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In this sensitive portrayal of human nature, Anita Desai, one of India's Stimulating and thought provoking, In Custody is a brilliant parable. Touching and wonderfully funny, In Custody is woven around the yearnings and calamities of a small-town scholar in the north of India. download the eBook In Custody by Anita Desai online from Australia's leading online eBook store. Download eBooks from Booktopia today.
Not only was he the son of a wealthy Kashmiri carpet dealer in Delhi - although he claimed to have been disowned by him he still lived in his housebut he was also the editor of the magazine he had persuaded his father to download for him, and of which he liked to say he had made a great success.
It was true that he had never paid Deven for the book reviews he had printed in an issue six months ago or for the poem he had accepted and was to publish in the next one. Perhaps he had forgotten. Perhaps he had come to Mirpore to pay him. Suddenly and savagely Deven wiped out whatever he had written on the blackboard along with this foolishly sanguine idea, and turned to face the class that had been gathering behind his back with much scraping of chairs and shouting across desks.
It was not wise to allow himself such indulgence in fantasies of sudden wealth, unexpected cheques, acceptance in the literary circles of the metropolis, so enticingly close. Childish, he snapped at himself with a small jarring sound of his teeth that some of the students closer to him seemed to hear for they looked up at him inquiringly. He was too old now, he went on scolding himself obsessively, and had had too bitter an experience of life to set any value upon such puerile fantasies.
Withered as the last leaf upon the tree, Shaken by the chill blast of winter, he murmured to himself for he was much given to reciting poetry aloud, a habit he had been told his schoolteacher father had also had and which he therefore felt entitled to inherit.
He became aware of their curious waiting faces at last and squared his shoulders to meet their looks. The expression he saw of boredom, amusement, insolence and defiancemade him look away quickly and focus his eyes upon the door at the far end of the room, the door that opened on to the passage, freedom, and release.
He had for years been practising this trick of ignoring his class arid speaking to himself, or someone outside, invisible. That was what made him a boring teacher who could not command the attention, let alone win the regard, of his unruly class. Last time I asked you to read as much as you could find of Sumitra Nandan Pants poetry, he began, pitching his voice too high in order to make it carry to that invisible student outside the door, the ideal one.
Now it cracked. This is not the capital, after all, it is only a village. I must take care not to visit your village again. Oh, it is not so bad, Deven protested. Try this radish, he coaxed.
We have good fresh vegetables here at least. Raw radishthe food of cows, and pigs, groaned Murad, but took it all the same and appeared to eat it with relish, making loud crunching sounds.
Fortunately the small restaurant in the bazaar was packed with lunch-hour crowds and what with all the talk, the roars of laughter, the loud sounds of eating and the clatter of tin dishes and ladles and spoons, Deven was not afraid of his friends derogatory remarks about the cuisine being overheard. It was true that this was not a very good place to eat; being next to the bus depot it catered chiefly to bus drivers and passengers in a hurry which made the service hurried and slapdash.
He gazed into the mirror that hung behind Murads head and watched the customers move in and out of the roses and vines engraved along its edges while Murad finished the plate of raw radishes.
To his surprise, Murad seemed to be aware of the message he was trying to convey to him silently. Helping himself to the potato curry and bread, he grumbled, It is too bad how badly our lecturers are paid. Deven nodded and nodded with great vehemence, quite overcome by his friends unexpected sensitivity to his situation and by his compassion.
It was rarely that one heard such sentiments from any but similarly hard-up colleagues. Helping himself to the last spoonful of curry in the bowlthe helpings were very small, he noted regretfully - he sighed and said, Yes my friend, now you have seen how hard it is to survive in this position.
If I knew a way to change my situation, I would do it but -what is there to do? Then an idea struck him as sharply as a slap on the head. The boldness ofit quite embarrassed him but it was the end of the month after all, and the bill for this meal would clear out his pocket and leave him with nothing for tea or cigarettes for the rest of the week. The desperation of his circumstances made him say something he never would have otherwise. All through his childhood and youth he had known only one way to deal with life and that was to lie low and remain invisible.
Now he leaned forward on his elbows and said emotionally, If only we got payment for the articles and reviews that we write for magazines and journals, that would be of some help. But now Murad was no longer being sensitive or compassionate. He was feeling inside his mouth with a finger for something that had made his face darken and frown with anger. Extracting it, he placed it on the edge of his plate and glared. Had he heard Deven at all?
Raising his head, he glowered at Deven as if it was he who had placed the stone in the bread for him to bite. Nearly lost a gold cap, he said furiously. Everybody thinks it an easy thing to bring out a magazine, he went on.
Nobody knows of the cost involved. Every month there is a crisis - the printing press refusing to print unless past bills are cleared, the distributor refusing to pay for last months supplies of copies, the telephone bill, the postage Such expenses.
What can you know about it? Worries, worries, worries. And where are the readers? Where are the subscriptions? Who reads Urdu any more? Murad, your magazine must be kept alive for the sake of those who do still read it, Deven said fervently. That is what I am doing, Murad glared at him. Now I am planning a special issue on Urdu poetry.
Someone has to keep alive the glorious tradition of Urdu literature. If we do not do it, at whatever cost, how will it survive in this era of - that vegetarian monster, Hindi? He pronounced the last word with such disgust that it made Deven shrink back and shrivel in his chair, for Hindi was what he taught at the college and for which he was therefore responsible to some degree.
That language of peasants, Murad sneered, picking his teeth with a matchstick. The language that is raised on radishes and potatoes, he laughed rudely, pushing aside the empty plates on the table. Yet, like these vegetables, it flourishes, while Urdu - language of the court in days of royalty -now languishes in the back lanes and gutters of the city.
No palace for it to live in the style to which it is accustomed, no emperors and nawabs to act as its patrons. Only poor I, in my dingy office, trying to bring out a magazine where it may be kept alive. That is what I am doing, see? He threw another proud and angry look at Deven and spat out a small piece of chewed matchstick in his direction.
I know, I know, Murad, Deven sighed. How happy I would be to join you on the staff, work for you, for the journal. But I cant give up my job here. I had to take it when it was offered. I was married, Sarla was expecting, you know How could I know, Murad said.
Am I supposed to be responsible for that?
He laughed crudely. Deven pretended not to hear. He went on trying to win Murads sympathy. I could not have supported even myself by writing in Urdu, let alone Sarla and a child. I can write Urdu now only as my hobby. Can you serve a language by taking it up only as your hobby?
Doesnt it deserve more? Doesnt it deserve a lifetimes dedication - like mine? Deven lifted both hands in the air with a helpless gesture of accepting all Murad had to say, accepting and admitting defeat. Then Murad unexpectedly barked at him, So, what about sending me something for my special number on Urdu poetry, hunh? Devens hands fluttered on to his knees as he melted at the suggestion and felt a glow creep through him at the thought of writing something in the language which had been his first language when he was a child in the half-forgotten, unsubstantial city of childhood, and which was still his first love.
The glow was also caused by pride, of course, at being asked to contribute a piece by the editor of what he took to be a leading Urdu journal. That was what Murad had assured him it was and he was happy to believe it.
Will you print my poems if I send them to youthe remaining ones in the sequence? Who wants to read your poems? Murad said at once, abruptly. I have enough poems for the issue already. As soon as I sent out the circular announcing it, contributions started pouring in.
Poems, poems, poems. Everybody writes them, I tell you, he complained, plucking at his hair in mock distress. I had to stop them. I had to pick and choose. Only the best, I said. Firaq, Faiz, Ran, Nur Nur? He has sent you some poems? Murad looked evasive and shrugged. Poor man, he is very old and ill. I have said I will only publish new work, not excerpts from old collections, and he has written nothing new.
He is finished. But no special issue on Urdu poetry would be com-pete if it did not have some verse by Nur, exclaimed Deven, scandalized. Old, new, it doesnt matteryou must have Nur. Of course I must have Nur, responded Murad, looking suddenly smug. Nur will be the star of the issue. The light that blazes in the centre and sends its rays to all corners of the world where his verse is known - in Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Russia, Sweden - do you know, we have sent his name to the Nobel Prize Committee for its award for literature once again?
Deven nodded. They did this every year, he knew. He himself was convinced that one day the response would come from Stockholm, and shake the literary world of India to its foundations.
He felt it beginning to shake already, under his feet. The two oclock bus from Morad-abad roared by. When it had passed and he could make himself heard, he asked, So you will print some of the old poems after all?
The great Rose poems, or the Winter ones? You knowand he made ready to declaim his favourite lines, the ones that contained all the enchantment and romance he had ever experienced in his life. But Murad cut him short by leaning forward on his elbows and speaking almost into his ear.
No, I wont, Deven. I dont print stale old stuff in my journal. Even if I have to wait two, three, four months before I get all the material I want, I get it - then I print. I want a full feature on NurNur in his old age, the dying Nur before he is gone, like a comet into the dark. I want you to do that feature.
It was the comet he was seeing, swift and pale in the dark like a bird of the night. You go and see Nur, Murad continued. You know his work welloh, as well as anyone, I suppose.
You wrote a book about him once, didnt you? A monograph, yes. Will you publish it? Deven asked breathlessly, thinking that when a comet appeared all kinds of strange happenings might occur.
For a moment he became confused and thought it was not Nur who was the comet but Murad who had come from Delhi to visit him, to show him a light: he was willing to believe anything.
But Murad snapped crossly, No, I wont. Of course not.
I dont want to become bankrupt. I want to bring out my journal. That is what Im talking about, idiot. Try and listen. Be serious. I want you to track him down in his house in Chandni Chowk Oh, they say he does not like visitors, Deven said quickly.
The comet was something to be feared, he just remembered, it was a bad omen, not lucky. He could not have said why but he was frightened. Look, will you do this feature for me or not?
Ofcourse I will, Murad. He became meek. He hung his head, looking at his fingers clutching the edge of the table. On each fingernail a pale cuticle loomed bleakly. Then do as I say. Find him. Go to him and interview him.
Discuss the Urdu scene with him. Ask him for his new work. He must have some, dammit, and I want it. I need it for the special issue, see? Chapter 2 The bus soon left Mirpore behind. It came as a slight shock to Deven that one could so easily and quickly free oneself from what had come to seem to him not only the entire world since he had no existence outside it, but often a cruel trap, or prison, as well, an indestructible prison from which there was no escape.
Although it lacked history, the town had probably existed for centuries in its most basic, most elemental form.
Those shacks of tin and rags, however precarious and impermanent they looked, must have existed always, repetitively and in succeeding generations, but never fundamentally changing and in that sense enduring.
The roads that ran between their crooked rows had been periodically laid with tar but the dust beneath was always present, always perceptible. In fact, it managed to escape from under the asphalt and to rise and spread through the town, summer and winter, a constant presence, thick enough to be seen and felt. During the monsoon, always brief and disappointing on this northern plain more than a thousand miles from the coast, it turned to mud. But the sun came out again very soon and dried it to its usual grey and granular form.
The citizens of Mirpore, petty tradesmen rather than agriculturists, could not be blamed for fading to understand those patriotic songs and slogans about the soil, the earth. To them it was so palpably dust. History had scattered a few marks and imprints here and there but no one in Mirpore thought much of them and certainly gave them no honour in the form of special signs, space or protection. The small mosque of marble and pink sandstone that had been built by a nawab who had fled from the retaliatory action of the British in Delhi after the mutiny of and wished to commemorate his safe escape to this obscure and thankfully forgotten town, and also to raise a memorial to the grace of God who, he believed, had made it possible, was now so overgrown by the shacks, signboards, stalls, booths, rags, banners, debris and homeless poor of the bazaars that it would have been difficult for anyone to discern it beneath this multi-layered covering.
Its white marble facings had turned grey and pock-marked through urban pollution, the black marble inlay had either fallen out or been picked out by sharp instruments held in idle hands, the red sandstone of the dome had turned to the colour of filth from the smoke of open fires, the excreta of pigeons, and the ubiquitous dust of Mirpore. It was by no means forgotten, it was still used, five times a day the priest gave the call to the faithful, and many men came in, washed in the shallow pool and knelt and prayed in the small courtyard amongst the brooms and cooking fires, but not one of them thought of it as an historical landmark or remembered the man who had built it or his reasons for doing so.
The temples were more numerous but had no history at all. There was literally not a man in Mirpore who could have told one when they were built or by whom. If one inquired, one might be told that a bright pink and white concrete structure with a newly-painted clay idol and fluorescent tubes for lights was five hundred years old; not Strictly true of course but when one considered that its site might have been used for prayer that long, it was not all that false either.
The temples had the same kind of antiquity that the shacks of the poor had, and the stalls of the traders - they were often wrecked, rebuilt and replaced, but their essential form remained the same. There were also small stone shrines, mere apertures in walls, or half-smothered by the roots of rapacious banyan trees, that might have been truly old, but although some might have been able to provide them with legends, none could supply them with a history. The fact was that no one knew the difference.
Lacking a river, the town had an artificial tank in which people bathed and from which they fetched water although there was no water to be seen in it, only a covering layer of bright green scum on which bits of paper, rags and flowers rested as on a solid surface. There were wells, too, in which the water was even more successfully concealed.
Mirpore spared no effort to give an impression of total aridity. Lately a canal had been dug to water the fields of an agricultural college but it was dug behind the houses that lay on the outskirts, hidden by their walls, and few town dwellers knew of its existence. Their lives were lived almost entirely within the bazaars that joinedand separated - the different religious shrines. Naturally the area around the mosque was considered the Muslim area, and the rest Hindu.
This was not stricdy so and there were certainly no boundaries or demarcations, yet there were differences between them that were not apparent to the eye but known and observed by everyone, so that pigs were generally kept out ofthe vicinity of the mosque and cows never slaughtered near a temple. Once a year, during the Mohurram procession of tazias through the city, police sprang up everywhere with batons, sweating with a sense ofrespon-sibility and heightened tension, intent on keeping the processions away from the temples and from hordes of homeless cows or from groups of gaily coloured citizens who unfortunately often celebrated Holi with packets of powdered colours and buckets of coloured water on the same day as that of the ritual mourning.
If these clashed, as happened from time to time, knives flashed, batons flailed and blood ran. For a while tension was high, the newspapersboth in Hindi and Urduwere tilled with guarded reports and fulsome editorials on Indias secularity while overnight news-sheets appeared with less guarded reports laced with threats and accusations. Then the dust of Mirpore rose and swirled and buried everything in sight again; the citizens of Mirpore returned to their daily struggle to breathe.
The Hindus slaughtered pigs in their own quarter, the Muslims took to slaughtering buffaloes in place of cows, realizing that the latter would have been tantamount to suicide. The few Christians of the town ate the meat of both and attended the one small whitewashed brick church set in a cemetery shaded by dusty neetn trees. But where was the centre of this formless, shapeless town on the plain that had not even a river or a hill to give it any reason for its existence? Was it the main bazaar, skirted by mosque, temples, stores, shops and cinema houses, or was it the shabby municipal park where concrete benches stood in a circle around an empty fountain painted blue - again, Mirpore s addiction to total dehydrationand broken bricks edged flowerbeds that contained empty tins and paper bags but no flowers?
Here, through parched hedges of oleander and the yellowed foliage of neetn trees, the bungalows of some of the town functionaries, such as the sub-divisional officer and the superintendent of police could be seen, as well as the Public Works Departments rest house, the college where Deven taught, and some of the schools.
Except for the latter, none had ever visited Mirpore but their fame and the power of their images had not left the town unimpressed, for Mirpore was isolated but not cut off from the world, as Deven had come to believe.
It had its railway station, after all, at one end of the bazaar, and the bus depot at the other, and the constant comings and goings of trains and buses gave it an air ofbeing a halting place in a long journey, a caravanserai of a kind. People went up to Delhi to consult doctors in the big hospitals there, present petitions to various government departments, appear in the courts, sell goods or else take delivery of them.
Others merely passed through, peering out of smeared train windows and wondering how much longer it would take to Delhi, or reaching out to download oranges, lengths of sugar cane, dry grant or the particular sweet for which. Mirpore was known. This latter consisted of a shiny yellow stuff that was shaped into balls on which flies crawled as if in animated illustration of the laws of gravity.
Then they would move on, unreluctantly. This had the effect of making Mirpore seem in a state of perpetual motion.
There was really more of busde than doldrums and it was often deafening. Yet the busde was strangely unproductivethe yellow sweets were amongst the very few things that were actually manufactured here; there was no construction to speak of, except the daily one of repairing; no growth except in numbers, no making permanent what had remained through the centuries so stubbornly temporary - and it was other cities, other places that saw the fruits of all the busde, leaving the debris and the litter behind for Mirpore.
Its solidity, its stubbornness had formed a trap, Deven felt, and yet it was so easy to leave it behind. No sooner had he got into the bus that waited at the depot between the grain and vegetable markets, than it started off with a snarl and jerked its way over the railway crossing, edging out of the way a herd of sluggish buffaloes, a bullock cart loaded with sugar cane and several bicycles, every one of which seemed to carry not only a bicyclist and a milk can but also an aged mother on the carrier seat, and then rumbled past the graffiti-scarred yellow walls of the Lala Ram Lai College, its dust field and barbed wire fencing, past the red brick walls of the Swami Dayanand Veterinary and Agricultural College which seemed to have no human population but was set in surprisingly lush grounds of green, waving grain and bougainvillaeas that ran rampant along the boundary fence, several outhouses full of mud and dung and domestic beasts, and then it was out in the countryside.
Of course the stretch of land between Mirpore and the capital was so short that there was no really rural scenerymost of the fields looked withered and desolate, and tin smokestacks exhaling enormous quantities of very black and foul-smelling smoke, sugar-cane crushing works, cement factories, brick kilns, motor repair workshops and the attendant teashops and bus-stops were strung along the highway on both sides, overtaking what might once have been a pleasant agricultural aspect and obliterating it with all the litter and paraphernalia and effluent of industry: concrete, zinc, smoke, pollutants, decay and destruction from which emerged, reportedly, progress and prosperity.
There were many huge signboards proclaiming this hard-to-believe message, with pictures of small, smiling families and big tractors and tyres.
Deven was determined, however, to enjoy it purely for its novelty. As a student he had known the countryside only as a background for an occasional picnic with his friends: they had gone out into it on their bicycles, bought sugar cane from some surly farmer and sat in the shade of a ruined monument to chew it and sing songs from the latest cinema show and talk lewdly of cinema actresses.
That countryside had had no more connection with the landscape celebrated in the poetry he read than the present one. Then, after he graduated and married and came to Mirpore to teach, it became for him the impassable desert that lay between him and the capital with its lost treasures offriendships, entertainment, attractions and opportunities. It turned into that strip of no-mans land that lies around a prison, threatening in its desolation.
Now he peered at it through a glass pane Aimed with dust and gave an apprehensive shiver, just as a released prisoner might. This made his pale green nylon shirt crackle with latent electricity, reminding him how it had arrived, with his wife, after her last visit to her parents home in Haldwani, an ingratiating present to their sullen son-in-law who had to be placated and kept contented if their daughter was not to suffer from ill treatment.
He had tossed it on to the floor in an obligatory fit oftemper - the meek are not always mildsaying the colour was one he detested, that the buttons did not match, that the size was too largehow could they have chosen such a cheap garment for their son-in-law? Did they think him worth no more than this? Sarla had picked it up, folded it silently and put it away in a shoe-boxfor malice is often mute. This morning he had ordered her to take it out for him to wear on his trip to Delhi.
He had tried to ignore her smirk as she shook it out and laid it across his bed. Now he fingered the buttons he had said did not match and stared through the streaked and stained windowpane at a grove of neetn trees outside, an occasional Persian wheel and slow, dragging buffaloes, and tried to convince himself that he was actually on his way to Delhi to see a poet, his hero, and talk to him. Nothing in his life had prepared him for an occasion of this scale.
Neither the bus drive nor the nylon shirt helped. His large, turbanned neighbour, noticing his occasional tremors of apprehension, offered him some peanuts in a paper bag, asking at the same time, Going to Delhi?
Deven refused the peanuts but had to admit to the latter since the bus went nowhere but to Delhi where it turned around and brought back another load of passengers to Mirpore. I am also going, his neighbour confided with some pride, spreading out his thighs in an expansive gesture. My nephews first birthday. His mother said come, you must come, it is the first birthday. So I closed down my shop for the day, gave up a days earnings to go. You know what sort of people we are, he put his hand on his shirt pocket, pressing it with spread fingers.
When it is a choice between head and heart, we always choose heart, na? Not much head after all, he guffawed and crunched down upon a peanut shell, cracking it open. He was about to give a full account of his business when the bus swerved suddenly and wildly to avoid a stray dog slouching across the road, struck it on its hindquarters, sent it rolling and howling into the roadside ditch and plunged on through a bank of yellow dust, leaving the occupants choking, coughing and crying out in protest, anger, warning and commiseration.
It made Deven give another, more violent shiver. Again the nylon shirt responded with an electric crackle, as if it were an embodiment of Sarlas malice and mockery. His fear and loathing of acts of violence and pain were overcome by irritation. It was sadly disappointing to him that he was not travelling up to Delhi on this important occasion in a style more suited to a literary man, a literary event.
He had never found a way to reconcile the meanness of his physical existence with the purity and immensity of his literary yearnings. The latter were constantly assaulted and wrecked by the former as now in the form ofthe agonized dog, thejolting bus, the peanut-crunching neighbour, the little tin box in which Sarla had packed his lunch and which he kept wrapped in a newspaper, the smallness ofthe sum of money he carried in his pocket: all these indignities and impediments.
How, out of such base material, was he to wrest a meeting with a great poet, some kind of dialogue with him, some means of ensuring that this rare opportunity would not also turn to dust, spilt blood and lament? He turned and peered out ofthe window to see if the dog lay on the road, broken, bleeding, or dead. He saw a flock of crows alight on the yellow grass that grew beside the ditch, their wings flickering across the view like agitated eyelashes.
Was it an omen? Fortunate for the dog if it is, said his neighbour philosophically, and drew a deep breath that made the mucus gurgle in his large nostrils. It might have been done in sorrow, or in satisfaction; it was hard to tell from his impassive expression.
Birth and death, and only suffering in between, he added, quite cheerfully. This seemed to have no relation to what he had told Deven previously of his life. When God calls us away, he went on, it is a blessing. The lack of connection between the mans thought and speech made a break in Deven S own line of thought. He surprised himself by suddenly quoting aloud some lines of Nurs that rose in his mind, the ones about the first white hair on a mans head appearing like a white flower out of a grave.
Having recalled these lines, he went on: Life is no more than a funeral procession winding towards the grave, Its small joys the flowers of funeral wreaths Sdence followed this quotation while the bus bumped loudly and ground and overtook a bullock cart and a lorry while the two men, sitting uneasily side by side, tried to adjust themselves to the exacting presence of poetry between them. Ha, that is wonderful, said the turbanned man, slowly shaking his head as if it had received a blow.
You are a poet, he added respectfully, turning to look at Deven with open curiosity. He had a cast in one eye that made him look as if he knew something that Deven didnt, and that put Deven on the defensive.
No, no, he muttered, only aa teacher. Hunching his shoulders, he relapsed into his usual anxious and sullen persona.
This information appeared to make his neighbour dis-tincdy uneasy. His large, heavy buttocks shifted away from Devens meagre shanks. He neither spoke to Deven again nor offered him any more peanuts. Instead, he turned his garrulous attention to the man across the aisle from him who had a milk can wedged between his feet, a dusty turban wound round his head, a green eye-patch covering one eye, and with whom he fell to discussing the rising prices, the increase in lawlessness and the last harvest.
Excluded, Deven stared out at the white dust and the yellow weeds, the leafless thorn trees, the broken fences, isolated tin and brick shacks and the scattered carcasses of cattle that Uttered the landscape and yet rendered it more bleak and more bare under the empty sky. His chin sank low as he wondered what had made him set out this morning with such confidence and excitement. Now he was convinced that Murad had not meant any of what he had said, that he would let him down as so often before and that he would not meet the illustrious poet after all.
How could he, insignificant and gullible nobody that he was? And if he did, if somehow such a miracle did come about merely to prove him wrong once again, then what could he possibly say to him? Why had he not been content to recite his verse, draw solace from it and impress others with the source of his solace? What madness had drawn him out to undertake this journey into what could only be disaster? He hung around the Inter-State Bus Terminal on Ring Road for a long time, not daring to enter the city walls and search out Murads office in Kashmere Gate and so set in motion the events of the day to which he knew he would not measure up.
What vainglory to have accepted Murads challenge, to have agreed to a task for which he was not qualified, for which he had neither the experience nor the confidence. He realized that he and Murad were no more than a pair of undeveloped, clownish students who could not hope to pass the examination of life.
Clowns: that was how Nur would see them when they impudently burst upon him, uninvited, self-invited, and put to him their presumptuous questions and requests. This reminded him - he clutched at his pocket - was the questionnaire still there?
The questionnaire he had been working on night after night ever since Murads visit? Yes, he could feel the wad of papers under his fingers, consoling in their number and solidity. He was a scholar after all, and a lover of poetry. There was that. Sighing, he drew out a cigarette from between its folds and went towards a teashop to light it at the smouldering length of rope that hung from one of the doorposts precisely for this purpose. Seeing him there, the teashop owner called, Come in, come in.
Dont stand outside. You need a cup of tea after your long journey, my son, and although Deven had resolved to spend nothing Oil extras, to keep to only the most essential expenditure, he was led by the teashop owners suggestion just as helplessly as he had been led by Murads, and he shambled in to sit down on a wooden bench along the wall and accept a glass of sweet, milky tea: he did, after all, need something to see him through the most momentous day of his adult life.
Certainly he had never felt more inadequate and the measure of his inadequacy must be in proportion to the importance of the task that had been set him. By whom? By Murad of the betel-stained teeth, the toothbrush moustache, the fiddling, shifty, untrustworthy ways? He saw the hand of God as clearly as if it were the shaft of dust-laden light filtering through a hole in the corrugated iron roof of the teashop and striking the handle of a ladle with which the owner was stirring a great pan of steaming milk upon a small charcoal fire.
When he had drunk to the bottom of the glass, he saw a dead fly floating in the dregs of his tea. The gasp he gave was only pardy of horror at the teashop owners filthiness and the wretched standards of hygiene in his shop.
Or even from a fear of typhoid and cholera. It was the revelation that all the omens of the day had come together and met at the bottom of the glass he held between his fingers. In it lay the struck dog, the triumphant crows, the dead fly - death itself, nothing less.
Coming together in the separate prisms of the flys eye, drowned but glittering in the tea, it stared back at him without blinking.
Putting down the glass, he got up and crept out of its way quiedy while the teashop owner shouted jovially at the passengers who were tumbling out of the next bus: Come this way, friends, come this way. Here you will find pakoras fried in purest oil, sweets made of purest milk, and the tea with most sugar.
This way, friends, this way! Murad came charging down the steep wooden staircase to meet him on the pavement outside the drycleaners shop where Deven was still studying the clutter of signboards above the door, saying, Snowflake Dyers and Cleaners, K. Murad arrived at his side, gasping for breath: it seemed he had either been watching for Deven from an upstairs window or had posted someone else to do so. But who else would have recognized him in this city?
He had not returned to it since he left after his graduation when, one might have said, the dew was still fresh on him, while now he was, or at any rate felt, withered and grey. Murad stood breathing hard, holding on to the doorpost on either side of him. Did he not want Deven to see his office, evaluate the degree of the success or failure of the journal and ascertain if Murad really was in a position to commission poets and scholars to write for him?
Deven had to have verification. He said testily, What is all this hurry? Ofcourse theres a hurry, Murad gasped. Didnt I tell youthe appointment is for three oclock? Theres just time to go and have lunch. Ive had my lunch, Deven said loudly and positively: he was not going to be taken in by Murad again, so soon after the last time. Lydia Laube. The Moon in the Water.
Ameena Hussein. River of Flesh and Other Stories. Ruchira Gupta. The white shadow. Saneh Sangsuk. Khushwant Singh. Near Death in the Desert. Cecil Kuhne. As I Was Passing. Adibah Amin. Diti Sen. Chetan Singh. The One That Got Away. Syeda Anese Majid Khan. Khalil's Journey. Ashraf Kagee. The Atheist. Diana Darling. Tabish Khair. Singapore Dream and Other Adventures. Hermann Hesse. Sunshine Mist and the Rainbow. Rita S Varma. Distant Traveller. Attia Hosain.
Pakistani Women Writers.
Yasmin Hameed. The Death of Sheherzad. Intizar Hussain. The End of Sleep. Rowan Somerville. The Waterspirit and Other Stories. Imran Hussain. The Essence of Camphor. Geeta Dharmaranjan. All the Time in the World. Hugo Williams. Songs At the River's Edge. Katy Gardner. The Story of an Education. Shambo Dey. Glimpses of Twilight. Rabina Banerjee. The River Is Indigo. Suleiman Manan.
The Vicks Mango Tree. Anees Salim. Clear Light of Day. Anita Desai. Fasting, Feasting. The Village by the Sea. The Artist of Disappearance.
Translator Translated. The Museum of Final Journeys. The Zigzag Way. How to write a great review. The review must be at least 50 characters long. The title should be at least 4 characters long. Your display name should be at least 2 characters long. At Kobo, we try to ensure that published reviews do not contain rude or profane language, spoilers, or any of our reviewer's personal information.
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