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Sound and Light – Dr. Bharatibalan

Apr 24, 2022 | Fiction | 3 comments

Translated from the Tamil by Dr. S. Vincent

“What, you have started?”
“We have to do what we are obliged to do. Don’t you think so?”
“It’s a such a long distance . . . and at this age! It would be all right if it was nearer.”
“Is this not an important death? Can we worry about all that?”
“Can’t you go sometime later and offer your condolences?”
“How many days can you take before going to enquire about a death? It is already past one month. I could not even go to the funeral.”
“It is a good death, isn’t it?”
“Mm . . . a man of my age.”
“Is any of this in our hands? When called, we have to go.”
“Yes, it is like that.”
“Are all the children married?”
“Mm . . . all are grown up. No problem at all.”
“Didn’t he come here often?”
“Yes, yes . . .”
“He was running a betel shop, you had said.”
“Just a small one. He was an astrologer. And he had also settled down with the small shop.”
“Was he unwell or what?”
“He was healthy, that is what they said. When he got up in the morning, he asked his wife for some rice water. That woman said yes and went to get some. When she came back, she saw him sliding down. He did not say anything and the breathing had stopped. Life had left, they said.”
“What a pity!”
“That is human life.”
“Pst . . . a good death. He left without any struggle . . .”
Could have taken a bus; why should one walk in this hot sun? After all, the bus journey would have cost two rupees.. So much is being spent. We give money to all and sundry without even spending on food. Just paying the cursed two rupees hecould have come by bus. It is not the problem. There is another yearning in the mind. He used to walk like this, on the same road speaking with Somu Asari. Now there is no Somu Asari. What if he is not here? Can’t one speak with him? When he walks like this, whatever he sees reminds him of him. Though the body is weak, the mind is still strong. He becomes emotional.
“Only this much has been destined for us. To eat and to dress one must have it written there,” Somu Asari would say, meaning what is written in heaven. What he says is true.
He could have at least brought an umbrella. It is not a big thing to bring an umbrella. He must take that cursed one back home safe. If it is left somewhere by mistake . . . That is all. She will not leave it at that. Fearing her tongue, it has been left at home. Why bother?
Maniyakarar is not able to bear the heat of the sun. It is only a short distance! If I touch the lake, it will be cooler then. Under the shadow of tamarind trees, he can walk faster looking at the sight around. If Somu Asari were there he would start singing. The tamarind trees are dense like a canopy on both sides. Thick shade. How many crores of people would have gone by this road! I am eighty. These are trees of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
These cursed fellows are going to uproot all these trees and broaden the road, they say. Four-track road! How many trees on both sides on a stretch of three-four miles! It seems they are going to build a four-track road after flattening all of these. After that I don’t know whether wretched people like me can walk like this!
Maniyakarar’s stride became faster. He had no footwear. He walked with great difficulty, it was true, but he did not feel it.
“If you wait here for some time I will mend your chappal,” the cobbler Subiah had said. He would always say that.
He would be delayed and the work on hand would be spoiled if he listened to his words, he thought. So, without heeding his words he threw off his chappals and started walking. Did he walk with chappals all day? Only if he had some work in the south or north, he would need this cursed one! Otherwise, why should I have such luxury, he said to himself.
“I have to go to Chinnamanur on some business. Get my clothes ready,” he had told the washerwoman the day before yesterday. She had promised to bring the clothes washed but she had not arrived when he started. So, he had to go to the river to find her. With great difficulty he got his vetti and shirt. If it is yearly wages, everybody takes things leniently. They go after the person who gives cash. The same story at the barber’s too. And when the work is finished he stretches his hand. Then what is the meaning of yearly wages. Somehow life goes on.
Now he entered the town and everything was strange to him. Every day all villages and towns were getting bloated, like an obese man. The very shape of the town had changed. In this agricultural town farmers could not be seen, and the number of traders had increased. In the place of handcarts and bullock carts there were only cars and bikes now! Where could one see goats and cows and poultry in streets!
Maniyakarar was bewildered for a second. Have I come to a wrong street, he wondered. He looked up and down. He could not identify the direction nor could he understand the location. He walked up and down and searched for something. He could see the threshold of Badrakaliamman temple. The lane opposite to it should be the one he was looking for. He walked a few yards. Everything had changed. A woman was washing vessels.
“Which is the astrologer’s house?” he asked her.
“Which astrologer?”
“The one who passed away recently,” he replied.
“His house is in the other street. You have come to the wrong one.”
For a moment he hesitated.
“He was here a few years ago, wasn’t he?”
“Is it not the house of the computer astrologer? That is in the other street!”
“Somu Asari, who reads horoscopes!”
“Who is that?” the woman began to think.
“Adiey, ask him whether it was the betel shop owner,” spoke a voice.
“Yes,” he replied eagerly.
“Then why do you say astrologer? Do you see a man going in? That is the house.”
It was not possible to enter the house just like that. The nature of the house itself was like that. Everything has changed. People also have changed. There is no thinnai on the left or right. There isn’t any long passage. There is no stone pavement. Somu Asari, keeping his back on the wall, would rush on seeing the person. Now there is nothing like that. The murungai tree and the haystack in the backyard could not be seen. Why, even the backyard is absent. Many years have passed since he came here. Now there are so many walls crisscrossing. The house had been partitioned by erecting walls everywhere. Four or five windows. Smoke was leaking. He moved hesitatingly. Two or three persons moved away on seeing him.
“Is this not the astrologer’s house?”
“Mm . . . Kamu, call your grandmother.”
The little girl ran inside. Four or five doors could be seen.
After some time, an old woman came out. Maniyakarar was looking at the woman. A look searching for something. He wiped his face with the towel he used to keep on his shoulders. The old woman also was staring at him.
“I remember to have seen him somewhere . . .,” she seemed to think, a confused look on her face.
“Do you remember me?”
The old woman’s eyes became sharp.
“Haven’t you come when he was here?”
“Maniyakarar.”
“Seelayampatti?”
“Yes.”
“He would come to see you, wouldn’t he? He used to be very excited when he came to see you . . . as if he was going to a festival. He used to be very happy.”
“Pst . . .”
“You did not come to the funeral?”
“Did not know.”
“I told them to engage a person to give the message about his death, as it is our custom. Who listens! People were not properly informed . . . our relatives are still grumbling.”
“Sudden . . . could not believe . . .”
“He was alright. When he was here, the house was full of people who came with horoscopes to consult him.”
“Mm . . .”
“If he starts reading the horoscopes early in the morning, he cannot get up till the lights are on. So many calls. He won’t send away anyone. And only betel and betel nuts as fees. Anything more than that, it will be quarter anna or eight annas. People used to come from far off places too. But now they have machines to read horoscopes in every corner.”
“True.”
“What is the use of having six boys? Nobody is of any use for us. If they had been good sons, why would we be in this state?”
“He had a betel nut shop . . .”
“Why should we be at their mercy? That was why he started a betel shop in the Kodikalkara Street. It did not give us much. But he was at least happy to meet people in his shop.”
“Then what happened?”
“The corner you turned now, that was where the shop was. A prominent place! There would always be a good crowd! That shop was taken away too. A man came and started a “phone” shop (shop selling cell phones). Man from another place; he had taken it on lease; monthly rent . . . advance too. So, we had to quit . . .”
“Pst . . . pity.”
“Then he went south and north. In his old age he was told not to strain too much.”
“He had no disease, right?”
“He had no problem. He had never been down. He had never complained of fever or headache . . .”
“Pst . . .”
“All because of the arrogance of the boys. They quarrelled with him asking for their share, as if the property was huge. Just a kani or half. That was all. That was also sold off. Now only this house! They picked up quarrels, they went to the extent of threatening each other. Even if they were quiet, their spouses would continue the quarrel. Look now. There are so many walls. There are separate kitchens, and the women do the cooking behind those walls.”
“That was why I could not recognize the house . . .”
“Even now it is not over. They threaten each other. They go to the extent of saying that they will stab with knives or cut the throats . . .”
“That is all, that is their nature, we have to say and ignore them.”
“This had started when he was alive.”
“Pst . . .”
“He broke down only because of that.”
“Whatever has to happen will happen.”
“Still people are coming to offer their condolences. Look! There is no one here to get you a cup of coffee.”
“It is a pity. You must simply keep quiet. What can you do . . .,” he said.
“Can I give you some buttermilk?”
“Give me water. That is enough.”
“These girls were playing here just now, making such a noise. They had run away now. If I try to get you something . . .”
“I don’t want anything. Let me leave.”
“Wait. I will cook some rice for you. Have your food and go.”
“No, I don’t want all that.”
“Where are you going to eat now? You have come from a far off place.”
“Is this a distance at all?”
“Wait.”
“I will have my food here next time.”
“Oh, when are you going to come next?”
“We will see if I’m alive.”
So saying he got up. His mind was perturbed. He looked at the house once again without batting his eyelids. He sighed. If the astrologer were here, he would not have allowed him to go like this. His eyes became wet. Walking fast he reached the street. He should not say, “I am leaving,” after offering condolences. So he walked out without saying anything. If the astrologer had been alive, he would have come with him up to the corner of the street. Maniyakarar was walking alone in the street.
Notes:
Chinnamanur: the name of a town
Seelayampatti: the name of the village where Maniyakarar lived
hinnai: a raised platform on both sides of the threshold in rural houses
murungai: moringa/drumstick tree
Maniyakarar: village elder/officer
Anna: a coinage during the British period and post-independent period
kani: a land measure
Adiey: way of addressing a woman younger in age to one
*In the past barbers and washermen would be engaged on yearly wages usually in the form of harvested paddy.
*It was customary in rural Tamil Nadu to send news of death through paid messengers.
*After condoling with the family of a dead person, one must not take leave of the mourners saying “I am leaving.”

Notes:
Chinnamanur: the name of a town
Seelayampatti: the name of the village where Maniyakarar lived
Hinnai: a raised platform on both sides of the threshold in rural houses
murungai: moringa/drumstick tree
Maniyakarar: village elder/officer
Anna: a coinage during the British period and post-independent period
Kani: a land measure
Adiey: the way of addressing a woman younger in age than one

*In the past barbers and washermen would be engaged on yearly wages usually in the form of harvested paddy.
*It was customary in rural Tamil Nadu to send news of death through paid messengers.
*After condoling with the family of a dead person, one must not take leave of the mourners saying “I am leaving.”

Dr. Bharatibalan (03-04-1965) is a Tamil novelist, short story writer, and essayist. He works as a professor at Tamil Nadu Open University. He has been writing short stories since 1965 and made a remarkable contribution to Tamil literature. His literary works include novels, short stories, and essays. He is contributing stories and articles to Tamil journals. He has authored more than eleven books of short stories and novels and five collections of essays. He was honored with many awards including the Makakavi Baratiar award by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2018.

Dr. S. Vincent is a retired professor of English. He has translated more than thirty books from English to Tamil. He has brought out many collections of essays. He translates books from Tamil to English, including contemporary Tamil poems and the short stories of Kumarananthan. With Dr. Lawrence he has translated Veeramamunivar’s Paramartha Guruvin Kathai and Mayuram Vedanayakam Pillai’s Prathaba Mudaliar Charithiram (the first novel in Tamil) into English. Other important books translated by him into Tamil are Kafka’s Metamorphosis and other Stories, Paulo Coelho’s Fifth Mountain, and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

3 Comments

  1. Kalandar harish

    Excellent 👍….

    Reply
  2. R Babu

    The story in translation reads as if it has been written in Tamil.Dr Vincent
    has been doing a great service to Tamil.

    Reply
  3. Dinesh Kumar S

    Yes Dr Vincent sir, we never say that I am leaving in the condolence. சொல்லிக்காம கிளம்புதல்.

    Reply

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