Hari Stories – Part 2

His heart raced and palms sweated in anticipation of the punishment he was going to receive. His father had never gotten so angry with him before. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was angry either. In his head, he frantically searched for a reason. One moment he was proudly showing his parents the little transistor radio he had bought, and the next his dad was shouting at him, and raging into kitchen to get the chooral out. His mother had immediately followed his father, trying to calm him down, and placate him, while Hari stood transfixed.

It was of no use. Twenty agonizing seconds later, his father stormed back into the hall, the chooral in hand. “Put your hand out!” he barked. Hari instantly obeyed. As terrified and confused as he was, it never occurred to Hari to not obey his father. His mother was still trying to reason with his father, but Hari couldn’t really hear it. In that moment, it was just him and his father; the chooral ready to give, his hand ready to receive. There was a low whistle, and then SMACK! It hit his palm. His palm stung as though he had touched one of the smouldering pieces of charcoal in their wood-fired stove. He winced, his hand flinched involuntarily, but remained outstretched. Tears streamed down his face, more from not knowing how he had caused his father this much anger, than from the pain.

“Stop it! That’s enough punishment!” Hari heard his mother saying. “Don’t you see he’s hurting?” His father looked at his mother, then looked back at him. Hari was still looking up at him, still with the silent tears – no sobs, no drama. He looked at Hari’s mother, and after a brief while, threw the chooral behind him, turned, walked over to the settee and sat down, glowering. Hari was still standing there, rooted to the spot. “Go to your room, Hari,” his mother said, gently lowering his hand. He turned to look at her face, searching her eyes for some explanation of what had just happened.

“Go on. It’s alright. Go to your room,” she coaxed him, softly, wiping his tears. She held his shoulders and gently pushed him to help him move from the spot. Hari lowered his eyes, sniffled, and crossed the hall to his room.

The chooral lay against the wall, looking benign. It had never been used before. It was kept on the shelf above the stove in the kitchen as a potential consequence of disobedience or bad behaviour. Just that was enough.

“He’s a good boy, you know he is,” Hari’s mother said to his father.

“That does not mean he can do anything he likes.”

“No. But he doesn’t know what he did.”

“What is there not to know? He spent money. He didn’t think it was necessary for him to ask me if he could. He didn’t even tell me he wanted a transistor. He is big enough, is he not? He doesn’t need me anymore then. He thinks the vishu kaineettam he got is money he earned, for him to spend as he likes. He’s independent now, is he not?”

“You don’t mind so much when he is independent about his studies, ” she retorted, sharply. Then she softened immediately. “Look,” she continued, “he doesn’t understand that. He probably thought that by using his vishu kaineedttam he was trying not to burden you. He’s 11 years old, still a boy. He adores you, looks up to you. He’s doing what he thinks is right by you. You need to let this go. He’s heartbroken that you are so angry with him. You saw that. I know you are upset too. Just let this go.”

His father sighed. “I know his love for music. I would have bought him a transistor. A better one. Why didn’t he just tell me? He never asks for anything. Why couldn’t he just ask me?”

He got up from the settee, walked over to where the chooral lay in the corner. He picked it up and looked at it intently. “My father…he always preferred the chooral over a simple scolding when we were growing up,” he said quietly. He walked into the kitchen. Hari’s mother heard the sharp snap of the cane breaking and the sound of the pieces being tossed into the stove. His father then walked out the back door. “I’ll be back in some time,” he said as he crossed the threshold.

Hari sat at his study stable looking out of the window, absently stroking the welt on his left palm. His books lay open in front of him. The new transistor stood on the right top corner of the table, against the wall. He was still hurt and confused about what had happened a mere hour ago. The transistor didn’t matter anymore.

Outside, the light had faded, and the crickets were coming to life. Somewhere close to his window, a frog croaked, Hari broke out of his reverie. He had homework to finish, lessons to revise. He picked up his pencil and restarted the math problem that he had been working on unaware that his father was watching him from the door of the room. “Hari,” he said, as he walked in, “homework nearly done?”

“Not yet, acha. I have two more problems to do.”

“Hmmm…Are you going to show me your new transistor or not? Tell me how it works,” his father said and sat down on Hari’s bed and smiled slightly.

Hari quickly brought the transistor to his father, explaining this and that feature. His father listened with interest, and nodded.

“So it runs on power?” he asked.

“No acha, batteries.”

“Then I guess you’ll need these before you can listen to music,” his father said fishing out a couple of batteries from his shirt pocket.

“Yes! Oh, thank you, acha!” Hari’s excitement made his father’s smile wider. As Hari was taking the batteries from him, his father got a glimpse of the angry, red streak on the boy’s palm. He took Hari’s hand gently, stroking it, “Does it hurt really bad?” Hari was silent. His father looked at his boy’s face, and after a moment, leaned forward to pick up the little bottle of coconut oil from the window sil. He poured a few drops on Hari’s palm, and spread it with the lightest, most tender touch. A single tear drop fell on the back of his father’s hand.

“It’s alright, acha. Doesn’t hurt all that much.”

“Hmmm.” His father got up from the bed and walked to the door. “Make sure you’re done with your homework before dinner,” he said without turning and walked out of the room.

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Hari Stories – Part 1

He stood at the very edge looking at his toes, wiggling them slightly.  The earth felt damp under his feet. He was standing on the wall of the irrigation channel that his father had built along with the other farmers. Five feet deep, he had heard them say, and three feet across to the other side. Usually there would be at least a foot and a half between the surface of the water and the top of the channel. Not today though. Today the waters had swollen and lapped gently on the top of the wall as it flowed down the channel. And it was flowing quite rapidly too. A paper  boat would be out of sight in less than a minute, he estimated as he stood there following the man-made stream with his eyes.

Although it looked like half past six in the evening, it was only two in the afternoon. There had been warning of a thunderstorm and they had let all the children go home before the rain started. He’d come home, happy that he’d get to eat a warm lunch at home with his parents. As always, he’d changed out of his uniform and into a pair of shorts and a vest, washed his hands, feet and face and gone into the kitchen to eat. His father was already at the table set up on one side of the kitchen, along with his sister. His mother was serving rice in all their plates. He sat down quietly in his seat, and waited for her to serve him the morukootan and vegetable, and sit down to her own plate. Once she started eating, he started his meal. He was the first one to finish. As he was washing up, his father asked him to check on the cowshed and the coop to make sure all the animals were fine. “Come straight back in after that,” his mother warned him. He nodded dutifully and went out the back to first check the coop.

The cows were his friends. And now there was a little calf too. He talked to them, and patted their backs. Just as he was refilling the hay for them, the calf licked the back of his neck. A big wet sloppy kiss. He laughed loudly and playfully smacked the calf on his head. As he stepped out of the shed to head back to the house, he glanced to the fields. They were at a lower level, and from where he was stood near the shed, the paddy looked like the waves of a rocky sea. The channel snaked through the fields, dark and glistening, even as the clouds gathered overhead. “Just a few minutes,” he thought to himself.

And that’s how he ended up here – standing at the very edge of the channel, following the path of an imaginary paper boat. “Hari!!” His mother’s voice broke through the wind and his thoughts. “Hari!” She sounded worried, he thought. “Amma!” he called back. “Come back…..” The wind took away the rest of her words. “Coming, amma! Just one minute!” He looked up at the sky. It had become really overcast now. It didn’t worry him though. It was the monsoons, and he didn’t understand all this fuss about the rains.

He looked beyond the channel, beyond, as far as his eyes could see – where the paddy fields ended and the coconut groves began. The leaves were swaying wildly the in wind. It looked like some of the trees were bending all the way towards the ground. The clouds were in conversation, in their deep rumbling voices. CLAP! He saw a streak of silver strike the ground beyond the trees. The rain was starting towards him now. In that instant, he decided he would stay ahead of it and reach the house before it. He turned around – it was a good 200 meters to the slope that led to the cowshed. But the rain was still in the coconut grove, he had enough time.

He ran. As fast as he could. He knew the bunds well, knew the slippery parts, the portions where the mud was squishy wet, and jumped over them. When he reached the slope, he glanced back towards the rain. It was approaching quicker than he thought. He scrambled up the slope, using his hands to pull himself up faster. Once on top, he started running again, and didn’t stop till he reached the steps at the back door. His mother looked up from washing the dishes from lunch, and took in the panting, the grazed bleeding knee, the cuts on his hands, the soaking wet clothes, and the triumphant look on his face. “What kept you?” she asked.

“I ran ahead of the rain!” he said, grinning. CLAP! This time it sounded closer home, and the sharp drizzle turned into pouring rain. Mother and son looked out, and up at the sky.

“Go, wash up, and put on some dry clothes,” she told him, turning back to the dishes.

“Yes, amma,” he said, and walked towards the bathroom.

 

Trusting a Stranger

He looked up at the sky. Summer was definitely here. The days were getting longer, and felt like an eternity. Business was slow too. No one had the energy or inclination to deal with the heat any more than they had to. He was used to seeing stony expressions. But in the summer, these faces spoke a different story. The studied arrogance gave way to the tiresomeness and strain of everyday life. He made his way through the crowd, he had exactly 3 minutes to make the most of before he would be forced to get out of the way. With a time frame like that, he had to be very sure who he wanted to spend time on and who pass over.

As a rule, he always passed over the women. They might be stylishly dressed and driving expensive cars, but they almost always hesitated to buy anything without approval. He didn’t have time for hesitation. He’d learnt that the hard way. But sometimes, on a whim, he would stop by some of the women. Not the really attractive ones, never the really attractive ones. They looked through you. No. He’d pause at the mediocre ones, the ones who are too worried to make eye contact, who shift ever so slightly when he approached them. Even if they were in a car, with the windows up.

This woman, for example. She looks about average, but is dressed well. Wears sunglasses and sits behind the wheel of a vehicle you don’t normally see a woman driving – windows up, air conditioning on, looking ahead at the traffic light. He could see that she was listening to music by the way she was tapping her fingers on the wheel. He could say anything to her, she wouldn’t know. He leaned close to her window, held up the roll of sun film he was selling today and said, “I can help you escape the life you are trapped in. If you can just trust a stranger,” in a voice just above a whisper. She startled him by turning and looking straight into his eyes, as though she’d heard what he said. Then she shook her head absently and turned away.

He stood there looking at her for a moment longer, unable to shake the feeling that she’d heard him. Then he pulled himself swiftly away and into the crowd.

A Vision

I saw her today. I’m sure it was her. She was behind a shelf. One moment i was grabbing something for the special dinner i had been planning, and the next i was looking into a pair of wide, empty eyes. Hazel. They were hazel. And they were lowered almost immediately. I saw again the hair pulled back in to a ponytail, gaunt features. I stood there transfixed. I had looked for her for so long. Searching every photograph, every memory, every sentence, every word. I hadn’t counted on actually finding her. I had not realized until that moment that I was secretly hoping that she didn’t exist, that she was somehow a figment of my imagination, a morbid personification of my paranoia.

But there she was – right before my eyes. And I was frozen. I couldn’t think of one thing I could say or do. And then she was gone.

Persistence

At first I missed her. I didn’t see her. I couldn’t. I wonder if I was blinded. How could I have missed her. There she is, on the very fringe of the photograph. Barely visible. Hair pulled back, wide, empty eyes, wearing clothes that are a size too big. There’s something about her. Something familiar, yet strange. Something compelling. She is there, even though she is never looking at the camera. As though I can see her only out of the corner of my eye, else she just isn’t there. Like a ghost. 

And I’ve started looking for her. Searching every photograph, every memory, every sentence and every word. But she disappears when I search for her. Hides, behind a shelf, a clothesline, a sound. I search for her in his eyes. As though it will reveal more than the photograph has captured. But I turn away frustrated because I cannot see what he has seen, cannot see her. 

But he talks to me. Endlessly, about everything, about every minute. Every moment is accounted for. And I listen, impatiently, for a mention her. But she hides. And I stare, at him, till he reaches to touch my face and I realise that there are tears running down my cheeks. Silent, angry tears. Irrational tears. I must know her.