Saturday, 18 April 2009


No sooner the bell had rung than Biju bursted out of the classroom. He didn’t care to observe the school discipline code which mandated every one to go out in a single line with utmost silence. He’d managed to sneak past the drill master, who stood at the corridor every evening to catch the deviants who jump the line. His resolve to execute his plan blasted away all the obstacles which came in his way.

He got out of the school compound. He looked around. No. None of his class mates were out. He walked in the direction of his target. He had the demeanour of an archetypal fifth standard boy. Ruffled hair, ink-smeared fingers, mud-spotted shirt which was rendered one-button less by a feud which had taken place earlier that day, shoes with untied laces which dragged on the soil to make a thin trail and a devil-may-care attitude exuded by the sweaty face. But, at that moment, he was actually caring for the devil. He reached his target- the shop which banked on school kids’ hedonism. It sold everything which caught the fantasy of children, like sweets, chocolates, juices, shakes and all. He fished into his pocket and took out a five rupee note. The fragile and disfigured note was one of the veteran issues of the Reserve Bank of India and it had to be handled carefully lest it might crumble. If the shopkeeper refuses to accept it, all his plans would fall flat. He felt that he should have taken a better note from his father’s wallet. But robbers can’t be choosers. He had to act within the short time span when his father was not at the room. He opened the unattended wallet, flicked the five rupee note and ran out of the room. There was no time to appraise the acceptability of the note. During the commission of the act, his hands were shivering and his heart was pounding vigorously against his chest. After that he felt something harrowing him from within. It was the five rupee note which had assumed the token of betrayal and breach of love. That note developed tentacles which strangled his mind. As he was gasping for breath, the thought of injustice meted out against him came to his mind and that injected a jet of fresh air in him. His demand for a five-star chocolate was met with an incisive rebuke.
“I’m struggling here to feed your mouths and here someone wants to feast on chocolates. Don’t even dare to think of it. Get lost from here.” That was his father’s comment.

Biju was not cognizant of the fact that the pittance derived by his father by maneuvering the steering wheel of a private bus didn’t permit such indulgences. Nevertheless, he demanded it as a matter of his right. When it was denied, he snatched it. After all, it was a matter of five rupees.

The five-star chocolates kept in the glass jars enticed him. He decided to execute his plan. Before that, he looked around to make sure that none of his classmates were nearby. He had to execute it surreptitiously, for he didn’t want to share the booty. But he felt an inhibition. ‘Be careful while crossing the road’-his father’s parting comment as he left for school that morning came to his mind. Why it happened so is inexplicable. Human mind is a queer thing which retrieves the most extraneous and irrelevant things from the junkyard- the psychologists term it as ‘sub-conscious mind’-at the most crucial times. ‘Be careful while crossing the road’. It reverberated in his mind. That he successfully crossed the road and was getting ready to do another act didn’t shoo away the comment from his head. It was not a comment laden with love and care. It was a command. But, wasn’t hidden in that masterly dictate the love and concern which every father feels for the life and limb emanated from his spermatozoon? Wasn’t he responding to it by back-stabbing his father with five rupee notes? The potpourri of conflicting thoughts put him out of his focus. He decided to drop the plan and walked past the shop without disturbing the five-star chocolates in glass-jars. As he walked, he looked over his shoulder to take a final glance of them. That ignited him. A sudden rush of blood. Energetic pump of adrenaline. The thought of imminent pleasure overpowered his prudence and he walked back to the store, placed the five-rupee note on the table forcefully and said empathetically-‘One Five Star’.
“Easy,mone, the entire shop would collapse if you hit it like this” The shopkeeper said with a crooked smile.
He took the chocolate from him. He peeled off the cover and took a large bite. The latest manifestation of his wrong melted away in his mouth, stimulating his taste buds and pricking his mind. Sweetness and remorse conquered his stomach and mind respectively.
His mother was busy with her chores when he came back. But she managed to push him to the bathroom to take bath. ‘No food without bath’-that was her non-negotiable policy. Under the shower, he washed off the dirt of his body. But the stains of his mind remained. He recalled the fearful description of hell given by the teacher at the Sunday Catechism class.(Again the queerness of human mind). That was an exaggerated account of the Catholic concept of hell. But he wasn’t aware of it. His mind drowned into deep fear.
As he came out, he was summoned to the kitchen by his mother.
“First have the milk. Then you can have the chocolate.”
“Yes. Your father had come home at noon. He brought it then. You asked for five-star, right?”
“Yes”. His sound trembled.
“But don’t pester him too much with your silly demands. He wouldn’t like it”
Biju looked at the five-star chocolate kept at the kitchen shelf. His vision got gradually blurred by tears.

The beer bottle was opened wit a fizz and the froth flowed down the neck of the bottle.
“Oh, Martin! You’re still an amateurish bottle opener. You’ve spilled down half of the bottle”, said Anil as he puffed out a layer of smoke. The smoke went up in the dimly lit bar atmosphere and merged with the waves of a raunchy Malayalam film song being played in the background.

Martin poured the liquid in two mugs.
“You know, the university elections are approaching and we ought to be more active. But of late, you’ve been behaving quite absent-mindedly. As if you’ve forgotten that you are the Kottayam District President of Student Federation of Kerala.” Anil continued.

Martin just nodded.
“We can’t afford to be complacent. We’ve to start vigorous campaigning to strengthen the left movement across the campuses.” Anil kept on talking.
“Can I tell you something?” Martin interrupted abruptly.
“Forget all this politics. I want to tell you something serious.”
“Yes. Say it.”
“There is something which has been tormenting me. I haven’t had any peace of mind for last two weeks. Unless I tell it to someone, it’ll choke me to death.”
“Ok. Tell me then.”
“But Anil” he placed his hand over Anil’s and resumed. “Promise me that you wouldn’t tell this to anyone else. If you let it go beyond both of us, I swear, I will commit suicide.”
“You can trust me. Now, tell me the damn thing!”
“I guess I’ve told you about my aunt Sarah.”
“Aunt Sarah? Oh…the wife of your uncle Abraham. That aunt of yours who is apparently very sexy and whose sari’s pallu, you hope, one day would slide down while she is talking to you.” Anil chuckled. “So, what about her? You had sex with her?”
“Yes”. He said nonchalantly.
Anil was taken aback. He straightened up in his chair. “What!What do you mean?. Oh my god…I mean….Oh my Marx! Are you serious?”

Martin took a long gulp of the drink. Then he continued.
“It’s the most wretched day of my life. I didn’t know that I was so depraved, so filled with filth. I’m now filled with shame; with no respect for myself anymore.”
“What happened exactly? Tell me.”
“One day I’d gone to visit her. Uncle Abraham had finished his leave and had gone back to Dubai. We were just chatting. I don’t know how and when my mind slipped into such prurient thoughts. Lust blindfolded my prudence. As we were talking-no one would ever forgive me for that-I grabbed her forcefully and kissed her. She resisted. But I became more forceful. I didn’t let her leave. Then gradually she also gave in. Then I did it. Yes, I did that bloody goddamn thing!” He forcefully kept the mug down, shaking the entire table.

“Gosh! That was a bit adventurous I must say.”
“”Shut up! It was heinous .As good as a rape.”
“No way. She didn’t resist much. So it was consensual.”
“It was sensual. A sensual experience coerced upon her. I don’t want to live anymore. One moment’s pleasure has thrown my life into a deep abyss of despair.”
For a few moments they didn’t speak anything. An eerie silence prevailed amidst them. Then Anil broke the silence.

“Martin, let bygones be bygones. Nothing can be done about it. Forget it and bring focus to your life.”
“Why don’t you understand me? This feeling of guilt is burning inside me. How will I face Uncle Abraham? He’s treated me like his own brother. I’ve betrayed him. And I forced her to betray him. Such a worthless creature I am. I don’t know what to do. I’ve been thinking of ending my life.”
“Don’t be foolish. Such things are very commonplace and people don’t go and kill themselves for such trivial reasons. Moreover, our Marxist ideology doesn’t attach much sanctity or importance to marriage. It’s perceived as an institution to enforce a man’s monopoly over a woman. Our ideology also stands for the sharing of all resources.”
“Hell with the ideology! I think I must make a confession.”
“Confession! As in, a confession in a church.”
“Are you mad? You are someone who’s wielded sword against the monopolistic and exploitative tendencies of Catholic Church. Your speeches and writings have provoked them and in response they have ostracized you. And now you want to make a confession in the church. You can’t be more ludicrous. Moreover, you’ve proclaimed yourself as an atheist. You’d modeled your thoughts and actions in the lines of Nietzsche and Sartre. Our Marx himself has opined that religion was the opium of masses. And when it comes to your personal matter, you want to take recourse to religion. Comrade, you’re now being hypocritical.”
“None of these ideologies and philosophies have given me solace. A confession might help.”
“Comrade, how do you suppose a confession to an anonymous priest would salvage you, if confessing it to me hasn’t helped your case? Do you seriously think that the priest with his incantations would redeem your sins? Now you’re being irrational too.”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to reason out. I’m a depraved sinner. So it doesn’t matter if I’m hypocritical and irrational too. What I want is redemption. Hope. Faith in life.”
He kept his head down on the bar table and wept profusely.

“Oh , Jesus Christ! What’s happened to my Mani? Oh, God! Someone please come and help me. Something has happened to Mani.” Thresia yelled out. And that brought her son Joseph and his wife Elsa to her. Thresia was sitting next to the goat-shed.
“What happened ammachi?” Joseph enquired.
“Look at my Mani. She’s not moving.”
A three month old lamb was lying still on the ground. There was a thick froth coming out of its mouth. Flies were swarming around it. Joseph examined the lamb with the prowess of a forensic expert and concluded. “It’s dead.”
“Dead? Oh, Mother Mary! How can it die? It’s just a lamb. It was completely healthy yesterday. There was no sign of any sort of illness. How can it die?”
“It’s died. That’s its fate. There is no point in crying over it. After all, it’s just a lamb. Elsa, dispose off the body in the backyard. I’ve to rush to office now. Already late. And take care of ammachi.” He thus washed off his responsibility and went back.
Elsa led her mother-in-law inside. She was crying aloud. “Tell me Elsa, how could it die? You know how diligently I used to take care of it. I looked after it like my own child. And how could it die just like that? Was there any negligence on my part? Tell me Elsa.”
Elsa didn’t say anything. She took Thresia to the bedroom and forced her to lie down. She hadn’t stopped crying. It was two months back that she’d bought the lamb with her own cash. Her son hadn’t approved of it. Yet she went ahead and bought it. She was a great animal lover and at their ancestral home she reared all kinds of animals and birds. But she had to sell off everything, when they shifted to their present home at the town of Pala. The space constraints of their present house didn’t permit her to have a large scale animal farm. But she insisted on a lamb and accomplished in getting one. But now, death befell it. And the strong willed woman was crying like a school kid.

Elsa went out to bury the lamb. With a spade she dug a small pit. Then she took the lamb in her arms. Her heart wrenched for a moment. The innocence and helplessness of the animal’s face sent her mind into a spasm. And the incessant wails of Thresia pricked her. She put the animal in the pit.
‘How could I kill such an innocuous creature?’ She thought.
Last night she had mixed rat-poison in its food. The lamb had become the victim of her wrath against her mother-in-law. The aristocratic Thresia had a condescending attitude towards Elsa, who hailed from a lower social background. Thresia used to irritate her with her stinging remarks about Elsa and her family. Last day they had a fuming feud and the poor lamb bore the brunt of Elsa’s ire.

But now, the child like sobs of Thresia and the ill-fate of the little lamb caused her heart to melt. That Thresia turned to her for solace also filled her mind with remorse. She sat next to the pit and sobbed for atonement.

St.Joseph’s Catholic Church was the parish for more that five hundred catholic families in and around Pala. Fr. Dominic, a septuagenarian, was the vicar of the parish. He was having a tough time sitting in the confession box redeeming the sins of the faithful. Lots of parishioners had turned up to fulfill the mandatory confession of Holy Week. He was feeling very drowsy and was struggling to keep his mind attentive to the litany of sins delivered. Last night he was watching the Twenty-twenty cricket match between India and South Africa. The pulsating match went late into night. Yes, priests too involve themselves in such worldly matters. But when the visuals of the gyrating cheer girls with plunging necklines and rising hemlines were shown, he invoked ‘Hail Mary’ lest his mind would wade into the forbidden territory.
“Your sins have been forgiven. You shall not sin henceforth. As a mark of our penance, devote three Hail Mary to the Lord Almighty. Go in Peace.”
He disposed off another sinner. His head was spinning and he was finding it hard to decipher the whispers of redemption-seekers.
The next one came.
“Father, father, I stole a five rupee note from my father’s wallet and bought myself a five-star chocolate.” A boyish sound whispered.
“Anything else?”
“Hmm…Yes Father. I hit my younger sister one day and called my classmate Ajit a dog.”
“Anything else?”
Father chanted some prayers and said. “Your sins have been forgiven. You shall not sin henceforth. As a mark of our penance, devote three Hail Mary to the Lord Almighty. Go in Peace”
The next one came. It was a young man’s voice.
“It’s been three years since I have confessed. Father, I’ve acted in contravention of the sixth and ninth commandments. I indulged in an illicit sexual act with my uncle’s wife”.
“Anything else?”
“Father, I’ve also denounced God and Biblical principles. I’ve also ridiculed church and its agents. That’s all”
Father chanted some prayers and said. “Your sins have been forgiven. You shall not sin henceforth. As a mark of our penance, devote three Hail Mary to the Lord Almighty. Go in Peace”
The next one came. It was a young woman’s voice.
“My last confession was made last week. I killed the goat of my mother-in-law out of anger.”

Father chanted some prayers and said. “Your sins have been forgiven. You shall not sin henceforth. As a mark of our penance, devote three Hail Mary to the Lord Almighty. Go in Peace”.

The sinners fulfilled their penance with utmost devotion and faith. They experienced redemption and went home in peace. It could be an interim relief. They might again venture out for sinful acts. But at that moment they had metal peace. That the passive remarks of a senile priest could grant them relief could sound implausible. But if O.Henry’s Johnsy’s faith in the last leaf could elongate her life, this scenario is also possible. Faith, howsoever blind, might be a better remedy than conviction.