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A Heap Of Broken Images


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A Heap Of Broken Images

  1. 1. From out of the blue clouds your song reached my ears A heap of broken images When he was ten, Bharati ,his teacher , had incurred the wrath of his grandmother's sister when the latter had married an upper caste boy. He hid his embarrassment when the old lady pulled the teacher up openly .He himself had a crush on her and hated her being the target of the fury of his own grandmother's sister. The teacher loved him due to his deliciously perverse intelligence or at least that was what he thought .There was this dark inscrutable look on his face which would certainly have attracted her to him. Kameswari , the dimpled beauty of the class, appeared to feel that Bharati preferred his scintillating intellect to her own famed arithmetical prowess. Or at least that was what he thought. The sadness in her face appealed to him very much and it was his innate desire to cup her tragic face in his little hands and console her. He was very sure that she would not live long and it was only a matter of a few years that she would leave this world and go away to the dark inky infinitude of the moonless night. Like Bharati , Saraswati came floating into his life , at the age of twenty,like a bird's feather which had fallen from the blue sky slowly riding the layers of air. She was a swan of incredible grace and when she entered the room you almost heard the flutter of her white fluffy wings .Her swan-brain collected no wisdom .Back home ,in Madanapalli , she loved a man dearly .Her pakodas were tasteful and her love overwhelming. Once she was chased by a full-grown bull all the way through the streets of Madanapalli .Her petite frame betrayed a fierce passion for the man she had loved .He felt betrayed .How could she not love him? The double-think in him of course felt happy that it was not him .Years later a portly he would reflect on this with middle-aged satisfaction as he exchanged gossip with the matronly Saraswati in her Rajampet house. When he was seven ,Tayi , a distant cousin , expected him to teach her a song or two which she could sing before the prospective groom. Tayi was plump like the Sompeta pumpkin ; it was necessary for her to impress the groom with her musical prowess. Impress she did with the film song : From out of the blue clouds and the waves of the breeze your song reached my ears His throat choked with emotion when Tayi, his disciple ,sang this song, in abheri raag ,before the groom in full-throated splendor. Years later Tayi ,married and comfortable, decided to call it quits and one fine morning he heard that the rolly-polly Tayi no longer needed to impress anybody and did not need his tutoring services any more. Her blithe spirit haunted him for years, however. Tayee's grandmother was a tough old lady with a shaved widow's head .Her toothless monologues talked of the glories of her youthful times when she could cook food for one hundred people at a stretch. She boasted that the white man , who stayed in the bungalow outside the town, relished her sweet pancake, so much that he, the blue-blooded white man,would beg of her for an extra helping of
  2. 2. her delicacy each time. The white man liked her very much and would insist on her coming to his bungalow frequently. Of course she would not touch a pariah and would only drop the prized pancake into his outstretched hands from a height of two or three feet . That was what they did in our village .During the God Sriram's birthday celebrations when the patriarchs hosted a feast for the entire village mustachioed farmers squatted on the bare floor with the stitched lunch-leaves before them .The elders would not bend to serve food but would only drop mounds of rice with lentils and vegetables from a safe distance .The villagers wouldn't mind it either. During the celebrations the shehnai and the mridangam played the Tyagaraya kritis and the God Srirama wedded Sita in all His refulgence . His mother's uncle, an old gentleman with close -cropped hair conducted the celebrations with extravagance , slowly squandering away the family lands. He had no known sources of income apart from what he could scrounge from ignorant villagers depending upon his semi-literate accomplishments .Money would come from somewhere but the show had to go on. He was born in this very house .In the dimly-lit room where a Castor oil-lamp flickered several child- births had taken place unmidwifed and the shrieks of the laboring mothers were followed by the smells of the placenta and curdled mother's milk. At night he heard the tales of the woman who had turned into a ghost in this very room. This woman, who was half-ghost and half-human, was lying on the cot awaiting her pains when suddenly she projected her tongue, lizard-like,three feet away to extinguish the oil-lamp in the presence of a horrified female relative. Then there was a huge boulder hewn in the shape of a pestle which had been lying for generations twenty feet away .This stone overnight shifted its position to a place just behind the kitchen. These ghostly actions mystified him who was besieged with crowds of skeptical thoughts mixed with terrifying fears. The babies cried out lying on the midwife's knees waiting to be oiled and bathed. The frankincense filled the room with sweet fragrance. The woman warmed her hands on live coals and patted the baby's tummy rhythmically to ward off trouble in the digestive system of the baby. The babies are branded with hot irons on the tummy in the first month to protect them against liver problems. In the village the mad man ,Pettadu hurled stones at small mischievous boys. Once , as he turned near the elementary school he saw the mad man,full of gibberish and fury. He stood petrified. He had a swirling fear under his navel which quickly spread in his bloodstream .The mad man's vacuous eyes flashed fire as though he blamed him for the evils of the world. It was a cunning move on his part that saved him from the mad man's fury. At the washerman's pond ,he found half-burnt human bones and hair. He was sure that at the dead of the night spirits freely roamed the area .Broken pieces of clay pots were the remnants of the tantric ritual some villager had performed the previous night. One of the villagers was credited with the powers of chillangi , the art of invoking a lowly spirit with a view to bringing about the destruction of an enemy. In order to acquire the powers of chillangi one had to eat human excrescence for three consecutive nights and perform the ritual, entirely naked, in honour of the spirit ,at the dead of the night at the cremation ground. When he was nine ,he stood on the fringe of the Baruva sea and he thought he had seen the edge of the earth , where the sea and the sky meet .It was so dangerous to stand on the edge .Little children would fall off. The earth appeared to be the shape of a disc although the geography taught in the Sompeta school said it was spherical .If one went on drilling into the earth at the spot where one stood, would one reach America ? If one went into the deep seas and not along the coast endlessly ,would one reach
  3. 3. the shore on the other side ? One of his worst fears was if everything on the earth including us clung to it due to gravitation and the earth was revolving continuously wouldn't we fall off the earth sometime or other into deep outer space like a lizard on the roof falling to the ground ? As huge waves rose and broke on the Baruva beach he thought God in whose dream he existed stood at the other shore of the ocean and rolled the waves in continuous sweeping motions of His hands .At night he slept in a relatives house on the Baruva beach he heard the roar of the sea all night long lying under the inky moonless night ,afraid that the sea would , at the dead of the night , grab him and swallow him into its cavernous stomach. The little insect which made conical holes into the ground fascinated him These insects would become elephants in two or three months. He put them in a rubber-corked medicine bottle and waited for them to transform into full-grown elephants .During the arudra karti it rained the whole night .In the morning pretty red-velvety insects burst out of the wet ground and crawled under the wet grass. Soon they were all over the place filling the green carpet of fresh grass with bright red motifs. Once a swarm of locusts descended on the plains of Sompeta. Millions of these creatures ate every single leaf and blade on the way .They had come all the way from the plains of Siberia crossing the Himalayas. He used a large green stick to beat clusters of them above the ground and bring them down to the ground writhing. He imagined the lands that lay beyond the hills near Sompeta .He was sure another world ,like the one he read about in the story of Rip van Vinkle , existed on the other side of the hills. He heard that strange animals like dummaragundu lived on the hills .This animal was so dangerous that it just sniffed your life out of you. There were fierce tigers in the jungle nearby which sometimes waylaid the buses on the highway .Once the neighborhood compounder who had a gun with which he killed pigeons went into the jungle to kill the man-eater tiger which strayed into the villages. He headed a procession of the killed tiger through the streets of Sompeta. During sugarcane season big black bears descended from the hills .Once when his cousin Samba was cycling his way returning froma nearby town to his home a full-grown bear confronted him on the highway. There were two-headed snakes in the Sompeta bushes .He wondered with which head these snakes thought .Of course snakes do not think .He had an uncanny sense of the presence of a snake . Once he was lying on a string cot alone in the house with a vague snake-fear spreading its hood in his child-mind . There it was a full-grown krait clinging to the wooden beam of the tiled roof. He sweated under his skin .Another time a cobra slithered on the broken rim of the well deceptively looking like the rope of the water-pail. As acts of bravery he caught the tails of the water- snakes and twirled them in the air expertly .Of course only water-snakes. He dreamed of coils of snakes .Fearful Freudian snakes which coiled around you constricting your throat and slowly draining away the oxygen-supply to your tissues. On the day of the snake festival he went to the snake-pit along with the women and poured milk into the pit .The children saved some crackers during the festival of lights for the festival . If you accidentally killed a cobra its spouse would avenge herself on you and pursue you wherever you ran to. He saw several green snakes on the low branches of the hibiscus tree .They coiled around the stem indistinguishable from the tree. These snakes can rise in the air. They bite you on the back of the head and their poison is so deadly that within minutes the victim froths at his mouth and dies. The mongoose is no friend of the snake .He is a friend to humans. In the Panchatantra story he saved the baby from a snake. End of Chapter 2