Categories
Index

Borderless, April, 2021

Greetings from Borderless Journal for all Asian New Years! Click here to read our message along with the video and a translation of a Tagore song written to greet the new year, with lyrics that not only inspire but ask the fledgling to heal mankind from deadly diseases.

Editorial

New Beginnings

A walk through our content and our plans for the future. Click here to read.

Interviews

In Conversation with Arundhathi Subramaniam: An online interview with this year’s Sahitya Akademi winner, Arundhathi Subramaniam. Click here to read.

Sumana Roy & Trees: An online interview with Sumana Roy, a writer and academic. Click here to read.

Poetry

(Click on the names to read)

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Jared Carter, Matthew James Friday, Michael R Burch, Aparna Ajith, Jenny Middleton, Rhys Hughes, Jay Nicholls, Achingliu Kamei, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Ihlwha Choi, Smitha Vishwanath, Sekhar Banerjee, Sumana Roy

Photo-poetry by Penny Wilkes

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

With an introduction to Blood and Water by Rebecca Lowe, Rhys Hughes debuts with his column on poets and poetry. Click here to read.

Translations

The Word by Akbar Barakzai

Fazal Baloch translates the eminent Balochi poet, Akbar Barakzai. Click here to read.

Malayalam poetry in Translation

Aditya Shankar translates a poem by Shylan from Malayalam to English. Click here to read.

Tagore Songs in Translation

To commemorate Tagore’s birth anniversary, we translated five of his songs from Bengali to English. Click here to read, listen and savour.

Tagore Translations: One Small Ancient Tale

Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekti Khudro Puraton Golpo (One Small Ancient Tale) from his collection Golpo Guchcho ( literally, a bunch of stories) has been translated by Nishat Atiya. Click here to read.

Musings/Slice of Life

Pohela Boisakh: A Cultural Fiesta

Sohana Manzoor shares the Bengali New Year celebrations in Bangladesh with colourful photographs and interesting history and traditions that mingle beyond the borders. Click here to read.

Gliding along the Silk Route

Ratnottama Sengupta, a well-known senior journalist and film critic lives through her past to make an interesting discovery at the end of recapping about the silk route. Click here to read and find out more.

The Source

Mike Smith drifts into nostalgia about mid-twentieth century while exploring a box of old postcards. What are the stories they tell? Click here to read.

Lost in the Forest

John Drew, a retired professor, cogitates over a tapestry of the Ras lila. Click here to read.

Tied to Technology

Naomi Nair reflects on life infiltrated by technology, by Siri and Alexa with a tinge of humour. Click here to read.

Adventures of a Backpacking Granny

In Inspiriting SiberiaSybil Pretious takes us with her to Lake Baikal and further. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Tributes & AttributesDevraj Singh Kalsi pays tribute to his late mother. Click here to read.

Essays

Reflecting the Madness and Chaos Within

Over 150 Authors and Artists from five continents have written on mental illness in an anthology called Through the Looking Glass. Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist and writer and editor, tells us why this is important for healing. Click here to read.

At Home in the World: Tagore, Gandhi and the Quest for Alternative Masculinities

Meenakshi Malhotra explores the role of masculinity in Nationalism prescribed by Tagore, his neice Sarala Debi, Gandhi and Colonials. Click here to read.

A Tale of Devotion and Sacrifice as Opposed to Jealousy and Tyranny

Sohana Manzoor explores the social relevance of a dance drama by Tagore, Natir puja. We carry this to commemorate Tagore’s birth anniversary. Click here to read

Photo Essay: In the Midst of Colours

Nishi Pulugurtha explores the campus of a famed university with her camera and words and shares with us her experiences. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

Oh, That lovely Title: Politics

A short piece by Bhaskar Parichha that makes for a witty comment on the forthcoming Indian elections. Click here to read.

Stories

Pothos

Rakhi Pande gives us a story about a woman and her inner journey embroiled in the vines of money plant. Click here to read.

Elusive

A sensitive short story by Sohana Manzoor that makes one wonder if neglect and lack of love can be termed as an abuse? Click here to read

Ghumi Stories: Grandfather & the Rickshaw

Nabanita Sengupta takes us on an adventure on the rickshaw with Raya’s grandfather. Click here to read

Flash Fiction: The Husband on the Roof

Carl Scharwath gives us a story with a strange twist. Click here to read

Flash Fiction: Flight of the Falcon

Livneet Shergill gives us a story in empathy with man and nature. Click here to read

The Literary Fictionist

A playlet by Sunil Sharma set in Badaun, The Dryad and I: A Confession and a Forecast, is a short fiction about trees and humans. Click here to read.

Book reviews

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Reconciling Differences by Rudolf C Heredia, a book that explores hate and violence. Click here to read.

Nivedita Sen reviews Nomad’s Land by Paro Anand, a fiction set among migrant children of a culture borne of displaced Rohingyas, Syrian refugees, Tibetans and more. Click here to read

Candice Louisa Daquin reviews The First Cell and the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the last by Azra Raza. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World by Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, the focus is on media and its impact. Click here to read.

Sara’s Selection, April 2021

A selection of young person’s writings from Bookosmia. Click here to read.

Categories
Musings of a Copywriter

Tribute and attributes

Devraj Singh Kalsi pays a poignant tribute to his late mother

There was no glint of pride, but a sparkle of joy lit up her eyes whenever she uttered the sentence: ‘My son stays with me’. Although many of her friends poked her to know why an overgrown kid was still living with his widowed mother instead of venturing out in the big, bad world in search of a lucrative future like their ambitious sons did, it gives me deep satisfaction that in the last thirty years we stayed away from each other for not more than thirty days. She surely deserved this privilege for nurturing a son with creative tendencies – even if the scale of his personal achievements was small.

Some of her friends wondered why I chose to remain a frog in the well. Some of her friends concluded it was my lack of potential to make it big in life. They expressed concern that the hopeless son should wake up and join the mainstream. Some of her close friends tried to find out whether the son was earning his bread and butter or not. The job profile as a copywriter working from home was something they could not understand a decade ago. Sometimes my mother mentioned advertising and writing but their clever minds read this as a mother’s cover-up attempt in defence of her incompetent son as all loving mothers try their best to hide the flaws of their children.

The pursuit of creative work to earn livelihood secured my mother’s approval and appreciation. She was glad I did not have to enter into compromises or indulge in unethical practices for career development. She was happy I did not need to degenerate into an opportunist or flatter people to realise my goals. She believed every single sentence or idea was a divine blessing meant to take care of the material needs. She loved the purity of this earning and always encouraged me to write with purity – never lower the quality of the output to earn more. My homage to her would remain insincere if the charming world of advertising blinds me with greed and I deviate from the path I have followed as long as she was alive. Was it my choice or her blessing? Something within makes me feel nervous.

Writing does not require relocation to a distant city. The dream of a writer is realised inside a room located anywhere – even if the writing space is found in a jungle. Driven by this conviction, I began to write and deliver good work so that there is no dearth of clients. Yes, the writing job made it possible to spend more time with mother. Besides, I did not have to undergo the hassles of commuting to work every day.

My mother was happy with this working model and quite surprised to find it real. She called it a royal business. Yes, with royalty indeed! However, when my first attempt at full-fledged creative writing did not fetch commercial success, my mother was disappointed. Perhaps she felt I was less qualified to aim so big. In hindsight, I wish I had written something better. This failure haunts me after her death. That she left this world with the feeling of failure. No success is going to reverse this reality. Even if I manage to write better now, my mother is not going to see it. When you realise the most important person in your life is not around, your urge to prove your worth dies young. But it does not mean I should quit creative writing. Whatever I write now will be a tribute to her – so keep writing with honesty and purity.

Her separation led to another separation. My mother wanted me to strengthen my attachment with God and religion and she often reminded me of the shortcoming. Since she was a very pious lady, I thought her prayers would take care of me for life. Moreover, since God had taken away one parent in my childhood, I always thought God was not going to deprive me of her presence. I always felt there was time for learning the Gurmukhi script from her. I regret not finding time to learn reading the Punjabi language. The Holy Granth Sahib had to be donated to the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) as I could not read the Gurmukhi script and daily readings are a must. The holy book could have remained at home had I been fluent. I hope to be fluent someday, and get it back home and conduct daily readings. My tribute to her includes this exercise in self-improvement.   

Her humorous streak is something I have loved — her ability to laugh breathes into my work. I wish to acquire the strength to laugh during tough times, during health challenges. Few years ago, when a senior doctor referred her to a specific medical college, she made him break into a hearty laugh with her straight-faced query: ‘But why do you want college students to operate me? They will do experiments.’  

Just before the pandemic began last year, she consulted an ophthalmologist who suggested cataract surgery would yield negligible improvement in her low vision (high myopia all her life). When he asked her to read the board, she said she could not read it. Then the doctor made some signs and she read those correctly. The doctor was confused and she could not suppress her laughter. The doctor admired her joviality despite her low vision.

After returning home, I asked her if she could read something on the board. She said she could read with some strain. Since her mood was bad after the doctor said the surgery would not lead to proper restoration of her vision, she was not interested in getting herself examined again. So, she preferred to end the exercise by saying she could not read at all.    

A couple of years ago, she had hearing problems. When I took her to the ENT, she was asked to undergo audiometry tests. The result suggested she should get a hearing aid.  When I told her to get one for the right ear, she said she does not need the device.  It would obstruct the beauty of her earrings. She was always unwilling to wear the signs of old age. She disliked using a walking stick. She asked me to talk softly and she would hear distinctly. She lowered the volume of the TV and repeated the dialogues in the serial — to suggest her hearing was fairly good. One day she claimed to have overheard the gossip of the housemaids in the kitchen — she gave hints of revision in wages. A week later, they demanded a raise. She was surely hearing things right.    

Over the years, gulab jamun was her favourite sweet but her diabetic status prevented her from having it. Everytime her sugar level was normal in a medical test report, she celebrated it by having one gulab jamun. It was her inimitable style.

When she fell down and hurt her head, she refused to call it a fall. Relatives called up to find out her condition. She called it a jump and broke into a laugh, making the other person feel lighter and less worried. This choice of words indicated her spirits were always high. When I am sick and dying, I hope I am able to keep my suffering to myself, to remain cheerful and positive and say that I am going to be fine with the change of seasons even if there is no spring in my life.  

My mother always said Nanak Dukhiya Subh Sansar — other people should not be made sad — do not offload your grief on others. She urged me to bear it all alone. She had tremendous strength to bear her sorrows all her life. I am not sure whether I was also a source of adding sadness to her life. Maybe, I was also a big contributor because I chose a difficult life and deprived her of what her friends and relatives got so easily in life. People say she deserved a better life, a better home to live, a better son, a better future, a better old age. My tribute includes this regret and confession that she truly deserved a successful son.   

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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.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings of a Copywriter

Creativity and Madness

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

So many times this question has been lobbed at me: Have you gone mad? I have not been able to confidently say — yes. I have not been able to vehemently deny it either. But I have taken serious note of it, asking myself this question again and again. At times I feel I do have it in me and sometimes I feel I am exaggerating my qualities to put myself in the league of big achievers who had a streak of madness igniting their flashes of brilliance. I express gratitude to the people who doubt my sanity. They are truly visionaries and genuine well-wishers, who managed to spot my innate potential before anybody else in the family did.

When a middle-aged man falls in love with a girl half his age, he has to answer the same question: Have you gone mad? When an old fogey leaves everything behind and packs his travel bags to go on a road trip, he is labelled mad. When a rich man relinquishes all his wealth, he is dubbed mad. When a professional quits a cushy job to pursue his passion, he is written off as a nutty nerd. Similarly, when an urbanite decides to relocate to a village and lead a farmer’s life, he is categorised mad.  

Attempt anything unusual or unconventional and you stand accused of being mad. A person with the potential to shock the world is said to be in dire need of shock treatment. Thankfully, there are hundreds of people who cross the borders of sanity every day to come home saner. The act of flirting with madness is a rewarding experience to feel sane within – even if the world refuses to acknowledge the benefits of this exercise. 

Higher than any recognition in the world is the honour of being called mad if you are engaged in the business of creativity. It is a source of ultimate bliss to be bestowed with this prestigious title. There are many creative people who have won covetous prizes and metal pieces but the world does not call them mad. Madness remains a streak of genius that remains elusive to most. It is like having all the riches of the world and still remaining unhappy. It is painful and melancholic for a creative soul who fails to get recognised and remembered as mad. There is no lobby, no committee to understand madness and celebrate its diversity and goodness. There is no national or global award or citation that recognises or honours the scale and magnitude of madness.

You must be really mad to spend seven years of life locked in a room, busy writing a big, fat novel and doing nothing else. You are chasing something when you do not have any estimate of success in it. Madness fuels the passion to keep going and without madness there cannot be anything magical. Not just once, you spend an entire lifetime doing crazy stuff without any assurance of success in the venture. With nothing going in your favour, with nothing glorifying your mission, you are on your own journey despite all hardships. Madness alone makes it possible to undergo the impossible. The act of creating involves madness at various levels – in choice, in pursuit, in suffering, in determination, in persistence, in creation.

There are phenomenal people in every field who are never content with the shower of praises simply because they do not have the crown of madness to wear. The search for the mad title remains an unfulfilled dream. We are not advanced enough to think of eccentricity as an achievement worth celebrating in life. Whenever this question about being mad has been hurled at me, I have felt happy from within. I have wondered how close I am to winning this label in my lifetime. Sometimes I feel, it is within reach and sometimes it seems beyond reach during the entire lifetime. Before a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction creeps in to create a void, I urge you to seek the company of friends and colleagues who, when persuaded, will flatter and provide temporary relief by calling you mad. Absorb the repetition to get a high.  

Zero in on the glory of madness as it reveals a clear focus on the work and the possessed state that makes you refine the craft. It is not easy to say to what extent you are driven by the mad urge but the richness of the work shows you are deeply under its influence. Sometimes one piece of work brings you credit and sometimes the whole body of work makes people consider you raving mad. Keep the target high and celebrate your creative madness as a source of elixir that keeps you alive and fully charged to produce more specimens that demonstrate to a higher degree your long walk into the dark recesses of the mind, to make it suffer over a period of time and produce something timeless and unique.

You find creative people in the film or literary world who have not paid attention to anything apart from their work. They have not won any awards, big or small, not even made it to any shortlist, but their works live forever in the heart. Their readiness to immerse their lives in the work is a key indicator of creative madness. When lives do not matter, when commercial gains do not matter, when nothing else matters except the work and that is what their wide world is limited to. A plunge into such depths of madness is what makes them scale the heights of creative success.  

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.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings of a Copywriter

Lessons from Partition

Devraj Singh Kalsi explores how Partition impacts not only countries but families in the modern day India

Division seems to have gained a legitimacy and emerged as a solution to all the deep-rooted problems within families after the horrific Partition in 1947. It created a new reality where peace would prevail and relationships turn cordial through the process of separations, ignoring the fact that peace found on the ruins of severance could only be short-lived. Brothers and cousins living together for years suddenly turned aggressive for their share of land, with scuffles and war of words worsening the situation and indicating that permanent peace is not achievable through unity anymore.   

The gradual disintegration of our family, both on the paternal and maternal side from time to time, was performed by the hyped and glorified idea of undergoing the pangs of separation. Partition was carried forward as a legacy of collective strength to survive the worst and shape the best. What the country, particularly in Punjab and Bengal, went through in 1947 has been repeated in so many families over the decades since then. The idea of batwara (separation) was seen as the ideal way to end conflict and restore normalcy. The preparedness to lose a lot to achieve that was palpable.

Brothers lived together in a plot of land but loved the idea of raising a wall between them as a sign of demarcation even though the property remained undivided legally. They lived together but maintained separate kitchens. The flavours of what was cooking in one brother’s home permeated through the walls. If there are special delicacies cooked on certain occasions, the rival brother planned a similar treat for his family. If one brother brought home a bike, the other one drove ahead with a car.

Such rivalries in joint families are common and seen as the way forward to a solution in the long-term. The entire community gets to know the brothers are undergoing strained ties and their justification of who is right and who is wrong becomes contentious. One brother garners local support and emerges stronger with numbers while the other one turns either quiet or vindictive to launch a vilification drive.

Insecurities reach the bone marrow of relationships. When the brothers realise that they cannot continue living separated by walls only endlessly, they decide to seek the interference of the elderly in the family or approach the courts. When mediation for the split begins, it takes the shape of a fight for justice. This conflict finally deprives them of their land holding as the outright sale is seen the panacea to all grievances and problems. They part ways amicably with their share and move out in search of a new beginning, waging the same old battles once again in some other place. 

When brothers live with a wall of partition separating them or with two different entry gates on opposite sides, their wives and children grow up in a disturbed environment and perceive those on the other side as their biggest enemies. They are like quarrelsome neighbours next door, and they frequently fight over petty issues like blocked drainage and kitchen smoke. The unpredictability of such tiffs creates an atmosphere of constant fear and tension.

The married-off sisters face a bigger problem when they visit their father’s home. They cannot decide where to live. If the elder brother is preferred, the younger one feels ignored and hurt. Sisters have to decide to have lunch in one house and dinner in the other just to strike a balance. Such bitterness affects sisters who gradually reduce their trips as they cannot stomach the outcome of their educated brothers’ quarrel. Other relatives also think twice about visiting a family with such rifts and infighting. 

During occasions like weddings within the family, they have to break the narrow domestic walls and put up a façade of unity. Peace gets restored for some weeks. They eat together, drink together, and dance together, click photographs for a buffer stock of pleasant memories, sit beside each other, converse together, laugh together, and embrace each other like long lost brothers. All their relatives relish such rare glimpses of brotherhood and bless their relationship more than blessing the newlywed couple. Tears of joy overflow, with prayers for permanence of bonhomie on their lips.  

Unfortunately, such fraternity peters out within a month and the old normal of rivalry is restored. The families interacting for some days resume their separation and silence. When relatives call up to seek updates, they find the same old tensions. If one brother has a telephone landline connection, he is hesitant to call the other one and gives lame excuses. This coldness makes it clear that the brothers are not going to unite. Their mutual bitterness indicates that separation alone has the power to establish long-lasting peace.    

Bickering brothers rejoice when the courts give the verdict and the shameful episode of separation is celebrated on both sides, with thanksgiving prayers to the Lord for this blessing that is actually the precursor of their downfall. 

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.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Type, Stereo, Stereotype

Devraj Singh Kalsi gives a unique perspective on the Farmer’s Protest in India

Farmers’ protest in India, December 2020. Photo courtesy: Wiki

The nation knows them as truck-drivers, transporters, dhaba-owners (eatery-owners), soldiers, and farmers who made the nation green with revolution (and envy) half a century ago. They perform these jobs so well that nobody in India wants them to do anything else. It would be a waste of time and resources if they show interest in other pursuits. Alerts and friendly suggestions include forget creative gigs and focus on down-to-earth digs. Get back to the fields and grow some figs instead of falling in love with trance – to transplant figments of imagination. Talk about reap, forget repeal. Focus on harvest, forget unrest. Don’t care two hoots? Return to the roots.

If you know a Sardarji in the bulb with malice towards one and all, consider it an exception instead of the changing trend in their professional choices. The Sardarji in the bulb failed to inspire and light up the brains of his community that is perfectly okay with intellectual poverty so long as material prosperity comes their way. Sardar (Sikh) and Kirdaar (character) make an uncharacteristic pair. Pen in his grip looks weak while the sword is mightier even today.  

Crack silly, vulgar Sardar jokes and stereotype them the way you like, but the fact remains that Bhangra, banter and bass show their swag. You enjoy full freedom of expression to hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community and get away with it. With a big heart they always love to give and forgive. Even if you find no art in their dance form, you raise the legs to lift the spirits and feel energised.  

Instead of banking on education to seek greener pastures abroad, they are ready to grab the steering wheel, to steer their future in the direction of prosperity. If diligence is the seed of success, they are ready to toil in the farms as sons of the soil under extreme weather conditions – whether it is about growing sarson (mustard) here or strawberries there. The enthusiasm to feed humanity takes them to the fields, to grow food for all, or set up eateries along the highways to serve truckers and travellers with good food.

The farm protests, spearheaded by the Sikhs, made the entire nation suspect whether they have the brains to understand the farm laws or the misled battalion simply marched ahead with tractors and trolleys under the influence of opposition leaders and alcohol. This narrative was fairly convincing on TV screens as Sikhs have yet to showcase their logical quotient. With no Nobel Laureate to amplify their pedigree, pegging the idea of a Sardarji winning it for science, economics, literature or peace turns out to be a hilarious joke.  

From fibre to fibre optics, they have made significant contribution but the world looks reluctant to recognise their talent in diverse fields. These warriors who break barriers are the carriers of chutzpah and they deliver the impossible. While the national average income struggles to reach a decent level, they have taken agriculture to a new level. So much so that they earn enough to buy jeans on account of hard work in their genes.   

Starving farmers wearing torn clothes and banging empty utensils is the stereotyped image of protesters in India. This is perhaps the first time that the entire nation witnessed stereos playing full blast at the protest site, with a feast of delicacies served to all, with book launches and motivational songs to keep the spirits high. From pizza to pinni (sweet), from badam (almond) sherbet to gajar ka halwa (carrot halwa), from foot massagers to geysers, the visuals emerging from Delhi borders have awakened the collective imagination and consciousness of the people in their heated drawing rooms. The hordes of protesters including elderly citizens, women, and children looking cool, calm and resilient even in biting cold conditions reminds people of Chhardi Di Kala – the expression to convey their buoyant attitude and will power.

When farmers look healthy and well-fed, they weaken their bargaining position as the authorities tend to think they are already prosperous and the new farm laws are sure to double their income. No sympathy or empathy comes their way. Seek repealing of laws and they keep appealing to soften the stand. The deaths and suicides of fellow farmers in this chilling cold do not generate the fear of death. Call it determination, tenacity, or moronic display of obdurate behaviour, they stand united to treat with love and care but never ready to retreat.

Farmers eating stuffed parathas, paneer (cottage cheese), kheer (sweetened and thickened milk), fruits, dry fruits, and jalebis(sweet) make prime time news. The image of struggling, bare-bodied farmers ploughing the fields, surviving on porridge, mashed potato, and boiled rice disappears from the screens. With simmering anger inside and langar (community kitchen) outside, they sit and wage a crowded struggle for their rights, sleeping under tractors and trolleys, waiting for the withdrawal of draconian and now drag-on-ian farm laws.

A diet meal plan sanctioned for healthy living is likely to win more sympathy from the masses and the authorities. Do not jeopardize the mission to bring the farmers of the nation at par with the Punjabi brethren. This scheme is for them, to double their income, to reduce income equality between marginal farmers and march-in-al farmers first. Do not behave like a big brother and a bigger fool. Your doubling of income has to wait till the farmers of India achieve your level first. In the meanwhile, continue serving mankind and feel a surge of collective pride, serve the poor and those in distress, reduce the level of stress, go back, and buy new dress for the next music video. The festivals are all lined up, get ready for Baisakhi (Punjabi new year) and balle-balle, and say cheers to the good life.

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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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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings of a Copywriter

Private Lessons

Devraj Singh Kalsi takes us through a hilarious episode of elopement with a surprising conclusion

It took me quite a long time to conclude whether it was a noble act or a mischief. Those historical legends who rode away on horseback with brides and wives of their choice did not inspire me as much as my tutor with his daring act of elopement. Trains and motorbikes replaced horses and my English tutor, an aspiring novelist with a magnum opus in progress, managed to gallop ahead with élan in the hostile terrain.

He returned and churned a gripping tale – a real tour de farce – of his nocturnal conquest featuring burly cops who swooped down heavily at his door and the nail-biting chase that followed. The rush of adrenalin ejaculated a tall promise to repeat his heroic feat and make him feel proud of me as a worthy disciple who followed in his footsteps. With such an ambitious dream I entered the age of reckless youth, but ended up wrecked after a spate of rejections, with no girl ready to partner me and pillion ride on this challenging expedition.      

The English tutor suddenly disappeared when I was supposed to appear for my board exams. I was not aware he was going on a mission or else I would have rallied behind him with full moral support and offered prayers for his victory. While I was deprived of last-minute suggestions and struggled to revise my lessons, my English tutor was chalking out his strategy for the operation. He was a brave young man with dollops of chutzpah to elope in those days, invite the wrath of his family and community for displaying sapiosexual tendencies. He resurfaced with an invite almost a fortnight later, back with a taut narrative of how he and his childhood lover bribed a young priest to formalise their marital bond in a small temple after dusk and boarded the midnight train for the chills and thrills of a honeymoon in the hills.

After successful consummation, the excited couple took the earliest train to return home and seek the blessings of those who had opposed something sacred like marriage. A reception was organised at a marriage hall. I was his only student who was invited to attend the function where vegetarian food and liquor were served.

He introduced me to his erudite wife who looked pretty tired of meeting strangers with a faux smile. She was teaching English in a private school while he was looking after his family business to disguise his joblessness. The courage to marry without a job made him a role model in my eyes. His audacity to run away from the city with the daughter of a retired cop was a dramatic coup of sorts that would kindle interest for its potential as a frothy Bollywood caper. Visualise night sky and temple, gunshots in the air, and the married couple in sherwani and lehenga racing ahead on a wobbly motorbike and a police van chasing them on a highway. Get the drift. 

My English tutor revealed that he was working on a literary novel — slightly autobiographical as it was inspired by the childhood events. He could wait for another couple of years to get suitably employed and within this period he had to climax his literary worth as his wife had married him because of his literary prowess. A child arrived the next year, and his literary dream was aborted. He began teaching part-time, perhaps feeling insecure of his ability to produce something magical in words, feeling a surge of chauvinistic umbrage as his spouse worked hard to run the home like a householder while he sat brooding at his teakwood desk, looking at the window and the world outside, waiting for inspiration to strike.  

Even though our meetings became scarce after my school days, he remained my first idol. He was an exemplary teacher who taught practical lessons and encouraged me to outperform him — though outperform had several connotations and I was not quite sure of the context and what he implied.   

He legitimised running away to marry and became a hero of sorts even though there were other members in the family who married outside the community. Here was my teacher inspiring me with his love story, to elope if required and achieve success in the mission. I had grave doubts about my ability to convince a girl to do the same but he became a love guru I consulted later in my career. His wife discouraged his interactions with the former students and so we grew apart. His novel did not appear in print — not even as a self-published masterpiece. It is more than twenty years now. His social media profile updates mention Headmaster of a primary school.

When I sent him my writing samples online, he wished me good luck in my writing journey. The despatched links have not been seen even after three months — perhaps he has lost interest in reading and writing. The closed chapter of life he does not wish to revisit. I resisted the urge to ask him about the fate of his literary novel — and let it remain unclear, inconclusive and open-ended like his favourite Night Train At Deoli.    

*sherwani: A long formal coat worn often by grooms in India

*lehenga: A long skirt worn often at weddings by the bride in India

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.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Pray to Win

Devraj Singh Kalsi gives an entertaining account of ‘Tumpji pujas’ across India during the US elections

The strength he mustered to defy the writing on the Mexican wall and challenge the mandate had come from a country he had called dirty just a few days ago. We do not mind his saying so because our own writers and filmmakers have sold this image to the West for several decades.  

Faith can move mountains. Orisons can deliver miracles even in Arizona and the man in office – By Georgia! – knew something incredibly magical was on his way from the East. Kudos to the cabal of jingoist well-wishers who were engaged in performing yajnas* and havans* with pure desi* ghee to propitiate the powers of heaven to spread dollops of glee on his face, to ensure another term for him in Safed Ghar* and keep the world supposedly safe though I ran away from this false belief amid fears of a lurking strike in his second innings. Every nuke and corner of the world under his glaring watch would upset and reset the ticking clock of global peace. 

The feisty flames inflamed the mercurial man who was determined to trump his foes with his planetary virility. He spewed balls of fire to hang on and refused to cow down, setting a new precedent as a president in the history of the nation. Only if the organisers could spell his name correctly instead of Tump, the omnipotent gods would have transferred the votes he required to win, by influencing the counting officials to detect more inaccuracies with the postal votes that went against him.     

The inner voice guided and goaded him to prove winners never quit and quitters never win. He felt re-elected in his mind despite the mismanaged pandemic and wished to make a bonfire of all anti-incumbency votes in the havankund* – only if he could get those picked out by an invisible force in the closely contested polls conducted in the few crucial states that slowed down his juggernaut. Most of the leaders who swept to power around the time he had won were given another term and they would now feel lonely without his bombastic company and pack of white lies. 

Praying to win is a common – and effective – practice among contestants the world over. Cadres of all parties do so for their beloved leaders during election time. Sometimes the native people pour unadulterated love for global leaders perceived as friendly and helpful for the home country – those who can be a pillar of support against hostile neighbours. Tump Ji is one such beneficiary of generous and spontaneous love showered by legions of admirers here. 

Havankund and yajnas are also performed for friendly countries and their leaders. We want these friends to occupy the office for a long period. Though we cannot elect or re-elect them through the voting process, we can surely seek divine deliverance for them. Even if we have few friends around the world, a powerful ally is what we need to keep our neighbours under control. If Tump Ji remains in favour, we do not fear our neighbours. With Tump Ji as the ring master, the Chinese cannot drag on further with their LAC plans. He has been a pillar of support for us in the past few years – the one guy we can ring up any time to share our woes and he jumps to our defence by scolding our mischievous neighbours with veiled threats and dire warnings. 

When the news finally reached Tump Ji that the land of seers has the divine power to flip electoral outcomes and influence voters without any fraud, he was elated and wondered why his Indian buddies did not part with the secret mantras of success earlier. He suspected a conspiracy of sorts hatched in the native village of a democrat. He was now told there were many pundits with manic and talismanic powers who could swing the verdict right in his favour before the voting was over, but it was a tough call to reverse what was already cast. He was told of the potency of keeping red hibiscus and marigold underneath his pillow for nine consecutive nights to avoid getting pilloried. He was advised to chant Jo(e) Boley So Nahin Hovey555 times every daySuch tweets and messages were sent to him and he read and followed them all. 

Tump Ji was also advised to avoid kissing during this critical phase as it would suck out the chances of victory and spell the proverbial kiss of death for him. He was told to eat a vegetarian diet as this sacrifice would prove rewarding. Simple lifestyle modifications: Drink tall glasses of buttermilk instead of wine to show power without intoxication. He was assured of a divine shower of blessings if he stayed away from sausages and beef. As the election results began to pour in and his drubbing became imminent, he overheard his better half talking of a possible split though he could not be very sure whether she talked of a split in votes or their marriage.  

Coming to the aspect of divine intervention, the chanting of mantras gifted him with nerves of steel. He pinned high hopes on the judiciary to act as his saviour – the supreme power would reside in the unanimous verdict of judges. This would allow him the opportunity to ride back to power and occupy the same house instead of indulging in frivolous thinking of constructing another one on the opposite side because he still believed he was wanted by half of his countrymen. It was impossible to accept defeat with grace as he felt he was still very much in the presidential race. 

*yavanas, havan: prayers around the fire

*Desi ghee: Ghee made from cow’s milk

*Safed Ghar: White House

*Havankund: The container in which a fire is built for prayers

*Joe boley so nahin hovey: A take off that means whatever Joe utters shall not be fulfilled. The take off is from the shout of victory and exaltation among Sikhs, Bole so nihal.

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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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

My Encounters With Tenants

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

I have absorbed more about life from tenants than teachers. The lessons were practical and harsh – involving critical issues that challenged my problem-solving skills.

I did not know what to do when a tenant hired a pack of goons who climbed our boundary wall with hammers to hone their demolition skills. I stood near the verandah and witnessed the post-dinner horrific sight of cracking up the newly-constructed brick wall. When I wanted to know the reason, one burly shadow approached me with his face half-covered with a towel and explained the encroachment had a mission: construction of a club. I identified the man from his hoarse voice – a tenant who sold cattle fodder and ran a transport business. I did not wish to have any truck with him as I feared he could get me bumped off on any main road or highway anytime. Those freak accidents to seek revenge that get reported but never get solved as murders.  

I was angry at his audacity. But I could not hurl expletives to vent my anger – not even in my mother-tongue. His agile team had tools to conduct any lethal operation, chop off my tongue in the medieval style of torture, and feed it to the stray dogs barking at the full moon. While I was still trying to persuade him politely to suspend the act of vandalism, he was unwilling to cave in. What caved in and collapsed like a pack of cards in front of my blood-red eyes was my red brick wall. He threw an open challenge, egging me to approach the police for succour.

I rushed to the nearest police station in my cosy nightwear, with full faith in the rule of law. Furious to hear my complaint, the cop asked me to get into the police van with great respect. We reached the spot in five minutes, with a clear intent of swinging into rapid action and throwing those scoundrels out by firing gunshots in the air. The burly tenant emerged from a deserted lane and blocked our path, and then escorted the officer aside for a briefing session near a paan shop. The cop returned thoroughly brainwashed and comforted me, urging me to settle the dispute through mutual understanding with the local people and politicians. It was a blatant act of trespassing and he dismissed it as a dispute.

I was shocked to hear his advice. As political approval was with the tenant, the cop decided to stay out of the messy situation. It was my first brush with political power – earlier seen only in Bollywood films where leaders control the men in uniform for vendetta.  

The next day was an eye-opener of sorts as the tenant had grabbed the vacant land by erecting a makeshift structure with bamboo, placing a king-size carrom board with a bulb lighting it up with electricity hooked from the nearest pole. His henchmen drank liquor, played loud music, and lungi-danced to celebrate their big win. When I met that tenant again, he took me to the local leader for a meeting. It was my first encounter with the maverick leader who pretended to hear impartially and then urged me to accept the valid demands of the tenant. It was clear that the aggrieved tenant wanted the land in our backyard. It was a trick to scare and browbeat the landowners into submission, to draw their attention without any serious intent of causing physical harm. A second-generation tenant picking up stones to hurl at the landlord and his family in the middle of the night was playing an attention-seeking game, not trying to usher in any revolution. 

A portion of the land was already grabbed so there was no question of negotiation. The land belonged to him – though without ownership papers. He wanted to maintain cordial terms even after this episode to get it duly registered in his name. He arranged a meeting with his cabinet and revealed he had a divine vision in which he was ordered by a popular God to build a temple on this land. He was merely executing the Lord’s will – there was nothing morally wrong with it. Imagine a devotee making this appeal with folded hands and vermilion smeared on his forehead.  

To cut a long story short, he paid half price and grabbed the entire plot. I was expecting a grand temple to be raised on the land we had donated. I was hoping to be invited as the chief guest to inaugurate the temple since my contribution was legendary. My name should be recorded as the land donor in some corner of the holy premises for future generations and history to remember me. Instead of constructing a temple, the tenant built his double-storey house and sold the ground floor to a fellow trader. His magical story-telling conned me – it was fabricated to soften the god-loving and god-fearing guy in me. The tenant is still alive, and I wish to meet him someday and ask how it feels to fool people in the name of God and religion. 

There was another tenant who always said his business was down though I found new stock whenever I went to his shop. He used to sell innerwear and T-shirts. For several years I picked up clothes to adjust with the rent. He was happy not to pay any rent. I was not a landlord who forced him to pay but a benevolent one who arrived as a customer at his store with rent receipts as gift vouchers to redeem. He complimented me, called me handsome whenever he saw me wearing the T-shirt from his shop. He promised to get me more fancy stuff every month. Soon other tenants began their woeful narrative of poor business to make me buy something from their shops as well. One tenant ran a gift store and he expected me to have lots of girlfriends to buy something for their birthdays and Valentine Day. He was a soft toy specialist who wanted to offload teddy bears and puppies, those heart-shaped red balloons, and cute busty dolls. 

Since it was hot inside the market, the tenants got together to raise demands for air-conditioning without accepting any hike in rent. They complained to their business association. The president and the secretary found it an opportunity to interfere and lord over. One afternoon, the tenants took off their sweat-soaked shirts and sat half-naked in front of the collapsible main gate. The local media crew invited to cover their bulging bellies while they raised fists and slogans, seeking an end to this torture. They called the market complex a blast furnace, a gas chamber, and what not. They decided to look for a cheaper solution when a hike in rent was proposed again. They hired a local jobless engineer to supervise the breaking of the concrete roof to install exhaust fans for cooling, without the approval of the property owner.  

I was surprised to find my name splashed in the local tabloid. Some quotes were attributed to me though I did not utter a single word. I was projected as a torturous, inhuman, insensitive landlord whose black hands needed to be broken and burnt.

My effigy going up in flames is a memorable sight that amuses me even today. It is a rare distinction that I should add to my resume. Some of my local friends and girlfriends found me not a nice guy to know after this – a debauched, exploitative landlord from the ignoble past. All the allegations flying around soiled my reputation. Those who knew me well also knew the people who were sponsoring these protests – the affluent business families who wanted to grab the prime property by making it difficult for us, creating adverse situations that compelled us to flee for the safety of our lives. It was a learning exercise to get dubbed as a notorious villain who did not have any traces of humanity left in him. The importance of smear campaign and negative publicity gave a clear idea of how to use it cleverly in advertising to edge past your competitors.

I cannot wrap up without mentioning one tenant who ran a wine shop. I had to go to his liquor shop to collect rent. Many respected people, bhodrolok types including my tutors saw me in front of the crowded wine store. They spread the news that I was a spoilt brat who had started frequenting the liquor shop after my father’s untimely death. I did not stop going to the wine store despite negative publicity as I liked looking at the fancy bottles. Such intoxicating stories brewed in the small town and many well-wishers supported and justified by saying Sardarjis start drinking early. The relationship between perception and reality is a dicey one. It is a different story that I have not started drinking yet! 

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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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

A Story of Attachments

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Thirty years ago, she boiled an egg in it for her husband who died a week later. There is no link between his untimely demise and the egg boiler, but it was special because the last egg her husband ate was boiled in that egg-boiler. It was respected as an important kitchen appliance and showcased in the cabinet like a trophy. Every year it was taken out for a customary wash, but no egg was boiled in it. She wiped it clean with a soft cloth and plugged it in just once to check whether it blinked red or not. She was happy that the egg boiler was still alive and blinking.  

I was not fond of having boiled eggs, so I never used it. But sometimes I wonder how she would have reacted in case I had tried to boil an egg in it. Maybe, get hysterical and call it sacrilegious. Maybe, dub it inauspicious to use anything belonging to the deceased. This seemed unlikely because I have defied many superstitious practices and still managed to escape her outburst. Isn’t there hypocrisy in the fact that the possessions of the deceased are classified as valuables and disposables? Ever seen a gold ring belonging to the deceased getting dumped in a trashcan by the roadside or tossed into the bowl of a beggar on the streets? Mighty inheritors of family wealth relinquishing their right to inheritance.  

Several items belonging to my late father have fascinated me for various reasons. I have used them with the proud feeling of inheritance, without traces of guilt. I did not fear his ghost would stake an ownership claim or force me to surrender those items – as brigands do at gunpoint. Monkeying around wearing his monkey cap during winter for the past twenty years has been a regular indulgence. I have walked down desolate streets in the dark without feeling the spooky chills. Encountered stray dogs and feline creatures but they did not lose composure in front of my covered face. My jovial spirits did not let them sense any paranormal activity around me.   

The camera was one of his prized possessions that conveyed his immortal passion for images, so I did not let it go. More than a tribute to the artist, the camera helped me learn the ropes of photography. On a bright sunny day, I took it out from the snug corner of his almirah where it was kept wrapped in a bath towel with naphthalene balls for company. A historic day that marked my tryst with photography. I did not find any attention-seeking ghost in the viewfinder when I focused on beautiful women walking down the street. No phantom chiding me for ogling at them with my father’s camera. Deep within, I felt my father would be blessing me with flashes of creativity to click models of international repute someday.  

There were many neckties in my father’s wardrobe. I kept the silk ones with me and gave the rest to the gardener who found an easy way to become a Sahib in his locality. I wanted to wear a necktie during job interviews, hoping to derive confidence from his symbolic presence, to help me sail through smoothly. When I got rejected in interviews despite wearing my father’s necktie, I realised his necktie was not a source of blessings anymore. Perhaps I should attend wild parties wearing his necktie and seek the attention of lissome beauties instead. The casually dressed guys were devilishly cooler to flirt with while those in formals were looked at with cold prejudice – as salesmen selling water-purifiers and chimneys. 

Another irresistible item belonging to my father was the fancy denim jacket he was gifted by his sister from Canada. Since it was in mint condition, I kept it aside while my mother donated all his clothes to the elderly guard with six grown-up sons. When it was discovered in my almirah, she did not recognise it or maybe she pretended not to recognise it. Her strategy to overlook where she did not wish to interfere explained her response.   

She had lost the ground to criticise me for being attached to my father’s worldly possessions. She used his leather suitcase for long-distance travel even after his death. She could claim it was hers because it was also used when both of them travelled together. Probably the shared memories related to the suitcase made her feel safe during long journeys – as both of them carried their clothes in that suitcase. When she opened it for packing her items, I saw her using half the space while the other half was left vacant. She was still following the rule of giving equal space to her partner even though he was not around.      

Dumped in her dark, unlit storeroom was an aluminum trunk full of letters and sepia photographs of the dead. I had seen many of them during my childhood days and had faint memories. She kept those photographs and letters away from my reach. She followed a balanced classification of good and painful memories. Many times, I wanted to see the stuff, but she refused to grant me access. She kept it locked as if the simple act of privacy would keep the past locked as well.  

She believed the son follows the father and so she kept his beer mugs and wine glasses in the cabinet. She was surprised when I turned out to be the first teetotaller in the family. After I confirmed I was not going to try it ever in my life even if I was spurned in matters of love, she was relieved and merrily gifted the entire set to the cook.  

Twenty years of attachment is quite a long period and I can say it is largely over for me. During a recent clean-up drive, I tried discarding the egg-boiler but was strongly opposed by her. I told her I do not eat boiled eggs so there was no point in retaining the egg boiler as a relic from the past. She tried to make me understand by emphasizing that I have to buy a new one in case I changed my mind later. This was certainly an example that established her attachment was still far from over.  

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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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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

An Encounter with Snake charmers

Our non-fiction columnist, Devraj Singh Kalsi, amuses with his hilarious invasion of snakes and snake charmers in his home in a pre-COVID world

Some months ago, before the pandemic broke out, a group of snake charmers turned up at my door, with torn cloth bags and woven baskets containing coiled snakes sleeping blissfully unaware of their dark, claustrophobic world. The leader of the group tried to wake up a hynotised snake to offer me a sneak peek of the slithering beauty. I had no interest to exchange pleasantries with the unwanted guests or strike a conversation with their captive partners, but I realised it was wiser to stay courteous or else they would bare their fangs.

Having known from mainstream Hindi films that snakes possess strange transformative powers, I thought for a while whether this one would take the form of a gorgeous lady and stand up right in front of me and hiss a husky hello. Before I could prepare myself, the snake-charmer had already taken off the lid of the basket and the snake raised its hood without striking. I stepped back in fear but smiled bravely, wanting to know its pedigree.

An acolyte answered on behalf of the team leader, calling it a viper. I folded my hands out of respect for the deadly snake and kept a stiff upper lip to ensure I did not spew venom to offend either the group or the snake. He noticed my rising discomfort and tried to assure me there was no harm intended. He explained the group had no ulterior motive to knock at my door, but they got some clear signals while passing by this stretch that confirmed there were poisonous snakes inside my compound. So, their noble intent was to catch those snakes and save the precious lives of the residents of the house. 

I was invited to watch the operation live. I did not know how to react to the offer. Since they were seasoned professionals, there was no reason to doubt their skills and powers. As I gave them the permission to launch the strike, the assistants spread in three different directions like trained commandos and kept walking slowly and cautiously. Then one of them suddenly stopped in his tracks. He raised an alarm as he became suspicious of something lying around the base of the guava tree. He went ahead, picked up a small mound of earth, sniffed it twice and then took it to the team leader who confirmed it was worth digging up. The cordoned off area become a hotspot of frenzied activity.   

I was asked to come closer and observe how he proceeded with it. Such an internship opportunity was a matter of great privilege. Although nothing was clearly visible to me without my spectacles, the assistant confirmed the majestic presence of the snake inside without playing any musical instrument to tempt the snake to come out of its hiding. He dug up a bit more and then I saw a bigger cavity, with the snake peeping out to protest this sudden invasion of privacy. He quickly grabbed it and held it in his hand before my reflexes could gather what had happened within the flash of seconds. The furious snake was hissing loudly in protest, seeking freedom like all creatures do.

Another assistant materialised like a genie with an empty basket. He made the snake sniff a piece of root and the agitated snake turned calm and dozed off within minutes. He then put it gently inside the basket and asked me to take a snap. It was certainly not a fun thing, but he insisted I should have a picture with the snake. It was an epic moment I should not miss because of anxiety. I should create a pleasant memory out of it. Besides, I could boast of having caught a snake at home and share the daring experience with people who become curious to know the acts of bravery in youth from the elderly types.

Had I known this was going to happen, I would have dressed up properly for the occasion. I was wearing faded shorts and an animal print kurta almost covering my knees – a weird and wild combination that would make the entire episode look fake or comic when posted on social media handles. Perhaps I should have asked them to wait there while I went inside the house to get my smart phone and change into something stylish. As I was mopping the confusion within, another junior fellow rushed in with the breaking news that there was one more snake in the compound. Surprisingly, there seemed to be more snakes than human beings living in the house, without paying any rent.    

The team leader swung into action. He went to the backyard and came back to confirm there was indeed another one. But they would not be taking it with them. Their refusal to carry this one came as a shock. He explained it was a resident snake living here for years and it would not cause any harm to the members of the house. He added there were in fact two resident snakes – one had died recently. He said he could hear the cries of the lonely snake. 

If the survivor was feeling the pangs of loneliness, I said he should definitely take it away and find a suitable partner somewhere to revive its happiness. A sad life here would prolong its misery forever. The team leader could not reject the logical point, but he disclosed he was forbidden by his guru to do so. His special powers would desert him if he ever did so. Well, he had his own compulsions restraining him from doing it. He clarified he never picked up any snake from the graveyard though there were many poisonous ones lazing around. Perhaps snakes were the only companions to mitigate the solitude of ghosts and the dead.   

I was not happy to know I had to live with a snake in the house. He said I would never have known the truth if he had not revealed it. So, I should trust his words and do not disturb the snake. He did not allow me to meet the resident snake though I insisted I should be able to recognise it in case it slithered indoor through an open window some day. Then I would not end up hitting it with a stick or feel guilty of having attacked a resident snake. He repeated the resident snake would never harm the inmates of the dwelling, with who he kindly shared the space. He lured me with the possibility of good fortune brough by a resident snake.

The third assistant emerged from behind the tall bushes and hissed like a snake into his pierced ear. He went with him and I followed them. Mid-way, he turned back and said there was another poisonous snake inside the house just a few hours ago but had gone missing at that point. I asked if that poisonous snake enjoyed non-resident status and whether there was any possibility of its return in the evening. Perhaps it had gone out for some important work and would be back like officegoers after sundown. 

The team leader thought I was trying to make fun. He looked at me scornfully and then chewed something and said he could not confirm that possibility. It could return or may not. It was some relief to hear that. I noticed their baskets were all covered with lids and one of the least active assistants was tying them in cloth bundles. I guessed they were about to leave with one snake as their catch – to sell it to a laboratory and share the proceeds.   

All of a sudden, the team leader began taking interest in my life and health. As the snakes were still around, I had to oblige him. He asked me about high blood pressure and wanted to sell me herbal cure. I said I was perfectly normal, but he was not happy to hear that. I wondered if he had the miraculous power to read my systolic pressure by looking at my face. When he found there was no scope of selling any remedy, he tried the tricks of his trade. He sat on the floor and started making a circle with vermilion powder fished out of his pocket. Being the householder, I was asked to sit down inside that circle and participate in the ritual as it would ward off the evil eye though his eyes looked more evil than anything else at that time. Since I was writing a novel, I thought it would probably become an instant best seller with the blessings of a snake charmer.

He chanted mantras and I repeated those in good faith without understanding any of them. At the end of the prayer session, his team member billed me. I was shocked to hear the demand for five thousand rupees as donation in the name of a deity. The refusal to pay the amount would invite misfortune. I thought of finding out if an monthly payment option was available, but I chose not to raise this query as they would then get the excuse to visit me every month to collect the installment and make my life hell.  

To ward off the evil forces staring at the house, I went inside to get my cheque book, but the leader refused to accept anything other than cash. Unable to muster the courage to fleece them as they would reappear with a big curse and a bigger game-plan, I bought peace by parting with the soiled notes I had withdrawn from the nearby ATM last week. They looked happy while leaving, but I was sad. I slammed the grille door and scared them with the presence of a pet dog on the roof. Fearing a possible aerial attack, the rattled team leader rushed out quickly.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, Kitaab, Tehelka, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.