Untouchable in Pune: Mixed media by SAVI SAVARKAR
Untouchable in Pune: Mixed media by SAVI SAVARKAR
  Play: Scarecrow Theyyam - 3
 

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  Omprakash Valmiki
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  Malkhan Singh
  Omcherry
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Omcherry

Immediately after I had this fit of laughter, I felt it was stupid of me. Laughter and tears don’t emerge at our bidding, do they? Nowadays, I don’t feel like weeping at all. I laugh instead, thinking about the pranks of man and God. There was a time when I would have become agitated or wept in reaction to the cruelty in demanding six lakhs from a person who had only five rupees. Now, it is laughter alone. I had saved the ten rupees I spent on the trip to the college from the wages I had got from cutting laterite blocks in a quarry the day before yesterday. Four rupees for the bus fare. One rupee for half a glass of tea, which doesn’t even wet the throat. The balance is five rupees. Of that, four rupees for the bus fare back. Final balance: one rupee.

I had got off the bus, planning to buy coconut oil with that rupee. I feel sorry for my younger sisters, their hair running wild without a drop of oil to tame it. They are taking after our mother in the matter of hair. Flowing down, almost down to the ground. I got off the bus thinking about my sisters. What can they do? Is it me, the one who is supposed to shoulder their responsibilities, who is wandering about thus? I always think about them. They love this no-good brother as dearly as life. So, I got off the bus thinking about them. Instead of taking me home, (looking at his legs), these idiots brought me here. Today, there was work at the quarry. I could not go because of this interview. And lost sixty rupees in wages. I get work only occasionally. They engage me only if a regular worker is absent. They haven’t given me membership of their union. They sometimes laugh at me, saying, “This post-graduate Namboodiri is cutting sandstone!” I join in their laughter.

In situations in which others cry, I laugh. Maybe that’s why they all call me the Nutty Namboodiri. What they say is right. Would I have gone in for this education-yagna if I were not crazy? If I had gone straight into stone-cutting or carrying head-loads without going through this yajna, they would have at least accepted me as one of their own.

And my mother wouldn’t have died for want of food and medicine. My sisters wouldn’t have to lurk indoors for want of clothes to cover themselves with. I had been keen on getting a job before Mother died. Wanted to put my first wages respectfully at her feet. It was not to be. What had happened? Twice a day, Mother would give the leftover rice offering Father got from the temple to the four of us. Often, Father would say he had eaten at the temple. It was obviously a lie. Mother would say that she too had eaten. She was always very cheerful. Tried to keep us cheerful. Our education was Father’s and Mother’s food. Poor Father is a jenmi! I too am a jenmi, son of a jenmi! The job market thinks we’re untouchables. So, five mouths claiming two helpings of offering-rice. Mother must have left us because there would be one mouth less to share the rice.

Here, the voice is like a soft sob. Suddenly, he laughs. Stops laughing, hangs his head, looking down at the ground, totally fatigued. Remains like that for some time, then he raises his head and smiles.

Ah! (Looking at his legs) These fools have let me off lightly! Last week, they tricked me terribly. I barely escaped getting beaten up. I had gone enquiring — heard there were vacancies. All were reserved vacancies! “You are not eligible, Mr Namboodiri.” I had walked twelve kilometres. Grief, anger, despair, sorrow as I thought about the state of affairs at home. I turned on my heel. Don’t you want to know where these blighters (pointing to his feet) took me on the trek back? Very interesting! To the Cherikkal farmland!

Long ago, it belonged to our illam. It changed hands when my father was still young. Now, five or six families are settled there. Whenever we walked that way during my childhood, Father used to say, “That piece of land belonged to the illam. Now, it’s lost to others.” Coconut trees, areca-nut trees, plantain trees — I would stand transfixed, watching. What prime farmland! The title deed of that land is among the ones I have with me — the ones that have been cancelled. When I returned crestfallen after the last interview, it was to this Cherikkal farmland that these fools brought me. And I went in there and had gone about looking up and down the coconut trees and areca-nut trees, as if I were carrying out an inspection!

One of the new settlers had come over and confronted me, telling me to get out. “Let him be. It’s that Nutty Namboodiri,” I heard someone say. I came to my senses and scrambled out onto the road. (Pointing to his feet) The jests these blokes engage in! Making a fool of me has become their favourite amusement. Why else would they bring me now to Poonthottathu Mana? Why should they bring me here now, on the strength of the fact that these buildings and this land belonged to our illam in my childhood? (Continues to indicate his feet) It’s no good blaming them, though. How long can they carry the weight of this despair?

(Suddenly flies into a rage) Your father’s father’s father was a jenmi! An oppressor! An exploiter! Therefore his son’s son’s son must become a destitute! Suffer oppression! Suffer exploitation!

Your father’s father’s father muddied the flowing river water. So you will get only muddied water. It is to punish my great-grandfather that they make me drink muddied water.

“You are paying for years of oppression and exploitation which had caused genetic damage to them,” they say.

You caused genetic damage to them yesterday. Genetic damage to you today is the punishment. Genetic damage to one set of people yesterday. For another set, genetic damage comes today. For the first set, it will be tomorrow. For the second set, it is the day after tomorrow. To these, to those, to those, to these, like Uncle Indan.

(Acting as if reciting a long-drawn-out strain; then suddenly changing to a fast pace.)

Uncle Indan rubs off the dirt of the left leg with the right.

Rubs off the dirt on the right leg with the left.

Rubs off the dirt on the left leg with the right, Uncle Indan.

Dirt on the right leg Uncle Indan rubs off with the left.

Dirt on the left leg with the right

The right leg’s dirt with the left

Right leg, left leg, left leg, right leg

Right, left, left, right

Leftright, rightleft

Lefri, rilef, lefri, rilef

Stands exhausted with his head hanging. Raising his head, looking ahead, without knowing what to do, and moving two steps forward, he suddenly turns to leave. And sees the scarecrow. Looks at it worshipfully, and joining his palms together, he pays obeisance to it.

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3 p. 4

 

Omcherry or N.N. Pillai is a celebrated Malayalam playwright, winner of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award
and principal of a management school in Delhi. Several of his plays have been translated and staged
in Delhi and other cities over the last four decades.