Confutatis Maledictis

Mozart is sitting up in his bed with his back resting against the pillows. Candles are burning bright in the necks of bottles. The gold coins lie on his coverlet. Antonio Salieri, is seated at an work table placed at the foot of Mozart’s bed. On the work table are blank sheets of music paper, quills, and ink. Also on the table is the score of Requiem Mass, half composed. They’ve reached the end of the Recordare – Statuens in parte dextra. Salieri is possessed with an obviously feverish desire to put down the notes as quickly as Mozart can dictate them. Mozart is bright-eyed with a kind of fever. His face has turned white and pale. He is almost about to drop, but yet held by the passion to chalk up this seminal work.

Mozart enquires where they have reached and says “So now the Confutatis. Confutatis Maledictis. When the wicked are confounded. Flammis acribus addictis. How would you translate that?”. Salieri retorts “Consigned to flames of woe”. Mozart says “Do you beleive in it?” to which Salieri wonders what. Mozart explains “A fire which never dies. Burning one forever?”, and Salieri responds with a glint in his eye, “Oh yes!”

Salieri’s motive is explained well through the narrative of the now old Salieri, who is now in a hospital ward recuperating after his attempted suicide. He narrates his treacherous tale to Father Vogler.

Salieri: My plan was so simple. It terrified me. First I must get the death mass and then, I must achieve his death.

Father Vogler: What?

Salieri: His funeral! Imagine it, the cathedral, all Vienna sitting there, his coffin, Mozart’s little coffin in the middle, and then, in that silence, music! A divine music bursts out over them all. A great mass of death! Requiem mass for Wolfgang Mozart, composed by his devoted friend, Antonio Salieri! Oh what sublimity, what depth, what passion in the music! Salieri has been touched by God at last. And God is forced to listen! Powerless, powerless to stop it! I, for once in the end, laughing at him! The only thing that worried me was the actual killing. How does one do that? Hmmm? How does one kill a man? It’s one thing to dream about it; very different when, when you, when you have to do it with your own hands.

Salieri’s envy has made him an enemy of the very same angel whose greatness was evident in Mozart. He set out to take revenge. An unusual revenge to bring to an end the life of an unusual genius. While Mozart’s coffin is placed in a shoddy manner in his grave, Dona Eis Pacem blares in the background bringing the movie back to the old Salieri, who in his bliss after acheiving the ‘mass of death’, absolves the loonies around him of their mediocrities. Fade out.


Brooks was here

Brooks was here is by far the best composition among the many beautiful pieces created by the musical genius called Thomas Newman. This sound track has trademark Newman written all over it. A subtle piano note accompanied ably by the harmony, leads us all the way through the travails of Brooks; an old inmate who has been “institutionalised” by his imprisonment in Shawshank prison for over forty years. Once outside, he finds it hard to get in terms with the real world, a world he had long forgotten over the course of his prison term. Oblivious of the external metamorphosis, he steps outside only to receive a rude shock. Tired of being subjected to a test for which he has no energy to put up with, he decides to put an end to his misery by hanging himself.

A million reviews and blogs isn’t enough to marvel at this piece of music and of course, the brilliant display by the late James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen in this particular sequence. Over the course of the movie, this scene just blends so damn well, it made me want to eat my heart out. I just kept wishing for this feel of brilliance to continue forever. In my first viewing of the movie, the tale alone had me on the corner of my seat. But on a repeat viewing, the music caught onto me like a leech. It made me wonder, how in the hell could I have missed out on it the first time. I still remember, I watched the movie on HBO when I was in eleventh grade. Mum was with me the whole time and by the end, both of us were in tears. I jumped in joy when the end titles came on! I was glad that Andy finally made out and Red was on his way to meet him after his release (Hey, don’t cry for a spoiler now! You knew this was a review when you started. Get out and watch the movie if you haven’t till now!) I was promoting the movie to every one I knew but there were no takers in school. Then, in college, IMDB had got onto everyone and there it was, my darling dearest, sitting pretty on second spot in the website’s Top 250 next to The Godfather! You can’t imagine my joy that day!

Apart from Brooks Was Here, The Stoic Theme with its monochrome strings against a ground of bass which is further developed throughout the score, is again brilliant, welcoming us to the Shawshank Prison. So was Red and End Title fill you with a sense of hope and freedom. Beautiful subdued compositions using cello and piano convey the many messages that characters and the movie overall try to portray. If in case you find this music boring, I suggest you give it another try. Allow the music to grow onto you and once it does, I assure you it will have you rivetted and will urge you to discover more and new exciting melodies.

A day when it was Pournami…

It was Pournami. It was the day when the Moon cared to show its milky face in full. Anantapadmanabhan stood at the entrance of his house and kept gazing at the full moon. Accompanying the Moon that day, as ever, were the stars strewn all around the dark envelope which had engulfed the city. A thin cloud passed and watching it move without even winking his eye, Anant felt as if he was the one moving and not the clouds. He felt as if he was being swayed sideways by some mysterious force; a phenomenon too hard to describe and too easy to cherish. All that one had to do was to tilt one’s eyes towards the sky and keep it that way until the moment of drift occurred, he thought. Just when he felt the gravity part from him, he dazed when his son placed a hand on his shoulder. The lightness of the moment had given way to an unbearable heaviness which made Anant draw a deep breath. He turned around and walked back into the house holding his son’s hand on the right and a walking stick on the left. All the attendees of the evening, who had come from near and far to pay their last respects to Mrs. Poornima Anantapadmanabhan turned their heads in unison towards the bereaved father and son as they walked past the veranda. Anant tried his best not to catch any of them directly in the eye as he entered the hall where his wife had been laid on the floor. With much difficulty and his son’s assistance, Anant sat on the floor next to the corpse. Guests kept pouring into the household and all of them duly held Anant’s hand or patted his shoulder and empathised with the loss. And all the while Anant nodded, in understanding half the time and absent minded the rest of the time. His eye was caught by the transmuted figure lying next to him which in the past sixty six years had displayed extraordinary resilience to any change.
Meanwhile, the next door friendly neighbours, Mrs. and Mr. Sridhar, had prepared coffee and served it to all the guests. And when the time for proceeding to the graveyard had arrived, Anant chose to take the long walk to the graveyard instead of a drive in the hospital van on whose rear side Poornima was placed. She was draped in a sari which was all wet and had blotches of turmeric. Garlands were placed around her, the ones very similar to the one she wore on the day of their marriage. They reached the graveyard an hour and fifteen minutes later. Holy verses were recited by the vaadiyar to make Poornima’s journey to heaven a peaceful one and to make her invisible to the eyes of Yama. In the mean time the undertaker, had piled up logs of wood above which the body was placed. Anant watched his son walk around the pyre three times, sprinkle water and ghee and set fire on her to complete the rites of the evening. Anant walked back to his home and lay on the easy chair with his eyes closed.
By the time he opened his eyes again, he strained his eyes through the darkness to find objects and his sleeping son on the floor, followed by eleven chimes of the clock. The smell of burnt dung and dry grass and spent camphor from the evening still hung around the house. Memories of the day and the dreams which had haunted his sleep came back to him. The last dream, which literally made him jump from the chair, was a minute by minute representation of the day starting from the time he woke up, he bathed and read the morning newspaper, he had lunch in the dining table with Poornima who served him hot rice and sambar, he heard a little gasp from Poornima followed by a fall to the floor, he placed his hand on Poornima’s chest and traced for a heart beat, he beat her chest in an attempt to revitalise her heart, he lay her head on his lap and yelled her name for the last time, to the moment when Poornima’s last visible portion of her body, her face, was closed and fire was placed on the body which leapt around her with all its wickedness consuming her. He shuddered for a moment recalling the dream and held his hand against the chair for support. The lucidity of the dream surprised him entirely. There was no haziness in the vision which is predominantly associated with a dream. He wished he had dreamt of the day when he was born or the day when his only son Aryan was born after nine years of marriage or even the day of his marriage.
It was an arranged marriage. Not that Anant had a choice in this regard, given that his father, Sathyanandam, who was the then City Head Constable of Madras while the country was still under the British Raj, had decided that Poornima would be the one to hold Anant’s hand on the destined date, and in the days to come, and enter the house placing her right leg first. Sathyanandam had received the horoscope of Poornima through a family friend a week earlier. On consultation with the family astrologer it was clear to him that he would not be able to find a better match for the then twenty year old Anant. Anant’s father accompanied by his youngest son, Balaraman, had gone to meet Poornima’s parents. On coming back home after the visit, Sathyanandam stood at the entrance and broadcasted the imminent news to the household even before wiping his slippers on the doormat. Anant, all curious about how Poornima looked like, took Balaraman to the terrace in stealth. Balaraman divulged details of his to-be sister-in-law’s feminine beauty to his elder brother at the price of two servings of idli and sambar at Swaminathan Cafe. On hearing his brother’s description, Anant dismissed it saying it was all fitting only for a beauty queen and not for his better half, only to be disproved on the day of the wedding. The moment Poornima walked onto the stage, Anant could see how his brother’s observations were so befitting. And without his knowing, Anant had kept his mouth open for too long a time to allow a drip of saliva to seep through. Annoyed by his son’s inappropriate behaviour, Sathyanandam pinched his son on his lap while keeping a smiling face towards the audience. Balaraman ran to the stage with a hand towel and wiped Anant’s face and his back in the pretext of cooling off the groom from the pyre. Poornima’s father, Sankara Narayanan, a devout Hindu, was not appreciative of his son-in-law’s mesmerised gaze towards his daughter and threw a quick angry glance at Anant. His anger was subsided and turned into a blush the minute Mrs. Sankara Narayanan reminded the way he reacted the first time he laid his eyes on her.
Sathyanandam wished his children would follow his footsteps and enter the police force. Given his designation, Sathyanandam was an important man in the city and was thus quite influential too. He had established contacts with the then British Viceroys and Mayors. While Anant and Balaraman were in school, Sathyanandam wished he could send both of them to England for further studies. But, he had to give up this plan due to repeated protests and wailings from his wife, who was convinced that the brothers would end up embracing English culture and settle in England with fair skinned whores. Not wanting to turn this fancy into truism, Sathyanandam ditched his British dreams and replaced them with his son’s taking the mantle from him and safeguard the city of Madras. He nurtured the dream so rigorously that he was almost convinced that his son’s wore police uniform to school, the only similarity in them being the Khaki material. And when Anant declared his desire to be a journalist for a radical outfit propagating the idea of freedom and of an India free from the British rule, Sathyanandam was left shattered. He tried his best to persuade Anant but in vain. In a fit of obstinacy to realize his dream and in the greater good of saving his son, he investigated into the details of the radical press for which Anant was working and laid everyone in the press under arrest in a swift midnight raid, including his son. Realizing his father’s potential to twist his fate, Anant applied for the job of a city constable and submitted to his father’s will. No wonder when he received the job with ease. Once in the job, promotions were a regular feature every year with letters sent from the Head Office, with his father’s seal in it. Meanwhile, two years after Anant’s marriage, Balaraman was taken in by Gandhi’s Quit India Movement and enrolled himself in Indian National Congress. He wrote a parting letter to his father and fled home on a Tuesday night only to return to Madras after thirteen years as the Treasurer of the party.
On the day of her wedding, Poornima was seventeen years and nineteen days old. She was raised in a conservative family in the Kanchipuram district. Her aunt Krishnaveni, Sankara Narayanan’s younger sister, took a special fondness to her. Krishnaveni was married a year earlier, but a fatal accident ended it a week later. Krishnaveni raised Poornima as her own; feeding, cleaning, playing, teaching and even sang lullabies in the night to make Poornima sleep. She held Poornima close to her all the time and never allowed her grip to fail even for relatives who had come to see the new born. And gradually the intimacy between the child and her aunt grew to the levels of a mother and daughter. Their day would typically begin with the two going to the gardens of the nearby Lord Krishna temple where they would pick flowers and thread them together to prepare garlands for the Lord. They would then sit through sessions of Shlokas and recitations of sacred scripts and bhajans. They would come back home to prepare lunch. This is when Krishnaveni taught Poornima the art of culinary preparations and serving. Poornima was quick to grasp all the tiny detailing involved in the art and by the time she was ten years old, she took over the responsibility of kitchen handling from her mother much to her father’s delight. Sankara Narayanan took pride in praising his daughter’s achievements in the household chores in front of all his guests and Mrs. Sankara Narayanan would listen to his eulogy in equal admiration.
His daughter’s faith and discipline came at a heavy price to Sankara Narayanan the day he declared the news of having found a suitor for Poornima. Poornima declared that she wouldn’t part her heart and soul with another man. Stunned by the revelation, Sankara Narayanan urged Poornima to name the man who had fondled his daughter’s heart in secrecy. Aunt Krishnaveni was immediately accused of having polluted the child’s brain with thoughts of love and fidelity and had secretly nurtured the affair to grow, but Poornima cleared the accusations taking the fault (onus?) on her own. Nevertheless, Krishnaveni who had raised the child was found at fault and was evicted from the house to an ashram on Sankara Narayanan’s command. When Poornima declared that the man under questioning was Lord Krishna himself, Sankara Narayanan had no other option but to contemplate jumping into the nearby well. Mrs. Sankara Narayanan made her clear intentions not to follow her husband into the well and chose to live in shame and widowed the rest of her life. Sankara Narayanan found no solace even after much furore and intense sessions of therapeutic and psychic healing to cure his daughter of platonic love for the Lord. Unhappiness drove Sankara Narayanan to consume alcohol and one day in his inebriated state, he entered home and chased his wife all around the house with a walking stick in hand for having given birth to such a disgraced daughter. No more tolerant to such acts and to end the family misery, Poornima willed to do what was willed out of her. But none knew the will would last only for the day of marriage and not any further.
And when the knowledge of Poornima’s love for a being with whom Anant could not even argue or contest with dawned on him, he sat on the floor choking childish tears in his eyes while Poornima had drifted to sleep on the bed of their wedding night. The next morning when his friends enquired about last night with animated curiosity, tears of sorrow welled up his eyes again which were mistaken by his friends of those of bliss. Days passed for Anant in the police station with him having to do nothing except for signing papers. The bitterness of his night life rendered him incapable of placing his pen on the portion of the paper for signing. And Anant’s signature ran across the page of an important document, Sathyanandam understood that there were things at home which more than what met his eyes. On their way back home, Sathyanandam brought up the topic of Anant’s well being to him as a casual remark. Unable to contain the sadness to himself he confessed the truth of his marriage life to his father. Sathyanandam, furious at first, calmed down later and said a resolution would be sought. He went over to the Sankara Narayanan household in Kanchipuram and questioned whether Poornima’s condition was known before. Sankara Narayanan threw himself at Sathyanandam’s feet and sought apology for not having declared it earlier and requested him to not send his daughter back home. Sathyanandam clarified that it was not in his intentions to do so and had paid the visit to know the cure to Poornima’s obsession, if any. Put simply, what had the Sankara Narayanan done before to submit their daughter to marriage? Not happy with the response he got, Sathyanandam came back to Madras a dejected man. Blackmail and coercion were means to bring out the truth from criminals and did not sound befitting a treatment for a daughter in law, he thought. He kept the affair to himself until the time Mrs. Sathyanandam doubted her husband for trying to hide something from her and enquired whether it had anything to do with the reason why she had not heard even a creak of the bed their son in one whole year. Sathyanandam immediately dismissed his wife’s notions with a raise of his hand. He neither took blame for his son’s plight nor adopted any methods to end his son’s misery. In moments when doubts and sadness crept in, he ran the image of his family astrologer’s first reaction after having compared Anant’s and Poornima’s horoscopes.
One night, Sathyanandam dreamt of the day when he had gone to meet the astrologer with Anant’s horoscope in hand and this time around the glee had turned to sourness on the face of the astrologer. But, Anant’s marriage is arranged eventually due to uncontrolled circumstances, only to turn the prophecy of the astrologer true. He was now in his house and turned around to stare at the lacrimation of its inhabitants. Balaraman stood at the doorway and refuses to enter despite his father’s repeated protests. Without a goodbye or a wave of the hand Balaraman turned back and walked away. Sathyanandam ran outside to call his son back only to find himself now at the purgatory and around him were the multi headed demons dancing to devilish tunes. At a distance were the Trio: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Now they turned their backs too and are walking away from him too leaving him at the mercy of the buffalo riding Yama. The very same night, Sathyanandam passed away in his sleep. Three months later, his wife followed suit.
After his parents’ demise, Anant had the entire house to himself. The property was registered under his name with the registrar approving the same. But as irony would have it, his bridal property had her own ways at the house which made him feel desolated with every passing day. He did not try to mend his or her ways. He just let her be whom she imagined (wanted) to be. One night he woke up in the middle of the night to have a glass of water and that’s when the ghost of Poornima walked right past him. She wore of white sari and had vermillion marks on her forehead and her palms were joined in unison and the name of Lord Krishna was heard in a soft murmur.
They lived in two separate rooms, Anant opting out of his room and occupied his father’s room. Along with the books, dresses and pictures of Gods, his father had left his own self in the room and Anant smelt his presence for a long time. It was almost after a year that Anant felt that the sensation had gone and rejoiced in the thought that his father had finally decided take abode in heaven and leave matters of the lesser mortals with him.
Poornima, in spite of her stand as a servant to the Lord, still woke up early in the morning and prepared dishes for Anant. She would press his clothes and place them neatly in his cupboard. She would wake him in days when he was late asleep. And on his return from office, would welcome him with hot coffee. This confused Anant as he had expected quite the contrary. At times he even felt he was being tested by his new wife. Maybe she is trying to measure me up, see if I become a drunkard and an abusive husband, he wondered. But one step inside her territory would lead to one raised eyebrow and unusual redness of her eyes and nose. One step back again and there would be godliness in her. Over time, Anant ruled out all these quirky possibilities and continues to live his pseudo bachelorhood (or was it a pseudo marriage?).
Work progressed for him in snail’s pace until one day when Ramanatha Mudaliar, the successor of Sathyanandam, came up to him and said there was a play to be presented in front of the visiting Viceroy on behalf of the police force, as a sign of friendly gesture. And Anant with his boyish good looks must play the lead role. Anant was stunned to have been requested with such an offer. Didn’t quite expect his job description would entail acting too. (It was known much later to him that Sathyanandam had entrusted this responsibility upon himself when he was at the helm) Anant immediately agreed and in the evening the rehearsals began. It was then Anant came to know that the play was on Krishna and Sudhama, and he was to play Krishna. It isn’t you Poornima, I’m sorry; it isn’t you who is testing me. It’s the Lord. And I’m failing miserably. The request had been placed from the highest authority and turning it down will end up with his name outside the good books, Anant realized. He attended the rehearsals and delivered his lines in awful distaste, which was rude shock to the organizers who had expected much better from Sathyanandam Jr. Knowing Poornima would laugh or even mock him on hearing the news, Anant decided he wouldn’t disclose that he was to play the part of his nemesis. It was midnight when the rehearsal got over and while he entered the house Poornima wasn’t there to greet him. She must have gone to sleep he guessed. He opened her door stealthily to find her hidden under the bed sheet completely. He closed the door which now let out a slow creak. Anant darted to his room and waited at his door to see if Poornima came behind with those red eyes. No sign of her, he went and let himself lay on bed.
Early morning rehearsals were scheduled for the play and Anant left his home an hour before his regular time. He noticed it was also the first day that he woke up before Poornima did. He patted himself for this minor achievement but had neither the time nor the courtesy to prepare something for her. The rehearsals went well into the time of lunch and post-lunch a dress rehearsal was done in front of Mudaliar, who at the end of it applauded and urged Anant to get into the skin of the character while performing in the evening. Anant wished to say he didn’t wish to, but kept his opinion to himself. And in the evening when the play was performed the Viceroy stood on his bare feet and applauded for full five minutes. He stopped only after Anant, who couldn’t bow himself any longer, erected himself and requested the Viceroy to have his seat, much to the annoyance of Mudaliar.
A seething fever had afflicted Poornima the night before. She felt her entire body go heavy and found it immensely painful to even lift her hand or call out her beloved’s name. She lay on her bed and tried her best to drift to sleep but her head felt as if being loaded with hundred bricks. Moving from one end of the bed to other, she found no position comfortable. And when sleep finally arrived, dreams caught up with her, rendering her unable to bear the pain any longer. She was in the garden with Krishnaveni plucking flowers when a divine voice led them to the temple. Krishnaveni led the way and entered the sanctum first. A hand held out from the sanctum and Krishnaveni placed her palm on it and next instant she was gone. Poornima followed next gladly for her turn to be sucked into the realm of the Lord and to be placed at his feet. But the sanctum held out no hand this time. The gates of the sanctum behind her closed and the ground beneath her gave away. She then passed through a labyrinth of woods and waded through the waters until she stood in the middle of a room and there stood a man with a smile that pierced through heart like a dagger. He inched his way closer and closer to her and allowed his hand to catch hold of the end of her sari. A loud eruption of incoherent noises filled the room and she made one of her own. The sari seemed to slip away from here despite her best efforts and she could do nothing except to wail and call for her saviour. Her eyes hunted for him around the room but there were no one who willed to step forward and put an end to this disgrace. When there wasn’t much of sari left, her eyes finally spotted the appearance of a man, whose sky blue toned body could not be mistaken for any mortal. He called out her name. She rushed towards him with her hands outstretched and eyes filled with tears. And he spread his arms to her and took her completely in him. Why did you do this to me, she questioned. Why was made a Draupadi when all I wanted was to be your Meera and sing in your praise. The blue man didn’t answer but continued to comfort her. She lifted her off her feet and placed her in a bed of lilies. He then placed his gentle hands on her and ran them on her forehead. The heaviness of the head seemed to part and gave way to a sleep so deep no mariner could fathom. She wanted to sing for him as she has done all these years and hold him closer to her than ever before. But the transition from heaven to hell and back to heaven had taken a toll on her which sleep alone could help in restoring normalcy. She would wake up and serve the Lord and provide renditions that would keep the Lord afloat for ever and ever and ever, she thought.
Anant had a hard time removing the make up after the evening’s show. The blue paint did not seem to part ways with him. Mudaliar suggested that coconut oil was the best solvent and came forward to hitch hike Anant in his car. Having no option left, he got onto the car with the full make up on as it seemed weird to be wearing a khaki dress with blue paint all over him. He arrived at his home and found the house in the same shape as it was in the morning. Dry grasses lay strewn in the entrance. Poornima wouldn’t have left them here like this he wondered. He noticed a curious look from his neighbour Pandurangan. Mistaking it for his costume, Anant went on to describe the function at his office today. No no, it’s your wife sir. She’s been sick I guess, didn’t notice her all day long. The door has remained closed since then time you left.
Anant dropped his bag and ran inside the house. He noticed Poornima standing outside her room. He heaved a sigh of relief. But something was unusual about her tonight. There was sweat on her forehead and her eyes looked tired. And she seemed to look around for something. Or maybe someone, he thought. He called out her name and moved slowly towards her. Her eyes finally fell on his and she came rushing forward, hugged him and said “Why did you do this to me? Why was made a Draupadi when all I wanted was to be your Meera and sing in your praise?” Finding no answer to her question, he remained silent. He hugged for the first time that night. Or rightly, he was allowed to lay his hand on her for the first time in two years. He took her to his bed and tended to her all night. He drenched a hand towel in cool water and placed it on her forehead to ease the high fever. He knew she had been dreaming. The thought that the dream would be over tonight and tomorrow everything would go back to normal made his tongue go dry. She could even admonish him for having taken advantage of her state and used it to his favour. Or even think his costume was a mockery of her belief. A million other possibilities ran through his head. But he put all those thoughts to an end and lay next to her in his (their?) bed. He feebly placed his palm over her hand and made sure her eyebrows didn’t flinch due to it. He just lay there watching her rest and without his knowing he too drifted into the unknown.
Early morning light had chased darkness away and the first beam of the light had trickled into the bedroom. The cycle bell of the milkman which served as an alarm for the entire colony rang in Anant’s ears and his eyes opened a second later. And in front of him lay Poornima with her hands crossed over her face. He gently ran his fingers up her neck and found that the fever had gone. He then tip toed to the door and gently opened it. And as he moved across a reflection of his blue self ran across the cupboard mirror. He darted to the kitchen and found the coconut oil bottle and then proceeded to the bath room to cleanse him of all the paint. He came out and headed straight back to the kitchen to prepare tea.
Anant moved the bedroom door to see Poornima sitting on the bed and locking her hair, when he expected her to be still asleep. Words didn’t easily flow out of him. Fear caught his tongue unawares and kept twisting and turning his tongue in ridiculous manners. He waited for clarity to settle in his thoughts which took its own time. He blurted out two incoherent sentences and later put an end to his misery by blocking his mouth with his hands. Summoning up his courage a few moments later, he declared that tea was ready in the kitchen to be consumed. As Poornima rose from the bed and adjusted her sari, he fumbled the events of last night in an even more inordinate manner. And all the while his clenched his fists and his body had turned stiff. If Poornima were to walk right up to him and given him a tight slap, he would have taken it with no protest. She did walk up to him that morning and Anant stood like a soldier who was ready to take orders from his General. But she stood in front of him and put a gentle smile. Anant strained a smile in return. He noticed that the eyes weren’t red but were like two goldfish pots. I finally put a real face to the Lord last night didn’t I, she said. Anant, no good at answering questions as evidenced last night, wondered if this might be a veiled tricky question. I didn’t hold you with any wrong intentions Poornima and the make up were for my office play, not intentional and it needed coconut oil to come off and that’s why I came like that, he recited his prepared speech. His breathing was still heavy when Poornima took his hand into hers .Anant felt a rush, a sensation of happiness which had evaded him for so long a time. He stood silent. He knew he had been asked a question but felt no necessity to answer as his prayers had been finally answered. Let me bring your tea she said. He nodded in agreement and gave way for her to move past the door.
The days that followed were filled with joy for the couple and their son Aryan was the measure of this joy. Balaraman, who had now become a senior journalist with a reputed national newspaper, also joined with them and he chose to remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. He took Aryan as his own, helped him with his home work and played cricket with him in the evenings. Aryan fared in his studies pretty well and went on to pursue his dream of being journalist in Delhi. Anant attributed this behaviour to be a genetic pass on from mother to son but kept the observation to himself fearing reproach. Around six months earlier to today, Poornima complained of chest pains and Anant rushed her to the hospital in an auto rickshaw. The diagnosis spelt heart attack. She was discharged the same day from the hospital and was prescribed heavy dosage of medicines. But she continued to feel the murmur of the chest and last month the pain had intensified to levels which convinced Poornima that she wasn’t going to last any longer. Anant dismissed her fears, but Poornima’s conviction over rode his optimism and Anant ended up spilling tears in the hospital toilet in secrecy. Poornima noticing the welled up eyes of Anant on his return from the loo urged him not to act like a baby and be a man to his wife. When a person dies it doesn’t mean they are off for ever. They become a star and watch over their loved ones as long as they live. And when their time to pass on comes, the star fades and provides space for the next new star to come by and occupy their place. She then went ahead and placed a request to Anant which he hadn’t anticipated in his wildest imagination. You’ve given me a good life and everything I could ask for. But I do have one last thing to ask you though. Do you remember the night when I was sick and you came in to take care of me, our first day together, or rather night? Do you remember what you wore? Will you wear that again for me tonight? I do know where it is, second row of the brown cupboard in Aryan’s room.
In all the years together there was nothing Poornima had asked for. Not even slippers when the sole of the old ones had rotten away. Not a toothbrush when the bristles of the old brush had torn away. Not a sari when the old ones had faded away. But now a wish from her probable death bed which he so wished it wasn’t.
He visited a dozen Krishna temples in the city that evening.
Night had arrived and Anant arrived at the hospital with two bags rather than the usual one. He entered the room and saw Poornima lying on the bed with her eyes open. He opened the bag containing the dinner. He had prepared idli for tonight. Once dinner was over, Anant washed his and her hands using the water bottle.
The nurses arrived and performed their routine check for pulse rate. And when they had left, Anant followed and bolted the door. He then proceeded to unzip his second bag, drew its contents out and proceeded to the rest room while switching off the tube light of the room. He undressed and first applied the blue paint he bought on his way from the hospital to home that evening, on his face, hands and neck. He waited for about ten minutes for the paint to dry before he then wore the turban, the rubber garland and the dhoti. It took about half an hour when he was ready to emerge outside and when he did, he saw Poornima sitting on the bed. He saw her eyes satiate at his appearance and her hands outstretch to welcome him. Anant moved towards the bed and hugged her gently. My Lord is here she said slowly. Anant didn’t speak a word and let his hands caress her hands and they both waded to sleep in unison.
The clock chimed one time when Anant woke again from his sleep. The stench of the evening was yet to leave. Aryan was still at the end of the hall, cuddled under the cold. Anant drew a blanket from his bed and spread it over him. He then proceeded to his drawing room where lay the bag containing the Krishna costumes.
Anant stood outside the gate of his house and looked up at all the stars of the night. He surveyed each one of them. Clouds passed and Anant blew air from his mouth and waved his hands sporadically to shoo them away. A shooting star just happened to pass by. He raised his hand and said there she is. Here I am Poornima. I can see you go. Do you see me? Do you see the blue lines on my face? I sure can see you up there. The moon shone in full face that night. It was Pournami.

The General

It was two hours away from the time of execution of The General when the public screamed his name followed by the utterance of choicest of obscenities. “Hang the motherfucker by his balls until it turns numb and useless!” said the jubilant old tart, who once happened to be the celebrity whore of the town and had begun her illustrious career with The General as the customer. Fire crackers were burst and the public rejoiced in joy after each rocket surged and exploded in the sky. The last time a cracker was burst was ninety nine years ago when The General took over as our respected Dictator. The grandiose of celebrations was even higher to mark his inglorious exit now. Blockades had been set a day earlier on either side of the road to restrict the public from entering the procession to be carried out by the new army which would allow the public to witness the disgraced old Dictator being taken to the shooting ground. People had started trickling in the streets the night before to catch their first class front seats to get the best view of the impending proceedings. Street vendors had started selling their ripe tomatoes and rotten eggs in the mean time which sold like exhibition tickets. Folks had even taken positions in nearby rooftops and windows with their vegetable artillery. It was known to all that this day would eventually come after The General’s meek surrender to The Barbarians but none of us had expected the scale of arrangements the new army would be making to make The General’s farewell as inglorious as this.

The Barbarians made a blitzkrieg attack on a Saturday which left The General and his Violet army no choice but to surrender. The General was still in his bed when the news of the coup arrived along with his bed coffee that morning. The Loyal Maid recalled that dreaded morning, “It was seven in the morning and I went to wake him up with the coffee cup in hand as I did every morning before that for thirteen years, only to find the Red army already inside awaiting my arrival. Maybe they had been trying their bit to wake him, but when I peeped in he was still in the same position in which I had seen him as I did every morning before that for thirteen years. I called out The General as The General and told him the imminent news. He still had his eyes closed and said with a warm conviction ‘God, woman! I know how I would go. I have seen it in my dreams. This would not be the way I go because this is not what I dreamt’. I thought the Red army would retreat hearing this but what ensued was quite the contrary. Bad for The General, the wrong dream cost him his job”.

There were many elderly loyalists for The General many of whom, quite unlike the maid, flipped sides to save their arses from being fucked by The Barbarians. Many loyalists who couldn’t switch sides on time were identified by the locals and tied upside down in the coconut trees of the castle garden. In the mean time, volunteers were sent to the Galleria Stadia, a stadium where The General had promised to conduct the next Olympics in collusion with the friendly Italian Government, to dig up 10*10 holes. The loyalists were released from the garden only to be lynched later in the night after the children of the town had gone to sleep and were buried in the newly dug holes of Galleria Stadia.

To explain the events that led to the downfall of The General in a chronological fashion, it all started with a piss. What could have been contained and released later was prematurely let out and in this moment of lessened alertness of the officer in charge of guarding the Northern wing, came flying the order from the Major of the Red army to his soldiers to let go of the arrows held in their bows. Three thousand arrows headed towards the Red army camp out which two thousand two hundred and twenty two dealt their rightful sting, which was sufficient for the Red army to clinch victory. Once the Northern wing was ousted, there wasn’t much left for the Violet army as their archipelago of an island was routed with the fierce naval artillery of the Barbarians. The chief port on the Western end and the Rihas cliff, the stronghold of the Army on the South Western front, were captured after intense shelling. Then on, the Red army marched right into the city centre in the next three hours. The blanket of darkness gave the Barbarians the shield of invisibility and when dawn broke out, all that the denizens of the town could do was stare at the red clad, armour wielding new guards of the town. For all they knew, it was a change in uniform as a part of the promises made by The General as a part of this year’s manifesto. The ninety nine year rule gave little chances for wondering about the change in leadership. The Red Army had even prepared posters and pamphlets indicating the downfall of the anarchy and about the days to come under the exciting leadership of The Barbarians, even before they had launched their assault. It was quite breathe taking for us to realise the preparedness, premeditation and the confidence of our new rulers. The posters were pasted on all the doors of the city and the responsibility of pamphlet distribution fell upon the children of our godless city. The only God we had ever known and planned to ever know was The General. The thought of worshipping him was never taught to us. It wasn’t imbibed. Devotion just happened to be aligned in the general direction of The General. It never occurred to me for a good sixty years the reason behind this blind act, until one morning my fifty year old boy came up to me and asked the rational. I, in turn, had to turn my eye towards my seventy year old father, who in turn didn’t have anyone to turn to except to himself. Apparently, the answer came, not from my father but from my eighty year old mother who happened to be the neighbour of The General in her childhood days.

“Oh what days they were? Feels like a long time ago. Like I’ve given birth to a million generations when all I could muster from your father’s depositions was you. Our neighbours were a conservative lot who didn’t come out of their houses ever except for the Man. We had never seen them since the time we moved in. The only evidence of neighbourhood was the squealing of a new arrival in the family which happened every ten months. Fearing we would lose count or a day may come when the couple would themselves approach us for clarification, we started making marks on our wall, one strike for every new addition. The house was no palace. They couldn’t afford to go beyond a head count of ten. But the twelfth arrived the same night. All the several arrivals lead to a departure that same star studded night. The mother had made a quiet exit to the Moon and the Father was heard yelling all day at Mr. Twelfth for coming out the canal with his mother’s heart in hand. Silence restored after almost a week when the Father had nothing left to say. All this while Mr. Twelfth lay on the ground with his hands folded across his chest and a stark face, intently listening to his father’s oration. Little did Father know Twelfth would recollect the words of that week and recite them again- to pinpoint exactness, an accuracy which would stun a woodpecker locating a tunnel- twenty four years later before sending a bullet through his father’s head.” Apparently the story didn’t end there. But it didn’t start there either too.

The tag of a killer had hounded the General since his birth and no wonder socialising was not something that came naturally to him. His eleven siblings distanced themselves from him by a clear five metres. Neighbours goaded him with their vicious tongues. Words which were not meant to be spoken were spoken with utmost sincerity. No one had ever heard any of his siblings or his father call for him. Thus, none knew his name. But, as in any scenario, there was an exception to this. Anoida, a proud mother of twenty seven and the grandmother of sixty five of the town’s inhabitants, recollected her memory of a Thursday evening when she saw ten year old General walking by the lane with a puppy in one hand and a knife in the other.

“Ha Ha! I do remember that evening. Fucking dogs started barking everywhere. No such I have ever heard. Ha Ha! Then I turn around and I see the freak, oh that’s what we used to call him then, walking with a pup and a knife. And all the town’s dogs were behind him. Even the dogs knew this bastard was going to chop the poor thing up and have it for dinner. They knew how fucking crazy the freak was. Ha Ha! He was like the Pied Piper, dogs instead of mice. No one wanted to witness it. Just the thought of his ‘coming-soon’ deeds made people puke in the streets. Ha Ha! But I didn’t feel that way. Some Thursday evening air it was I guess, didn’t make me feel like puking nor piss in my skirt right then. Ha Ha! Given everyone had already run inside and bolted their doors; I brought up myself before his path. It didn’t even matter to him whether I was there or not. Maybe he had taken for granted that none would be around. He walked past me without even noticing me. All his eyes were on the poor pup. Ha Ha! I didn’t know how to call him. So I walked behind him and patted his shoulder. He turned around and to my surprise smiled at me and said ‘Good evening miss. How may I help you?’ Ha Ha! Can you believe a good mannered killer? Ha Ha! Fucking disappointed me. Hell of first words when a cold stare would have summed him up for me. I wanted to know his name but the dog in his hand got my first attention. Ha Ha! I said, ‘What are you going to do to him?’ And then he says, ‘Nothing. Why?’ And then I go, ‘Nothing. Felt like I wanted to ask. What is your name?’ And he said, ‘What is your favourite name?’ I have always known Axel was my favourite name and I immediately said ‘Axel.’ And then he said, ‘What a coincidence? My name is Axel too’ He then walked away with the dogs in his trail. I was the only one in the neighbourhood who had spoken to him then, the only one who knew his name, the only one who knows how he sounds like besides his neighbours who had heard him wail as a kid. I never told anyone about it and kept it as a best laid secret. I wanted the privilege to remain with me forever. This was until it came to my knowledge that there were many in the town whose favourite names matched with the name of the General. Ha Ha! He fucking cheated on me. I was so angry when I came to know of it, I decided to keep all this to myself and take this humiliation to my death bed. I just told you all that, didn’t I? I am not even in my death bed, am I? Ha Ha! Fucking wasted.”

There are many legends associated to his rise from a poor household to a fiery dictator who ruled the country with iron fists and Caribbean beach trousers. One among them, the most favourite among them all, was once recited by my father as a bed time story when I was ten years old. “Once upon a time there was boy in an island. He had no friends. He had no family which considered him to be family. He wandered around the island aimlessly; pissing, snorting, and sniffing in any place he wanted. One night, in one of his sojourns around the island in night time, he found a gang of nine armed men standing behind the fort wall. He immediately hid behind a bush and closely monitored their movements. He then realised they belonged to the Barbarian army which had long tried to assassinate our beloved King. He did not raise any alarm but pursued the gang in stealth. The gang had then entered the fort by scaling the walls and had found their way till the King’s chamber. The boy who was until now ten feet behind the gang sprang like a hungry leopard and fought with bravery unmatched by any historic character there has ever been or ever will be, killed all of them and saved the King’s life. The King, as a sign of his gratefulness and out of pure fatherhood instincts, adopted the boy as he had no children of his own. But alas, the bachelor King expired the very next night due to a sickness he had suffered in secrecy for a long time and thus brings to end the story of a boy to King. Good night.”

I totally understand. I empathise with you, completely. ‘Why did he call himself a General when he was crowned a King? Why did he turn fiery when he was to be beloved? How come a King was never married and had no legal heir to the throne? If not a legal heir, how come no illegal ones too? Were we ruled by a Virgin King? Why was a General wearing Caribbean beach shorts?’ These questions kept lingering for a long time. The truth was known only to an elite few and was withheld by them in fear of dear life. The public hanging of Minister No. 7 along with his family and his whore was still fresh in memory (The General didn’t like to be questioned too. That explains the reason why the Minister of Public Works was hanged ten minutes after he pointed out that the General’s consumption of water and electricity was the highest in the town). This day, the day of hanging of our secretive General, was the day I had to await to get the answers. The obnoxious level of adulteration that gone in the legend became clear to me.

The initial premise was all fine. Of him being lonely and walking down the alleys of darkness, being Pied Piper and befriending dogs. But on the inside the General was a man of wants. It is quite obvious that for a man who was undergoing big bad bitter things, his wish would be to get big good beautiful things. He aspired for them. He longed for them so badly that he was prepared to sacrifice anything, anything but himself to attain it. Not that he had any attachments to give away, even then. And in deep search of his wants he entered dark alleys. He mixed with the people of the night. They owned him. They possessed him like their own. And he in return possessed them. He killed for money. He smuggled goods that were then prohibited. His status quo of a destitute young boy favoured fewer suspicions. His acts were well thought of and excellently staged. No traces led to him or his sources ever. News spread of his crimes and soon it fell in the ears of the Barbarians. They arranged for his deportation from the island. They inducted him in secrecy. They trained him in every front possible. He did not find the armed ten member gang that fateful night. The gang had found him a long time back and he was out playing his part in the play that night. It was a ten member suicide squad to assassinate the King and his men. But one among the ten had no intentions of committing suicide that night. This one had bigger and better plans. Plans as big as to make it seem unfathomable but was attained in due course of time.

The General, on his return to the island after his training, was sent on a clear agenda to identify ways to break into the castle and make possible the assassination. But study of the fort was not possible without knowing someone who knew the fort inside out; the number of soldiers guarding the fort, both inside and outside, the rooms and their alignment, the best escape routes in case of a failed attempt, so on and so forth. He chose to be that someone as he couldn’t trust anyone else. He enlisted himself in the government as a soldier. Two months later his name was in the shortlist of candidates who could appear for the army. His skills as an excellent marksman, a skill he had honed in the training grounds of the Barbarian army, won him accolades and brought him close to the then General of the army. Soon his name had found a place in the elite squad which guarded the fort, which is what he had worked for all along, to move in proximity to the fort and eventually to the King. He took the oath to protect his King and his fortune for the welfare of the country. From the walls he gradually proceeded to inch towards the main tower and then the prime chamber of the King. He studied the fort so well he could move in it with his eyes closed without making a pin dropping sound. He prepared detailed drawings of the fort and monitored the positions of the guards who numbered in hundreds. And all this weren’t achieved not in months, but years. Years which the Barbarians didn’t mind waiting for to exact revenge and to attain a death which had evaded their grasp for almost two hundred years. It was on his twenty third birthday that the General thought was apt to carry out to the plan. He made the Barbarians know of his master plan and he grouped a team of nine, the most trust worthy and skilled, to carry out the act. Each of them was given detailed sheets explaining their individual moves and the guards they have to take off like chess pawns and reach the main chamber where they would eventually meet to reach their ultimate target. A pilot version was carried out in the supervision of the Barbarian King who gave his immediate assent for the project. The General also had prepared detailed plans as to how the Barbarians should move their army into the country following the fall of the King. The attack and the subsequent seizure were to be swift and efficient to catch the Violet army pants down. Once the suicide squad’s deeds were over, the General had taken the personal responsibility of sending the signal to the Red army to launch attack by lighting the beacon on top of the cliff.

The same night the Red army was made ready and sent to the forefront of the Rihas cliff. The ten member assassination squad had made an early move towards the island in a separate boat. On reaching the island, the squad moved into the castle right away. They picked the guards one by one, slashed their necks and dumped the body in corners. All went well for the squad and in no time were they able to reach the inner chambers. The General reached the main chamber first among the ten, and made his way through easily given he was the guard of the fort. But in a case of misplaced trust, the King didn’t realise the true intention of this guard who was about to breach his oath. The tip of the General’s sword had already reached the King’s chest when the latter had made a motion to reach for his dagger. And before a finger could be laid on the dagger, the heart was pierced and the General’s sword had come out from the King’s back. The General then proceeded to behead the King and came out of the chamber grabbing the King’s head through the lock of the hair. The other nine of the squad had enacted scenes on similar lines with the Ministers and most importantly with the then General of the Violet army. A meeting was then convened with the members of the squad in a round table, with the heads in the centre, on the future course of action. The General took centre stage and gave instructions which were quite contrary to what was decided before. He clearly stated his intentions of becoming the General and made announcements of promotion to the squad for being his lieutenants. He even made allocations for them in various departments of administration and their yearly remunerations with no tax cuts. He even allocated them lands in hectares and proclaimed that their days of hard work and suffering were over and gave a picture of happiness and glory in the days to come. Statues of bronze which would be placed in every street corner were also indicated in their honour. He openly questioned the attitude of the Barbarian King who wished to take the throne after having not even raised a tooth pick to attain it. The benefits of the General’s scheme seemed to override those of the Barbarian king and the team of nine immediately gave their inclination to avail them. They proceeded to march out of the fort with the heads of the ex-chieftains and placed them in the entrance. The army troops were assembled over night in the Galleria Stadia and the General made them aware of the change in the administration that had taken place a few hours ago over a round table.

The Red army awaited the beacon to glow any time. The Barbarian king was puzzled by the time it was taking for the proceedings to complete as the pilot demonstration had only taken half an hour to complete. Dawn broke out and still there was no signal. Thinking the squad had failed yet again he announced the Red army to retreat back to their original posts in dejection. It was only in the morning of the capture of the General did the Barbarian king come to know the true nature of the events that had taken place ninety nine years ago. The illusion of his neighbouring country being ruled by a King while it was ruled by a dictator made him feel so bad, that he banged his head in the nearest wall for a full five minutes until the soldier standing next to him stopped him from continuing as his Red soldier uniform was getting spoilt by the blood bursting out from the King’s head. It was not just the Barbarian King who was banging his head. On the corner the General had started hitting his head on the wall for dreaming the wrong dream on his downfall. This continued until the good maid with the coffee tray in her hand stopped him for the same reason as the Red army soldier. He was then led to the shooting ground for his execution after his hands were strapped with chains. His request to change to his uniform from his night gown was turned down by the Barbarian King, who was still wincing from pain due to excessive bleeding from his forehead. The General, unable to bear the humiliation of being executed in his night gown, started crying uncontrollably.

The lanes leading to the shooting ground was filled with people who would not allow the Red army to proceed until everyone’s had their turn to spit and curse the General. It was also the first time they had ever seen him cry which they mistook as his sense of remorse for all the bitter things he had done. News of the crying spread soon and more people rushed to see it in amazement and leading to a blockade and delaying the proceedings by almost an hour. The bleeding Barbarian King was upset that this delay could mean he would have to shorten his first public speech in the island accordingly. But the joy of the proceedings gave him immense pleasure which overrode the upset. To see the island curse the General and rejoice his name and the days of glory to come was the only dream the Barbarian King and his ancestors had dreamed of. Seeing the General being reduced to nothing was a painful sight for a select some, which more or less constituted only one single breed, his dogs. The rest of the crowd burst crackers drank their hidden undrawn beers, sang their un-sung songs, spoke their un-spoken languages and shown their un-shown disgust. His siblings too had come to see their infamous brother to whom they hadn’t spoken since his birth and joined along with the crowd to try and spell obscenities. Their angst for taking away their mother at birth and later their father poured out and came to be known to the public for the first time.

Well, the episode of the General with his father is not a long one. After realising that his son was now the ruler of the island, the father went to meet him in his castle. Upon meeting him, the father couldn’t control his happiness over seeing his son and went over and hugged him. The General still hadn’t forgotten the bitterness of his childhood and drove his father from the castle. The attitude of his son did not disappoint the father who continued to visit the castle now and then. Most of the times, the General declined to meet him and the father walked back home convincing himself that a day was not far when his son would understand the renewed love and respect of his father. No more able to control his father’s visits and in the fear of making the public know of his ancestry and roots, the General promised to meet his father in a secluded place every Tuesday evening and talk over things that were bothering them. No reconciliation was ever reached. Yet the meetings continued with talks where the father persuaded the son to consider bringing his family close to him. One fine day, when the General was on his usual yearly Independence Day General parade along the streets of the town, the father approached and stopped the parade and requested his son to drop a cheque at the bank which was in the route of the parade. Enraged by the incident, the General in his next meeting with his father, committed patricide and put to an end to his bitter parental relations.

Upon reaching the shooting ground, after about six hours, the General was tied to a post and the shooters were aligned and instructed to take the best shot possible. The General, who was crying until then, suddenly stopped doing so and called out for the shooting squad supervisor. The General requested that he be unbound and shot at. He pleaded for the supervisor to do it and save a last moment of disgrace, which was until then flourished upon him. The supervisor agreed and ordered a trooper to untie the knot. Once freed, the General, in his undoubted level of stupidity, made a run for the walls of the ground with his back against the squad. Everyone, even he knew, it would be impossible for him to scale a twenty foot wall with his hands tied in his back. Yet the confident run towards the wall made the supervisor doubt this belief. Shooting at the back was something the Red army detested from following as a course of action and awaited the right moment to take a shot. Every barrel was aligned in the direction of the General’s chest. At this moment of heightened drama, a black cat crossed the path of the General and unable to forego his superstitious belief of it being a symbol of bad luck, he restrained himself from proceeding any further and continued to rotate three times in clockwise direction before proceeding any further. The squad, confused by the proceedings they were witnessing, had lost clear sight of the purpose of the evening. But, I hadn’t let down my barrel at any moment of time, and I sent my first shot towards the General. It pierced through the General and I guess he was unaware about it as he continued to go about his gyrations. The second time he made his bare chest available for viewing through the barrel, I made sure he felt the pinch this time. And it did. He stopped moving and stared right at the squad which by now sent bullets at will until the General collapsed on his knees and later on his back. The squadron leader asked two among us to pick and heave the body into the pit. I happened to lift him by the legs when my partner held him by the arm pits and we placed the body inside the trench. The sporadic shooting to kill the General had also made prey of the cat and somebody threw the dead cat after him before the trench was closed.