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Science Fiction

Drama Romance Tragedy


4  

Science Fiction

Drama Romance Tragedy


Tell Me?

Tell Me?

9 mins 316 9 mins 316

I loved the dockyard I visited every Sunday.

Bright billowing yellow sails, impossibly tiny white boats dotting the shoreline, and dark, rugged, sunburnt faces. I quite liked the overpowering stench of fish that seemed to emanate from each nook, cranny, crack, and hole of the port, and the trademark stink of the Arabian Sea only complemented it. I enjoyed splashing my chappals into the mucky slurry of fish remains, mud, and salty water that substituted for the carpet in these whereabouts. But most of all, I loved Vasu, the pretty young girl sitting calmly amongst the mess of it all. She was a fish-cleaner with many pretty cuts on her pretty wrists.

 She really was a cutter. Poor as dirt, pretty as a picture, she had caught more than this man’s eye. The morning had her opening fish, and the night, her legs. In the time that was left, she would open new wounds on her wrist, each one too brutal to look a natural by-product of her profession and yet too cowardly to actually end her life.

 Each evening she snuck to the edge of her brother’s boat, overlooking the immenseness of the swirling grey sea below her with only her Amma’s sickle for company. Then she would cut herself, or try to rather. She never got very far. Evolution was stronger than her willpower. It taught us to survive real hard. Real hard. It didn’t matter how miserable or upset she was. As long as the genes were propagated, as long as her DNA multiplied, as long as she existed, there would be no cell in her body willing to die.

Her brain took her to the pier every eve but her body wouldn’t throw itself off it, unless you know, the basal areas of her brain calculated viable means for her survival and reproduction at the bottom of the sea.

What broke her reverie as the dark fell, were the crass calls of her brother pimping her out to the strangers on the backstreet. 

How did I know all this?

Regrettably, I was one of her most loyal customers.

“I love you” I muttered, stroking a swathe of her dark hair behind her neck and kissing her fiery skin. She didn’t respond. I undid my belt and carried out my business. 

As usual.

After we both were satiated, I left the slightly wilted gajra next to the box of sweets I’d brought for her on the mantelpiece and made a beeline for the door. 

“ Then why do you do this to me?” she asked suddenly, gesturing to her gloriously naked body on the moldy cot. “ Lovers don’t do this.”

“I can’t help myself…I don’t know ?” I stuttered like a fool words spilling out before I could register what she had asked.

And then I left.                                                

Her question had left me blank amidst a whirlwind of flying thoughts. I could barely find my car and when I did, I almost knocked over 3 gaily chatting old women who thrust a colorful string of cusses in my direction.

She trusted you with her feelings, a voice in my head rebuked. Every single time that she went into those blank, emotionless states when her brother beat her up or her mother beat her up or when her mother and brother beat her up.

But, I tip her extra every time that happens. I’m doing my part, aren’t I?

Fucking really? Is that what you’ve come to now? Tip her extra? You could do more. You can do more.

What should I do then? Marry her? A man of my status getting married to a prostitute would be a scandal and a half. 

But it would make her life. Really completely change it. And she was better than all those shaadi.com groupies mother brought home every day.

 What would I say?

Mom, mom, and remember in the epics, some wonderful King in the Mahabharata married some poor fisherwoman? 

Do you mean the marriage that started the greatest war of a millennium? That marriage? 

You just need to help her. Okay? Keep it simple, stupid.

Next Sunday I carried my laptop. I’d pirated movies and uh… we’d watch them? Yes, I did see the ridiculousness of Netflix and Chill in this situation. And no it didn’t deter me in the slightest.

Alia Bhatt’s “Dear Zindagi” dealt with a young girl, a much older man, and mental health issues, I was really trying to sell a story here, you see. She saw the movie, enraptured, hanging onto each word, but I’m not sure she even got it. She laughed at all the wrong parts and when Alia had a breakdown about the unanswered letters she wrote her parents, she was practically roaring with laughter.

“Sab ameer log aise hi hote hai?” she asked after the peak of her mirth had died down. “ Arey koi hamare life pe bhi movie banake dekhe. Marte dam tak maarke bhi ek cheekh nahi sunaai deti.” Her voice rung out with odd pride, she obviously thought her silence was a mark of her strength.

Only flimsy Bollywood stars could afford a therapist and time to talk about their problems, she chastised me. On them, it was a mark of a beautiful tragedy staining a shining persona, by default, making the rest of it brighter. Those who have it all, don’t have it all, because of one flaw that they can’t really help: the ultimate I’m-just-like-you maneuver.

“ Jab hame hota hai na ye sab, toh sunnewale koi nahi hote. Ye ameero ki bimaari hai” the scantily clad, scantily worded Vasundhara had spoken all this in her broken Hindi, her chest heaving with the pressure of her words.

So, the next flick I picked was Uddta Punjab the very next Sunday, which I figured would be more her speed. A poor farmer girl with no one to call her own, forced into heroin addiction by her rapists: it was her against the world. She loved it. Absolutely loved it. She gave me a dazzling smile when it was over. We spoke for hours that day. Things that made me laugh, things that made me cry, things that disgusted me. I’d known her for years but it marked the first time we actually met. “ Have you told this to anyone else?” I asked when she finally confessed her recurring suicidal thoughts.

“Who will I tell? Who can I afford to tell? No one here wants to live. There is nothing here to live for.”

“But you have it worse. You have it the worst.”

“Hmph.” She snorted. “ I’ve told Maltibai for what it’s worth” she laughed with a sudden wink of mischievousness in her eyes.

Malti was the local idiot ever since her parents had died. She just floated around the huts dazedly from what I could tell, asking for food, and was usually showered a healthy dose of abuse with each morsel. Completely slapstick was the general consensus.

“ Oh dear, you really are mad then,” I said with mock surprise.

She giggled freely “ Yes, yes I am” and we chased the afternoon away laughing in each other's arms.

I’d been getting ambitious with my movie choices, as weeks later, I’d progressed to Scorcese’s Shutter Island. It was noir, rather high-brow and I’d have to stop scene by scene and explain each dialogue in Hindi but there was something about Di Caprio’s investigation into the psychiatric institution of the ’50s that I thought would get my message across. I was partially correct. Her original fascination with his gora-chitta face was quickly replaced by a sudden understanding of the tone of the movie, she was repelled. “Vasu this is just how things used to be 50 years ago. We learned from our mistakes in patient care.” She nodded mutely, said she had to speak to Malti at once, and left in a hurry.

 Don’t push it, I thought. If I'd felt on the edge then I don't know how I survived the night.

That night, my phone screamed alive. 19 missed calls from an unknown number in Mumbai, Maharashtra. I pick up the call and my eardrums threaten to burst streaming blood from the sharp shrill sobs on the other end.

“Malti ko maar rahe hai woh log…. Vasu hai mai…Vasu….. Jaldi aa.”

My favorite voice in the world was punctuated by only the sobs congesting her throat. If the numb Vasu couldn’t control her emotions I was scared to find out what was happening. I dialed up a police friend and begged for a favour. When I told him why, he spared me the lowliest, drunkest constable in his power to be my escort.

No matter, I just needed the khakhi man to get out of there alive. I knew what I needed to do.

When we reached, the huts were dark, all but the one at the farthest end of the dock, aglow with the light of twenty or so hand lanterns. I don’t remember running across the ground that normally would’ve tripped me a dozen times over. I just remember the crowd in a circle, the same robust, smiling faces I’d haggled with earlier today about the price of their halwa, the quality of their surmai, the fishing weather, all strangely absorbed in a spectacle at their center. It must be an epicenter that bore none of the peace the eye of a storm is meant to hold, with a ghostly audience that seemed to flicker in and out of reality.

AAAH!

A blood-curling scream emerged from within -we didn’t need more incentive- the constable and I shoved through men, women, and children, transfixed at what lay inside. We saw a scarecrow of a man, dancing gleefully, brandishing a rod in his heavily tattooed arms, an unnatural smile glazing his face. He looked like a Warli cave painting, crude, thin and celebratory. And then I saw my Vasu, beaten black and blue, kneeling over a body, sobbing uncontrollably.

The air seemed too thin when I realized it was a dead body. The only one in mourning was Vasu, shaking, wailing, completely inconsolable for her dead friend. Her confidante.

The Warli doctor had done his hokum for the entire village to watch. "The spirits had fled and all were safe! " he shouted gleefully going forward to accept his fee, only to be met by the constable’s steely handcuffs. The crowd had wisened up and fled to their respective huts. They still had business tomorrow.

I knelt beside Vasu and stared at her. She had been a physical shield to ease the blows on her friend while the throng had leered and abused her. Her brother was at her shoulder, drunkenly tugging her pallu

“You BITCH! Look at what you’ve done now…those ugly bruises on your goddamn face…who will pay for you now, huh, you whore? If you won't spread your legs, I’ll make you spread your hands…You see, you’ll be at every station in the city.” he threatened.

She couldn’t seem to hear a word her tyrant spoke. Her eyes were leaking tears. It just didn’t end.

“Will you come with me?” I asked simply, no preamble, my eyes matching the intensity of her gaze.

A pregnant pause filled the air.

“What of her last rites?”

“They are my first priority”

“What of this rakshasa at my back?” her eyes lingered but momentarily at her kin.

“ If I don’t kill him first, I’ll ensure that he’ll be safe”, I spat," away from the police at any rate."

A dry smile appeared on her face.

“Will you marry me?” I asked, not daring to breathe.

Even her brother’s screaming and constable Shinde’s gasp of horror couldn’t pierce the unbreakable, whole moment when the sliver of an assent gleamed on her face.


                         


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