Bharathan - A Novel By Kovilan

Translated from Malayalam by A. Purushothaman

Chapter Four

Kishanlal got down from the bus at the gate of IIT.

At the gate, on a big steel plate, giant letters: IIT. At first sight he could not even recognize that they were letters. Each letter like an elephant, like elephant's legs, like the tusk and trunk of an elephant. He could never imagine that Devanagari1 script can become fearsome and terrible like this. His language and script were quite simple. His dress and appearance were rural and uncivilized.

A dhoti, a shirt and a carry-bag.

When the green bus which left him at IIT's gate turned a large curve in the Grand Trunk Road, it sparkled once and then disappeared completely from his sight. He desired to see the bus once more. Not for something else, only to say thanks.

The bus left him at the right place.

He tried to remember the faces of his fellow passengers. Not even a single face. Couldn't recall even the conductor's face. Only the sound of a bell reverberated in his ear. Then he remembered. When the bell rings once, the bus stops. When it rings twice, the bus starts again.

When the bus left roaring forever, the sound of the bell whistles in his ear.

On the arrival of death also the ear whistles.

All of a sudden he saw the sugar-cane farm. The sugar-cane fields were on the right side of the road. That was neither a farm, nor a field, but a vast stretch of greenness spreading up to infinity. Green is his color, his world. Kishanlal is a farmer. In front of his eyes, like life, the ocean of greenness lay making waves. In the lullaby of the greenness, he heard folk songs.

The milkman came singing.

The milkman came in a cycle rickshaw.

In the milkman's cycle rickshaw, there was neither handlebar nor pedals.

The milkman was lame. His legs were merely pliers. The pliers, broken and folded on all joints were unwanted and a botheration to him. Even without these pliers, he was a complete man. He rides his chariot with the glory of Aruna2.

Above the waist, he was strong.

Steering a steel rod at right angle raised from the axle on the front wheel of the rickshaw, the milkman rode his chariot holding the whip. The toothed wheel on which the cycle chain revolves was lifted up and connected towards the side of the cycle seat. The pedals had transformed as handles of the toothed wheel.

The toothed wheel rotated on the handle, the chain revolved on the wheel, the hind wheels revolved on the chain - the milkman rode the cycle rickshaw.

Riding the chariot, he came singing. In the same singing tune, the milkman called out:

O Bhayya3!

Like a riddle.

Holds a steering wheel, without a boat.

Holds a whip, without a chariot.

Wheel revolves, but not a blacksmith's furnace, the blacksmith's furnace will not move.

The milkman called at length:

O Bhayya!

Kishanlal stepped aside. Like a wonder, turning the rickshaw, the milkman went past. In the rickshaw the milkpots jingled, the crossbar across the gate went up on its own, and under the crossbar, the milkman's chariot rolled away.

Kishanlal walked against the gate.

His steps wavered on the road, spread up to the horizon like a black and white carpet. He was always walking behind the oxen. Stepping on the clods, - turned upside down by the plough, his feet flattened. His toes became crooked and flat. Holding on the plough firmly, his palms stunted like a coconut shell. As he was walking looking down on his disfigured feet, his eyes did not fall on the crossbar lying at the waist height. When he stopped after hitting the crossbar the guards in the guard room laughed.

The guard, wearing a coat and a hat, asked while stepping on the road:

Kaham ja rahe ho4?

Startled, Kishanlal looked at the guard's face. He did not see any face. In between the coat and the hat, he saw a cave. He heard questions falling from the cave.

Are you blind? Can't you see? You know what is this place? You have lost your herd? Your wife's house is here? Can't you see written large enough for even a blind man to see? Andhe ho5? Is it a public road? Have you taken bath to walk on this royal path? Are you dumb? Are you deaf? Are you mad?

Kishanlal stood hearing all the questions with their heat, with their spit. The guard temporarily stopped as if to catch his breath. Then Kishanlal asked.

Do you know Madhu?

Madhu?

The guard smiled enticingly.

Which Madhu?

While smiling he made a vulgar sign to his colleague who was sitting in the guard room to come out. Restraining his smile a little, he told his colleague.

The bridegroom has come searching for his bride.

My dear brother-in-law, where is the bride? Which dacoit came and grabbing and putting her on horseback, rode away with lightning speed?

As if the earth was splitting below his feet, Kishanlal stood confused. His steps are not firmly holding on any clod. Holding on the crossbar, he stood without falling down.

He cursed himself.

Even though cruel, the guard's scorn was true. Madhu was his bride. He has come searching for his bride.

His presence of mind was shattered. Then his ears whistled. The bells chimed in his ears. A holy fire kindled in his heart. Incense sticks smoked.

Now his mind is an old paper, eaten away by termites. Through the numerous mutilated holes, memories drain away.

Then, he was a small child.

They were little children.

Dressed in silk garments, they sat in front of the holy fire holding each other's hands. On his tiny head, there was a heavy headgear, gilted with golden laces. He was feeling sleepy. He does not remember anything else about the ceremony called marriage. Madhu's cold fingers were resting on his tired palm.

Dacoits did not take away his bride. As per the tradition, the bride stayed in her home. The bridegroom returned to his house.

While he grew up, became a man and then it was time to bring the bride home, she pursued her studies, excelled and had become an employee of IIT.

Perhaps, the IIT is the dacoit?

Are you the dacoits?

Kishanlal got thoroughly confused when the second guard came down from the guard room. The first guard and the second guard are one and the same. Same coat, same hat, what is more, same pants, same face. Both the guards are same. Both do not have any face. They stand laughing through a cave which split open -

In that confusion, Kishanlal asked again.

Tell me, do you know Madhu?

The second guard said.

Brother, ask me what you want. This fellow who came to cross question you is a devil. He will eat you raw.

The first guard butted in between and told him as a secret:

Brother, do not believe him at all. He is taking you for a ride. This bastard pig is a rascal. He will swallow you alive. He will swallow you and your Madhu together.

Kishanlal burst in to tears. Weeping, Kishanlal asked.

Will you let me go? I want to see Madhu. You are pecking me alive. It is okay if you don't know Madhu. Please be kind to let me in. I am not a bridegroom. I have not lost my way. Our marriage has taken place long ago.

The guards asked.

Brother, are you crying? Are you a candle to start melting when we crack a joke? A candle also needs a match stick and powder to burn. You should not melt hearing a harsh word. Anyway, forget all that happened. Let us start from the very beginning. Brother, whom are you looking for?

Kishanlal did not understand whether one of the guards, or both the guards were speaking. In front of him there were two persons and they had only one face. That was a cave swallowing him.

Kishanlal again asked.

Will you let me go?

The guard asked.

Are we holding you? Are you tied up? We feel disgusted to see you weeping. Are you a man? Once a fellow called Rama had wandered around looking for Sita6. We will not raise this crossbar for a shameless fellow like you, who came searching for his wife. You should bent below the crossbar and go. Before you go, you should tell your name. Your address. You should also give the name, address, occupation and residence of Madhu whom you are going to see. Who is your Madhu? Is she in IIT itself? Is she an Ayah in IIT? Is she a Masterani7? Prostitute? Maid servant? Who is your bride? From where did you appear here?

Kishanlal did not wait for the guard to finish. Butting in, he asked.

You want address?

He lifted his carry bag up to his chest, put his hand inside, and shuffled. He was talking even while searching for the address in the bag. Actually, it was only today he could lay hands on Madhu's address. You shouldn't tell anybody. Madhu has not written to him till now. But her address was in his father's letterbox. He was waiting since so many days, to see Madhu once, to see her to his heart's content. She must have grown up to become a beautiful maiden. Perhaps she may have forgotten him by now. Brother, don't tell anyone, I've stolen her address from father's letterbox.

While Kishanlal was filling news to the bag holding on one ear of the bag with one ear hanging down, the guards asked.

What sweets are there in the bag? Something should be there. Laddu? Gilebi8? Without sweets one will not go to see the bride. Give us one each. Only one each is enough. Your mother must also be a top class cook.

Kishanlal filled back in to the bag.

Mother is not aware. Nobody knows that I have left. Got it, I got the address. In the bag one or two clothes are there. My own clothes, Tulsi Ramayan9 and an envelope. You can see Madhu's address.

Looking at the old envelope stretched out by him, the faces of guards suddenly changed color. Their face reddened in the morning sun. Both of them opened their mouth separately.

Madhu Chaturvedi? The first guard asked.

In Graphic Arts?

The second guard asked.

Superintendent?

Brahmin?

Your good name? Where are you coming from?

The guards were competing to honor him. The guards spoke respectfully.

Do not think otherwise. We are asking to enter in to the book.

Kishanlal said.

I am called Kishanlal. Madhu may call me Kishan. Near and dear ones use to call me Kishan.

The first guard asked.

The name of your village?

Kishanlal said.

Theregam. When will you all come to Theregam? You can come as you wish one day. No one will prevent you.

The second guard said.

Enough enough. It is already plenty to enter in the book. Now you may go. You should bent and go below the crossbar. Coming for first time, isn't it? Persons visiting for the first time should go below the cross bar.

The first guard said.

My salutations to you!

Kishanlal walked for a long distance. The main road did not end, even after a long stretch. He saw many people on his way. No one stopped him. Even then he had fear inside. Someone will still draw a crossbar against his chest.

Kaham ja rahe ho3?

He did not ask anybody for the route.

All along the way, there were trees. Giant trees. There were birds on the trees. Talking to the trees and birds in his mind he kept on walking.

I don't know where Madhu is. Perhaps she has forgotten me. Did you see her? Did she ever tell you anything about me?

At least something?

The trees did not say anything to him. The trees are mute everywhere. Birds, wherever they are, he cannot understand their speech.

Did Madhu ever come this way?

Did she come today?

Once he saw the milkman's cycle rickshaw. The milkman was very far away. He could have asked the milkman. But the milkman's chariot disappeared from the eye, turning a curve.

All the turns were similar. All roads were in the same pattern. Seen from a turning all buildings were of the same shape.

He just cannot understand the technique by which the people staying here can recognize their own homes. There must be some mantra or mark or method. Otherwise they will miss their home.

On a turning, below a Banyan tree, Kishanlal stood. The giant tree was standing there for so many years, waiting for his arrival.

Kishanlal enquired devotedly.

Isn't it great soul?

Above the giant tree, the birds flew playing. Only birds are happy everywhere. As he was looking up, Kishanlal wished wings were sprouting for him to fly. If he can fly, he can go in search of Madhu. Flying and sitting on tips of the great branches, he can look for her. He stood under the tree, expecting the milkman, till the wings sprouted.

Kishanlal did not see the milkman appearing on the road. Coming from behind, when the milkman turned right, Kishanlal called aloud.

O Bhayya 2!

His wings matured for flying.

Till today the milkman had been calling out to others. When he suddenly stopped his chariot and looked back, there was a lustre of kindness in his eyes. Kishanlal flew to that lustre.

Kishanlal asked.

Do you know Madhu?

The milkman smiled in all kindness. I do not know Madhu. Which Madhu, brother?

Kishanlal answered in one breath.

Madhu Chaturvedi, Madhu is my bride. I have Madhu's address with me. Look at this -

He was determined that this time there should not be any mishap. He took out the old envelope and showed it to the milkman. The milkman's eyes opened up to his forehead and extended up to his ears. The eyeballs in the eyes rolled as round strawberries from one corner to the other corner of the eye and again, attentively. Assuming the face of a wise man, the milkman said.

Brother, I can't read. But there is nothing to be afraid of. Brother, you come with me. You can walk with me. We can ask someone. Brother must be coming to IIT for the first time. That is why the confusion. There is nothing to be afraid of. Those who stay and work in IIT are also human beings.

The milkman rode the chariot against the sunset. He will lose his time, if he stops and talks, if he keeps on talking. If he does not reach on time, the milk will not be sold. There are many milkmen who come flying on cycle. Selling, whatever the product be, is a competition. If the milk is unsold, he will be unable to feed his bisons. He looks after his bisons properly. The bisons support him. Thus his life revolves in a circle. The milkman said that it was revolving in a circle. The bisons may be mute. But these mute animals support him. Him means, he and his small family. If bisons are hungry, his family will have to beg.

The milkman said begging. Kishanlal shuddered when he heard begging. Once again he looked at the plier legs of milkman. Those legs are not visible. The milkman's legs have not sprouted. Even then he rides the chariot. He keeps his time, earns the food for his bisons and family.

Kishanlal asked.

Have wife and children?

The milkman answered triumphantly.

Yes indeed.

Kishanlal asked, still in doubt.

Brother, are you married?

The milkman laughed like a victor. He asked a counter question.

Why, can't I marry?

Without knowing from where his legs must have sprouted, Kishanlal looked under the seat of the cycle rickshaw, curiously.


English translation 1997 A. Purushothaman

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