Bharathan - A Novel By Kovilan

Translated from Malayalam by A. Purushothaman

Chapter Three

They were two persons. They sat down in the rusted folding chairs in the garage. One man asked questions one by one. They are not in a hurry. Bharathan may answer leisurely. One person kept on taking notes. Seeing that Bharathan need not worry at all. Words are mere wind. If words were water these could be collected in a bottle or earthen pot and measured sometime later. But words are mere wind. What was told cannot be ascertained by searching the air later. Only due to this, one person is taking notes. He knows shorthand too. Let him write. There will not be any nuisance from him other than writing continuously. Let him immortalise the words which make momentary movements in the air.

Bharathan can also sit, may be on the coir cot or on the floor. He need not stand and tire his legs. Bharathan is completely free. As a free citizen, Bharathan can walk also. But be careful, gunmen are standing outside. If you simply say gunmen, you will not understand the seriousness completely. Outside, the gunmen are standing in attention. If they feel anything strange or suspicious in Bharathan's movements, they may do something drastic. Hence it is better for Bharathan to sit, calmly and quietly.

Bharathan need not pay attention to the gunmen. In fact they are simple harmless people. It is their livelihood. They do not have any pre-concepts or wrong intentions. They have loaded guns. They may or may not shoot. Thinking about these, Bharathan should not divert his attention. They are carrying out their duties. We are all performing our duties. Bharathan need only to answer. Truth should be told as such.

Mr. Bharathan, question number one.

Are you an employee of IIT?

yes-no.

Mr. Bharathan, you are answering in the same breath yes and no. My shorthand writer has already taken down yes and no. Bharathan laments tiger is coming. Then, other than noting down that tiger is coming, he will not consider which corner tiger is coming from. Perhaps the tiger is really coming. The tiger may catch you, me or him. He is not anxious about these possibilities. Outside our gunmen are standing guard attentively to take care of tiger. That itself is the glory of our leakproof setup.

Mr. Bharathan, perhaps you are bewildered. You are sweating. Let me take this opportunity to assure you that there is no need to hurry. Also you have to remember that all these were always like this. One who has eaten salt will drink water1. Every one is used to adding a little salt to food to make it tasty. Man has only to understand that he need to eat only that much salt that he can expel through sweat. Do you feel like drinking water?

Not now, not till now.

Mr. Bharathan, question number one.

Are you an employee of IIT?

I was a conductor in the line bus of IIT. Now I don't have any job. I am under suspension.

Correct. Let us begin again. Your name is Bharathan. Once upon a time, in this great country, there was also an emperor named Bharatha2. Because it was ruled by him, this great country came to be known as Bharat. Bharat is also known as India. It is said, outsiders named Bharat, India. We are not considering all these for review here. But there is a fact contained here to be thought of. It was because Bharat, this great country became India also, the technical college of Bharat came to be known as Indian Institute of Technology or in short IIT. A citizen called Bharatha - Bharatha born to Sakunthala and brought up by her - became the emperor of this country also. Sakunthala was an orphan. The father Viswamitra left her. Mother abandoned her3. That new born baby was brought up by the birds Sakunthas. Her son became the emperor of India. If you wish, you can discover a strange connection here. Your name is Bharathan. You are also a human being, a citizen. Just as a dog is named to distinguish it among many dogs, you also have a name. Other than this Bharathan is nothing in the Indian Institute of Technology. You are not even a conductor.

Why was Bharathan suspended?

On thirty first, Wednesday thirty first.

Pardon me, Mr. Bharathan. Now we have assembled here only to find the state of affairs, our gunmen standing guard outside. I don't know you. We did not even know each other. Your name is Bharathan. You are also a human being. I realize that one person can never understand another person. That is the greatest tragedy of life. A human being is a universe by himself, a distant star. What happens in that universe, what is happening there, another person can only guess. The guess need not be true. Since I am like this, he will also be like that. One of the many ways of understanding the other man is his word. I do not have any false hope that I can understand Bharathan through words. Man utters lies also. As the smoke shield of Venus you can create a shield of words as well. There need not be any such dealings between us. We won't reach anywhere if Bharathan answers like this. The question was, why was Bharathan suspended. Our friend has noted the question exactly. When was Bharathan suspended was not asked in question number two. Such a question also follows. It seems it should be brought to your attention now itself that such an enquiry may also follow as question number three or question number four or as one of the subquestions. I repeatedly assure that you need not worry at all. All questions will be asked. As if in a big feast a glutton worries whether one of the many tasty dishes may not be served, Bharathan need not feel anxious at all. We won't gulp anything at all. Everything follows in a specific order. I will ask once again.

Question number two.

Why was Bharathan suspended?

I don't know.

Mr. Bharathan, what day is today?

Saturday.

What is this year?

Sixty eight.

Is it night or day?

Day.

What is today's date?

Two.

What is your name?

Bharathan.

What is this month?

June.

Why was Bharathan suspended?

I don't know.

You know. Perhaps you have forgotten. An employee will not be punished without any reason. No such practice till today. Bharathan has committed an offense. Sure. Perhaps with or without knowledge. Think it over. Memory is a blessing. Please tell us. Let our shorthand expert through his dot pen immortalise the offense committed by Bharathan. What was Bharathan's offense?

I don't know.

May be so, I agree. Perhaps the transport officer himself must have committed defiance. Or Mrs. transport officer. Ours is a culture of Ardhanareeswara4. Shakti and Purusha5, Adam and Eve, all are one and the same. Whether transport officer or Mrs. transport officer, in the minute analysis both are the same. Let us forget all this. But there is one unforgettable fact. That is the offense committed by Bharathan. The word offense is to be taken seriously. Offense is a phrase and a usage. Aurangazeb6 can murder Dara and Murad7. What is under dispute is whether Aurangazeb is a great emperor or not. Whatever the dispute may be, Aurangazeb murdered Dara and Murad and took over the throne. Aurangazeb fought with Shivaji8 and shut him up in the cellar. No one states that Aurangazeb committed an offense. He was an emperor. No emperor tolerates anarchy. The throne should not shake. Murder, assassination, arson, dacoity, all are primary symptoms of anarchy. Don't you understand? Dacoit Shivaji should not usurp the throne of Aurangazeb. This truth is stated as such in the Koran, Manusmriti9 and Gita10. We can forget all that. We have to live till death. A murder took place in IIT, didn't Bharathan see?

No.

Bharathan did not see the murder. Don't you know that except when committed by emperor, murder is a crime?

I understand.

Offense simply is not a word. Is it not clear that it is indeed a deed?

It is clear.

On Wednesday the thirty first, Bharathan was suspended. On the night of thirty first, Yageswar Prasad was murdered. But not on thirty first. Perhaps before the dawn of first. We do not know the exact time. Even the doctor who did the post mortem could not guess. The doctor just opines that the body is found dead due to drainage of blood and wounded liver. We do not know, how long Yageswar Prasad must have lied down dying. The person who committed the crime also may not have known when he was dead. He may not have taken the trouble to make Yageswar Prasad die properly, offering him flower and water11. He had to loot the bank. But the riddle here is the fact that the bank was not looted. There were two lakh rupees in the bank. The total salary amount of the employees of IIT, and hence that of conductor Bharathan and the workers of the construction department was in the bank. But the bank was not even opened. The vaults of the bank were all safe. Then why was Yageswar Prasad murdered?

I - I do not - I do not understand.

Due to a lover?

I don't know.

Mr. Bharathan, have you ever loved anybody?

I don't know.

Do you know that murders occur due to love affairs?

You are not saying anything. Are you becoming pale?

I don't know.

Are you sweating?

No.

Son of a bitch. Aren't you sweating?

Yes.

Did you see Yageswar Prasad, lying dead?

No.

Mr. Bharathan, that was worth seeing. A person who had the strength of a wild bison. Yageswar Prasad was a wrestler. He did not even learn the alphabet. pata likha nahi12.

IIT confused Prasad. Boards everywhere. Shapely letters in all these boards. Yageswar Prasad must have often stood perplexed in front of the boards. Letters stare at Prasad who has not opened a book till now. Like sesame flowers, like thumbar13 flowers, like jasmine buds, like flowers on string, letters awakened desires in his enchanted mind. Beautiful scenes of letters always flourished in his mind.

See what is this Copy Book14?

This is Prasad's Copy Book.

Open the book and read.

IIT

NCC house

State Bank of India

Type three flats 391 - 430

Type six bungalows 14-30

Nursery

Air field

Fourth hall of residence

Gymnasium

Enough. It is enough to read that much. Perhaps you have seen this book before. Isn't it?

Yes.

Yes, you have seen.

Yageswar Prasad started learning by himself. He transplanted the beautiful scenes of the letters flourished in his mind, on to the Copy Book. To pluck a flower blossomed in his heart - when the flower is detached, without a scratch, without the petals getting crushed, for the flower to come out of his chest, to transplant the flower to the paper, in a mesmerizing slumber, when the heart breaks open, he must have suffered how much grief, how much pain? Prasad was a born artist. Sitting for learning everyday, Yageswar Prasad realized the alphabetic flowers on the paper. He became sad and anxious everyday. Did the stalk of this flower get crushed? Did the petals faint? Did this become a true copy of the flower? Are these letters too? Thus he approached Bharathan.

Mr. Bharathan, are these facts true? Or our imaginary stories?

No.

What no?

These are not your imaginary stories.

Then tell us, how did you get acquainted?

In front of hostel number four -

In front of hostel number four?

Quiet often, we used to meet in the gymnasium in front of hostel number four.

Do you know wrestling?

I am not interested in wrestling.

In what were you interested?

Body building.

That is true. You have the body of a lion cub. There is a scar of a wound near your eyes. Your nose is snubbed and face flat. Were you a boxing champion?

While I was studying I have trained in the gymnasium. I used to have a little bit of interest in boxing.

Are you a graduate?

Yes.

Even then you became only a conductor.

Why, I don't know. In between crossing Valayar15 and reaching the plains of the Ganges, I have done all kinds of work.

Mr. Bharathan, you are a fighter indeed. A fighter gains strength by giving, taking, and enduring. A lion kills and eats a bison. You also have the mental strength to finish off a prey, without anyone knowing. That is what we see in your eyes.

My eyes?

In your eyes there is the sharp glitter of a sword's edge. You cannot see that. We do not see our own eyes. In fact we were thinking. It is interesting to talk to you. I should have befriended you much before. Anyway now, since there is an accusation in your name we can talk and deal with you only on official level.

Accusation?

Yes.

In my name?

Yes.

What did I do?

Staying unofficially in the garage of a type six bungalow, is not a substantial offense at all. Any way you were an employee of IIT. In IIT there are not sufficient abodes for all the employees to stay peacefully. All are human beings. Human beings also need abodes. If you sleep in the nursery, ants or snakes may bite you.

There are peacocks in the nursery. No snakes.

Has Bharathan slept in the nursery?

In the beginning I did not have any place to stay. One cannot do without sleeping for sometime at least. In those days I have often slept in the nursery.

Then you are also a hermit. Only hermits can sleep with snakes, peacocks and cacti. There is also a proverb - soldier and hermit are unattached. We have already left that portion. Now we have reached abodes. As servants, IIT employees are residing in the out-houses of bungalows. May be because of the goodwill of Prof. Gopinathan, you have started staying in his garage.

Are you from the same place?

Nothing like that. I speak Malayalam. Prof. Gopinathan also knows to speak Malayalam.

Mr. Bharathan, you Malayalees are a wonderful people. To sustain and maintain your family, you leave your native place. In your own words, you cross the Valayar pass. Travel past the Red Fort. You enter anywhere, in nursery, forest, garage, restaurant. Wherever you go, you live as if it is your own home. Every month you sent money home regularly. Perform all that is needed there at the appropriate time. At the right time, you go home and marry. The bride stays at home with the parents and you return to your workplace as if nothing has happened. No worries and anxieties. Because you like your work and believe in the growth and sustenance of family. Malayalees are a wonderful people.

Can I say something?

Yes, please go on.

I was reminded of my story, my family's story. Not even family story. The story or history of our race itself, I was reminded of. My great grandfather had gone to Ceylon16. My great grandfather who had gone to Ceylon and returned to native place was called Kolumbu17karan Kunjandi by the people. This is history as told by my father or grandmother. It may be hundred years before, when my grandfather Kunjandi was respected as a wonder man in the native place. My grandmother Kali was the daughter of Kolumbukaran Kunjandi. My grandfather had also gone to Ceylon looking for livelihood. He used to tell stories of Ceylon even after growing very old. My grandfather won't answer, when you ask him about his job there. Many a time I asked him. Whenever I asked him about his job, he told me that he used to stand near the letter box in the Post Office protruding his tongue. People who come to post letters in the box used to wet the stamps in grandfather's tongue and stick in the cover. That was my grandfather's livelihood. My father was in the army. Because he was in the army, father must have roamed in many places. In the fourth generation, I have also reached up here searching for food. For generations we are wanderers or vagrants. Since the time of our great grandfathers we were unable to find sustenance in our native place.

Go on, we are listening, and taking notes.

I have finished my history.

Sabhash18. All roads lead to Delhi. Since he is a Malayalee, conductor Bharathan sticks to the garage of Prof. Gopinathan's Bungalow. Prof. Gopinathan will not buy a car in this life. When returning from States19, he has brought with him the knowledge to travel and the folding cycle! He will exhaust his life in his cycle always reciting the formulas and techniques of Nuclear Chemistry. Both garages will remain vacant. Perhaps, because he can utilize the time to sweep the cobwebs in the garage to recite the formulas, he has allowed Bharathan to stay in the garage. What we want to know is another secret. Why did Bharathan bring Yageswar Prasad to the second garage? As for Professor, he does not need any servants. Professor lives, cooking oats and milk by himself. He also sweeps by himself.

Sir, it did not happen like this.

Then how did it happen?

It was Yageswar Prasad who brought me to the garage.

Did Prasad know Professor earlier?

Prasad did not know. Maybe Madhu Chaturvedi must have told Professor about Prasad. Prasad's wife is doing the household work of Madhu Chaturvedi.

Please stop. Perhaps it is also like that. Madhu Chaturvedi is alone in Type III flat. Servant's room is available there also. But only one person can stay in that room. Prasad and family cannot stay there. It is possible that Madhu Chaturvedi must have got acquainted with Prof. Gopinathan as Superintendent of Graphic Arts or otherwise. Then there are other possibilities also. Madhu Chaturvedi is also single. Professor stays alone. Something must have happened. Free and beautiful Madhu, young and bachelor Professor - here we are not constructing the plot of a story; we are seeking the root cause of an incident. Let us leave Professor and Madhu alone. We want to know the relation between Prasad and Bharathan. Yageswar Prasad trained Bharathan in wrestling. Bharathan taught Prasad the alphabet.

Keeping the Copy Book opened on his lap, Prasad sat crosslegged on Bharathan's cot. Prasad does not know whether the letters are written or drawn. He has not become a writer, he was an artist. He transferred the beautiful scenes he saw on sign boards, on to the Copy Book. Pointing his finger below the copy, Prasad asked Bharathan:

What is this?

Bharathan read aloud:

Gymnasium.

Prasad asked:

This?

Bharathan read:

Fourth hall of residence.

Prasad did not understand. He does not know the fourth hall of residence. He knows hostel number four. Thus Prasad learned reading and writing. If you examine the entire Copy Book, you will come to know that Prasad had already learned to write on his own. Bharathan might not have seen all of what he has written. Bharathan, please read this.

Married woman

Sindoor20 on forehead

Widow

Enough, enough to read that much. Prasad had not learned the exercise of writing long sentences. When you come to the last pages of the Copy Book, we realize a truth. Prasad had become proficient enough to transfer not only the shapes formed in the mind, but also the feelings awakened in the mind. This new exercise, the last exercise was not known to Bharathan. This is where the inferences and guesses tally with the facts. Mr. Bharathan, it is you who murdered Yageswar Prasad.

Me?

This is not our accusation. In our white dress, the mark of injustice will never smear. Our mind and dress should be pure white. Prasad's last statement and last writing is leading us in the right path.

Have you recorded the last statement of Prasad?

Before dying, Yageswar Prasad wrote down the name of the killer in his own blood - Bharathan.

This is a lie. This is a swindle. This is deceit. Yageswar Prasad will not write my name in his blood - no, no, no.

Don't you shout you dog, don't shout.

Didn't you see Yageswar Prasad lying dead?

I was a little late. When I went to the bank, the dead body had been sent for post mortem.

Didn't you see blood on the bank's corridor? Mr. Bharathan, you should have seen that once. You will not believe that Prasad was lying dead. With a slightly bent neck, Prasad is lying on his back. In the drained blood-pool, Prasad writes with his forefinger. Prasad looks on with satisfaction, how the sensations flourishing in his mind, in his heart are taking shape in his own blood. In his eyes, the self satisfaction of an artist lights up. Tears roll down the corner of his eyes. After writing Bharathan, Prasad draws away his hand. Even though he was a wrestler, he was dying. All the strength of the bison was being drained away as blood. The hand which was drawn away, dragged through the blood. He pined to write Su. But the hand is trembling. His nerves, muscles and hairs trembled. At last the life shook once. Prasad's hand strained away. A stroke fell on what was written as S. If he had written S clearly, if he could retain life to add one u and complete Su, we could have clearly read Bharathan and Sushama.

Sushama?

What does Bharathan call Yageswar Prasad's wife?

Sushamadevi.

Mr. Bharathan, thank you so much. At last you told us one truth.

As if to inform that the questionnaire had ended, both of them stood up in white clothes. At once, two gunmen entered the garage. Bharathan bewildered that they must be taking him away. But no. When his anxiety subsided a little, Bharathan saw the dhobi standing between the gunmen. He saw the bundle of clothes on the dhobi's head.

The gunmen ordered:

Lower the bundle.

The gunmen ordered:

Open the bundle.

The dhobi opened the bundle.

Take out the shirt and trousers.

The gunmen grabbed the washed, dried and ironed shirt and trousers. Unfolding the shirt and trousers and thrusting on Bharathan's face, the gunmen shouted.

See this?

Bharathan answered humbly.

Yes.

What is this scar?

When I was propping up Anil Kumar -

What is this scar, you dog?

Scar of blood.

Yes. All these are scars of blood. Your shirt and trousers are full of blood scars. Now you don't need another clue. Get up, you dog.

Bharathan got up.

Get going, you dog.

Bharathan started walking. In rhythm, the gunmen marched in front and back.

lef - rii - left.


English translation 1997 A. Purushothaman