" Chacko , where do old birds go to die ? why don't dead ones fall like stones from the sky ? " -The God of Small Things
In continuation of – monkey-man
Like every two out of three dogs in the northern half of India , he was named Tommy. Even the ones who didn’t know it called him by the same, on account of the fair chances of such being the case. We’d gotten our hands on him when his erstwhile owner had moved to another city and left him with us. He’d been a puppy then.
By this time, we were so much educated as to understand that swallowing lemon seeds and chewing gum doesn’t make you sprout lemon shrubs and chewing gum trees from your belly, as the March Hare had often threatened me.
These were one of the days before the night I turned home with asphalt in my pockets.
9 : Clover and Asphalt
We had decided to bring Daadi along for a few months to live with us , and that was a bliss, until she went back. The March Hare, to the family’s disgrace, hadn’t yet gotten over the habit of wetting his bed , though not very frequently. One winter night , as he dreamt about something cold, he saw the toilet door before him , in his dream, tore open the bedsheet , and peed , right there.
Television was quite an old fantasy those days, however a Cable connected television set was something kids loved. We bought a television set named ‘L.G.’ and all the kids thronged at our home to watch the show with weird animals called Pokemons. The Pokemons all were masters of a certain supernatural power each. It was such a rage then, that kids collected Pokemon cards, merchandise, tazos and playing cards.
They herded in the room like a caravan on a pilgrimage. Undeterred, unblinking, resting their bums on anything that had the potential of serving as a couch.
The day they handed Tommy over to us , I decided he was my best friend, and thought of him, too, as a Pokemon. Within days he grew up to become a fierce animal. On every lane , every street, inside every garden, behind every cycle stand, there were puppies who called him ‘dad’. Everyone feared him , such was our watchman.
Bitches wanted him, and dogs wanted to be him.
With the passage of time, he became increasingly snot-nosed , refusing to eat rotis that didn’t have a two-millimetre thick layer of ghee.
The father, who had lost half of the smallest finger on his right foot once long ago while trying to placate rioting cows and buffaloes in a cowshed on a rainy night leaving him with ten fingers but just nine nails, took us for walks sometimes after dinner, when the power would be gone . We went along , like Daedalus and Icarus(es) , watching the melange of constellations , the dotted animals that lay hidden amidst them and asked him ,” why does the moon never cease in his pursuit of us?” , and he would reply, “it is ubiquitous in the night sky , and makes all feel as if the moon were following them”.
It was the distaste towards these answers that never allowed me to ask the more intellectually sound questions like ” how do those insects there get inside the casing of the street lamps?”. I preferred the opinion of the March Hare who would tell me all kinds of stories and I would suavely nod my head to all the crap he would feed me.
I made a friend, living close-by , called Krishna, the blue Hindu god playing a flute. We ran to each other every evening at four and hugged like prisoners of war. Then he took me along to the new-found adventures of ‘his realm’ , which were collecting metallic mud from the ground with a magnet, and digging caves inside the damp sand , mud and gravel mound until our hands met each other. He was the one who introduced me to the new and cheap delight called ‘khatta-meetha’.
It was a patch of clover , five bushels sweet and four bushels sour , growing near a pothole lid behind a room in the corner of the playground. We munched on it like cows, whenever near the room (though we never dared to enter).
“Tell no one “, he said . “Resources are scarce, stock is limited, and walls too, have ears”.
We visited the patch every evening, munching on the sweet-sour clover , until one day when the road rollers arrived.
The road roller was a thing for the eyes to feast on, much so because most of us had seen such a vehicle for the first time. Along the road roller came metal drums full of asphalt.The asphalt was molten in a furnace, poured over the old road, and then rolled over with the roller.
At night, when the men went away , we sneaked with our posse near the asphalt drums, and plundered handfuls of asphalt to make balls with. The balls were used as footballs, for cricket, badminton and as snowballs too.
It was on one such night , that I grabbed asphalt in both my hands and filled it into the pockets of my red knickers and went home with the loot. The next morning, when the mother found out while washing the knickers, she gave me a thrashing sound enough to bring a shaman to his senses.
All this while , the cane wielding tutor came to our house every evening, to wreak havoc on the March Hare and I peeped through the curtains tentatively nagging the parents to let me take the classes. One fine evening, they told me I had to take classes and though I whined profusely, they dragged me to the room and thereafter , evenings became a shade less brighter, the chirping of the birds; a note less merrier. We tried in vain to break the boomerang shaped cane . The punishment he chose for me was – placing a pencil between my fingers and pressing them , until I cried out with pain.
The road rollers went away in time, and the sticky asphalt-smeared pebbles kept sticking under our shoes for weeks until they were well trodden over with tyres and shoes.
Images : giphy and google
read further – a field of poppies
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