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Odia Story: The Wooden Son

By Banaja Debi | PUBLISHED: 28, Sep 2016, 17:14 pm IST | UPDATED: 04, Oct 2016, 16:30 pm IST

Odia Story: The Wooden Son As Havildar Chandu walked out of his home without his uniform, Nayani hollered from inside the house –“Where are you off to now? You just got back from duty.”

“Oh, just strolling down towards the market.”

“The market? There’s no khichdi for tomorrow morning’s prasad. Bring a kilo of it. Oh, and get some cashew nuts as well.”
 
“Okay.”

That’s all he said as Chandu departed. But he couldn’t confess the real thing to his wife.

He couldn’t tell her that he has got duty orders. He’s got official orders to do something his wife, as well as he himself would never approve of. Tomorrow morning, just under the point where the canal ends, the slums will be destroyed and the people evicted. The small temple, which lies just before the slums begin, will share the same fate. And Chandu is on duty there. Tomorrow.

He couldn’t say this clearly and out loud to Nayani. How could he? Her protestations wouldn’t have ceased. “People shudder even before they are out to break a crow’s nest. You’re out to break a man’s? You think a government service licenses you to do that? Didn’t you hear that Sadhu Baba on TV the other night? Didn’t he say, let millions of temples fall down, let the mosques crumble, but never let the spirit of humanity die, never let a man’s house break down? And you’ll destroy people’s worlds like this? That’s what you’ll do, just because you’re a havildar? You’ll hit anyone, arrest anyone, even as the culprit lives like a king, and you’ll just keep on smacking and torturing the innocent behind the bars? The sins that you commit everyday! Maybe these sins are the reasons for my empty lap today, for this hollow, empty house, this lonely, lonely life. Just stop poisoning, stop adding to this loneliness with all these venomous acts!”

Could he have tolerated these words from Nayani? He daily dons the indomitable khaki uniform, picks up his lathi, as is supposed of a formidable havildar and exudes nothing but a hollow sense of power on the outside. And yet his heart oozes of tender emotions, like the supple film over a patch of wet soil.  And the soil cries and moistens with tears every time he imagines such accusations from his wife. It is as if her words could wet the world with tears.
 
Whenever he sees the vacant lap of Nayani, he can also trace out a circle of emptiness around her, which is why he tries hard to avoid such discussions. He tries not to reveal anything about the official matters and his duty. If he does, it’s always a lie. He loves her, and never wants to do anything which will hurt her. Every lie is followed by a confession at night – “Oh Lord! I told a lie, but only not to hurt her. Forgive me.”

Sometimes he finds his duties intolerable. He instinctively wants to leave all of that. But he doesn’t have the courage. It’s a government job, it is secure, and he is sure to have money at the end of the month. There’s even a pension scheme. A decent existence and a modest lifestyle is a man’s basic necessity. When he got married to Nayani, he used to be a salesman in a big shop for a couple of years. The salary was just two-and a half thousand. How could he have lived in the bustling town of Cuttack with that paltry amount, in a rented house?

Back in those days, there was a couple who were virtually daily customers at the shop. They were close to him, and usually shared their joys and tribulations with him. The man was a police officer and seemed honest, and his wife was kind too. One day the officer heard that Chandu is nearly broke, and can’t bring his wife to town. Nayani was still at the village, ensconced in her travesties and living miserably with her unruly mother-in-law. This was more or less what the officer had heard. Then after, it was as if Almighty himself had reincarnated in the form of this Officer. He put in a good word for Chandu, and he was appointed in the force in a leave vacancy post temporarily. For a year and a half, his life went on like this, after which he was finally established as a permanent employee. No more complications.

Closer to the truth is that he never had aspirations to acquire a government job and land in cash and Hilsa-fishes. To this day, he doesn’t possess that greed. He remains a modest man, with an ordinary lifestyle. Even more the picture of modesty is his wife, and even stronger is her will. Like other housewives she hasn’t demanded this or that, doesn’t order Chandu about - cajole my brothers and father daily, bring me eloquent sarees, along with exquisite jewellery, take me to the cinema. No. She doesn’t have any particular liking, nor has she any affinity towards travelling and spending.  She hasn’t tried to put a command over Chandu. The ironic thing is that if Nayani would have whined and cried and kicked her legs about like that, maybe he would have liked that. Her satiated, silent nature bothered him a bit deep down. Maybe it made him feel she was a bit aberrant, strangely different. But still he loved her. Very much.
 
So, sometime after lying to Nayani that he’s walking to the bazaar, Chandu headed towards the slums. The ones scheduled to be decimated the next morning. Even the little temple which lay a bit farther. Ever since he got the orders in his office today, he was feeling uneasy. No matter how much he tries, he just can’t make do with these ‘orders’. More than once in his profession, he has beaten the innocent and incriminated him. For these involuntary misdeeds he has cursed himself, and has carried out tremendous repentance and sank deep in atonement. Every Monday, he’d go to Lord Shiva for a darshan, and donate food and money – acts of reverence which Nayani had great interest in. But he just couldn’t stand the idea of slum eviction.

He remembered the other day watching another slum being bulldozed on TV. That was in Bhubaneswar. The scenes that he saw were intolerable for anybody with a human heart. Destroyed were the abodes of a multitude. The police kept on encroaching. Whoever evicted in such a bloodthirsty manner, pulling and dragging people through the ground? When he heard the orders from the boss today, he was disturbed. But he couldn’t muster up courage to refuse. He returned home with a heavy sense of guilt. He couldn’t read the Bhagvad Gita like everyday. He couldn’t watch the daily soaps as usual. Fearing his wife would catch his uneasiness and enquire about it, he detoured towards the slum.

He thought, he could go and persuade the slum-dwellers to concede and move with all their belongings. Take your children and go. That way the government can only demolish your makeshift shelters, not your household. Don’t go for violence and heroism which is uncalled for. If they listen to him, and really move in the pitch-darkness of night like nice, obedient children, there won’t be any fatalistic scenes to witness tomorrow. The shelter-less will be on the streets again, but at least alive.

While walking through the Bazaar he remembered Nayani had asked for rice. For Cashews and some Kishmish. He laughed a little at this, to himself. Every Thursday, Nayani prepared a bhog for her small, wooden idol of Lord Jagannath.  The Lord was her son, made of wood and this she had carried from her own house after her marriage. Wasn’t this wooden son was quite mischievous, and weren’t his actions beyond the scope of words? Doesn’t he appear very much like a human?- she thought.

Nayani comes from an impoverished household. Her father was a peon in the Pattamundai block office. Nayani is their fourth child. Sometime in her childhood, she had accompanied her father to the local fair, and was entranced by this wooden idol. The deity was somehow very appealing to her, and she bought it right there. Unusually for a girl aged eight or ten, she renounced the petty house-making games and started instead the imaginary game of worshipping the idol. She imagined him as her son from that age, put him on a small pedestal, showered flowers and leaves, concocted rice grains from sand and dust she found nearby, and fabricated the scattered wooden pieces as sandalwood lamps which seemed to shroud latent divine flames. This was her favorite game.

Whenever there was something special being prepared in the kitchen, or guava, or pieces of cucumber, or whatever she could procure in her enclosed palms, she would take it to her Jagannath, and wheedle him into ingesting it, with coaxing phrases like – “Take it, my golden boy, my world!”

So it happened, that one day this fabricated game of household-making became real, and she really started donning a Sari, and went to the river to bring water with which she cooked real, tangible rice. She placed this wooden idol in the separate Puja-room, and brought real ingredients and did a proper Puja. Molasses, Sugar, and Rice-all were used in preparing the Prasad, and every evening since was filled with incense. At daybreak, she plucked and weaved flowers. And her life was weaved like this.
 
Until the day she got married.

She made it clear to her step-mother that her son would come with her to her new house. Her mother disagreed. Her father, though, made peace and allowed her to leave with her precious possession. With all the wooden apparatus- the wooden settee, the bhog- the lord accompanied her to her new home.
 
But the story of the Lord didn’t end here. How could it? His ways are mysterious.
 
After Chandu joined the Police force, he brought Nayani to the city. As expected, Nayani asked to bring the Lord along with her. But her mother-in-law was adamant. The Lord should never be made to renounce his seat, she said. Unwillingly, she obeyed at the time, and disappointed, went to live with Chandu.  She felt terribly hollow leaving behind him - whom she had adored, had kept close, and serviced in intense proximity – behind in the village. And so it can be said that Nayani started living without the Lord.

But, back in the village, the Lord couldn’t live without her.

Chandu and Nayani dreamt of the idol everyday – the idol jumped and dribbled on the pedestal, speaking in an unheard voice in their dreams, shrieking –“Take me! Take me!”. This stubbornness became unbearable for Chandu. He decided. He would go to the village, and bring the Lord back. Will mother allow it? If she wanted to, she could have given it earlier, he thought. Nevertheless, one day, not many days later, he started for the village. And Nayani remained home alone.
 
It was a divine coincidence. That was the day the super-cyclone struck.
 
Super-cyclone. The sky filled with the color of grayish, thick mud in its entirety. Chandu couldn’t make it to the village. He was stuck in a nearby one. Meanwhile, Nayani witnessed the force of the super-cyclone on her own. The wind increased in velocity, and the landlord left his place, afraid for his life, and took shelter in the neighboring pukka-house.  He tried calling her away, tried to keep her from staying alone in that house, but she didn’t listen. She sat there, silent as ever. The roof of the kaccha-house shuddered, but Nayani lay there on the mattress, unmoved, thinking of Chandu. And slowly in her thought, and even before she knew it, she dozed off to sleep.

When her eyes opened, she clearly saw a dark-skinned chap sitting there, right on the doorstep, as if guarding her. On that fearsome night, many houses collapsed, roofs were blown away, but nothing had happened to Nayani. When the next day, Chandu reached his home in the village, and beheld the sight of a dilapidated puja-room, he saw how all the Gods were buried right down to the ground, and scattered under the earth. He remembered how the Lord had coaxed him earlier in his dreams, shrieking “Take me with you”. When thoughts like this were filling his mind, he located the dark-skinned Lord Jagannath tucked under a mound of debris. He carefully escorted the Lord into his bag, and brought him back to Cuttack.

The idol had somewhat lost its color after being buried under the earth and soaked in the lashing rainwater. Nayani colored him once again. She brought a fresh, new piece of dressing for the Lord. And a polythene-coated pagdi. She anointed him with Gangajal, and then applied Panchamrit, thus re-installing him back to his seat. Incense, diyas, vermillion, and other sacred accessories were used as per the custom.

Every Gundicha Day (which is the annual birthday of the Lord, when he returns home with his siblings after the Rath Yatra, the car festival has been carried out), Nayani celebrates Jagannath’s birthday. She calls little children living in the lane and distributes the food among them.

In winter, winter-clothes are adorned, and in summer she applies the sandalwood solution. On Prathamashtami, she conducts the puja, therefore consecrating the Lord to the position of her eldest son. Amidst these devotional trysts, these divine adorations, and anointed libations, and unconditional love, Jagannath tumbled forth into the human world.

Was she deprived of a child in her womb because the wooden son coveted that position? When attacked by thoughts like this, coupled with the daily sights of his wife’s cajolery as if the wood had materialized into life, Chandu’s mind heats up. He experiences a strong will at times like these to go and thrust the piece of wood into the mud-heap outside. Did she have to make up a wooden doll as her son to compensate for a child he couldn’t give her? Does he have to father a wooden son for all his life? Chi, Chi! Now, as soon as Nayani sleeps, as he silently extends his hand to grab the wooden Lord with the intention of dispelling it into garbage, chuckling laughter comes out to greet Chandu’s ears. It’s coming from the wooden idol. It sounds like a vicious gurgle, with a child-like sonority to it. And within these snorts of extended laughter it appears to say, “Oh, all this since I’m made of wood! Would you have thrown me if I was human? Now, now, be true to yourself. Speak the truth. Am I only wood?”

Chandu stops. He feels a child urging stubbornly, pestering innocently, insisting relentlessly his innocence, his existence. He cowers, and returns.

The wooden son becomes the subject of his care as well. On the account of this wooden son their childless matrimony hasn’t severed for 15 years, and has blossomed on the contrary. True, no child arrived in Nayani’s lap, but it is kept fulfilled, apparently endlessly, by this wooden idol.

Thinking and thinking like this (and before realizing his arrival) Chandu arrived at the slums. Slums downtrodden beneath the city pathways, just yards away from the main road, and at the crossroads there stands a lonesome pole of street-light whose neon light never steers through the stagnant air to find acceptance in the slums. Chandu wondered what the celestial particulars were of that day, since he saw a part of the sky dazzling unusually from the moonlight, like a furry saponified piece of nylon blanket, under whose radiance glow the drabs of polythene, silver utensils, and torn sacks – the ragged adornments of their browbeaten abode.

In front of them, there are a few houses made of bricks. Some of the town-people have erected these, only to set them on rent. Inside the slums thrives hundreds of households, hundreds of different ways of life. Someone has coated his walls with red soil, and someone else has applied a neat amount of cow-dung. Someone has harbored a Tulsi. Someone has decorated his door with a movie poster, in a flashy attempt at cheap embellishment. Amidst these loitered and drowned men of labor, packaging all their life into a bundle of dreams and hopes. The bundle will break tomorrow.

Chandu Havildar went some paces forward, into the slums. There was the ubiquitous murmur around him of chatter amongst people of the slum. There is an ill-suppressed agitation in the air. But from where he was standing, it sounded like silence. A complete standstill. Have the people evacuated already? Chandu kept moving forward. This time he heard some discernible talk. It was the voice of a housewife.
 
“Hey, listen! There’s no oil in the lamp. You’ve to eat here, in the moonlight.” She placed a pot on the ground, in front of a man.

“Fine. No need for oil. The moonlight is just fine.” The man said this, and gulped down the food incessantly. Rice, along with roasted and dried fish.

“You know the slum is going to be broken down tomorrow, right?” –said the housewife.

“Yes.”

“And still you keep eating like anything.”

“So? What should I do? Stay hungry and hit my head on a wall? Jump in the river and drown? A rope around my neck, perhaps? Hey, who do we have to fear? It’s not like we have a house to protect, with all our precious belongings stuffed in it. Some clothes, a utensil or two – if this much is packed, we can go to any place grandly, like a King. What do we have to care for?” The man said with his mouth stuffed with a pouch of rice.

And now the housewife groaned, in an indignant tone – “O God! A selfish man you are! Ever mind about that man next door? His mother is bedridden since six months, can’t pick herself up. Her son commands her to die. Her daughter-in-law commands her to die. The old woman is ragged. The man was saying today – when he leaves the slum, he’ll leave his mother to die here. She’ll die on her own once the bulldozer starts. My insides shook when I heard this kind of talk. Ever think about what will happen to her when it starts tomorrow?”

Then again, with moistening eyes and in a quivering voice, she continues. “You know that Nakhi sister? Her stomach swollen like anything, she can’t even sit or get up. She keeps crawling all day. Doctor says there are two kids in there. Her husband is shouting at her, saying he can’t move the entire luggage with one hand and a pregnant wife on the other. He shoved twenty bucks in her hand, and said – ‘Go, take a rickshaw to the hospital. Get your children out there.’ Hey, you tell me, how can she go all the way to hospital, alone? In a rickshaw, that too!”

What will really happen tomorrow? When the bulldozer raves on these homes? Chandu called out in a shrill voice. The housewife was taken aback.

“Ho, who are you? What business here? Are you one of those house-breakers?” –she cried.

“Hey, why are you messing with those officers? Keep away.” –shrieked his husband.

Chandu stood speechless.
But now the man was laughing, with smirks in between his hearty puffs. “Hey, why don’t you start with who you are? Why are you strolling here in the slums? Are you one of those, what do they say- Maoists? Are you?”

Chandu smiled to himself. All those telephone lines, and shrinking of the universe down to the very minimum, and yet the distance between men. A distance filled with deceit, doubt, and envy.

So he explained himself to the slum-dwellers, calmly, saying he was not one of them Maoists, and said he won’t do anything to them. He doesn’t mean any harm. He just said that he was here to tell them to move out before daybreak, not make any trouble, or else the Police will just go all out on them, will trample anything that moves.

A man came running down from the other side – a thick and stocky one. He shoved Chandu with his elbows, and bellowed a grunt.
“Hey, who the hell are you? We’ll take care of ourselves. No need for the warning. Now get the hell out.”

The man shoved him again. Doing good meant getting hurt. Chandu turned his back and retreated. The man was still irately shouting, and sniggering beneath his breath.  “Huh! Look! Rascal! Another of those politicians. Ganging up at the squares, and then coming here, pretending to be our saviours.”

Chandu looked forward, and really, there was a sort of gang of people huddled up at the square, opposite to the street-lamp. They were all grouped before the only couple of shop-cabins on that lane. They were slum-dwellers too, and there was a debate brewing amongst them. Some of them were cheap politicians, inciting the volatile folk, fanning their rudimentary rage, inviting them to spark the venom of violence. And they were burning, slowly.
 
Someone, is saying something, about origins. “This was the land of our grandfather, and before him, it belonged to his grandfather. We own this land, this air, and the water here. We were born here, and we’ll die here. Anybody who thinks otherwise is bound to witness a river of blood.”

Who was saying this, exactly? His face was seething and bubbling with fumes of anger. Like a wild snake of the woods raising its potent orifice filled with latent lethality, it seemed to eject venom of fury. Chandu stood still for a time, with his spongy heart beating in suspense. What hopes he had come with, hoping to make the people comprehend their position, hopes of successful evasion from disaster, of timely evacuation before trouble! But here people are hungry for violence and blood. Does a sense of self-esteem and a right to freedom necessitate violence? Does a person with a proclivity to shed blood espouse tenderness? Does he possess an affinity to compromise?

He rather fights with anger.

What can he do, the totality of his being amounting to only an ordinary particle of dust amidst the whole spectrum of the universe? What could he do? What would he?

Helplessly arrested by these thoughts, he stood a good distance away from the capricious gathering. What will really follow, if that man leaves his mother here to die, if the pregnant woman has to crawl and crawl till the end of the road?
Suddenly, flashing before his eyes came the vision of the wooden son. Lord Jagannath. The married couple has spent a lifetime of love, reverence, and devotion to create life in it. Has he not saved them from fatalities, and has he not prevented insurmountable inconveniences? He isn’t only in one place, in the divine throne inside the holy temple but everywhere, even in the lap of Nayani. Save these people and Cheese-cakes as bhog is promised to you Lord! Chandu joined hands in prayer, wishing for the wooden son’s intervention. His inner voice implored the deity, ‘Save me from these tribulations, O omnipotent!’

Chandu returned home pretty late in the night, and the first thing his wife asked when he saw him: “Did you forget the rice?”
Chandu solemnly said, “The shopkeeper had already closed. He will send it first thing in the morning.”

The next day started like an alarming announcement for Chandu. An announcement for him to realize himself, identify himself, or to exceed himself? He was basking in this indecisiveness. As soon as he woke up, he took a look at Nayani. Like everyday, on her face was a halo of solace. No frustration due to his forgetfulness to bring rice. If it would have been urgent, she would have got it herself from the market. Chandu felt the pangs of guilt which come when you cheat and look back in righteous reflection.
 
By the time the clock showed eight, he was ready for work. Uniform was donned. Belt was drawn. A slanted cap was worn. A stiff lathi was resolutely enclosed between his fingers. This is his identity. This is also his cooking-pot, and yet he faces a dilemma with it every day. He feels like a stubborn child disappointed in adults whenever he is wearing it. His heart ruffles, declining every attempt of persuasion. He stood facing the mirror. He told his reflection – “Hey innocent, get ready to beat people. Go, make a stand. You are supposed to be the savior of societal discipline. But now stand up to facilitate chaos and unleash violence. A life of discipline ultimately leads to indiscipline. Go, Go, Hurry!”

A bowl of chudda Nayani kept for his breakfast. Like every day, after finishing that bowl, he stood in a moment of goodbye and reverence for the son of Nayani. Before he left the doorstep, he turned to look back on him again, with bleak eyes and then facing Nayani said, “Don’t wait for me. Do have your food.”

Chandu walked and walked until he reached the slums. And the process was going on ceremoniously. A bulldozer ominously awaiting destruction before the slums. The driver whiffing puffs of cigar smoke and playing a song on his tiny mobile phone. Police forces surrounded every corner of the slums. A couple of senior officers stood in intensely ironed shirts and posed professionally. In one’s hand was waving a fluffy paper. Official Order. A notice for a genocide.

The tender sunlight of early morning was scattered everywhere. The slums were looking lifeless and comatose. The morning resembled a devilish harbinger of destruction. The sunlight was getting sharper now, glinting like a knife’s edge. And Chandu was helpless before it.

Alongside the slums, under a gigantic tree were gathered a group of children, ladies, housewives, and old people. From inside the ragged slums, there appeared half a dozen men armed with hacksaws. A bunch of naked children were roaming from everywhere to everywhere, with their palms clutching a loaf of bread, or a torn remnant of a roti.
 
Whistles were creating cacophony amidst amplified warnings to evacuate the slums. Police were marching all over. One housewife came outside and shouted viciously, “Ho Babus! Are y’all cowards? Have you no children? The first thing in the morning and you want us to move out and vacate? We have to boil and fry something for the kids, Sirs; what’ll they eat? You’d rather have us struggle and die on the roadside!”

Listening this, one policeman, furious with his face boiling, came rushing towards the woman. But Chandu held his wrist and stopped him. He himself went forward and addressed her, Mausi, we gave you a notice three months ago, now, didn’t we? Shouldn’t you have arranged something? Okay, no point thinking about it now. Move on, carry on. When you swim in the pond, you shouldn’t fight with the crocodiles. This was all he said, and then he checked the expression on his superintendent from the corner of his eye. He knew he wasn’t himself. This was his uniform speaking.

Now, the officer arrived at the forefront. “Brothers, quickly now. Do not obstruct governmental business. Your complaint is with the office. It will be contemplated. You’ll be rehabilitated. Now let us do our work. The order has come from above, the higher level.”
 
“Hey, who’s there ‘above’, huh? There’s only One up there, above. Everyone else is here.” Saying this there came upon the force a dozen robust people from the slums. On their heads were turbans made of ragged clothes, and on their hands were long staffs of bamboo, and around their waists were towels wound tightly. One man came up front and virtually roared, “Hey you! There are animals –lions, and tigers out there that have corroded the seed of the nation. The earth is bloody with their acts.  I don’t see you even touching them. And now you come up to capture us mice and rats? Chi, Chi!

Another man, headstrong as ever, came up and shouted – “We’re poor people, we’re the trappings of misfortune. We’re the trappings of flood and typhoons.  But now, we shall not tolerate and be trapped by humans anymore. This is the slum of our grandfathers; you’ll have to walk over our corpses to get it.”

These statements appeared to unleash violent sparks all over. Everyone seemed contagiously simmering with the heat of the moment. The police charged at the mouth of the slums, and the two opposites collided head-to-head, with a multitude of tattered home-made saris and many towels bristling with sweat around the waist defending against lathis and khaki uniforms. When the vanquished lot was teeming with rage and anger after their sense of pride was hurt by lathis and uniforms, the indignation rose, manifested through violence to prove its vigor, and retaliated. Within moments, there swept a whirlwind of brutality. All within the time you took to blink. The bulldozer ruffled with its abrasive noise of advancement, and countless ululations and wailings of ‘hai-hai’ got buried under bricks, leaving behind torn tarpaulin and pieces of wooden sticks as residue of a desiccated world.

The vehicles were ceaselessly flowing on the road. Many onlookers were gathered and reflected on the scene. Someone among them was saying – “Brother, look, look! Look at that havildar, within the scuffle, helping those two women from the stampede and carrying them, taking them to the shade of the trees. That woman is pregnant, look, and he’s….he’s shielding them from the lathis and all the hitting. Surely the child is coming soon now!”

These revelations by the witnesses were sorely lost amidst the ‘hai-hai’ and the cacophonic clamor. Meanwhile, the once organized entirety of their lives was scattered before the multitude like everyday garbage. Even then, spurred on by the endless hope that life sometimes offers in the direst of situations, someone was recovering wooden sticks, straps of bamboo, some woman was collecting stuff which composes a commonplace household, an old woman was upsetting a mould of earth in the hope to excavate a holy Hindu calendar. Children were seeking their toys. As if life was desperate to soften and rejuvenate back in time.

Officers and the police force conveniently finished their official duties and went home. But still some people remained, clubbing together. Within them, slowly and slowly, emerged the figure of Chandu havildar. He was having trouble walking; his backbone had encountered a nasty blow. Bones are cracking. But the feeling of satiation empowers him, a satiation of not beating anyone, even if in the process inviting physical knocks. He felt as if he had rescued the entire lot of police from mounding a curse on their head. If he hadn’t detoured here last night, he’d have known nothing. Nothing of the plight of ‘Nakhi sister’, or of that old, bedridden woman. Nothing of the location of that particular slum.

But somebody must have noticed him. The scene must have been captured by cameras, press, in the fancy TV cameras which will certainly broadcast this massacre. In a short time, they’ll be in his house, reporters tugging at him, asking – “Why did you do that? Weren’t you forgetting your duty? Were you not obstructing government orders?”

What will he answer? Will he stammer at that crucial point? Will he be able to shout at the cameras and the TV people and answer in the affirmative? – “Yes, I have obstructed. I went against my duty. But I’m a human first. Then a Havildar.”

Making a long, crumpled face he retraced his way back home. He knows what will be on TV tonight. He also knows what the newspapers will be full of tomorrow. And then will come to him, by postage, an official notice of dismissal. Yes, the letter will certainly arrive; he’ll certainly be fired. Then the orders to leave his quarters. If he’s too late, his life will be dispensable like the slum dwellers. The future seems crystal clear to Chandu. Okay. So be it.  But he’s feeling really good today.

If that Nakhi sister gives birth to a couple of sons, will he go to ask and borrow one of the newborns for him and Nayani? No, no. So be it, his wooden son is enough. What better child than him? Then he made a promise to the God – one cheesecake, as bhog. Yes, he better pick up some cheesecakes right now. He’ll tell Nayani, your son is a real capable one. His actions are too much. If you love him, there are no riches for you. But he does bring you back to the road which leads to love. There’s not even an inch to budge off that track.

Chandu’s eyes were heavy now, his whites swollen with the weight of liquid. He said in his mind, “You’re just as gentle as you’re rigid, aren’t you?”

An image of his son, adorned with his head-crest wrapped neatly in bright, glossy paper flashed before his eyes.

# Originally written in Odia by Smt Banaja Debi Translated from Odia to English by Udayshree Kanungo