June 14, 2005

Break not my heart

Heard from a friend last night, after a long time. That reminded me of something I wrote when we first met, about someone who was with us then. Here it is.


Slender young man from Ajmer. Blue shirt, thin face. He begins with an explanation. "We have heard so much about sadness over these two days," he says. "This evening, I would like to present to you something slightly different." A solo performance, he tells us; some humour, a light-hearted look at everything that has happened in this place we are in over the last several months, the reason we have all gathered here.

We nod. Photographs of looting, slaughter and charred once-human lumps; discussions about hatred and failures; thoughts about confronting prejudice: two long seminar days of stuff like this -- weighty though it is, necessary though it may have been -- have us all numb and depressed. Even this session, where we are supposed to unwind and relax, has had its share of anguish. People recite poems, or act out little skits to portray their feelings. Moving and heartfelt, yes, but we are longing for a break.

Now Blue Shirt has come up with an excellent idea. Humour, that's what we all need. Smile a bit, think different thoughts, oh yes. Go ahead, Blue Shirt!

He vanishes to make a few preparations, then appears again. Plastic bottle in one hand, he staggers and sways into the large and straggly ellipse we have formed. You have to imagine I'm a drunk, he had told us before he started, and he is such a natural that we don't have to imagine. Down to the giggly Keshto Mukherjee hiccups and the out-of-tune old film song ("Tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tara, todo na dil hamara") he sings in spurts.

We chuckle. This guy is good.

Drunk strolls past a scooterist who's trying to get his scooter started. In between the scooterist's futile kicks, head wagging all the time, the drunk says cheerily: "Your tank. No petrol! Hic!" Unwilling to listen to a mere drunk, the scooterist goes on kicking. When the wino repeats himself, the scooterist curses and tells him to get lost. "I filled the tank just this morning!" he says angrily. "How can I be out of petrol so soon? Get out of here, you bevda, you don't know what you're talking about!"

Remember that Blue Shirt is performing solo. He leaps from role to role, switching expression and demeanour swiftly. We chuckle some more. This guy is really good.

The drunk tries telling the scooterist a third time, to no avail. Shrugging intoxicated shoulders, he turns and meanders on tunelessly. The scooterist kicks on, bending to examine his scooter for problems. Eventually, because he's out of ideas, he sneaks a peek in the tank. Hello, what's this? The drunk was right! There's nothing in here! "Hey, come back here!" he shouts in fury at the disappearing drunk. Flags down a passing cop and complains that someone has stolen his petrol, "... and I filled up the tank just this morning!" He points. "It was probably that drunk fellow", he says, the wino now staggering back to meet them, "because how did he know the petrol was gone?"

"How did you know the tank was empty, eh? Tell me or I'll wallop you!" says the cop to the wino. (Blue Shirt is now playing three roles). In turn, the drunk merely smiles, swigs and points into the distance. "See fire? Building burning?" Points to the tank, then back into the distance at the building that's on fire. The inference is obvious: someone used the petrol to set the building alight. Hardly mollified, the cop shouts some more: "I'm going to take you with me! You live somewhere here? Where? You have family?"

Smile still plastered on his face, still tottering about, the drunk pats his pocket. "In here", he says. "Home, family, all in here."

The cop swears. "Stop playing the fool! What do you mean, in there?"

Drunk reaches into his pocket and pulls out a fistful of something. "Building burning, remember?" Points. Opens his palm. It's powder of some kind. Ash? You wonder ... and suddenly you're getting the thrust of this.

Never losing the smile, the drunk points at one part of his palm. "My home ..." he says, trailing off for a second. Still smiling, though the smile's now starting to look ghastly. Points elsewhere on his palm. "My wife. Two kids, here and here."

Saunters off. The policeman, and the scooterist, and all of us watching, are speechless.

"Tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tara, todo na dil hamara." Not so light-hearted after all.


Suhail said...

what a sad yet wow-y story..and your narrative felt just right.

Anurag said...

I have nothing to say though there are so many thoughts in my mind right now... wonderful post.

ak said...

I think you'd written this in 'Refractive Index' (Humanscape). Please add the last paragraph. Though the piece is complete without it, it gives the readers something more than just that man's solo performance and improves the piece

Anonymous said...

i saw Johnny Lever do this same act once. very good too.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Anirudh, you're right, I had written this for Humanscape. I'm just mulling over that last para still, not sure if I should have it here. If I decide to add it, I will put it in as an update to the piece.

R. said...

I've come back to this post 5-6 times today. All I do is shake my head and clear my throat, seems to be something caught there each time..