Excerpt from Animal's People by Indra Sinha, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Animal's People

A Novel

By Indra Sinha

Animal's People
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2008,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2009,
    384 pages.

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I'm looking right now at my feet, which are near the hearth, twisted they're, a little bent to one side. Inside of left foot, outer of right, where they scrape the ground the skin's thick and cracked. In gone times I've felt such hunger, I'd break off lumps of the dry skin and chew it. Want to see? Okay watch, I am reaching down to my heel, feeling for horny edges, I'm sliding the thumbnail under. There, see this lump of skin, hard as a pebble, how easily it breaks off, mmm, chewy as a nut. Nowadays there's no shortage of food, I eat my feet for pleasure.

The hearth near which my feet are resting is of clay shaped somewhat like, like what, I've never thought of this before but it's like a yoni, which is a cunt, I don't know another way to say it, there's a gap you feed in hay, twigs etc., then put bits of dungcake and sticks to get a fire, which I've one burning. Outside the sun has yet to show its face. I can hear people passing, going for dawn shits on the railway line. They'll be well wrapped up this morning, blanket or thick shawl. The poor sods who are on the street must cover themselves in what they can find. Winter nights here you can freeze. That night they say was a night of great cold. Zafar used to say that as people were breathing clouds of mist out of their mouths that night, they little knew what kind of mist they'd soon be breathing in.

The eyes are watching people breathing mist. Stupid eyes, they don't know what the mist does to the people, they don't know what happens next. They know only what I tell them.

In this crowd of eyes I am trying to recognise yours. I've been waiting for you to appear, to know you from all the others, this is how the Kakadu Jarnalis in his letter said it would be. He said, "Animal, you must imagine that you are talking to just one person. Slowly that person will come to seem real to you. Imagine them to be a friend. You must trust them and open your heart to them, that person will not judge you badly whatever you say."

You are reading my words, you are that person. I've no name for you so I will call you Eyes. My job is to talk, yours is to listen. So now listen.

My story has to start with that night. I don't remember anything about it, though I was there, nevertheless it's where my story has to start. When something big like that night happens, time divides into before and after, the before time breaks up into dreams, the dreams dissolve to darkness. That's how it is here. All the world knows the name of Khaufpur, but no one knows how things were before that night. As for me, I don't remember any time before my back went bad. Ma Franci would talk, proud as if she were my real mother, of how I used to enjoy swimming in the lakes behind the Kampani's factory. "You'd dive right in, with your arms and your legs stretched out in one line." Whenever she said this I'd feel sad also angry. I still dream of diving straight as a stick into deep water leaving my crooked shadow behind.

On that night I was found lying in a doorway, child of a few days, wrapped in a shawl. Whose was I? Nobody knew. Mother, father, neighbours, all must have died for no living soul came to claim me, who was coughing, frothing etc. plus nearly blind, where my eyes had screwed themselves against the burning fog were white slits bleached on the eyeballs. I was brought to the hospital. Was I Hindu or Muslim? How did it matter? I was not expected to live. When I did, they circumcised me, if I was Muslim it was necessary, if I was Hindu what difference did it make? After this I was given to the nuns. I grew up in the orphanage. I do not know what religion I should be. Both perhaps? Neither? Or should I listen to Ma Franci, loves Isa miyañ, he said "forgive your enemies, turn the other cheek." I don't fucking forgive. I'm not a Muslim, I'm not a Hindu, I'm not an Isayi, I'm an animal, I'd be lying if I said religion meant a damn thing to me. Where was god the cunt when we needed him?

Copyright © 2007 by Indra Sinha

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