Bharathan - A Novel By Kovilan

Translated from Malayalam by A. Purushothaman

Chapter One

Even after supper, Bharathan sat alone in the hotel. He didn't feel like leaving. He was preoccupied with the suspension order. He won't have any job tomorrow. Perhaps, from tomorrow onwards, no job.

Bharathan was a conductor in the line bus of IIT1.

The transport officer's wife was among the passengers in the bus going to the city before noon. Mrs. transport officer alighted at the Parade Bazaar. She was going up to the shopping center. Going up to the shopping center, she alerted Bharathan calling him over. Her forefinger was crimson. The nail of her forefinger appeared as if on fire. May be because it was noon, her face blazed like sun. She may be delayed a little bit. She must return to the campus in the same bus. When the bus returns, don't forget. She should be taken along. Ten minutes or fifteen - The bus should be stopped at Parade Bazaar.

Don't you hear? The bus should start only after I come.

After leaving passengers at the Corporation Bazaar and Railway Station, and taking in passengers, as the bus reached Parade Bazaar, Bharathan looked for Mrs. transport officer. Bharathan did not see her color, as far as his eyes could see. Bharathan looked on all along the road, whether anywhere, a green blaze was to be seen. Looking on, Bharathan was sweating. The passengers of the bus are the workers and technical assistants who should report at the workshops and research laboratories before one o' clock. IIT is running the bus service to take them to their work places on time. But they, making Bharathan sweat in the hot sun, taught him the arithmetic of time.

Aye conductor, when sixty passengers wait for one minute, sixty minutes of one person are lost. When sixty passengers wait for five minutes, one person is smoking away IIT's five hours.

Do you understand?

Conductor Bharathan did not wait for Mrs. transport officer at the Parade Bazaar.

Bharathan received the transport officer's memo in the afternoon. Because of behaving indecently and dealing arrogantly with the honorable passengers, if there are sufficient reasons whatsoever for not being dismissed from service, these should be presented manifestly in person and if for some reasons you fail to do so, this office is regretfully bound to adopt the legal procedures carefully to settle all accounts and matters directly to dismiss you, after twenty four hours.

The reasons for non dismissal were quite simple.

A job, A place to stay and A -

What comes to mind is A food.

A food?

A job is enough. A place to stay is enough.

It is not enough to have food only once.

On brooding, he felt, in fact this is an eternal affair. This is the curse of God.

In the beginning God cursed man that you and your family should survive by the sweat of your brow. God's wrath ravaged as the fire of hunger, the fire of thirst in his intestines. God's wrath banished man to the dampness of earth. Man, on losing the heavenly pleasures, protested with closed fists. Shaking and beating his hands and beating his legs on the floor, he cried. Rolling and writhing, he lay down, parched. His scutterings continue. The fire eats him up. The fire ravaging in his intestines does not extinguish even in a deluge. In to that fire, he offers food so that the fire does not consume him. The food is being offered on time. If the time is missed, the fire will devour him. Man will perish and die. Man does not wish to perish and die on his own. He always seeks food. Men compete among themselves to search for more food, better food. A poor man drinks plain water when he is thirsty. Those who can afford, sip cold beer. Those unable to steal and print fake notes do work and earn their sustenance.

Oh God, give me my morsel of food. Give me a job. My job is my life.

Thinking on and on, Bharathan felt thirsty. His throat is drying. Opening his dry mouth, Bharathan called out:

A glass of water.

Ambi2 said:

OK, but you haven't paid for the food.

Ambi's hotel is not a simple hotel. It is Ambi's hotel and open air restaurant. The hotel is a makeshift shop3. An affair on the footpath.

With sandalwood pasted all over his forehead, Ambi acted as a Grand Lord Brahmin of the shop.

The shop had a door and two windows, just like the back-curtain of a stage play. One window always remained closed. Behind the closed window, in the green room, stoves burned. On stage, below the open window, Ambi sat on his chair faking sleep.

Bharathan did not see Ambi's face. Perhaps, Ambi does not have one. Ambi was all beard and hair. Thick curly beard and matted hair with two eyes in between make Ambi, make Ambi wholly. Not two eyes, two grains of white stones, diamond specks, two stars.

Bharathan got up and paid for supper. Depositing the single notes inside the table drawer Ambi chanted:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna4. Counting away the changes spread on the table, Ambi chanted aloud:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.

Even after drinking water Bharathan stayed back at the hotel. Beyond the roofs of the buildings, panchamittinkal5 shone before setting. Along the innumerable roads of the campus, along the long rows of street lights, a torrent of milky way had descended. The flood of light contained in the hostels stood, throbbing and longing to escape through the thousand gates of glass windows.

A prayer heard and forgotten long ago, woke up in Bharathan's mind.

Our Father in heaven, Holy be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Perhaps his mind got absorbed in the prayer. Somebody woke him up. As if in a dream, Bharathan lifted his face and looked up. A man more pale and white than moonlight stands exhausted. Bharathan wished the man would sit on any one chair. If he doesn't, he will fall down. But he didn't. He stood bent, supporting his hands on the table. His long white fingers were trembling. On his wrist veins stood quivering. The man was trembling all over and sweating profusely. The table was straining in his grip. Bharathan then felt as if his life was flowing through the wrist, through the fingertips on to the table and each atom of the metal sheet of the table was pulsating with his life.

Do steel have life?

In the grains of steel, in the minute atoms of steel, is there any movement of life? Will steel be feeling hungry?

His face bent down, as if to blow off a speck entrained in Bharathan's eye. His pale lips trembled. As if to know a great secret, he asked Bharathan:

What day today?

Bharathan heard the question clear enough: What day today?

Today-

Bharathan stared at his face.

Today is Wednesday.

Today was Wednesday. Wednesday ends with today's supper.

My one day ends with supper. Now I am going to sleep for tomorrow.

Perhaps seeing Bharathan startled, he said.

Sorry. Sorry to bother you. My name is Kamalesh Kumar, Kamalesh Kumar Goyal. I hoped you might remember me. Never mind. I don't wish to hurt you, either. How many come to IIT, how many go? I am also a student, a research student. You brought me from the Railway Station last Sunday afternoon. Now you may recall. Once I saw you here, I recognized you. I came to IIT on Sunday. Now I do not know, what day today?

Bharathan said:

Sit down Mr. Goyal. Sitting too we can talk.

Goyal sat in the folding chair, holding on to the corners of the table, may be not to fall down.

He said.

Thank you Mr.- . I didn't even bother to ask your name. Thank you conductor babu.

Still Bharathan doubted whether it was Wednesday or Thursday. In between he was unable to utter even his name. Perhaps, he doesn't even have a name.

Conductor. Thank you conductor babu.

My job is my name. I am my job.

Goyal said.

I keep forgetting everything. I am hungry. I am sleepy. Through each and every road I went searching. Here all roads look alike. All hostels look alike. I cannot recognize my hostel. I got all mixed up. Sunday I had supper. Monday morning I got the computer lab free. I had many problems with me. Computer helped me generously. My subject is atmosphere. Atmosphere is not empty. But there are wrong usages such as empty space. Man conducts meaningless exercises using words such as empty space or spacious emptiness etc. In this great universe there is no such phenomena as emptiness. I want to study and learn about atmospheric electricity. There is in-situ electricity in atmosphere. You have seen thunder and lightning. Radio waves travel through atmosphere. If the atmosphere was empty, how does electricity travel? To find solution to the core of a problem, many auxiliary problems should be resolved. There is no computer at Agra. I am doing my research at Agra University. If there was a computer the work of one or two years can be completed in a week. Sometimes the computer may complete in an instant what cannot be completed in a man's lifetime. IIT helped me. I have got permission to stay here for a week and use the computer. I should solve all my problems within a week. Tell me, you know what day is today?

This man who appeared before me somehow, is a wise man. This pale saintly person is doing penance to bring the Heavenly Ganges to earth. He forgets his food. Forgets days and nights. Forgets everything except his tasks.

Here also the problem is food.

Food for mankind grows on the plains of River Ganges. The sage partakes wild rice, fruits, and roots and invokes the river Ganges from heavens.

Still the poor man gets his porridge only in a spoon6. The feast served on silver plates is also simply food.

Bharathan said aloud for Ambi to hear.

One tea.

He asked Kamalesh:

Can you eat uutthappam7?

Startled, Kamalesh asked:

What?

Immediately he asked Bharathan what he intended to ask.

Can I get tea here?

Bharathan said.

This is Ambi's hotel. You can get tea here. Uutthappam is also available at odd times.

Bharathan was thinking about Ambi. Each man has his own costume. All are ways to search for food.

Once Ambi was a driver - A driver of heavy vehicles. Ambi came to IIT in a Bulldozer.

When Ambi arrived, there was no IIT here. There were many villages acquired for IIT.

Sitting erect in his chair, half naked as an aboriginal, Ambi called out to the kitchen.

Two special tea, let me have one too.

In between razing the vacated villages to ground, backfilling the agricultural fields, and leveling the barren lands, Ambi decided to change his costume. You cannot search for food for your entire life in a Bulldozer. Ambi built a temporary shop. With the sweat of innumerable people working with steel, cement and rubble, around the temporary shop, a city grew up. When the father builds a house, the son builds a doll's house and celebrates wedding daily8. Ambi did not struggle for anything. There were hills of brick heaps. In the swept soil cement was available. And there were blessings and good wishes of innumerable human souls thirsting for water.

In his temporary shop, Ambi sold coffee and uutthappam. At site, construction work was going on throughout day and night. Night lamps burned in Ambi's hotel. The square tables and steel folding chairs spread on the footpath rusted in the sweat of people.

Ambi and his beard grew up. Through the beard, Ambi chanted:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.

Goyal asked.

Do you know the hostel number three?

Bharathan said.

I know each hostel. I was a mess boy in hostels for a long time.

Goyal wondered, Oh!

When the uutthappam and tea were served, Bharathan said:

I did this work also.

What?

I got started in Ambi's hotel.

Goyal smiled once, enjoying the nectar of a sip of tea.

Mr. Bharathan, now what are you up to? Hotel waiter, mess boy, bus conductor, what is your next aim?

Bharathan said.

Now I want to leave this place.

Goyal asked.

Then you will not be here to take me back?

Bharathan said.

Who knows Mr. Goyal? Perhaps, it is you who may be taking me from here.

A smile paled on the tired lips of Goyal.

Goyal said.

Come, please show me hostel number three.


English translation 1997 A. Purushothaman

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