one evening, suhra

7 Aug

As she tried swinging herself in her grandfather’s rocking chair, Suhra scattered into hallucinations where her grandfather’s snores from the next room turned themselves into words, and the words into bullock carts and contorted faces; a world which she ever often visited but could barely reconstruct even when the contortions of the real world with its unintelligible language, the unpredictable fists of laughter, rage and numbness and the confusion of ages her uncles succumbed to yearned for a story that she could say to herself. This was Suhra’s own world, and she couldn’t bear it. Everyday she wished for an intruder, for someone to penetrate her secret world, secret not by any jealous intentions but by the cruel coincidence of being torn apart from the rest by a language which was abnormal, not shared.

Her uncles defied the generations by their laughter, by their howls. They scratched on all the wooden surfaces of the house, fought with each other and the invisible enemies, chatted with the djinns, plotted with Satan. They were for Suhra caught in act in their own long monoacts, and each one presented all the moods. They were for Suhra inscribed in every setting sun and every shrieking cricket, in every drop of the fresh rain of every year-tidings of an end and promises of a future but ever caught in roles nullifying each other and themselves. Others say they are mad; and she couldn’t decide if mixing up of ages, places and characters was insanity or just a game that just went too long because her grandfather forgot to terrorise them of the creatures of the night that haunts every child who plays in the courtyard at the dusk.

Bullock carts frequented her hallucinations. There was a bullock cart everywhere in that house- when her uncles would go, in their varied timings, into the crawling years of their childhood; in each coconut that were thrown to the coconut room every time the plucker was benevolent by his presence; when her grandfather, dead except for his snores at the siesta time and his demands for black tea at the waking hours, would then narrate the story of a long journey which was the beginning of it all.

Neighbours avoided visiting that house. The few times she overheard them, “god” punctuated the few sounds that were spoken as frequently as their sighs. But they all did utter “the bullock cart driver”.
“a driver’s luck, what God wishes…”
“the luck to run a long way, God alone the giver of all the good and the bad”
“the driver who travelled a long way”
“Marakkar doesn’t actually deserve so much, …God’s test I tell you.”

She was not out of their conversation either. “God protect her, it’s a girl”
“Heir to a treasure, but what to do, whatever God wishes, happens.” She had heard enough of the treasure already. What intrigued her was its location. It can’t be in this house, she knows every nook and corner of it. She has upturned the hearth, dipped the sandbag in the chimney an extra time each time she had to clean it off its smoke with the hope that a bag –a yellow silk bundle of gold and diamonds-might just be pushed to sight by an extra push. She emptied the overflowing coconut room but all she could find was the snake skin peels. She even made Kanaran dig a few more pits last week in the pretence of planting a few extra plantain. ‘But it’s not the season’ he reasoned, but soon succumbed to the girl’s wish. He too knew of lanes beyond reason’s beat.

But what did she need the treasure for? What will it fetch her which she is in dearth of? No one was going to accept her –the figment of sanity waiting to be flooded by the madness around her, the focus of many a story of djinns and seas and bullock carts, the magic word that evoked piety at the tea stalls and the women-quarters. She was just too painfully sane, realizing all of it by herself. She was beautiful, the bedroom mirror said so; she was sweet, or how else could she be loving the rains; and she was fourteen, and was as good since she was nine.

As she swung herself into the multitude of her hallucinations, she relived the story of the bullock cart. Marakkar’s bullock cart, the trader from Hadramaut, the long journey to the plains, the trader’s daughter, what does her face look like, the fists she got, the healer, the green curtain at the entrance, marriage…
No, the healer, the green curtain at the entrance, fists again, lashes, marriage…
No, fists again, lashes, instructions for immediate wedding, consultation with the cart driver, marriage….
No, consultations, refusal, lure, marriage…
A bullock cart, wheels of gold, piles of gold blocks, a girl, a goldsmith…
Suhra was there, her grandfather Marakkar, he was also a boy.
A long journey to the plains, green plains, yellow plains, the bullock cart, no one to drive, passers by shouting…Suhra was not there. A yellow bag falling off from the cart…
Suhra was the yellow bag…
Shouting, howling…

TEA. That was her grandfather. Suhra jumped up from the chair. It was forbidden to her except for the siesta time when her grandfather would sleep and wait for a dream and she would tread the memories that ever were. “Tea”, the voice was unmistakably louder. As she ran to the kitchen, she noticed there was life behind her. He grandfather, after years of being content with the one window and half a room view his rocking chair offered, was slowly limping his way to the kitchen. “Fronds,” he shouted, “bundle up some fronds fast, make me a torch of it.” His voice was feverish. Casting aside tea plans for the moment, she rolled up a torch immediately, and lighted it by the kerosene lamp at the kitchen sill. Her grandfather grabbed it from her, ran to the tallest coconut tree, pulled himself up to the tip of the coconut tree though the raindrops dragged him down a few times, grabbed the crown of the tree by his left and waved the torch-bearing right violently, “here, here, here”.

And then, he came down, limping than ever, showed signs of fainting, and then signalled to Suhra to be carried to his bed. As she rested him on his bed, he told her in her ears, “I had the dream, they are ready to return it. They are on their way.”

Suhra hasn’t seen her uncles after that. In her hallucinations, her dead mother has taken the place of the trader’s daughter. The yellow bundle was taken by the two Arabs on the way. That evening they dropped in their house to give it back to her. They have been staying there ever since. Grandfather talked to them as if he knew them forever. Two Arabs, dressed in white tunics and chequered lungis. At times she felt they closely resembled her uncles, but they talked in her tongue, and talked of her past.

And Suhra is yet to open the yellow bundle.

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