Existence
 
 
By Sarojini Sahoo
 
 

Suparna had woken up, had gone to the bathroom and had seen it from the bathroom window. It was early in the morning; there was not a streak of sunlight anywhere. Only ten or fifteen metres away from her backyard, on the slope of the road towards New Incline, stood a yellow truck of the coal company. In the middle of the road five or six men in police uniform sat on the chatrs. There was little to be curious about.

She went and lighted the stove as usual and boiled water for making tea. From the kitchen window she could see the yellow truck, the uniformed men and a few onlookers. She did not feel many more curious than when she had seen the scene from the bathroom window. She and Anuradha,, sipped tea lying on their bed and described the different empires they had each been through in the night before . Aniruddha dreamt occasionally, but Suparna everyday.

Everyday, over tea Suparna narrated her experience of this entirely different word where she met president Reagan and her father inside her house, and as soon as she stepped outside, she was out in the streets of Calcutta, where somehow the grocere shop of her little hometown also stood. As soon as the narration would hop into the routine of everyday household chores as she did today.

When she was cleaning the water-through in the courtyard, she again saw the scene of early morning the she called Aniruddha: “do you see? There is a truck standing there. Lots of policemen too.”

Aniruddha heard her perhaps, but he did not show it, nor did Suparna call him again. He went to the bathroom. Is there an accident or something?”

Suparna was washing the dishes and said: “Nah, no accident. There is a checkpoint there, isn’t there some contraband must have been seized.”

Aniruddha opened the courtyard door and exclaimed: “This is a company truck, it must have caused some accident.”

Suparna left the dishes and stood next to Aniruddha. After they had stared at the scene for sometime, she said, “Can you see it? Some fellow in blue trousers and white shirt is on his hands and knees?”

“ Where, where?” Aniruddha shifted his position as he asked.
“ There, at the rear end of the truck slightly to the right. He is there on his fours, as if doing.
Pranaam: Blue trousers, white shirt.”

Although it had happened only ten or fifteen metres away, neither Aniruddha nor Suparna found it necessary to go over tand find out what had happened. After sometime, just before they closed the door, Kaly-the-body-builder was hurrying by in his earth-coloured uniform, a small baton in his hand. Kalu was a security guard of the company. Aniruddha asked “hello body-builder! what is the matter there?”

“ There is an accident sir! Son of K.D.singh, who lives in your street. The head is completely crushed under the wheels.”

“ Oh” Aniruddha was stunned. Then he asked “When? Early in the morning?”
“ Not in the morning sir, it happened at 9 O’clock yesterday night.”
“ Nine in the night!”Aniruddha was taken aback. “What made him go there so late in the evening?”

Aniruddha had reason to be surprised. Now Incline was three or four kilometers away. There were no houses there. There is not a single house or adobe within this three or four kilometer stretch.

While walking away, Kalu-the-body-builder said: Who knows why he had gone there so late?”

Aniruddha bolted the door, looked at Suparna and said: “This must be a case of suicide.”
“You are omniscient!” she teased as she stood up from where she was washing the dishes.

A boy had died in an accident. A boy from their street. But even after they knew it, Aniruddha did not rush to have a look. Nor Suparna. As on every other day. Aniruddha went to the bathroom with a book and a pack of cigarettes. He came out after half an hour and shaved. He sat at the dining table, and wrote a couple of letters, while waiting for Suparna to bring breakfast. Suparna had prepared the breakfast with her usual love and care. She slipped a small shopping list for fish, lime and coffee into Aniruddha’s shirt pocket. Then she noticed a yellow rose from the window of her bedroom and went out to her garden, in a joyful mood.

After Aniruddha left for office, Suparna opened the courtyard door, briefly, in between her cooking every time she heard women jabbering outside, but she could not ask anything of anyone. She did not know most of the women, she hardly spoke once or twice a year to the few others she knew.

Suparna had stayed in this colony for over three year, but except for four families on her side of the street and another four families staying across the street, she knew no one else living in the rest of the thirty-two houses. Had no idea about who emerged from which house, no their names or relationship. Someone, back from a pilgrimage had left behind some prasadam for them, but Suparna did not know who he was. More than one person had come to invite them during the Puja of Lord Satyanarayana, but she did not know who was from which house.

She knew this much: most of resident in this colony were from Uttar Pradesh. Most of them were related to each other, somehow. Most of them bore the surname of Singh, and their names were Abodhraj, Tilakraj, and Vangsharaj. Rajeshwar, Rameshwar and such like. Who, among them could be K.D.Singh?

In the backside of the house, one of the sons of Kalu-the-body-builder was standing in the midst of a group of housewives. Suparna knew him because he stay across the streets in one of the four houses she was familiar with, she asked him: Aye, hart, how old was the boy?”

“ He was studying in class-IX, ma’am. You don’t know?”

Suparna moved her head to say no. Hari said: “He was in your street,” and turned away towards the road. By now the place was crowded with police jeeps, company jeeps, and cameramen. The crowd of idle onlookers had also swelled.

After her bath, Suparna came to the front verandah for her house about ten-thirty. Meanwhile, the corpse had been carried away in a police jeep of post-mortem. There was none else over there, except for the truck. However she crossed the gate and came to the road to see if there was a crowd before any particular house. But no, excepting people standing together in groups here and there on the road, there was no crowding before any particular house.

Bye and bye, these groups too disappeared, leaving the road empty. Suparna wondered; how would K.D.Singh be to look at? That thin wiry fellow with salt-and -pepper beard? Suparna decided that this gentleman’s name should not be the K.D.Singh because till now she has thought he was Abodhraj.

K.D.Singh should be that muscular man of forty or forty two years. When he walked. Only his legs moved otherwise his torso, hands, face and eyes were motionless. He never smiled. When he went to the underground mines he wore a black and white check shirt and black trousers. Helmet on his left hand and a baton on his right. On holidays he came out in a pink kurta and a super fine dhoti was K.D.Singh?

Suparna saw that almost every body in the colony was squatting on a heap of sand (heaped for construction of new houses right in front of the houses under construction). Each one of them must be between fourteen and eighteen. She knew three or four of them, knew them rather well. Sometimes Aniruddha asked them to duy cigarettes. Sometimes Suparna sent them to pluck curry leaves from their neighbor’s kitchen gardens. Other faces were familiar. She became their Aunty when they came to collect contributions for festivals. If Asian or Olympic was on, they came and made themselves comfortable before the TV as if they were part of family.

Though Suparna could not make out the number of boys over there, she could identify each one of them, distinctly, by face.

Perhaps because of this, she could immediately notice that that tall slim boy, who strolled like Amitabh Bachan, was not among them. Was he the one? Suparna peered into each of the faces. Yes, that boy was not there. Once Suparna had told him bluntly that slim boy unlatch her gate and leave it open. Was he the one, who was crushed under the yellow truck?

Suparna had returned to her bed and read a book of short stories. Meanwhile she thought: When they do the post mortem, do they mince the body? Years ago, when one of her friends had committed suicide, by jumping in to a well, they had seen only a shredded bundle of flesh after the post-mortem. It was the same when, her father’s sister died after swallowing poison.

As she returned to her storybook, Suparna thought: “What will happen to the poor driver? Will he be suspended? Would there be a chain of cases? The one who died has escaped, but the once who live would go on suffering.”

In the midst of reading a story, she thought, “The boy died on an auspicious day like Janmashtami. Even if he does not go to Paradise, he has at least died on an auspicious day. Must be a pious boy.”

Suparna left her book and came out. The road was absolutely empty. There was not even a hawker. After a while she saw a man coming fast. Was he K.D.Singh? The man came closer. Grey coloured safari suit, and a long vermillion mark. How could he wear this long vermillion mark if his son has died today? He cannot be that absurd, howsoever distraught he may be.

The man passed by Suparna still stood on the verandah, hoping to find from one of the neighbors how K.D.Singh looked.

After a while, Suparna saw the man whom she had imagined would be K.D. Singh. His legs moved, rest of his body was still. Today he was wearing a lungi and a vest Suparna waited until the man came near. No he has not gone to duty today. He had neither a helmet nor a baton. Today his gait was extremely slow. When he came near, Suparna saw that the man had a bidi on his lips, and blew smoke out of his nose. Could this man be K.D. Singh? Impossible. How can he go away smoking like this if his son has just died? Even if he is not sad, the hassles of police and post-mortem and the rituals of cremation are there. No, he is not K.D. Singh. Suparna closed the door and came inside. No, he could not be K.D. Singh.

By evening, the colony was silent, the street was desolate. It was only seven thirty in the evening, but it was dreary like midnight. Aniruddha had returned from office and was reading the newspaper near the TV. The TV was on low volume.

Suparna was lolling on the bed. It was very sultry. Insufferable heat. Perhaps the voltage was low too, because the ceiling fan’s air did not reach her body. A loneliness stalked the colony. No radio was playing aloud. Small children were not playing and shouting on the street. The gang of teenagers was also quit. They were squatting on the culvert as usual, but did not seem to talk to each other. No one was singing any film song loudly. Pedestrians appeared to rush back to their houses, suddenly worried that it was not safe to walk on the road any more.

Suparna became restless and came out. She told Aniruddha “It is very sultry, let us go out.”
Okey. Aniruddha said and stood up. But he was not.

They came to the road and walked silently for a long time. Aniruddha was the first to speak: “The whole colony looks dark and deserted.”

Suparna did not answer him. After sometime she asked: “I heard K.D. Singh would get compensation - is it?”

“ Everyone is saying that the boy had committed suicide, so how will he get compensation?”
Aniruddha said “But this fellow K.D. Singh is very mean. He will definitely tell the police that his son has not committed suicide. But the company will try to prove that this was a suicide case.”

As he walked silently she mulled over the words ‘suicide’, ‘mean’ ‘company’ and ‘case’ and was surprised to hear Aniruddha saying “Let us go back.”

How is K.D. Singh to look at? And how was the who died? Amazing! The boy lived in this colony; often he must have walked past her house. Must have roamed with the teenager gang; singing loudly. He might have been among the boys who came to collect contributions for Ganesh Puja. He might have watched TV in her drawing room, but Suparna did not know him. As if he had never existed for her.

Aniruddha returned to the house looking relieved and switched on the TV and sank into the newspaper; Suparna went back to the bedroom. She wondered how after the suicide, the boy had suddenly become intimately acquainted with her, on a single day, though he had not existed for her and Aniruddha when he was alive.

She had seen the dead body of the boy from a long distance. He was wearing something blue – was it trousers or lungi?

At noon she had seen only a yellow Leyland truck loaded with coal. There was no dead body, nor policemen nor onlookers. On the desolate street stood a solitary truck loaded with coal. Would the truck be still there? A deserted truck in the dark lonesomeness of the night?

Absent – mindedly, she tried to spot the place from her bedroom. The truck was not standing there any more, was it so? When did it move away? Suparna came out to have a better look. No the truck was not there. Where had the accident taken place? In the darkness, she couldn’t makeout.

Suparna returned. She went from the drawing room to bedroom to dining space to store to kitchen to drawing room to bedroom to kitchen. Had she lost something? What was it? The boy was alive yesterday. Today when she saw the truck, she learnt that he had committed suicide at this particular place. Now, after the truck had moved away. Even this mark of the boy had disappeared. Suparna could not understand why she was so very unhappy about it.

 
     
     
 
 
 
 
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