I swear I will tell you each word of the story as he had whispered in my ears.
I first met him at Sadar Bazar in Agra. I had just purchased a paperback called Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and was sipping a cup of tea at a footpath stall. There was little of note about the guy at the other end of the wooden bench except for his handlebar moustache. One more man sat between the two of us, who left unnoticed as I sat pondering the course life was taking. I had recently joined a company that sold holiday resorts on timeshare basis. It was my job to lure people from the ruins and mausoleums to the less frequented valleys and hill stations of the country.
I remember clearly my feet going up in the air, and my back hitting the road with a thwack. He had stood up to leave and set the bench tipping crazily at my end. Fortunately, the cup with scalding liquid was flung into a harmless trajectory. For a moment I lay on the wayside figuring out the change in perspective before he offered his hand and pulled me up with a jerk.
“Your book!” he said, barely moving his mouth as he put it in my hands and turned away without further ado.
I was walking down The Mall Road a few minutes later, having settled the dues with the stall owner. A tepid gust was dragging away an empty ice cream cup, a reminder of the sultry summer ahead. Dry fallen leaves were breaking into a folkdance on the dusty pavement. After a while I realised someone had been tailing me, matching me step for step. It turned out to be the author of my ungainly tumble as I spun around to confront him. He didn’t stop however and kept walking past with his face turned to a side. But it was hard to miss his ravenous eyes which had a glint of some lingering anger, or an unquenched hunger. Whatever it was, it was very unsettling to meet his gaze. It made you want to sprint away from him. Weirdly, it also made you want to cling to him.
I had not been able to sell even a single timeshare package the whole week no matter how hard I pitched the idea to the wanderers of the monuments. And I didn’t know even a bird in that city with whom to share my cup of miseries. Unwilling to return to the seedy lodging I had chosen, I just followed him, barely aware that I was doing so.
He turned left on General Cariappa Road ignoring the rickshaws and autos, and on and on he went for kilometres. Marching resolutely to the imposing gate of Agra Fort, he melted into the figures milling to get inside. Unlike the Taj, I had always felt repelled by the old Mughal bastion, its sagas of treachery and avarice chanted ad nauseam by pesky guides. Lust and oppression hovered in its cavernous arches and domes like insistent cobwebs. Its crevices stank of bondage, slaughter, torment and rape. Unlike the memorial of love that Taj was, the Fort was an epic of lechery and barbarism written in hate.
Forgetting the moustachioed youth with searing eyes, I began eyeing the throng for bored looking housewives and men pretending to be rich, for those were the easiest targets. Moving in and out of courtyards, I floated about the halls and palaces, latching on to this and that group or family. I loitered around the octagonal tower where the emperor was incarcerated by his own son and died looking at the marmoreal tomb of his wife. Reconciling to the drought of prospects, I sat against a wall in the Garden of Grapes and dozed off, lulled by a pleasant draft.
I might have slept for an hour or two, it is difficult for me to remember. But I woke to the cool touch of a palm on mine. A shadow was leaning over me against the darkening sky. A wave surged through the pores of my body as recognition hit me. The face with a handlebar moustache was back; the eyes seemed to be drilling holes in me.
“You followed me here,” he said.
Realising I was being charged with an offence of which I was only half-guilty, I mustered my voice and tried to call his bluff. “You made me fall at the tea stall to begin with… Then you hypnotised me.”
“Never hypnotised anyone,” he snapped.
And yet, it was impossible to look away from him. His pupils seemed unfocussed and unusually dilated like deep, shiny pits. He swivelled and sat next to me, looking towards the ripening sky. “My name is Ranvir. Who are you?”
“I am Vinay,” I said, a tad miffed by the patronising stance.
“I have seen you here before.” He said.
“I am a timeshare holiday salesman.”
“Figures. I used to be a guide around here.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I was popular with the foreigners, mostly women. I preferred them younger. I know bits of French and Italian, also German. Then they began accusing me of molesting them.”
“I touched them the wrong way. Brushed my fingers against their breasts, pinched their bottoms, tried to kiss. I was arrested and locked up and thrashed. They took away my license.”
The courtyard wore a deserted look. The last bunch of tourists was about to exit the precinct. A guard had begun moving towards us, tooting a whistle. The man sitting next to me had just confessed being a convicted molester. I felt a great urge to bolt from his invisible grip but my limbs lay numb next to me.
“But that was not the truth, of course,” he said. “Someone was making them think like that.”
The guard was now standing on top of us and tapping at his watch with his finger. We stood up and moved towards Amar Singh Gate together. “It is a long story. Come tomorrow,” he enjoined at some point before he slipped away.
I didn’t stop for the customary triple-creamed milk served out of boiling pans that night. I was gripped by a fit of drowsiness so vicious I was barely awake as I unlocked the door to my room. I fell on the bed and it was like I had stopped breathing. But I woke up in the wee hours of the morning feeling like I hadn’t touched food in months. I brushed my teeth longer and harder as if that would douse my craving. I bathed hurriedly with the cold water stored in an iron drum. Donning a clean pair of shirt and trousers, I hit the street and found myself a rickshaw to Agra Fort railway station. I could already smell the omelettes I’d eat there.
The names did ring a bell; Vinay Pathak-Ranvir Shorey 😀
A great start, quite an intriguing read it would be. Waiting for the next part… 🙂
So they have a little story of their own! The next part should be up in a week…
You still remind me of Rajo Rao – you talented bastard… (I hope you’re not offended by that.)
That is a gigantic compliment, Bruce! I am doubly honoured.
Awesome. A great start to another lip smacking story. Looking forward !
Thank you. I intend it to be a 2-part story.
I’ve been half-guilty my whole life.
You get used to it.
So the feelings of the protagonist are real!
I can’t help but wonder when I will know what the Three Tamarind Trees stands for. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this part. Will look forward for the next.
You will learn that soon enough. Welcome to the blog!
The title is yet to unfold for me. However, enjoyed reading this part…seems the convicted molester still has much to say 🙂
The molester shall speak, my lord. Then there will be three tamarind trees. I will look forward to hearing from you in the aftermath.
Another one of your gems… it goes without saying that I await the climax 🙂
Thank you for the encouragement, Leena!
I love the fantasy element of this one. I’ll be waiting for the next!
It will go live at the stroke of midnight! Don’t you miss it, Susie!
Thank you, my friend!
I am always in awe of the way you set up a story. It is not just about the plot or the characters.. it is about everything they see and touch and feel… and the attention to detail is impeccable.
A very intriguing start. 🙂
I am fortunate too have discerning souls like you for friends. Those are encouraging words come my way, Raju; they will keep me going for long.
Beginning of a new saga? Look forward to see how it unfolds.
It’s a short one, Karthick. The conclusion has already been posted.
Umashankar, I like the way you began this story with an aura of mystery. The characters seem to have nothing in common and yet they are drawn to each other like moths to a flame. Maybe they are both drawn to darkness for even the place they meet seems to be dark in many ways, as the protagonist always felt repelled by being there. The man with the searing, hypnotic eyes tells a dark tale and says he was framed and I am guessing we may find out if that’s true. Intriguing and a great beginning!
“Dry fallen leaves were breaking into a folkdance on the dusty pavement.” I really love the imagery in that line!
I have always wanted to write about mysterious things and I like to put imageries to convey a moment or a feeling in my stories, although neither is a conscious process. I am fortunate my stories appeal to your aesthetic vision. Thank you, Madilyn.
Oh my! I almost missed this post.
Yay! we have another USP tale cooking and I’m SO EXCITED!!
“Something making ‘them’ think like that?” Can’t wait to know what that is. I’m off with Vinay — to the fort, to know more.
I feel blessed to have readers like you, Divya.
At times missing something is good —-I am glad I missed this one ??!!! hahahahah –no offence Umashankar ji what I mean to say is that now I will be able to read the whole story in one go no waiting and visiting your page every other day in search of Part 2 🙂 The begining is interesting as always a bit mysterious I am off to Part 2 for the complete story
thanks for this one 🙂
I know the feeling, Rajni ji! It is no fun reading short stories in pieces. I am glad you appreciate my efforts; thank you!
Liked your words, esp. the descriptions here:
A tepid gust was dragging away an empty ice cream cup, a reminder of the sultry summer ahead. Dry fallen leaves were breaking into a folkdance on the dusty pavement.
I am curious to know what happened next 🙂
Always glad to receive your feedback, Shaifali. The remainder is already online.
Promise of lots of intrigue and drama to come…
Hope you enjoyed the rest of the story!
Work in progress 🙂
I started from the reverse but must say – great writing skills 🙂
That is a talent, reading in reverse. Thanks.
“I swear I will tell you each word of the story as he had whispered in my ears.” – You’re a master of many genres of storytelling, Uma. Your very choice of words, expressions, events, the smartness of your wit, the subtlety of your sarcasm, you being thick when you want to be thick, and a painter with the finest brush when you wish so – I appreciate your works on so many levels.
I remember you had mentioned working on a book. Is the work still on?
Bless you for those warm words, Antara. Compliments such as those encourage me to keep trying. The book that you mention is half unwritten. In other words, I’ve been able to write about half of the book. I wonder though if it will have many takers when it’s done.
It will, rest assured :-). Of course, marketing strategies will have to be thought through. These days coals wear the garb of diamonds and every other book claims to be a bestseller. You shall stand out and tall once the reader picks you up; but you’ll also have to stand out to get a reader to pick you up.
So true, Antara. Everyone is churning out ‘bestsellers’. How does one grain stand out in a storm? Thanks for your approval: it will be much cherished.
I am a filmmaker and don’t get much time these days for blogging. However, the one blog that I read regularly and unfailingly is Umashankar’s “One Grain Amongst the Storm”.
I find his writing to be very refreshing. At a time when celebrated authors are accused of plagiarism and often peddle rehashed stuff, Umashankar’s writing comes across as charmingly original. The way he weaves facts with fiction makes the story appear more real than reality with the audience feeling immersed and becoming a part of the characters and story.
Interestingly, his audience is in various parts of the world, with their own sense and sensibilities. So how Umashankar manages to make his writing appealing to all is a mystery to me. With the Universal appeal of his writing and the fact that he weaves ancient with the modern, there is a timeless appeal to his writings.
When I read his work, I can see each and every line unfolding and coming alive in my minds eye. Each move that the protagonist makes, each breath of his/her arouses the emotions in the reader be it humour, melodrama, love, repulsion, anxiety, hopelessness, dreams, philosophical and whatnot and whatnot.
He is very clearly well read and that shows up in his play of words. However, the reader is not overtly reminded of any specific style copied from any famous writer, making the reader value this originality of Umashankar’s work and hence even more deeply appreciative.
In this era where budding authors are rushing to create potboilers, Umashankar has rightly refrained from the temptations of going for number of online hits. That not only shows the signs of maturity but also makes it evident that this author is one of the rare breed who writes for himself and is not a part of the rent-a-word brigade. Prose and poetry both seem to be the paramour of Umashankar and I wish him all the best to continue this love affair in future.
Sabyasachi, your testimonial has left my lips speechless, my fingers motionless. Hereafter, whenever my vision is clouded by despair, I will return to those words to uplift my soul. I am honoured and indebted.
Comments are closed.