Your Father Needs a Cow in the Afterlife

1

The rickshaw screeches to a stop by the blue wooden doors of the shop, not even tall as its proprietor, having to duck every time you take the doors. It’s a series of doors, sturdy wooden planks that open like a Chinese folding fan, metal hinges needing oil in the cold. Opening the doors in a series of grumbles while its clacks lets fluorescent lights pour into the dirt street and the rear end of the rickshaw. Dumping a squeezed cigarette pack with ‘555’ on its side while brushing his shoes on a rubber mat on the doorstep, he enters his shop. It was also home of late.

The rickshaw driver looks through the open doors at the shop. He sees a sleeping shop. Done with all its labors the harmonium shop lies in chaos, at least for the rickshaw driver. He sees the gentleman coming back, cash in hand. He takes it graciously, the green notes crispy in hand.

Pulling out of the dirt, he pushes and jumps onto the pedals, the road is empty now, and he is in a hurry. He shoots through the streets that take him to the middle of the city. Now they have made the road go around the ground, in a circle to the dark statues of the persons long past. He didn’t mind he had to go all the way around that new road, paying homage to kings, generals, tyrants he never knew. He didn’t mind that the way took him longer, under the gates of the dead heroes of things long past. He whistles through cold winds of a sleeping city nestling in the warm embraces of stillness.

Doors to the harmonium shop closes. There is a sharp note of a harmonium key when it shut, maybe not. The front of the shop is crowded with unfinished pieces with jut out wires like bones of an unfinished being on the table of creation; wood scraps and dust lie on the floor, bile and excrements. Through a small cream-colored door in the back, a darker and even narrower space exists. All the junk on the shop floor was meant to be here, in the storage. Now there is just a bed.

“Anything happened today?” She asked every day. Every day like this, seven months. He said nothing.

They knew. He pulls, presses a switch hanging itself on a spiral blue wire. A smaller fluorescent light up reflecting down from tin with badly printed logos and rust spots where nails hammered through wood and metal was what remained of his life. Dropping off his coat on a hook behind the door, he pulled his belt and took a breath.

“It isn’t easy hunting a ghost.”

The love of his life looked up at him with pained eyes. “Did you ask her?”

“Look…”

“Did you?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say?”

“………. “, she bows her head at that.

2

“She knew about my father and the curse the moment she laid her eyes on me.” She looks up at that with hopes in her eyes. Her sharp chin sharpened when happy. It was excited and hopeful. The small face dwarfed by golden moons in her ears broke his heart.

“There is a man by Pikal lake. Apparently, he is friends with ghosts of priests.”

“Tomorrow?” He sighs, exhausted.

“Need to go by the temple and the market to get some offerings for him first. Come on, that is tomorrow. Let’s eat now.”

The radio is silent as they eat. It is past midnight and people at the radio sleep, to start early prayers in morning. “I can see him, child! He stands Tall Powerful! I see his frowning face! He rages!”

Well, that sounded like the Red Pundit he knew.

He was kneeling, hopeful with marigolds clutched between his hand, held before and above his head, bowed before powerful visage of the ancient shaman. Throwing half a handful of red rice over the pattern of a mud floor, the near-nude, red lined shaman shakes around in a trance. He listened, in hope.

“He sees you, child! He wants to tear you apart and feast on your blood. He curses, even in death! The lords of death ride him, disturbed in the mortal world, the tranquil beings of eternity.”

Now Bikal prostrated on his knees. His forehead is on the brown floor, and he screams his pleas and begs the ghost of the holy Brahmin. He seeks removal of the curse. He seeks redemption for his family, put out before it started.

“Forgive and bless my house oh father! Lift this curse, we are thy own blood.”

“Death! Destruction! Annihalation of Everything!” The shaman was trembling, no rhythm to his trance now, just a leaf in mercy of tempest.

“Father! Forgive me, our family, remember the face of our mother and lift this curse.”

The storm slowed, winds died, and everything came to a silent stop. The Pikal shaman had aged a decade in the last hour. The white-haired man pushed against the floor to the wall and lay there, eyes closed.

“Your father,” the shaman spoke with eyes shut, “will not be dissuaded. His anger is too strong to be dismissed, his righteousness too stubborn for forgiveness. This curse is non-trivial.”

There is a way out still.

“We have to do a Calming ritual on Monday. The shaman says it’ll take the whole day and night of fasting. This is one of those big ones. Great sacrifice will be necessary. I’ll get a goat tomorrow, why don’t you get started on the fire?”

“Think this’ll work?”

“Yes. There is something about the man. I think we will know for once and all. This is the last stop. Then we stop trying.”

He didn’t know that before he spoke. That act of speaking persuaded him to make his mind, his own voice that seemed distant did reasoning for him. No more, this was last. She looked up at him, her eyes welling up, she buried her face against his shoulders.

3

The rickshaw hurtles through the wide road on the northern corner of town. A newly expanded area and you can still see the sharp edges of gravel and tar on the side of road. There are few houses around, sure to change in a year, this city is fattening up. Undisturbed by pedestrians or stupidly maneuvering tin cans of town, the man enjoys the wind against his face. Beneath his feet the old metal and wood contraption is gliding, no burden under its bamboo shed. In the great straight road, there’s a single and subtle bend that takes you around dense bamboo bush keeping to your left. Keeping on the bend, bushes hastily retreat to give way to a small fork on a stream that goes under the road. It’s hard to notice, and most people usually don’t. High yellowing grass.

A small corner just off the road and by the stream, full of coals that never looked more than a few hours old. They never were. It could be mistaken as a ghat, a place of pyres if not for the fact that no one on that lonely road had ever seen a lit pyre there. It was because they only went through that road during day. It was no secret that the ghat by bend lit brightly every night. People didn’t know about it, but it was no secret.

For the rickshaw man, whose work and riders took him to every corner in the city, from European mansions of the blood rich to disgusting sacks he dragged drunk customers home to, this place was not unfamiliar.

Tonight, as he hurtles towards hills at the end of the road where a two beams tall mud house with a cowshed lies. His wife used to work in the city, when they first came here. That was years ago and now she lived at home, taking care of their six children, two goats and a horde of angry chickens. Kids were expensive, he wished someone had told him that. Not like his days, he had nine other siblings and his parents did fine.

The bonfire didn’t surprise him. What did was loud wailing coming from a figure by the ground near the burning pyre. He didn’t notice, the pyre seemed a bit different today, a bit bigger lacking a bit browner and darker shade of death. The fire was huge still there was a hunger for more wood.

4

He slowed. He had stopped by here before and had talked with the creepy priest handful of times. When his eyes got used to the glare of the pyre he could make out a woman lying on the ground. She had that familiar swooning fit that only comes with death of love. He was focusing much on the woman, the man took him by surprise.

He has a familiar look. He raised his hand showing, reflecting white palms of his hand seeing a startled look on his face.

“Sorry to surprise you like that, friend.”

The rickshaw driver said nothing, he looked around, sweeping his gaze from man to pyre and woman and back to man. No priest present and there are usually no visitors in this ghat. The people they burn here don’t have visitors. The rickshaw man dismissed his slight unease, he had nothing on him after all.

When the man didn’t reply to his greeting, the stranger ventured, “Not a good hour for conversation, eh? Do you drive this route often?” He pointed to the Rickshaw.

“I live at the end of the highway over there.”

“Well that’s a long way to go, isn’t it? Please take some of this offering with you. It was my father-in-law’s funeral today.”

It was an unusual place and time for a cremation, but the rickshaw man didn’t feel right to comment. You don’t refuse food at a funeral; the dead eat what you eat.

“I thank you. Sacred things are always welcome. Where is the priest and everyone?”

The stranger invited him towards the pyre with a gesture while he answered, “Oh you know the priests nowadays, interested only in coins in the offering, not even the grain. Read a half-assed hymn and excused himself with something about another funeral and slipped out. We are strangers to this city, …my father-in-law suffered an accident while we were here.”

The men stood a respectful distance from the burning pyre. The woman was a bit silent now, her throat raw lungs empty of any air. He looked intently at her with pity. To lose your father in a city…..

He barely saw the khukri coming towards him from left with a blurry vision, but it was too late then. Although he could feel the gush and wetness all round his left side, he didn’t feel any pain while the stranger grabbed him by his waistcoat, on his blind and dead side and dragged-threw him into the fire, back first.

Surely the stranger didn’t mean it this way, but the rickshaw man was conscious; a few moments away from the birth of pain in his mind, facing two burning figures in front. The stranger’s eyes were wide, afraid, yellow and horrified. He could look them both in their eyes while he died. He knew who she was crying for.

 

On The Road

As the countdown to the New Year began, Mukhe, in cultural shock gaped through the crowd as strangers with crispy Sherpa beers and acerbic mocktails, enthralled in this ebony madness, lighted by neon lights led by a trail of warm yellow jumped hither and thither like frogs on acid, for shelter from a storm of unreserved happiness, ready to welcome uncertain times which would bring joys to some and maladies to the rest.

I had finished Kerouac’s On the Road just a day ago and in awe of such post war young Americans, pioneers of the Beat Generation, hippy prototypes, I was feeling quite sprightly already. I remembered of Hemingway who allegedly said ‘The idea is not to get drunk. It is to stay drunk’. In spite of his uptight upbringing, having traveled the orient, Mukhe led the entrouage with a grim countenance throughout the night of drunken revelries and brief encounters with pseudo philosophical battles of wits and other such mumbo jumbos.

Continue reading On The Road

A Tragic Comedy of Human Divinity

1.

He checked on his phone couple of times to see if she had replied; timid and dejected at every blink of the slick little screen.  It was exasperating that she refused to understand his predicament and it slowly weighed on him; one thing to comprehend and another thing to refute it. Times like this reminded him of his mother who despite of her noble upbringing and education was too much of a conformist for his taste. ‘Women’ thought he, ‘never too lively, never too low. They always let men take the fall’. His scarlet cheeks glossed.  He read and re-read their conversation on the phone till it dawned to him that she wasn’t cold, she was merely playing it heartless.

A couple of days passed and he was grew miserable from the fact that it wasn’t up to him to conclude their mutual displeasure. It was simply a matter of time and he was getting out of time to contain his melancholic resentment towards such a petty squabble which was due to the fact that he couldn’t attend her sister’s swoyamber. How could he participate in such a trifling event when he had a job to attend to which paid his bills and with much industry could he manage to put a wee bit more than mere rice and lentils on the table for his family of six. There was no escape from his listless diligence when his own pocket was tight.

‘How can you be so selfish? What does it matter if you flunked your office, once for me? You were the one who used to say that employment is just a twenty first century invention?’ she had romped incessantly.

It’s always difficult for a man to not be affected with the wrath of his woman. It is full of cruelty because it comes not from heart but from her angry yet nonchalant mind; coy, unaffected and full of logic that men have difficult time to comprehend how and from where such paroxysms originate. The loftiness of man against women’s intelligence is thus shattered. One thing that evolution has undone is men’s ability to recognize that women are as intelligent as them and in arguments of such sorts men lack courage to concede their cerebral powerlessness against so-called inferior creatures, leading to irrational and most visibly whimsical, savage behaviors and offensive languages against women which can never be justified.

Now, of course, our ‘he’ in this tale isn’t such a character but again he has grown into a miserable man. A miserable man will think and do as he pleases by the mere virtue being ‘him’ in the first place. So, deciding that the best course of action for him would be to frighten her and gain her sympathy, he thought, as he simply typed with his tremulous fingers on the little screen, ‘It will be the death of me if I can’t have you back’. You know, one of those eye rolling statements that lovers try on each other just to get their precious attention back. Of course, they don’t really mean it but it does depict how much they are marooned spiritually without one’s lovers company.

At this she got furious and curtly replied, ‘Then just do it for my sake’. She merely smirked. Well, it has his attention and indifference juxtaposed together to make him go mad with rage. ‘If she wants it then so it be’ he thought. Still, he doesn’t mean it, but in certes, a seed of haplessness is already planted on his head.

 

2.

Sunsets pass by unconditionally and still they don’t converse. The fat, ostentatious swoyamber passes, she nonchalantly shares a nicely photographed album in the social medias as well. It adds butter to fire and he tries to get in touch with her but alas! All she needed was a romantic apology which would for him, be very condescending to do and for a few more days he doesn’t swallow up his pride. It’s a cold war, a farce which history of romance has already depicted us in more than one tale. Modern romance is futile and lovers are gudgeons of plastic fate. Nor benedictions nor depressive medications cure such ethereal maladies of life. It’s a farce and a mere game that women play just to fool around with men who, they know shall brandish some stupidity on themselves. These are such games of statements which both men and women use to assert their dominance on each other much-to melancholic avails.

So, our main character now abjures the material pleasures of life and begins to find portentous lust for self-harm. Sadness is always addictive. It brings out the spiritual self on one’s perceived soul, maimed in self-depreciation and subjugated to depressive thoughts. On the other hand, our ‘she’ is bewildered that her lover is experiencing such lovely sensations because of her. ‘How much he misses me’ she ruminated, and felt she should charity her love to him in a couple of days. Yielding such power makes people blind and women desire such power to higher her esteem and find beauty in life. Thus finding a grand meaning to life they stay happy. On the contrary, men don’t need esteem to feel powerful, they merely need desires and attaining such desires of their hearts, that passion, the devotion, ones acquiesce to it makes them feel powerful. And in such powers they think they yield, gives meaning to them. Life is thus beautiful to both. But not for our character, who rather has started to find his happiness in sadness, glory in destruction and life in dimness. It’s always a profound yet stupid sight to find men completely lost in oblivion.

It had been two weeks of such a burlesque melodrama.

 

3.

Finding herself the center of his universe, she demanded more of it. For two weeks, she found absolute pleasure in torturing him with remarks, uncouth and childish. On his part, he replied brashly and viciously, attacking her for having no heart whereas she asserted that it was because her heart was with him and he had managed to put on the bin. This enraged him and at the same time, made him feel that she treasured him still. This duality of sensation tore his soul apart. Such was the nature of their conversation and she, to gain an upper hand refused to meet him at all. She knew she would fall on his knees at his dejected sight and only a tête-à-tête would suffice to restore their romance. But it was too early to warm his heart. She wanted more of his devotion through his debauched remarks, yells, cries and violent agitations. If he assumed a devil then she completed the diabolical situation be being the devil’s woman; cold and piercing.

‘What about my family, don’t I have to work to provide for them’ he contemplated.

‘It’s none of my business’ she pretended.

‘Why are you being so cruel to me? Haven’t I been a reasonable man to you, you whore!’ he bellowed on the telephone.

‘I am sure you were doing one, while I was away’ she responded curtly.

‘I wasn’t granted a leave. What do you want me to say? Look, I will come to the wedding, haven’t I promised?’ he grew dejected.

She sighed, ‘What if they don’t grant you a leave again?’

‘I’ll flunk the damn office, honey. Okay. I promise…..’ he grew soft, drawing himself up.

‘Then why didn’t you flunk it this time! How am I to trust you again! If my family means so little to you, why should I have faith in you?’ she interposed and slammed down the receiver, stood as erectly as haughtily as possible, assumed a little scarlet countenance and gave a faint smile to herself in satisfaction of doing so.

(He threw his phone at the wall, it went shattering all over the cemented floor of his bedroom.)

So it went, most of their conversations. She would maroon him in the heat of the argument and he would do something nasty. Sometimes she made him believe that they had broken up. And sometimes she would plant an imaginary new man in her life. Yet, sometimes, she harangued about her unparalleled love for him. It affected him so much that she couldn’t even fathom. After all, he had supposed that she was the one. She was already introduced to his family as well. He was working hard to earn more and realizing that his later to-be wifey shouldn’t be bothered about money of all things, he had been putting in extra effort. He was just a clerk in a law firm, more qualified academically compared to his employment description. Since the bubble burst, it had been getting busy and he was making the most out of it, until now.

He couldn’t work at all; concentration was out of the window and he grew timid day by day. His colleagues in the office realized that he was growing desolate and his personal hygiene was being neglected. Since they were his colleagues, not friends, they cared not to strike any such conversation with him which might reveal his predicament. After all, there is always going to be competition and competition is always won by the one has a strong mentality and not by a neurotic. They kept their mum on this one and he was in illusion that his decorum was unaffected in the office. He had been given such a shock that he didn’t know how badly he was dressed up for work or how stout he had grown or how sullen his eyes were. The tuft became bushy, his plump cheeks now evinced his cheek bones and he had a broken voice among other deviances in his appearance. He always assumed a grim countenance and viewed life more grimly. One man’s sorrow can be another’s joy.

 

To be continued….

 

 

 

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