahujan Movement, Dr. Salunkhe is an acclaimed author of many scholarly books.  This collection is one rare book where he wrote about his personal life, his love for his wife, after she passed away of cancer.

To me, this book is even more special.  It was a book I had gifted to my girlfriend, who later went on to become my wife, on 14th April 2007, first anniversary of me expressing my love for her.  Also, having personally met Dr. Salunkhe, I know what a kind-hearted person he is, and bearing a loss of this magnitude must have been very painful for him.  I wish him immense strength to bear with this pain. I also wish him a long, healthy life so that we can get more of his guidance.]

My copy of तुझ्यासह आणि तुझ्याविना

Madhushree,

My craze for books was ever since I was a kid. I know, in the early days of our marriage, because I was crazy for books, you had to put in a lot of planning to buy household things. Many a times, you would create something useful from scrap, but you never came against my buying books.

You wouldn’t forget the story of our wedding ring. Indeed, as a wedding ring, I should have kept it close to my heart all my life. But I couldn’t stay attached to it emotionally. It was not even a month since our marriage that I sold it and reached International book store at Pune Deccan Gymkhana. From that money, I bought Siddhant Kaumudi on Panini’s grammar, Brahmasutra Shankar Bhashya, Nirukt by Yaskacharya, Rigved Samhita, Naishadheyacharit, Shishupalvadh, Raghuvansh, Dey and Dasgupta’s History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, and many such books from there and the stores nearby. In fact, I would have sold even your ring, but it was spared more than once because of your emotional connect to it. I understand selling the wedding ring within a month of wedding must have been real painful for you.

Many a times, I think I shouldn’t have done that. I should have cared for your feelings. But, Shree, what else could I do? I was trying to complete my M.A. in Sanskrit. As an external student, it wasn’t possible to access college libraries. There were no other libraries available. I had no option but to buy those books, and I saw no other way to buy them. It’s not that it wasn’t painful for me to sell the ring. Now that you aren’t here, with that ring in my finger, I could have imagined your presence, could have felt your touch. The pain of selling that ring, something that I couldn’t feel so much while you were alive, feels so much now behind you. But what can I do now but to ask for forgiveness?

But I tell you – I always feel grateful for that ring. Whatever Sanskrit I could learn in my future life, its base was formed on the books that I bought from selling it. If I couldn’t get those books at that time, perhaps I couldn’t even be an MA in Sanskrit; let alone all the achievements in the future. Whatever I am today, it is out of many such times when I crumpled and crushed your feelings. How can I forget this gift of yours? How much restrain you would have used? In that tender age, how could you bear with this craze of mine? Or it was that you were in love with this craze itself? That it was this craziness that kept you in love with me?

Even in the later days, you would tell many times to my friends, “my husband is not married to me, but to these books.” Apparently, it seemed like a complaint against me, but more often it was about immense pride and happiness. If there was any regret, it was very little. You never read any of my books in continuity, but you would say with pride, “I haven’t read any of his books, but I can talk about the contents of any of them.” It was true. You never needed to leave your chores and read them. It was only a printed form of whatever was discussed in the household, and it was natural that you never felt the need to read them.

But one of your complaints really hit me in the heart. It made me feel like a criminal in my own eyes. It is about this incident happened in the last 8-10 months of your life. I was looking for some reference; I was trying to explain something with it. You were sitting nearby. You needed something; you asked for it. I didn’t hear you. It’s not that your voice was low. I was so engaged in finding that reference, I didn’t hear what you said; like your voice didn’t fall on my ears. Your words lost into thin air. I don’t know what you might have felt that time, but it got you, and you said irritated, “my husband can’t think of anything but books!” This went straight to my heart like an arrow. I came out my trance, left books, pen, paper everything and came to you, and gave whatever you wanted. You became calm soon. In the illness of about 18 months, it was only two-three times that you lost your cool; it was one of those incidents. Perhaps that day you could no longer bear the pain; perhaps you could have strongly felt that I should come to you, talk to you, calm you, share your pain. Perhaps you felt hurt seeing me not even listening to you and it brought up that outburst. Of course, you were in all your rights and your anger was reasonable. But, Shree, what could I do? Mine was a hunger of a person starving from a hundred generations. From there, came this devouring, this harshness of ignoring you.

You do know about my fully immersing in my reading and writing. At home or at some public place, in trains or in bus, wherever I think of something of note, I write it down then and there; it’s what I always do. Even while I rode scooter, if there was something to note, I would stop the scooter, note it and then go ahead. I have been doing this for long. I’m always worried lest I forget and lose that point later. At times, if I forgot to note something and then it got lost, I could do nothing, but to regret that I didn’t note it. If the noted chit gets misplaced and lost, it pains a lot, like I have been robbed of something valuable. Once I was thinking of something while in bus, Hyderabad to Nanded, 7-8 hours continuously. What is the exact nature of ‘self’; a lot of thoughts were pouring like heavy rains that day. I was noting the whole thing in a diary. Later some day, I was at an STD booth in Dhule and lost the diary there. I could never remember those same points again and I lost them forever.

I can’t tell where some thought would occur to me. For this reason, I always take care to keep paper, pen with me. You know that. Even while sleeping, I keep paper, pen under my pillow. If I had to write something, I would pull out my hand under your head without breaking your sleep and note down the points. I have done this for years. Many such points that I wrote after taking my hand under your head are scattered across many of my books. These points occur even today. Even now, I keep paper, pen under my pillow. But now I don’t have to take out my hand under your head. I don’t have to worry about breaking your sleep. Everything else is the same, only you are not here. You are not; neither to dote on my craziness, nor to complain about it. If you had stayed, not only to make playful complaints against me, but even to make serious complaints, or to make harsh criticism, or to protest against me, or even to condemn me, my heart would have been filled with flowers of joy. I would have drenched myself in the showers of happiness. But you didn’t.

[Original letter titled as शंभर पिढ्या उपाशी असलेल्या माणसाची भूक in the collection].

Don’t go my beloved..

May 1, 2018

It’s already past midnight, but I have lost my sleep.  My heart is skipping beats.  I’ve lost my sleep.  I am singing kinds of sad, melancholic bollywood songs to myself.  Don’t go my beloved.. For tonight, do not go..

How does one hold on to moments?

April 29, 2018

How does one hold on to moments? You wish so much to turn them into tiny cubes and hide them in your pocket so that you – checking no one can see you – can take them out and feel them again and again.

How does a gaze, as normal as a gaze, makes you trust in love? How do your lips that seem to detest all music at other times serenade into cute little jingles? How does it happen that the time stop with the caresses, but the clock never does?

The moments fly like a butterfly and I ruminate into times hoping to catch a glimpse on my canvas so that they stay. They never do.

Hold my hand

December 26, 2017

I enter into the jungle that I had only heard of.  On the roads I had never walked on.  I ground each step not without a thought.  Don’t scorn me off.

My desires are tender.  My longings are circumspect.

My dreams have roamed all over your virgin lands, though my earthen remains have always stayed behind.

Ain’t I welcome, dear?  Something in you tells me yes, yet something holds me off.

While I enter into the dark alleys of you, my love, hold my hand, hold my hand.