Friday, August 04, 2006

An Ordinary Life 8 - Azhagu

Warning: If you find this cheesy or tacky, be aware that it was meant to be. Just exploring that side of me! :)

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Even at first glance it seemed as if the man lying across the tracks was dead. The blood from his wounds was fresh, still a gush. The flies were just coming...
"Azhagu!" someone screamed. As if roused by this call, a man rose from his crouch beside the dead man on the tracks, tall, bloodied, dazed.

*** *** ***

Come to think of it, Azhagu's connection with T.Nagar was umbilical.

*** *** ***

It was poverty that drove Azhagu's parents, Venkatasamy and Dhanam, from Therambadi, a small village near Madurai. When the rains failed three years in a row, even the odd jobs on the fields vanished. Venkatasamy held on, hoping that things would change, but then, they heard that people in the next village were reduced to eating field rats. While Venkatasamy did not care much for himself or his wife, clearly this would never do for his future - his son.

So he balled up all their belongings in one tin trunk and one old saree and took his heavily-pregnant wife to the station. He intended to move to his ancestral town in Chittor district in Andhra Pradesh, where he was assured of employment, even if not the pot of gold.

*** *** ***

Riding 'unreserved' on Pandian Express, they had just been offloaded at the Mambalam station for travelling ticketless. Venkatasamy had pleaded with the ticket examiner, "My wife will have a baby anytime, saaar" he cried, pointing to Dhanam's swollen belly. The TTE thought she was faking it.

It was as they were hopping off the train onto the platform that Dhanam felt her sac break. She clutched her husband's arm and whispered, "The baby, he's coming..." before collapsing in a heap on the platform.

It was in the waiting room of the Mambalam station that Azhagu had emerged, screaming a healthy infant scream. And that is how his fortunes became irrevokably intertwined with the cobbled pavements of one Chennai Corporation zone.

*** *** ***

Azhagu grew up a strapping young boy, bronzed from a life outdoors and hard labour-carrying heavy sacks of vegetables and fruits on his shoulder in Ranganathan Street. His parents had stepped out of Mambalam Railway Station with their baby and seen a mine of opportunity in the fruit and vegetable market of T.Nagar. Andhra and the ancestors forgotten, they joined numerous squatters in rented hovels adjoining the railway tracks.

Which meant Azhagu was never very far from the place where he was born, Mambalam Railway Station, and strange as it might seem to some, he believed he was deriving essential life energy from the place where he was born. Every breath he took seemed to be elevating him, physically or socially, in the hierarchy of the market.
And so he grew, in height and stature, building vegetable empires in one narrow cobbled street, yet so expansive, any seed sowed on its compost bed would prosper.


*** *** ***

Which is why multiple empires could exist at the same time. And much enmity, in one street.

Azhagu's fiefdom and power was only compromised by Silamban's authority on the other half of the street. And their rivalries were not recent - it seemed they were natural adversaries. Fueled by the intensity of adolescence, the petty skirmishes that dominated their childhood turned mere enmity into evil, a battle on the streets, as the boys turned into men.

As the sun descended behind the tracks, and darkness crept in, the two groups would fight it out, their struggles a dim halogen silhouette against the walls and pavements of the street. The urchins, lying on the pavements, would scramble out of the way, clutching their gunny rags to their chest, afraid.

The morning, nevertheless, would bear the signs of their battle. Vendors would sweep aside the torn clothes, shards of broken glass and pour buckets of water on the dried blood before they'd set the incense sticks on one banana fruit. And as they settled down, they would bet surreptitously on the winners of the night and set wagers on future battles, on the count of broken limbs and bloodied noses, strangely enough, never murder.

Not until it happened, of course.

*** *** ***

In retrospect, it is still not clear why things went the way they did. There was only a rash of a rumour later, when Silamban's body had been picked up from the tracks. Possibly a midnight tryst had gone wrong, an extra hard blow, a flippant swing of the aruval, a head that was not meant to be where it was... It certainly brought things to a head and if one were to believe the onlookers, one of them would have had to go. Azhagu or Silamban.

The two seemed to be evenly matched, in power, strength, weapons and fatigue. The fight raged on, well past the darkness into the faint weep of the morning. It turned out at the end to Azhagu's advantage that he believed he was invincible as long as he was fighting along the tracks.

*** *** ***

Casting one final look at Silamban lying face down on the stones beside the track, Azhagu staggered out on to the platform, shrugging off hands, triumphant, joyous, that scrambled to help him up. His shirt and lungi absorbed the blood dripping from his forehead and then let the droplets fall in slow motion on to the pavement, forming a haphazard pattern on the concrete. Azhagu wipes blood off his eyelid and looks through the haze… he can see his mother run towards him, tearing her hair, beating her hands against her breast, her wailing reaching his ears. And then, smiling faintly, he collapses on to the concrete, falling in a uterine crouch on the hard floor.

x

23 Comments:

Blogger Shyam said...

Did he live? did he die?

6:23 pm

 
Blogger Inder said...

is it real or fiction or fiction based on real incident??? whatever it is, it is brilliantly penned.

7:35 pm

 
Blogger None said...

shyam,

reader's licence, he'd be what u want him to be! :)

Inder,

thanks, though i dont think so...
:))

cheers!
r

4:42 pm

 
Blogger SamY said...

nice open ended story :), gr8 stuff ;)

8:48 am

 
Anonymous Eric said...

Speaking of "tearing her hair, beating her hands against her breast, her wailing reaching his ears" -- Thank you for that splendid little article about the Ayodhya lament team in yesterday's Hindu (Magazine, p. 7)! I am hoping a lady phd student might take this lament team as her phd research project. Also, I would like to help facilitate members of the lament team teaching about the traditional poetry aspects of lament to members of the public -- as part of the storytelling institute myself and others are developing here in Chennai. Thank you again, Eric Miller, Chennai, emiller@sas.upenn.edu

9:56 am

 
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3:27 pm

 
Blogger Mahadevan said...

What a fantastic story!

You started with a caveat " just exploring the other side of me". Your other side is also equally exquisite.

While I marvel at your imaginative skill, certainly you must have had occasions to witness how these street boys lord it over the other.

Some of your lines like:

"Azhagu's connection with T.Nagar was umblical"

"His fortunate became irrevocably interwined with the cobbled paveements of one Chennai Corporation Zone".

'He was deriving essential energy from the place he was born"

"Building vegetable empire in one narrow cobbled street, yet so expansive'

'They would bet surreptitiously on the winner of the night and set wagering on future battles on the count of broken limbs and bloddied noses'

have already gone into my collection of excellent prose writing. I have a small grievance. Repetitive words like 'cobbled' mar your otherwise excellent narrative.

Eagerly looking for the next rendezvous with 'Ordinary Life".

3:52 pm

 
Blogger S said...

this is amazing.....

excellent writing...could very well make a script for the next selvaraghavan movie!

6:22 pm

 
Blogger Harish said...

I can almost imagine Selvaraghavan's eyes go "Ka Ching!"

3:40 pm

 
Blogger None said...

samy,

thanks, undeserved praise, but thanks all the samE!

Eric,

Thanks for your interest in the oppari story. And yes, I think that it is an excellent idea!

Mahadevan,

yeah, like friend of mine says, there are a few good elements to this story, but yes, using 'cobbled' twice is in very bad taste! will rectify that!

cheers!
Ramya

4:47 pm

 
Blogger None said...

S, Harish!

YEs there is a god! and thank HER that you said Selvaraghavan! phew! :)

cheers!
r

4:48 pm

 
Blogger The Inquisitive Akka said...

Lovely story! I am going to pretend he lived, I hate tragedies!

12:08 pm

 
Blogger hari said...

Hi Ramya,

good one again. I am sure Mani Ratnam will grab it, if he gets to read it. A great future awaits you.

12:20 pm

 
Anonymous Krishna Shankar said...

Ramya, you have an uncanny knack of presenting things in great style. Good work! Keep it up!

1:03 pm

 
Blogger fat waif said...

hey ramya, it isn't cheesy at all! you've pulled it off so beautifully using the film idiom to develop a characted who could very well be from real life. really captures the imagination.
what else going on? not much with me, still struggling with my dissertation. think of u guys often.
love
me

3:35 pm

 
Blogger None said...

Inq Akka,

:) you remind me of myself! how long ago, i won't tell, but boy u do!

Hari,

maniratnam?! Hmmm... he'd make the whole thing so elitist it would be fun to watch!!!

Krishna Shankar,

Thank you so much! that sounds like a genuine heart-felt compliment! :)

5:06 pm

 
Blogger None said...

fat waif,

my friend, how are you. it is so tamil filmy this story, i debated whether i should put it up at all... but then, succumbed, cos you know the vanity that's in all of us, writers, it can make u do things u wdnt do otherwise! :)
how's m? dissertation working itself out? and yeah, i think of u too, sitting in my-former-seat, being genuine, full of life and that imp gleaming in your eyes! :) now, dont be embarrased! I'm trying not to be too! :)

cheers!

5:10 pm

 
Blogger Dreamer said...

Very nice. Forget reader's license. I think you intended him to die, and the foetal crouch signifies a full circle- birth at the railway station and death there too. Am I right?:)

2:12 am

 
Blogger fat waif said...

so sweet, im not embarassed at all but you did make my day. was looking at all the photos i'd taken on my phone of everybody in reporting yesterday - and there are many! also remembered our trip to kumbakonam together and felt so nostalgic!
m is doing well. my folks expected here on sunday. very excited about that. and needless to say i am really looking fwd to being back in january....hope all is good with u and raj and the rest of reporting.

2:28 pm

 
Blogger None said...

Dreamer,

AH! :)

Fat Waif,

i'm glad i make someone's day! :) but then, i meant it. all's well. raj's going to be in the us for about 2 weeks a week from now. he's travelling quite a bit these days...
as for the rest of reporting, we're all hanging on out here! :)
hope all that talk of a foiled terror attack hasn't thrown a spanner in the works once again...

cheers!
r

3:51 pm

 
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12:24 pm

 
Blogger Prashanth said...

Wonderful skill, a definitely accomplished story telling skill.

All praise well deserved.

Really relished the quintessential Indian setting. :)

5:56 pm

 
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2:59 pm

 

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