Monthly Story, August 2022
Image → Ron Lach
Rasa → Hāsyam (हास्यं): Laughter, mirth, comedy. Presiding deity: Shiva. Colour: white, Adbhutam (अद्भुतं): Wonder, amazement. Presiding deity: Brahma. Colour: yellow
Archetype → Rebel
Leela stopped to catch her breath before shouting again between the bars of the police cell.
“You!”, she shouted, pointing at the back of the police deputy walking away. His shoulders hung from the relief of having just locked in Leela—the loudest woman he had ever encountered—pricked up again at the sound of her voice.
“You’re a dog! A hired dog paid to bark at us people,” she shouted at his back, trying in vain to rattle the heavy bars. But, the bars stood resolute and responseless.
The policeman sat down at his desk and sighed as Leela turned around throwing her fists into the air. ‘Who’s power? People’s power! You can’t shut us down!’ she chanted.
Her shouting echoed around the cell and fell dead. From the adjoining cell, two women sitting on the floor watched her. One woman chewed betel, wore a chītta wrap and a stained T-shirt. The other wore smudged makeup, a long skirt, and a red satin blouse that took on a ghostly glow under the fluorescent light. Watching Leela, both wore expressions of half-hearted contempt. Leela recognised this contempt so well. From her university days—spent mostly in student protests—Leela had seen how, for most people, it was easier to respond to rebellion with a sudden disdain for lawlessness than to join its exhausting current towards upheaval.
Leela considered the two smoldering faces for a second; “You know why governments always make fools out of people? Because people act like goats who only know how to get herded; you sit here chewing away till the jackals come...,”
“Goats?”, snarled the woman chewing betel; the word ‘goat’ seemed to have struck her somewhere particularly sore. An escaped smile twitched Leela’s mouth; she knew that poking where it hurts was the fastest way to get people up and angry.
“Why does ‘Madam’ here get her own cell? Some big insurgency fellow?” the woman in the red blouse asked the policeman, cocking her head at Leela.
“Please be quiet, I’m trying to record this arrest,” said the policeman, his voice strained between concentration, exhaustion, and annoyance.
Leela felt her mouth open automatically in reaction, despite her best efforts to savor the secret pride of being speculated a ‘big insurgency fellow’. “Trying to send me to the Counter Subversive Unit? Dog!” she screamed at the policeman. But he scribbled away, determinedly ignoring the three women.
“Counter Subversive Unit? Damn good!” the betel woman’s voice cut through. “You insurgency-types belong there”.
“I heard there’s a torture chamber in some coconut plantation where you people are being taken to…”, the red-bloused woman said, unable to hide the glee on her face.
Leela seethed at them; “Yes! Goats like you’d rather see me dead than put effort into rising from your slavery. But, you know what? You’ll never see our revolution dead! Victory to people’s liberation!” she shouted, throwing a fist into the air. But, somewhere at the back of Leela’s mind, her husband’s voice echoed; ‘But, do the people you’re trying to liberate really want to be liberated?’
“To hell with your revolution. We have enough problems as it is,” said the red-bloused woman. “Since you got here and started shouting, they’ve even forgotten our dinner. You insurgency people never make it easy for the rest of us you know,” she said.
The policeman picked up the telephone and reminded someone about dinner.
“You don’t see the enemy do you? You don’t see how they make it about your people vs. my people, and keep us at each other's throats while they empty the bank…?” Leela shouted.
A man in khaki shorts walked in whistling; He held a tray of wrapped food and a glass of water in one hand and three carelessly stacked metal plates in the other. The man smilingly placed the tray on the policeman’s desk; He slid the metal plates under the bars without looking at the women and strolled back out, whistling.
“Wonder what’s in the special meal for Sir...” the betel woman remarked pointedly, picking up a plate.
“Not goat feed for sure...” said Leela, wiping food from the bottom of her plate.
The betel woman’s angry retort was cut off the next second when, suddenly, the electricity blacked out. Everything paralyzed into a soundless night.
“Police station being attacked? They cut the power? Apooo! The insurgency people are coming to kill us!” The red-bloused woman started wailing. “Let the thirty-three thousand gods see this! Oh gods I haven’t sinned that much...”
“Quiet! No one is coming to kill us!” the policeman’s voice snapped.
Without the ceiling fan and fluorescent lights driving them away, mosquitoes took over like a hungry choir. Leela heard their humming circling her. Their stings punctured her skin; She swatted one and got food on her forehead. To her side, a curse erupted in the betel woman’s voice with the sound of a metal plate being dropped loudly onto the floor. The startled policeman—who sounded as if he had just knocked over the glass of water—clicked his tongue in annoyance.
“What the hell is this power cut?” asked the betel woman.
No one responded. Even Leela had nothing left to say.
Only a quiet idea floating in the dark seemed to present an answer too uncomfortable to swallow. It settled down amidst them, growing painfully apparent against the dark.
The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.