"Well, it's up to me, then, isn't it?" He passed his hand through his hair and said, "We'll call you...Ram. Wait -- don't we have a Ram in this class? I don't want any confusion. It'll be Balram. You know who Balram was, don't you?"
"He was the sidekick of the god Krishna. Know what my name is?"
He laughed. "Krishna."
I came home that day and told my father that the schoolteacher had given me a new name. He shrugged. "If it's what he wants, then we'll call you that."
So I was Balram from then on. Later on, of course, I picked up a third name. But we'll get to that.
Now, what kind of place is it where people forget to name their children? Referring back to the poster:
The suspect comes from the village of Laxmangarh, in the...
Like all good Bangalore stories, mine begins far away from Bangalore. You see, I am in the Light now, but I was born and raised in Darkness.
But this is not a time of day I talk about, Mr. Premier!
I am talking of a place in India, at least a third of the country, a fertile place, full of rice fields and wheat fields and ponds in the middle of those fields choked with lotuses and water lilies, and water buffaloes wading through the ponds and chewing on the lotuses and lilies. Those who live in this place call it the Darkness. Please understand, Your Excellency, that India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. The ocean brings light to my country. Every place on the map of India near the ocean is well off. But the river brings darkness to India -- the black river.
Which black river am I talking of -- which river of Death, whose banks are full of rich, dark, sticky mud whose grip traps everything that is planted in it, suffocating and choking and stunting it?
Why, I am talking of Mother Ganga, daughter of the Vedas, river of illumination, protector of us all, breaker of the chain of birth and rebirth. Everywhere this river flows, that area is the Darkness.
One fact about India is that you can take almost anything you hear about the country from the prime minister and turn it upside down and then you will have the truth about that thing. Now, you have heard the Ganga called the river of emancipation, and hundreds of American tourists come each year to take photographs of naked sadhus at Hardwar or Benaras, and our prime minister will no doubt describe it that way to you, and urge you to take a dip in it.
No! -- Mr. Jiabao, I urge you not to dip in the Ganga, unless you want your mouth full of feces, straw, soggy parts of human bodies, buffalo carrion, and seven different kinds of industrial acids.
I know all about the Ganga, sir -- when I was six or seven or eight years old (no one in my village knows his exact age), I went to the holiest spot on the banks of the Ganga -- the city of Benaras. I remember going down the steps of a downhill road in the holy city of Benaras, at the rear of a funeral procession carrying my mother's body to the Ganga.
Kusum, my granny, was leading the procession. Sly old Kusum! She had this habit of rubbing her forearms hard when she felt happy, as if it were a piece of ginger she was grating to release grins from. Her teeth were all gone, but this only made her grin more cunning. She had grinned her way into control of the house; every son and daughter-in-law lived in fear of her.
My father and Kishan, my brother, stood behind her, to bear the front end of the cane bed which bore the corpse; my uncles, who are Munnu, Jayram, Divyram, and Umesh, stood behind, holding up the other end. My mother's body had been wrapped from head to toe in a saffron silk cloth, which was covered in rose petals and jasmine garlands. I don't think she had ever had such a fine thing to wear in her life. (Her death was so grand that I knew, all at once, that her life must have been miserable. My family was guilty about something.) My aunts -- Rabri, Shalini, Malini, Luttu, Jaydevi, and Ruchi -- kept turning around and clapping their hands for me to catch up to them. I remember swinging my hands and singing, "Shiva's name is the truth!"
Copyright © 2008 by Aravind Adiga
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