By Devraj Singh Kalsi
The mere thought of having my statue installed in the locality raised excitement to an unprecedented level. Having seen so many historical giants standing tall in the thoroughfares across the city, with sticks or swords, mounted on horseback or covered with a concrete canopy shaped like an umbrella to stay protected from bird droppings, rain, and sunburn, I have also been inspired to strike a similar pose and occupy a prime position. But the problem is that I do not have anything called achievement to deserve such veneration from people or institutions.
I am ready to purchase the commercial space and get the statue erected by a dubious local developer who would not probe why an ordinary mortal without any contribution to mankind should occupy that space. Since it is a private initiative and the expenses are borne by an individual, I am glad I am not wasting money from the public exchequer. My royalty and copywriting earnings should fund this venture.
My brief to the artist was simple and direct. I should look like a man who is determined not to create a legacy. When he suggested I should at least hold a pen since I was a writer and look pensive, I opposed him saying I was a non-serious, humorous, frivolous, and small-time writer. Since the statue is not towering, a tiny accessory will not look good. Besides, I cannot flaunt a giant pen visible from far since mine is not mightier than the sword. I confessed I have not written anything award-worthy to deserve honours or a phone call from Sahitya Akademi or the Swedish Academy.
If my identity as a small-time writer is disclosed, achieving demi-god status in the league of small-time writers would be assured. Many aspirants would throng the spot to seek my blessings, to pay obeisance. Adding some inputs about the long, relentless struggle would inspire those who face rejections for years and decades. Offering their bound manuscript to me for blessings would comfort them before submitting it to literary agents and publishers. So go ahead and inspire them with a few lines on the granite marble slab mentioning how 50 rejections later, my first book was finally published.
I shared the plan with a property dealer who said the price of land in my area had gone up. He suggested there were cheaper localities on the outskirts of the town where he could get me a bigger chunk of land for half the price. I argued nobody knows me there and he said nobody knows me here either. Well, he gave the right description of a non-descript writer. I abandoned the idea of erecting my statue near my home and conducted a recce to check the peripheral areas instead.
I went with the real estate agent and selected a spot near the fish market. He introduced me to the seller who was safeguarding his land by building makeshift temples – in case a road widening or highway linking project got sanctioned in the future he would get a lucrative deal before eviction. I booked one hundred square feet area and asked the dealer to cordon that off with bricks and foliage, and erect a signboard in my name to ward off trespassers and generate buzz regarding my name.
The construction process began immediately and the foundation was laid in a month. My grey bust was ready and the black granite slab encapsulated my story through an inscription. Not only the date of birth but the date of my death was also mentioned as it would increase the amount of respect. There was no formal inauguration ceremony since I prefer a low profile. However, some marigold garlands were put on the bust and rose petals made a carpet near the statue.
I began to visit the place every day – to gauge public response and observe their reactions. Curious people flocked and stopped for a while – to bust the secret behind the erection of the statue. I was dressed in traditional, formal clothes, with a mask and goggles to evade identification. Even when I moved around freely, nobody guessed it was my bust. Most of the people felt this was another revolutionary leader. Some felt the bust represented a sidelined social reformer or a low-key educator from the tribal areas. When they read the content in English, they could not recall what I had written. Some wondered where my books were sold: online platforms or brick and mortar bookstores. Some tech-savvy geeks tried to Google my name and the searches threw some odd pages. They found a photograph online and held it close to the statue to detect similarities. Soon, the bust image was shared by many visitors. It went viral within hours.
The local bookseller reported there was a flurry of queries regarding my books but he could not get a single copy from the distributor since it was out of stock and out of print. He said many readers expressed sadness that I had left behind a treasure of books waiting to be discovered by the next generation. Some reporters from the regional press came to cover it and soon the local TV channel beamed the story of the statue.
I reached many households including those in my locality. My neighbours approached me and said my statue was installed in a far-flung area. They found it offensive as I was mentioned dead though I was still alive. They suggested I should report this matter to the police and the miscreants should be caught. I said I did not want to get embroiled in any conflict or controversy but they promised to do it on my behalf. Who can stop pesky neighbours from poking their ugly noses?!
They formed an independent committee to look into the matter. They went to the area to seek further details of the sponsors. When they could not achieve any breakthrough, they came back disappointed but promised to get justice. I said the matter was not worth pursuing as it was just a statue and it should remain there since I am surely going to die one day. It was good that the statue had been raised during my lifetime, to offer me a wonderful opportunity to admire the artwork while I was still around. In fact, I should go and click a selfie to bask in the glory and thank those who took the initiative.
When I went there the next day, I found the spot vandalised, with my broken statue lying in pieces. I returned with the shattered bust in a shopping bag. I tried to fix it with an adhesive, to be kept as a memento, on the rooftop of my house. Not a bad idea to fill it with mud and plant a sapling, and see it grow. The attempt to immortalise myself in this small town had gone bust. But the remnants of the statue should remind me of the futile exercise to carve a niche in this world instead of winning hearts.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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