A seaside cafe
A seaside cafe
“Don’t you know holy men can live without food or water for days? They never need glasses or medicine. We never get sick!”
The doctor stared. The holy man urged, “I’ll need a few pills and a new pair of contacts to convince my followers- for a few days tops.”
That summer we stayed with her aunt who smelt of cut grass and ghee. We walked the beaches, pretend nomads with face scarfs till a dog rushed out of a patch of wild flowers and begged for a game. Bored cattle strayed past, watching the sea while grazing. That night the sea’s breeze and scent carried through the window. The dog sat happy after the meal we gave him. She put on some music and the dog tried to bark in tune. She danced till her footsteps on the hardwood floor was all I could hear. When I woke up the french windows were open, she had a flower under her foot and a smile on her face.
A Bootha Kola is a sort of shamanistic ritual where you summon Bootha’s or Daivas- spirits neither malevolent or benevolent who reflect the relationship between the tangible and intangible world. Or the farmlands and the forests.
These pictures are from one where Kalurti was summoned. She’s mute and howls while she dances. I couldn’t take a video- it would have been blurry anyway- even though most people don’t care what you do at a Kola. People would text or greet relatives right when the Bootha was dancing away or proclaiming judgments in front of them. It’s not that they don’t care, they don’t think the spirits mind.
During intervals in the dance Kalurti would point to people and make hand gestures that indicated if she was happy with them or not. But while dancing her face was expressionless. She lept and howled, carrying a touch that she beat against her chest while she circled the people who’d gathered. My grandfather said in Tulu that she was just trying to throw away her legs and arms. The performer was who really interested me. Nobody spoke to him; he never said a word- before or after the performance. These pictures were my attempts to capture any emotions the silent shaman showed under all that makeup.
You’ll always have me
Your endless laughter,
Your skin like summer.
Why do you lament?
Just lend me your lips
So I can sweeten them.
Lift your head through storms
At least we’ll have those days
Which went on forever
Like your curls and the depth
Of your light brown eyes.
Tell me your dream again,
No tolls for the emperor of dread
No one has escaped yet.
Tears from Ceylon
Won’t cut through fate.
I’ll remember crimson grins
and flowers in your hair.
Write to me, dear friend.
We’ll see where we go.
The smell of burning wax always takes me back. Somehow life isn’t the same without the weekly power cuts we had in Mangalore.
I remember conspiring about aliens with my cousins. We’d star watch but we were usually inside. In the bungalow’s indoor corridors people would walk with candles in hand, the shadows and light like slow cars on a highway. People would gather around the candles but stayed just out of its reach. Outlines and feet were all you could see. I guess every liked staying just out reach.
Everyone would stop what they were doing. I can’t say what because we all stuck to our own rooms and balcony spaces.Maybe it’s instinct when you live in huge joint family. But they were around, now and then they’d venture conversation never really leaving their bits of darkness. They’d smile when they knew their smiles were just out of sight. I’d sneak around them, behind sofas and conversations happy that’d I’d manage to sneak by unnoticed. You hear a lot you weren’t supposed to; I’d follow their lead and smile while I was out of sight, out of light.
For some reason we’d always gravitate towards the candle, no one went outside while the candles were lit. The long windows never figure in my memory; nothing of the city lights that night. A cousin would flick her fingers over the flame and say it never burned her nails.
Back in Mangalore the library came to us. Struggling against the heat and the uphill climb an old man cycled closer.
Every month or fortnight he’d arrive. His bycycle had a large open box attached at the back. He could have fit in it easily. The box was made of tin or some metal that was showing its age, but it was not rusted.
Inside the box were comic books and magazines. Good literature too, maybe some religious works but I never bothered about them. The family would gather near the bycycle and pick up new material. The old man always stood bent over the box, watching what we’d pick up.
The material wasn’t actually new. They were just the latest things he got his hands on. Books from America libraries, books that said “remember me Jess”, book with random writing, folds and tears. The books were usually from the 70’s and 80’s with Americans having written in them. I have no idea how they got here.
I’d take copies of Archie’s comics and try to figure out the magazines. I must have been very young; I was very proud about having learnt how to spell “Zoo” from one of them.
The cycle library seemed to disappear from my life after a while, just all those warm Mangalore afternoons when there was nothing to do.
Standing in long orderly queue always seems like an alien experience after a lifetime of learning how to push through mobs of people. The new demonetization policy means that I spend a lot of time than I would like in queues. Luckily people always say things worth eves-dropping on.
Of the five ATM’s in the neighborhood only one has worked since the new policy was introduced. It’s right opposite a bank so you’ll see families and friends shouting at each other from the separate queues.
The ATM is located in a bit of a funny location. There are four different lanes that split off from the main road. So the location looks a little like this:
ATM Building Bank
The building has two floors. People live on the top floor and on the ground floor there is a juice shop, a bakery and two tea shops. The queue when I arrived had besieged all the shops. No one could get through the line that wrapped all around the front half of the building. All the shopkeepers took to reading dailies while the juice shop guy tried to get people to buy stuff or give him change. The lane the ATM is on leads to a bunch of houses and a park.
Dogs and children were always running about. A kid in front of me was busy stomping on a glass of coffee while his father was on the phone. His dad finally took notice after his kid broke the glass and fell over exhausted from all his efforts. He told the tea shop owner that the glass was already broken and gave the queue an awkward attempt at a poker face while the queue maintained a discreet silence.
A person behind me cured and raved after he saw an entire family exit the ATM. Two women who I had seen at another ATM queue (which ran out of cash when we reached it) discussed the GPS trackers that were allegedly in the new notes and kept debating if both of them should go in together or if one of them should go in alone and risk getting shouted at for taking too long.
A police van was parked near the bank. I’m not sure why but they kept their police lights on the entire time. There’s a gym above the bank and a man was texting while looking over us through a small window. A few bored people started flashing rude signs at him to see if he’d notice. Nearby two dogs were napping and a chat cart owner stared at them enviously. The man in front of me was growing more frustrated smacking his phone with an angry finger and losing the Kannada word game he was playing.
Eventually the ATM stooped dispensing cash at every now and then. The man in front of me called up his wife and told her to send one of their sons to collect his card and go to another ATM and another son of their who was having more in a different queue.
The queue continued to get more agitated as people only got two thousand rupee notes. Superstitions were already forming. Someone said you had to wait five minutes between every withdrawal. Another person said you should always try to withdraw above the limit first. Some started to sympathize with the ATM.
“The poor thing. It must also be tired by now.”
“Give it rest. And chai”
“What it really wants is a cigarette.”
“I’ll give it at least five minutes before I withdraw.”
I looked back and saw that the line had not shortened one bit. After an hour of waiting and with just six people in front of me the ATM ran out of money.
On the old banyan
Are bats still waiting
For a waning moon
And the insect buzz
Around street lights
To consume the night.