I said, many books have been written about this place, not one has changed anything for the better, how will yours be different? You will bleat like all the rest. You'll talk of rights, law, justice. Those words sound the same in my mouth as in yours but they don't mean the same, Zafar says such words are like shadows the moon makes in the Kampani's factory, always changing shape. On that night it was poison, now it's words that are choking us.
Remember me, Jarnalis? I remember you, the day you came here with Chunaram. How did you make the mistake of hiring that sisterfuck as your chargé d'affaires? With him it's anything for money, didn't he charge people to watch him rip off his little finger? I guess you weren't to know that collecting foreigners is a sideline of his. Daily he goes to meet the Shatabdi, waits on platform one, exact spot where the first-class air-conditioned bogie stops. You'll have got off the train looking clueless. Well, what else is Chunaram for? "Yes please, want a taxi? Need a hotel? Best in Khaufpur. See the city? Want a guide? Need translate? Jarnalis?" Once he knew why you'd come he'll have promised to show you everything. The really savage things, the worst cases. People like me.
"This boy," he'll have told you, "he lost everything on that night."
Such a look on your face when he brought you here, as you pushed aside the plastic sheet, bent your back through the gap in the wall. With what greed you looked about this place. I could feel your hunger. You'd devour everything. I watched you taking it in, the floor of earth, rough stone walls, dry dungcakes stacked near the hearth, smoke coiling in the air like a sardarji doing his hair.
When you saw me, your eyes lit up. Of course, you tried to hide it. Instantly you became all solemn. Your namasté had that tone I've come to know, a hushed respect as if you were speaking a prayer, like you were in the presence of the lord of death.
"Jarnalis," Chunaram informed me, giggling like he's found a bag of gold, I'd already guessed.
"Speaks no Hindi," says Chunaram. "Animal, there's fifty rupees for you, just keep talking till the tape stops."
"What should I talk about?"
"Usual, what else?" He's already backing out the door.
Oh your face, when he buggered off. Such alarm. But see, Chunaram has other things to do, he has a chai shop to run. When he gave you his salaam, did you see his nine fingers?
So then, what was to do? You were sitting there gazing at me in a ghurr-ghurr kind of way, as if your eyes were buttons and mine were buttonholes.
I said, "Don't fucking stare or I won't speak." I said it in Hindi, I'm not supposed to let on that I know some Inglis, Chunaram gets an extra bunce for translating. You gave a thumbs-up, carried right on staring. I called you a wanker. You nodded, smiled at me. Khaamush, silent then I'm. After some time I've joined another silence to the first.
Inside your skull thoughts were scrabbling like rats. I could hear them like voices in my own head -- why has this boy stopped talking, queer as a winged snake is he, leant against the wall with such a look on his face, would be handsome if he weren't so sullen, what a chest he has, deep as a wrestler's, how does it spring from those twisted haunches to which are pawled legs like hanks of rope, oh god, his ribcage is heaving as if at any moment he may vomit, maybe he is ill, boy what is your problem, alas, my wordless enquiries cause his convulsions to grow worse, I think he may be going to have a fit, what will I do if he dies, oh dear, my further anxious attempts to communicate, with twisting "wherefore" hand motions and raising of eyebrows, seem to cause violent shudders, bugger's lips are writhing in some kind of agony, should a doctor be called, where can one find a doctor in this place, where the hell am I anyway, what the fuck am I doing here?
Copyright © 2007 by Indra Sinha
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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