Oh Laxmi! Chapter 4

Chapter 4

At home, Mamta had finished the morning’s chores and was preparing to go out to get the necessaries for the dinner. As she passed the little table in the corner of the room where they all slept and the girls did their study she picked up one of the books belonging to Amali and opened it. It was full of diagrams and numbers and words she didn’t understand and although she tried hard as she turned the pages squinting at it, there was nothing in there that seemed to make any sense to her. Then, like a curtain lifting in a dark store room, she saw not rubbish and boxes but something else in a corner of the room that piqued her interest. She put the book down, squared it up with the others and left the house.

Out on the street since it was mid-morning the office workers had long gone to work, the students to school or university, the construction workers were already grinding banging and digging but the streets were not the usual heaving queues that often constituted street traffic in India. Although pretty much at any time of day but particularly at festivals the markets and areas around Laxmi Rd were a crush of people like the focus of the eye of India had turned in on itself. Laxmi Rd was the place to buy any manner of trinkets clothing jewellery cloth, in fact it was said that if you couldn’t find something in Laxmi Rd you wouldn’t find it anywhere.

Down a few hundred metres from where they lived in their two roomed house was a little group of shops where Mamta had been coming for the small needs of her family. Here she could buy the little green fingers of okra, French beans thin as straws, paneer, milk, bananas both yellow and occasionally in season the large red ones, small sweet pineapples and for a short season strawberries from Mahabaleshwar or Panchagani. These cost a lot though up to 150 rupees for a kilo at the peak of the season which was beyond their means. The rest of the shopping was generally at Phule Market, which everyone called Mandai, where there was an enormous bustling open market and here you could truly buy anything edible or otherwise. At the back of the market almost opposite the church was where the carcasses and scraps of off cuts were thrown onto a tray truck and the smell was horrific even by normal standards. Rats, cats, dogs and crows vied for a meal as some of the refuse spilled over the top and slid to the ground in long stinking cables of sinew attached to bone skin and fat.

A couple of days before when she had been passing on her way into the market trying to avoid a huge crowd that had gathered around three men fighting a rickshaw driver she had one of those moments of perfect clarity and focus which she had had a few times in th past and these had always seemed portentous so she was always scared when the feeling came on her. A huge crow swept down from the wall where it had been eyeing off the truck of goat carcasses and assorted body parts, and sat on the skull of a goat and begun dipping its beak into the eye socket of the animal. A peculiar feeling passed through her, a coldness that made her shudder and she suddenly flapped her dupatta at the crow and called out, “Go away! Go! Shoo!” It hopped on the skull hovering up and down as if it was on a little puppet string then cocking its head sideways scrutinised her before rising up in the air and launching itself at her. As its wingtips passed the side of her head she recoiled and almost fell, if it were not for the steadying hands of a young man indeed, she would have fallen onto that filthy street.

“Thank you! Thank you!” She nodded to him re-balancing herself.

He smiled so happily and broadly that it seemed like the gates of heaven had opened up their brilliance just for her and she found herself doing the same in response, how could she not? He was handsome indeed with light skin and lambent eyes of jet black that twinkled brightly.

“It’s fine aunty. Glad to help. Horrible crow!”
“Yes he nearly got me…oh I just couldn’t stand watching him take the eye out!”
“Yes I know how you feel. It isn’t like the poor goat could use it anymore but just the same, it was nasty.”

She smiled and adjusted her dupatta picked up her basket and thanking the young man, was about to go on with the business of the day, when the young man suddenly called to her, “Aunty, I see you here a lot, what is your name?”

“Mamta Dalvi What is yours young man?”

“Isaac Joshi.”

“Ah, isn’t your father Amit Joshi? He sells leather on Baner Rd near the park?”

“Yes.”

“He knows my husband actually. Ravi Dalvi.”

“Well well that is good… I will tell my father I ran into you today. Nice to be of help, bye!”

They smiled again, he raised his hand in a little wave and they turned away to their day.

On this Thursday though, the day Ravi had gone off happy with his life, a contented look warm on his leathered face, their daughters had gone to their respective classes and she had the whole day stretched ahead of her albeit dotted with the usual signs of domestic chores, she found herself at the same place as the other day where she had had the altercation with the crow and the help of the young man. She dove between bodies at the gate and went in.

There was no denying it was a fascinating place with high and good energy even if the smells were powerful enough to knock your head off sometimes, she loved coming here. Also there was great care needed when walking down the rows as apart from the large numbers of people, there were lots of slops and vegetable pieces or smashed fruits that lay underfoot. She went inside the covered part to get some respite from the heat and rest a moment on one of the sacks of onions just around the corner of the stall with the pomegranates oranges and imported apples in bright pyramids towering over papaya and green mangoes nestled at their feet. She sat watching as people came and went picking up this or that smelling squeezing and very occasionally secreting the odd piece in their pocket or bag. She had seen this very often and had decided since the first time she spoke up, never to do it again.

It had been an old woman, very gaunt with a dirty pink and silver sari which could have wrapped two people her size, who caught her indignation and ire. Her hands were extraordinarily gnarled with arthritis and the skin covering them seemed like thin sheets of crumpled paper made more topographic by the veins which travelled the surface like a Bombay road. Mamta had seen her standing unsteadily by a stall of fruit and veg and felt sorry for her until she saw her pass a small custard apple to the edge of the pile then while the stall keeper wasn’t looking, tip it off the edge into her basket pushed mostly under the trestle. From there she followed her to other stalls where she did the same trick. Finally, outraged by this, Mamta jumped forward and snatched the basket from underneath during the last theft and produced it triumphantly to the stall keeper with a flourish.

“Thief! She’s a thief…look at what she has in here!” The basket was half full of single pieces of fruit and vegetables, a few samosas and a couple of packets of bhuja. The old woman instantly sank to the floor in a pitiful heap wailing and plucking at Mamta’s salwar kameez.

“Ai ai ai!” She wailed in a thin whine which made Mamta angrier.

“Stop it! Stop it! Don’t touch me!” She pushed the dry claw away disgusted by the black nails and grimy fingers. The old woman bent over with her forehead to Mamta’s feet still wailing, people started to gather curious about the noise and activity. She poked her away with her foot and the old woman shuffled forward reaching out to clasp Mamta around the ankles. Mamta leant down and tapped her on the top of the head to get her attention but she didn’t respond and with seemingly incredible strength like some pink and silver boa constrictor Mamta found the old woman wrapping her legs now in her grasp. She felt frightened and began to struggle pushing the old woman away from her by the shoulders. Finally she slapped her on top of the head very hard and as she loosened her grip Mamta gave her a hard push and got free, upset and panting hard yet never for a moment did the old lady let up wailing and pleading. The crowd that gathered around weren’t made up of shopkeepers of stall owners at all, just nosy  shoppers and hangers on who like many appreciated a bit of drama. Someone called out.

“What’s she done sau?”

Feeling very angry and rattled, Mamta pointed to the bag of goods now spilled on the ground.

“She stole all that!”

The old woman was a mess of wailing crying and pulling at her hair, striking herself on the head. A small boy stepped from the shadows and leaning down took the old hands in his hands and said. “Come on granny. Don’t cry. I’ll help you.”

The old one pricked up a bright eye to the child and with exaggerated difficulty and the child’s help, got up shakily, without once looking at Mamta now suddenly confronted by a sympathetic group led by the little boy, got up gathered her goods and melted away, watched by twenty or thirty pensive faces who had a granny just like that somewhere in their own families.

Sitting there jiggling her little feet in their chaplis, she saw the young man Isaac at the end of the row and he waved wildly to her and came quickly towards her. She saw his smile disappear as he approached noticing that he was nervous and agitated.

“Mrs Dalvi! I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“Why Isaac? What is it that has you bursting like a poppadum?”

He looked at her with full dark eyes and with a little roll of his head said a little breathlessly. “I have something to tell you about your husband! You have to come with me.”

*

Ravi watched the light above the bed with his ‘good’ eye, even though it seemed at first to water in sympathy with its injured twin. He stared and stared at the circular fluorescent ring in the hospital ceiling as though it might be some portal to a world of knowing or a place where he might have heeded the injunctions of his youth. “Don’t look up Ravi!” How brutal life could be, how things could change forever with one gesture, one movement, one decision. How was it that it was so? Was there something he had done wrong to deserve this? Had he grown greedy? Was there so much ambition in him that now he had to be cut down like this? Was there a god he had offended in the daily process of his life tending his goats and family with a lax lathi?

He closed his eye and saw the afterimage burning inside his mind. He focused on the corona of light that was entirely incandescent then strangely an image seemed to come forward that was a kind of dark green and red. It seemed generally, a kind of abstract face melting into the shadow of a lumpy shoulder or neck with the eyes deeply set in shadowed pools of a penumbrous gaze. He scrutinized the face which popped out from the light like a piece of photo paper sitting in the chemical bath of developer. He looked and looked until the image faded and the dark red of his closed eyelids with their strange abstract shapes came and went. He watched the little wriggly lines that rose and fell in his vision and he breathed in rhythm with their movement, deeply inhaling and exhaling.

A feeling bubbled up inside him that was surprising exciting and entirely unfamiliar so that he felt elevated from his pain even elevated from his body. It was like having a sadhu practice his best and most exotic mysteries inside him with a crowd of watchers enthralled and gasping in wonder. It was like having Ganesh embrace him and lift him in the elephant trunk of safety and certainty and put him onto its back from where he could see perfectly how well his life was marked with a line of Before and After. Thus it would ever be, the continuous line of events, the imaginary binary laws of yes and no, good and bad, helpful harmful, miracle catastrophe, friend enemy, riches or poverty that formed the wheeling changing conga line of the dance of life. He was one of the starlings in its murmuration wheeling and darkly coruscating over the land in some beautiful wild chaos that was exactly and rightly part of the order of the way of it all; being and time.

He opened his good eye to dimly see his wife enter the cubicle through the curtain, her face appalled by what she saw. “Oh my. Oh my…” She repeated again and again and came to sit beside him pulling up a metal and vinyl chair with part of the stuffing in the seat busting through edge in protest at all the force that had plopped down and squeezed it over the long years in the hospital. “What have you done to yourself? Ravi oh my!” Tears fell freely from her dark eyes with the kohl on the lids contrasting with the slightly reddened rims making them seem larger in her small face. She tipped her head down towards him and wept over the hand she held within her own.

As he looked at her, trying hard to focus he realized that in all these years of coming and going eating drinking, walking to the markets, helping with the goats, stashing away every  possible rupee to put their girls through school with neat uniforms, making small pujas with her simple heart or sweeping with her brush broom, getting up early to cook for them every day of her  life that the small woman bent over the bed weeping, seemed to him to be the strongest rock on which the lives of their children and himself were secured.

He put his hand out and brushed her dark skein of hair.

“Shhh  Mamta dearest. I am alright. Don’t cry.”

Her tears were a salve to his sore hand and she looked up with her eyes brimming.

“What has happened to you?”

He almost laughed as he looked back now on the simple chain of events that now seemed ludicrous yet so devastating but his voice was husky and tight.

“Well, I did something I shouldn’t have done.”

She looked taken aback.

“What did you do that you shouldn’t have done, my Ravi?”

“I looked up into the Laburnum tree as a pod was falling. It dropped and hit me in the eye and then I fell over, two or three times.”

She looked at him as if he had merely bleated like one of his goats as this hardly seemed the cause of the ruin she saw before her.

“Two or three times?”

“Yes. The pod was heavy and full of seeds. I couldn’t see, then I fell.”

She resumed stroking his hand.

“Well. What do the doctors say?”

“I don’t know. I am waiting.”
“Well we will wait and see then. It will be alright, don’t worry.”

Her kindness didn’t put his spine straight at all and he felt a huge welling of his heart as he peered at her with his good eye, his chest heaved as he tried to control himself then he broke.

“We’re ruined! The goats ran off, they’ll be in someone’s pot by now. Now I’m a blind man and everything we struggled for everything for the girls is now gone, everything is gone.”

He sobbed and gasped and each heave hurt his eye and head with an intolerable anguish but nothing hurt more than his heart with twenty five years of working and scrimping to get ahead now gone to nought. Mamta put her head down so he couldn’t see her tears falling. She knew he was right.

The curtain was pushed aside and in came the doctor who looked on this scene with heartfelt dismay, although the tableaux was nothing new at all but the small pretty woman weeping while she rubbed her husband’s hand with her own work worn ones and the man with the dark flowering bruise around the ruined eye leaning over her dark head with everything battered and torn in his life struck him with a sudden quiver of sympathy.

He cleared his throat and they sat back and looked at him with respect and deference Ravi wiping his nose on his arm and Mamta her beautiful eyes with her small fingers.

“Good morning. I’m Dr Chaudhary. So now, what’s the problem?”

He knew it was an obvious question but it was the routine, it made people focus on their primary problem but they never said the real problem, the truth, it was only usually the effect of the primary cause. A woman came in with a dislocated jaw and a black eye didn’t say. “It was poverty and desperation doctor that made my husband drink hootch like a bloody fish and lose control of himself and hit me. She said. “I fell over outside the factory where I work, I slipped on the road and hit the wall.”

The mother with the shitting child didn’t say. “We had to drink the river water doctor full of parasites and other peoples shit because we had no money to buy gas for the burner to boil the water because my husband died after he fell off the train to Bombay delivering an office manager his tiffin.”

The old woman brought in semiconscious with a broken hip would merely murmur that she’d fallen. She couldn’t say that her children had grown up and left her behind alone in her little hut while they rented a flat in Hinjewadi near where they worked as I.T. technicians. Or that she had climbed up on a chair to retrieve the tin of money she kept hidden at the back of the top cupboard because she had to pay for the gasman to deliver the gas bottle and he had refused to come back tomorrow when her son would be visiting and could get the money down easily, so she had fallen off and broken her hip. The gasman had poked his nose in the door and seen her on the floor and called a taxi to take her in to the hospital, ambulances were for rich people. When her neighbours tried to move her she screamed blue murder and so they left her on the floor until her son came six hours later in a huge panic. It was isolation broke her hip, not the fall.

Ravi moved his head to the side to better view the speaker and saw before him a corporeal man of about thirty five or perhaps forty with a beautiful handlebar moustache and very large black eyes which were bright with intelligence and good humour. Ravi nearly wept again with relief for he had scored the famous Dr Chaudhary whose reputation went all over the city for his acuity and kindness.  Ravi took hold of Mamta’s hand as he spoke so that when he gestured they did it as one which made the good doctor smile.

“All my life Dr Chaudhary I have observed the golden rules of my family. I have been a good and faithful husband, I never touched alcohol or tobacco, I never  so much as looked at the ankle bracelet of another woman, I worked to provide everything it was possible for my daughters and my wife, I contributed to the community feast at Ganpati- my best fat goat, I honoured my parents passing with puja and fasting, I have never stolen in my life, I swear to Krishna, and above all else I took care even to listen to what my father told me when he said, ‘ When walking under the trees always wear your turban and never look up.’ Today, I took off my turban because it was so hot and I had a headache, besides I was in the shade with my goats. I looked up and tschak! Right then doctor, a huge seed pod fell from the tree and struck me like six to the boundary by Tendulkar.”

Dr Chaudary had approached the bedside and was quietly observing Ravi’s face.

“That’s for the eye but then?”

“Well, I was in agony doctor, agony…actually you cannot imagine the pain. If I had been speared through with a sword it would have been the same. I fell to the ground screaming and frightened the goats who ran off. Then I heard a motorbike and the next thing I knew there was a horn blasting, the noise of the motorbike, the goats bleating and  running then when I could sit up, no goats, no motorbike. I tell you doctor, I sat there stunned, then a young fellow came along, a nice young man called Isaac, I know his father and he helped me up, we went for help but on the way I lost my balance fell and cut my foot open on a star picket which made me fall backwards onto one of those stalls they are pulling down then I hurt my hip.”

Dr Chaudhary gently turned Ravi’s face towards him and began to gingerly touch the area around the eye socket looking into the globe of the eye to see the extent of the injury. He held his finger up and asked Ravi to follow it as he moved it up and down back and forth. He produced a penlight from his coat pocket and warned Ravi it would be uncomfortable to see the light but to do his best to keep looking. There followed a short interval of time while Dr Chaudhary went outside to order the tests from the ophthalmologist and an x-ray to check the left hip which he suspected was fractured. A nurse came in with a tray of dressings and immediately began to wash and dress his right foot. She looked at it for a moment after tentatively washing the wound and then said crisply that it needed stitches.

This was one of the worst things, the local anaesthetic injections into the foot. The tear started at the top of the cuboid bone and extended all the way around to the junction of the Achilles tendon with the heel and needed careful repair as the scarring could jam up the flexion of the foot especially if the Achilles had been damaged. This was the easiest part of the treatment and worse was to come as he was shifted onto a trolley and taken to the x-ray department to check for the fractured hip and then to x-ray the eye socket and finally up to ophthalmology to check the eye perhaps an MRI if they could afford it.

By the afternoon he was spent and lay back on the bed with a small plastic cap taped over his eye and Dr Chaudhary standing flicking through the results on his clipboard.

“OK. Mr Dalvi the good news is that your Achilles tendon is only nicked slightly on the outside edge and will not have any permanent effects. Also your hip has a fracture like a little hair on the head of the femur here.” He pointed to Ravi’s hip. “That will also mend on its own and doesn’t need any further intervention. However you will need to rest a bit to let the inflammation come down and because it will be sore for a while.”

Ravi murmured.” How long?”

“A few weeks but you don’t need to be in bed. You can get up and move around, this is good for healing, gets the blood going.”

Mamta anxiously looked at her husband and gripped his forearm with both her hands saying anxiously.

“Excuse me doctor…the eye?”

Dr Chaudhary sighed and shifted on his tired feet putting the clipboard down on the tray at the end of the bed.

“Not so easy I am afraid. We will try to save the eye. I need to make some calls.” Ravi was calm with this news and being a man used to waiting, decided on that simple path, he would wait but Mamta cried.

 

Oh Laxmi! Chapter 2 and 3

Chapter 2

Amali stood outside the school with the other girls waiting to be let in for the exam. They all looked the same. Same hair parted in the middle, same red ribbons, same blue kurtas and white pyjamas forming the comfortable salwar kameez, same white dupatta with the same V fold in front.

She looked at the buildings opposite which were all shabby rendered concrete. Grime was growing like a case of black icthyosis over the surface of the Axis Bank on the corner where it was exposed to both the traffic and the little huddle of laundrymen at its base. The laundry was only a place to collect the dirty clothes, send them off to the river to be washed and dried and then returned to the skinny young men who danced maniacally in the appalling heat ironing them. She had never particularly noticed them before but today watching the young man on the right was spellbinding. His iron was heavy and attached to a long cord which formed its own rhythm snaking and flicking as he danced with the Indian techno doov doov doov of the music blasting from the CD player next to him. With each beat he whacked the iron down on the board and whizzed it over the surface of in this case, a large sheet. He was amazingly fast and in a minute had ironed all of one side and folded it two or three times. Sweat ran in shiny rivulets from his forehead and it was no surprise to see him secretly take out a little white paper bag and have a pinch of the ground ‘herbs’ inside. These contained the essential little helper to turn the ironing man from a skinny exhausted teenager into a real Iron Man worthy of a Golden Iron award.

She tried to concentrate on her maths and physics formulas and the possibility of having the nastiest of surprises in the exam; the sneaky physics question. In class they had come across these and one had really had her stumped. It was:

 Ignoring the moons gravity, if an object sitting still (relative to the Earth, i.e. not in orbit) was dropped from the moon. How long would it take to hit the Earth?

First she thought it would most likely never hit the earth because the Moon is in orbit around the Earth, so if you took away the Moon’s gravity then any object on its surface would have sufficient velocity to be in orbit around the Earth in its own right. She was proud of this answer and argued with her friend Anjali about it who said she was wrong and that it would be half the orbital period, around 4.8 days.

Someone said they were sure this question would appear on the paper since it had been used on the year before.

Anjali was smart. Incredibly nice and incredibly smart. She was lucky to have a friend like her they were like the best of sisters, inseparable and always with their heads together talking and laughing. It was funny how often you would think about someone and then they would appear, like now. Thinking about Anjali had made her appear.

“Namaste Amali! Oh I am soo scared!” Anjali shook her knees together rattling her plaits in concert with them. She hugged her skinny arms around herself.

“What are you looking at over there?” She asked.

“The ironing boy. How hot it would be for them in there!”

“Yes, probably over 45 degrees no doubts.”

“He is a good mover.”

Anjali giggled. “You’re not supposed to notice these things my friend!”

Amali waggled her head. “I don’t mean it like that but he has good rhythm, look and see for yourself!”

Another girl they knew moved over to see what they were looking at so intently, then another two came with her and before a minute had passed Amali and Anjali had the company of no less than 11 girls all peering across the road at the young man ironing.

The Collective Stare leaned into each other giggling and pointing at quite what they weren’t sure but the power of the knot kept them focussed. The young man meanwhile, oblivious to his audience, kept up the dashing movement and in that time had remarkably ironed another two sheets and folded each one with the precision of Pythagoras. A pause in his movement while he guzzled from a bottle of water holding it just above his open mouth, made the girls shuffle and shift their attention to each other, now strangely silent, some of their arms still draped around each other and as the bell rang for them to go in to begin the exam, a frisson of nervousness jolted them.

“Ai! Ai! This is it! Oh my God! The EXAM I’m going to fail!” They wailed.

All the senior girls taking the physics exam filed in through the school gates set into a brick wall with a bouquet of barbed wire crowning it but in the corner, where a vigorous red bougainvillea had tumbled over the top and looked as though in its defiance it would take more territory if the gardeners didn’t notice. This year to aid concentration, the senior management team had moved the exam room from the gymnasium which was actually a hall with two basketball rings precariously supported by sandbags, down into the storage area underneath the main building. Here the split and spilled bags of cement, broken sports equipment, boxes of papers and old files, pieces of broken desks and chairs and so forth had been pushed and stacked into a corner. It smelt of damp earth, six feet under. Sitting in the exam room, all the little wooden desks in soldiered rows of single file, Amali and Anjali twisted their dupattas in their fingers at the same time and gazed with huge black eyes at each other across the room.

As the exam paper arrived with a soft slap on each desk, the teachers were grim faced refusing eye contact with the girls, Amali reflected on things with the sudden clarity of a moment in life that only fear can best bring. She thought of being the wife of that young man across the road, seeing him only for a few hours a day, living with his family, the fighting that invariably occurred when large numbers of people shared one roof, the lack of privacy, the revolving door of pregnancies and never knowing how to feed clothe and school them on the wages brought in from ironing. It was a nightmare she never wanted and thanked God then for her skinny body, her big teeth and plain face.

There were three sections to the exam lasting three hours and ten minutes. The first section was short answers and multiple choice, the second section was problem solving and the third was comprehension.

She opened the booklet.

Section One: Short answers 40%      (66 Marks)

This section has 18 questions. Answer all questions. Write your answers in the spaces provided.

  • When calculating numerical answers, show your working or reasoning clearly.
  • Give final answers to three significant figures and include appropriate units where applicable.
  • When estimating numerical answers, show your working or reasoning clearly. Give final answers to a maximum of two significant figures and include appropriate units where applicable.

Spare pages are included at the end of this booklet. They can be used for planning your

responses and/or as additional space if required to continue an answer.

  • Planning: If you use the spare pages for planning, indicate this clearly at the top of the page.
  • Continuing an answer: If you need to use the space to continue an answer, indicate in the

original answer space where the answer is continued, i.e. give the page number. Fill in the

number of the question that you are continuing to answer at the top of the page.

Suggested working time: 70 minutes.

70 minutes! Not long enough for all these questions. A sudden squirming and heat moved in her guts and she breathed in hard and swallowed, clamping her muscles together willing them to restraint and control. It was always this way with her ever since she could remember, fear coiled in her like some mamba she could never get rid of. Every significant moment in her life was marked with this diabolical fear that one day she wouldn’t be able to control herself and that the public disgrace would ruin her.

Then she took up her pencil and began.

Question 1                                                                                                      (4 marks)

A farmer walked 745 m west from a gate to repair a fence post. When that job was finished

he turned around and walked 984 m east to repair another part of the fence. Draw and label a

vector diagram of his total journey then calculate his resultant displacement.

She did what she was told to do and worked quickly through all the questions she knew and left the hard ones till the end working to the time constraints as best as she could. She glanced at the clock and wondered at how time changed according to one’s circumstances or even in the body. The brain for example could know something in a nanosecond, the body learned more slowly but remembered everything, manifesting its memories in a variety of ways, disease for instance or being mute, it was the Ganesh of the human being. The emotions were like the weather turning in an instant to storms and rage with the vicissitudes of life or more slowly as though in harmony with seasonal patterns. She thought about the young man and how time must drag for him, every day of his life wrinkled with other people’s textiles, the tiny bodices of young woman or the bigger ones of grannies, the trousers of hopeful men as they walked to their next IT interview, the sheets people made love on, the sarees ladies shopped in, the shirts boys wore to school or work, all the marvellous coverings of thousands of lives all pressed beneath the hot iron of this young man.

Last night she had listened to her father and mother talking in bed. It was something Amali loved to do since she was a little girl, and it was easy to do for all the families in these houses as only a thin partition between the rooms of the families who occupied the house gave any sense of privacy. Her parent’s room was shared with their work things, the latest sewing projects, or clothes spare sheets and so forth were kept in three boxes stacked in a corner of the room and the little room she shared with Leila her sister. Their mother Mamta, had a cough and complained about her bones a lot and didn’t laugh as often as she used to. Her hugs seemed to be less frequent  than tired irritable words and Amali longed to please her and see her smile. Frequently she would plan little events to try to elicit that glorious beam from her mother’s face. Sometimes she would pick flowers and make them into garlands and give them to her mother. She would run errands for her and rub her feet or brush her skein of black hair. She understood how hard life was for her mother and saw in the thin hand the fine tremor had begun just after the birth of her younger sister Leila, had only got worse. Mamta was not able to sew much any more and this was a great blow to her as now she was not able to put much money aside for her girls. Two years ago she had begun working full time again despite the protestations of Ravi. It was a complicated thing this marriage business. He complained about her working and said it made him feel useless, a half a man that he couldn’t provide enough for them but then he was always very pleased to find the school fees paid or the girls shaking their heads pretty with new ribbons. He was proud of his Mamta and loved her more than he could possibly have told her. She in turn had found his dedication to her needs and gentle consideration deeply touching and over the years they had found in each other a comfort and pleasure that was as deep as it was surprising.

Listening to her parents was a way Amali felt included, that knowing all their chat about family matters was some kind of bond between them all that helped strengthen the family unit. Her mother was a delicately built person with fine hands and feet but with a solid bottom. Her father had been a cloth seller in Surat in Gujarat and had done reasonably well making a good living from the little shop he opened there. He had three sons and four daughters and all of them had done well except for Mamta who had not been an exceptionally pretty girl, and was, like her own daughter, considered too dark for most men’s taste and had an air of stubbornness about her that put people off. In the end with her parents aging, the shop not doing well as great growth and competition happened in Surat, Mamta had to face the inevitable and come to her marriage with Ravi very late in her reproductive life because of these facts. She was already 29 when the betrothal took place and she was alternately resentful and grateful to Ravi for marrying her. She had established a kind of an independence within her own family sewing for a tailor who sublet business out to others. She specialised in sewing tiny geometric or round mirrors in patterns on fabric, sometimes wall hangings for which she received enough to pay her way in the family and was able to save a little each week towards her dowry gold which she kept secret from everyone and hidden away in a small earthenware pot she had put behind  the food cupboard. Not even Ravi knew about the amount of the gold she had as she had only taken a portion out for her wedding and added it to the gifts from her parents and other relatives, the rest was for the day of calamity, her daughters weddings or retirement.

Now 83 mins were over and Amali came to the last two questions of Section One.

Question 17                                                                                                                (3 marks)

In the game of cricket, a batsman wears pads on his legs to protect them from injury by a fast

moving ball. Each pad has 3 cm of padding between it and the batsman’s leg and each pad has

rigid plastic slats built into it, as shown in the diagram below.

 

Rigid plastic slats

(internal)

Padding
Ball this side
Leg this side
Side view of a cricket pad

Explain, using your understanding of one of Newton’s laws, how the padding reduces injury to

the batsman’s leg if it is hit by a cricket ball.

 Amali smiled. This one was very simple something she knew almost intuitively. Then came the last one.

 Question 18.                                                                                                               (3 marks)

A feather is dropped on the moon from a height of 1.40 meters. The acceleration of gravity on the moon is 1.67 m/s2. Determine the time for the feather to fall to the surface of the moon.

Not quite what she was hoping for even though it was related to others. She had spent 73 minutes on the questions so far and was totally clear on this one.

 

Given:

vi = 0 m/s d = -1.40 m a = -1.67 m/s2
Find:

t = ??

d = vi*t + 0.5*a*t2

-1.40 m = (0 m/s)*(t)+ 0.5*(-1.67 m/s2)*(t)2

-1.40 m = 0+ (-0.835 m/s2)*(t)2

(-1.40 m)/(-0.835 m/s2) = t2

1.68 s2 = t2

t = 1.29 s

She turned the page

 

Section Two: Problem solving                                                                       50% (90 Marks)

 This section has seven(7)questions. You must answer all questions. Write your answers in the spaces provided.

Spare pages are included at the end of this booklet.They can be used for planning your responses and/or as additional space if required to continue an answer.

Planning: If you use the spare pages for planning, indicate this clearly at the top of the page.

  • Continuing an answer: If you need to use the space to continue an answer, indicate in the original answer space where the answer is continued, i.e. give the page number. Fill in the number of the question(s) that you are continuing to answer at the top of the page.Suggested working time: 90 minutes.

 

Her heart fell as she read the questions and had no idea at all what to write. It was not something they covered much in class.

Question 19                                                                                         (10 marks)

 

An uncharged drop of oil is given 7 excess electrons. It is then introduced into the space between two horizontal plates 25.0 mm apart with a potential difference between them of 1.50 kV. The drop of oil remains stationary.

(a)Calculate the magnitude of the electric field strength between the plates

 

(b)Is the top plate positive or negative? Explain your reasoning.

 

(c) Calculate the magnitude of the electric force acting on the oil drop.

 

(d)Calculate the mass of the oil drop.

Here is where she stopped and put down her pencil. Within her was a vision of a piece of material scrunched and wrinkled before the young man opposite the school and no matter how fast or hard he pressed, nor however hot the iron, the wrinkles sprang back into shape.

The mamba was back in her guts biting and writhing. She would have to go to the toilet and as she raised her hand to signal one of the teachers supervising the exam the room suddenly went dark.

A murmur bubbled through the room and one of the teachers called for quiet. They waited silently in the dark for the inverters on the batteries to kick in but all they heard was a high thin whine from the floor above them. One of the teachers took her phone out of her bag and turned it on illuminating her way out to find out what was happening. A couple of the girls near the door whispered and a teacher yelled loudly. “No talking! Anyone who talks will have their papers failed.” Amali thought, good luck seeing who it was.

The returning teachers came in and told the girls to stand up and leave everything on their desks as they were and that there was no possibility of continuing the exam that day. They would be re-located to the upper classrooms the following day. They shuffled out quietly and as the girls reached the light of the street their noisy babble rose to an excited pitch.

Anjali found her friend waiting under the Flame Tree that grew just outside the school with its candles of spiky flowers clasped in the top of its branches like red fingernails.

“Did you know the answer to question 19?” Anjali blurted out.

“No! I didn’t…anyway we aren’t allowed to talk about the exam!”

“Phht don’t be so silly! Who is to know?”
“I will. So will Krishna.”

“Oh don’t be such an old prude. I won’t tell anyone.”

Amali looked at her friend and smiled leaned forward and gave her a grave little pinch on the cheek.

“No.”

Anjali smiled and sighed. “Oh you are such a goody goody.”

They both turned their heads simultaneously to see the ironing man still dancing like a puppet held by a master who loved rhythm. He seemed as though he was in a trance and dashing the iron on the cloth in front of him was a punctuation in the music blasting at him.

Amali took the arm of her friend and said very seriously.

“You don’t talk about the exam ok? Not to anyone. It will not be good if you do.”

The ironing boy gave a special whack to the sheet he was ironing, cleaning up a little nest of wrinkles such as one might find at the corner of a fakir’s eye. Anjali paused and looked at her serious friend and smiled, ‘Don’t worry! Oh there’s my bus, I’ll see you tomorrow!”

*

The best place in the bus was the second seat on the left of the driver. The first one wasn’t because the driver jettisoned his paan spittle out the window and when these were all opened it wasn’t unknown for a bit of blowback onto the passengers behind him. She sometimes saw drivers with a little paper bag which they frequently dipped into putting some kind of powder into their mouth and it was suspected that many crashes happened because the drivers were spaced out on this stuff. It was giddy-up powder and made the driver red-eyed, moving around in their seat like the ironing boys and driving erratically so she was happy that the driver on her route only spat gobs of red juice from his red stained mouth. The pavements and walls of buildings even trunks of trees were spattered with it in certain areas making the street look as though a great slaughter had recently happened but it was only the juice and spit from the paan.

The buses were always a crush of people and it was rare to find a seat anyway but this afternoon was her lucky day and she slid onto the wooden slats shiny from so many warm bottoms and friction. An old lady was next to her speaking very loudly into her mobile phone, almost shouting down the line to whoever was the recipient of the barrage. What was it with old ladies and yelling and never listening? She thought there were three types of old ladies. Ones like this woman, the old harridans and termagants so frustrated by their lack of progress in life they bullied and badgered their families until one day their hearts refused to beat even one more time and they would topple over in their kitchens mid-castigation, at a wedding while bitching about the bride’s mother or even in the street usually just before monsoon. Then there were ones that were silent and overcome by the harshness of life ending their days like shadows flitting across the streets, or leaning into corners where they became un-decorated human hat-stands. Then there were the ones who were rich and regal, whose genetic trail spoke for itself in the line of doctors, lawyers and politicians they had given birth to and whom they spoke of fondly and frequently.

But this woman whom she had frequently seen on this bus route, didn’t let up shouting. She was a human stream of paan spittle staining the auditory universe. Quite suddenly she fell silent for a moment then said to Amali.

“I found something you might want or need, it’s very valuable.”

‘What do you mean?’

The woman cackled and said.

“What if I told you I found something you might want that might help you in what you did today?”

This was extremely confusing but as she looked down she saw a couple of sheets of paper rolled up with what looked like physics formulae typed on them. She gasped. It was the answer sheet.

“Where did you get that?”

“It was left on the seat just now by one of the teachers from your school. I saw her get off the bus and get off the back as you got on the front.”

“But how do you know I did the exam?”

“You were talking with Anjali. She’s my neighbour’s daughter. She was doing the exam today. She’s your friend, I’ve seen you together many times. Here take the papers, you’ve got to get some advantage in this damned world.” She held them up to Amali who stared at them as if the devil himself had put out his paw to shake her hand. It was nearly impossible to resist and she slowly put her hand out to take them but at the last second snatched her hand back and spun around to find herself a place far away from the witch.

*

Chapter 3

Ravi sat in emergency with Christianand and waited. The room was full of people in various states of resignation, too ill to care what was happening, or upset with waiting for hours, with rage because the doctor’s didn’t do their job properly or walking out with relief on their face. In the waiting room which was rimmed by rows of black plastic chairs bolted together in rows as if hordes of penitents had entered for absolution for their unholy diets, their nasty personaluij8uij8 hygiene or by the avenging hand of Kali who had laid them low. If some alien had landed in Pune and had come to hospital having banged his nut on the console of his spacecraft as they’d landed, he would immediately transmigrate knowing he would never be seen here and bandaged up in an eon, there were too many people before him. Yet there was a steady flow in and out like some huge pump was pushing them in and another was sucking them out.

In time, Christianand asked Ravi. “Shall I fetch your wife? Where do you live?”

Ravi by now was almost in another state of being, so distracted was he by the pain caused by the various accidents of the day. He quarter turned to the rickshaw driver wondering what he had said. “Uh?”

“Shall I get your wife for you?’ He repeated.

“Yes! Should be at home but maybe at the market, Phule Market.” said Ravi and gave the directions of his house to the driver.

“You are so kind… I thank you with all my heart brother.”

Christianand looked at the ticket Ravi held and saw his number was far and away one of the last to be seen. He had time to go and come back provided he left now.

“Achar, dada. I will be back. Don’t worry, everything will be fine. I have prayed to Dhanvantari and you will be ok.”

As he left the room, Christianand turned and saw Ravi as a kind of punctuation mark in the room, a small and skinny man on a chair, his right arm held up parallel with his torso, his skinny legs rigid and also parallel to the chair legs, his back straight and rigid, he was an exclamation mark crying out. ‘Look! See what misfortune has brought me here!’

As he hurried to his rickshaw Christianand noted that a couple of security guards were approaching it. He had parked it away from the entrance but as Ravi was having trouble walking had probably left it too close. There was going to be a problem.

“Namaste!” He called to them optimistically.

“You cannot park here!” Both men were in shabby navy blue uniforms, one had a concave stomach and his hips jutted out as though he was a limbo dancer, his trousers bore some stains around the pockets and on one side of the fly where there was a very tiny bulge with another stain. The other was shorter with a moustache, hennaed hair and a pot belly that expressed itself over the top of the trousers and in a gap between the hems and shoes showing legs like dark vermicelli.

“I am very sorry sir, I brought an accident victim here. He is waiting to see a doctor as we speak.”

“That’s what they all say. Well you have parked in the doctor’s emergency place and that is an offense.” The one with the stains on his trousers said harshly.

“I am not lying my brother. I have brought a man seriously injured. He might lose his eye!” Christianand pleaded gesturing to his own eye.

“I don’t believe you and I don’t care, aai ghalya.”

Christianand did not like to be called a mother fucker; particularly as he was feeling a certain glow of virtue for his unselfish and compassionate actions in helping Ravi. He was at the crossroads again, defend  retreat or attack.

“Look. If you want to check, then go and check. He is the skinny old guy with an orange turban in Emergency opposite the door holding his eye. If you want to make a quick twenty then tell me and let me go but if you want a fight then get ready for a beating. It’s up to you.”

 

He stepped to the side and crossed his arms and parted his feet standing in a square and strong pose. He had always made it a rule when dealing with guys like this to feign strength and indifference. It was a bit like confronting a snarling dog without something in your pocket to pacify him or a stick to beat him with; he shouldn’t smell your fear nor sense your weakness.

The big bellied one stepped forward into Christianand’s space. “Twenty? Twenty? Bhikaar chot!”

Likewise, being called a beggar’s dick was a bit distasteful, even to a man of the street. Christianand leaned into the man’s belly and said. “You know who I am waiting for now?”

The moustache moved its fringed lips. “Who? The monkey who fucked your mother?” He turned to the skinny colleague and smirked. Christianand had judged the distance between the rickshaw cabin and where he now stood.

“No no you ugly son of a bitch…your wife because I am going to fuck her here on the street while your skinny friend waits his turn.”

The eyes above the moustache bulged and as the furious guard stepped back to position himself to launch an attack, Christianand feinted sideways and down, like a boxer, then ran, his long legs making the strides of Atlas as he dodged potholes and lumps. He launched himself into the cabin praying that for once the engine would immediately start. He felt the impact of the moustachioed guard hit the back of the awning as the engine sputtered then screamed and as he accelerated away, he apologised to Krishna for the terrible thing he had said. All the same, tasteless as it was, it had given him time to get free. He knew twenty rupees wasn’t going to be the end of it. Fellows like this extorted money every day bullying the rickshaw drivers and others or how else did his belly grow so huge?

Oh Laxmi! by Catherine Forsayeth

Chapter 1

Ravi’s goats had multiplied in the last couple of seasons and many of the females had twins that were sturdy and energetic, so no hand-rearing of weaklings was necessary. The goats now numbered two hundred and seven with more on the way. It was the blessing of Laxmi to give him such prosperity with the goats and he had also been given two daughters.

The older one, Amali, plainer than one of his best goats, whose dupatta hung on her bony shoulders like the sheet on the end of an uncomfortable bed, was taciturn with him. She was too dark and quiet, with front teeth that sat square and hard on the dark bottom lip as though waiting for a guest to open a creaking gate and walk through. He knew she knew this and that she worked extremely hard at her school made him and his wife happy. She had a good brain in that strange skull of hers and even today she was at school sitting an exam for a scholarship to attend the university. They were going to need more money now that they were in their teens and approaching marriageable age.

He would have a great deal of trouble finding a husband for Amali unlike the younger one Leila who was given to exuberant shows of affection with her mother and sister. As a little girl often he found her little hand creeping into his which he found sweet and this made his heart do a strange thing inside his chest; it expanded in a glow of warmth that felt like the hand of Parvati was caressing him. Before his marriage he was not a man given to interest in the company of women, who were a foreign entity, like something out of a book he had never read but had heard was a good read and on his betrothal he had feigned smiles, happy greetings and congratulations. Mamta on the other hand had given great thought to marriage, not liking the idea at all but as she grew older, agreed that Ravi could marry her after a serious argument with her father about it.

“You are not getting any younger ladki. I am sorry to say you have not had anyone looking your way for many years.  Your mother and I are not getting younger either! Look at how she is!” He swept his arm around to indicate the woman in the shadows whose skin was turning leathery on her thin arms.

“You have to concede this. It is not good for a woman to be alone. Who will look after you when you are our age and older? Your sisters? Your brothers? You know what will happen; they will resent you and use you like a slave! Be sensible girl! This might be your very last chance!”

“Father the man is apparently blind in one eye!”

“So what? He still has one good one and he can see what a catch he has made in you! He is a nice man, a good man. He will treat you well.”

“Father he is a shepherd! A goatherder!”

“Yes. He is a goatherd. My father was a labourer who taught himself to read and write and look at what we have today thanks to him and his hard work. Don’t talk to me about what a man does for a living!”

And so one afternoon, Ravi’s mother came to him and said simply.

“My son, you are to be married to Mamta Joshi next month.”

His hand holding a tin cup began to shake and he looked down at his feet covered in a fine dust with little crusts of dirt around the toenails.

On the night of the wedding, he was like a tin robot wound up too tight running on its jerky feet. There were many lewd jokes about the old maid with her fat bottom and the old bachelor not being able to do jiggy jiggy because,part blind, he grabbed the pillows instead of his bride’s arse. He tried to ignore the jokers or even smiled wanly but he felt offended for her and for himself.

As they lay together that first night and he saw Mamta’s black eyes turn with their white meniscus towards him with a clear and steady gaze, he felt wonderfully clear that Mamta was going to be a true and good wife. So he felt determined that just as he had said in the Kanyadaan, he would never fail in the pursuit of dharma, artha and kama. How many times in other men’s weddings had he heard the recitation of the Kamasukta and only heard the words as an irritating interruption to the food and dancing. However today he had had to listen and make the promise. He had stumbled and breathed too much through his nose but now as he looked at Mamta in the darkness with light glowing softly on the contours of her face and shoulder he understood the power of it.

 Who offered this maiden? To whom is she offered?

Kama (the god of love) gave her to me, that I may love her

Love is the giver, love is the acceptor

Enter thou, the bride, the ocean of love

 With love then, I receive thee

May she remain thine, thine own, O god of love

Verily, thou art, prosperity itself

May the heaven bestow thee, may the earth receive thee

Thus in the years to come, he treasured his Mamta as something holy, something given to a man who didn’t deserve such a blessing and he worked to show her.

*

On this day in Kirkee, with the temperature sitting for the twenty fourth day straight, on forty two degrees Celsius, Ravi was moving his flock of goats up the bitumen road near the Cantonment where the trees fringed the road and formed a glorious cool dark cave that he lingered in. The banyan trees dropped their aerial roots from great heights in vertical webs of roots and just behind them the vivid red of the flamboyants and the glorious cascades of vanilla and purple bougainvillea formed fantastic interjections of colour in the landscape.

He was resting on a pile of gravel dirt and rocks letting the goats mill about and enjoy the shade too and had taken his orange turban off since it was so hot and his head ached, when he heard a faint crack and rustle, automatically tipping his head up and in that profound moment when life is about to change, a voice familiar your whole life says like a stone dropping in the well of knowing. “Don’t look up Ravi, you don’t look up under the trees, a bird might come and shit in your eye or a nut or branch might fall and there you are, tschak, that’s it forever!” But it wasn’t a bird or a branch it was one of the massive tubular black seed pods of the Indian Laburnum whose panicles of bright yellow flowers hang like grapes from its spindly frame, that fell and hit him in the right eye, his good eye. He dropped to the ground screaming, his large orange turban fell too, a huge bright pimple on the black stony verge. The goats, surprised by this sudden noise and abrupt movement lunged forward knocking into each other as Ravi kept up his caterwauling.

Precisely at this moment from around the bend a motorbike enjoying the empty road a few minutes before came at great speed. Seeing the goats now dispersed all over the place the rider had little chance to make a clear path through them and began blasting his horn and kicking his feet out on either side in an effort to make a passage through the large herd. The goats thoroughly panicked now jumped and bleated crisscrossing each other jostling and pushing. The ones in front merely ran and leapt over the small obstacles in their way shooting off into the distance. By the time Ravi had got to his feet cupping his hand over his right eye, all the goats and the rider were gone.

He picked up his long stick, the kathi and half stumbled and ran up the road clasping one hand over his eye which hurt with an exquisite pain with every movement. “Never look up!” He had known this all his life his large turban was like a helmet and many times tree detritus had fallen but he’d been protected until today, just today. It seemed so unfair to break a rule just once and have such a severe result. Both eyes now streamed but the tears that came from the good eye were the most bitter.

“Deva mala watsawar! Aiieee…mala watsawar!” [1] He cried and after a few minutes of stumbling along, he slumped forward panting heavily and rested his hands on his knees to take a breath. He felt a firm hand on his shoulder and a young voice asked him.

“Dada, what is wrong? Are you hurt? Ill?”

Ravi stayed down not wanting to show his face but he saw a pair of skinny legs in jeans and long bony feet in good leather sandals. He slowly got up pushing his hands down on his thighs to give himself support as he rose. The young man drew in his breath as he saw the damaged eye.

“Ai, dada tumcha dola…”[2] The stranger gazed with horror at Ravi’s anguished face.

“Maza dola gela, mala kahi disat nahi!”[3] Ravi said in a thin strangled voice cupping his hand once more over the bruised and swollen eye.

If the young man had seen Ravi’s face run with tears of blood he would not have been surprised. The whole eyeball seemed a giant clot of blood and the delicate area of skin covering the socket had puffed up immediately and was turning purple as though some exotic new flower had settled on Ravi’s face.

“My goats, have you seen my goats?” Ravi asked breathlessly.

“No dada, I have not seen anything, at least not from the way I came.” The young man pointed back over his shoulder to the way they both had come. Ravi clucked his tongue.

“Dada, tell me, where do you live? You need to see a doctor.”

But Ravi wasn’t listening he was trying to stand and peer into the distance but the effort was agonizing and he collapsed onto the ground rocking and crying. “Maza dola gela, maza dola gela!”[4]

The young man moved, sat next to him and put his hand on Ravi’s shoulder.

“Come dada I will take you to the hospital.” Ravi refused saying he needed to find the goats but the young man said seriously, taking Ravi’s hand as if he was a child.

“If you don’t attend to this eye, then you will never be able to look for your goats.”

At this Ravi grew quiet and sighing heavily and with the young man’s help began to get up and together they walked to the edge of the road to hail a rickshaw and go to the nearest hospital.

The nearest hospital was in fact not a hospital at all but only a very small clinic with none of the expertise or facilities that Ravi would need and the young man felt that since the eye of the goat herder was one of only a pair with even the good one a milky colour they should make sure it’s treatment was put into good hands.

Thus they began a long walk deep into the city where the big hospital was, not far from the Pune railway station near Connaught Road. While they walked the young man kept a grip on Ravi’s elbow trying to steer him away from the multitude of obstacles that lay in their path. Not only were there rocks and stones but pieces of wood, metal and wires all twisted around in nests trying their best to trip or poke them. It was like this only in the last few years.

Before the big developments in industry, Pune had been a quiet place, beautiful shady and cool. Now it was like this, shit everywhere, wild dogs and cats disturbing everyone’s sleep at night with their fighting and howling, the bulldozed piles of half-demolished buildings heaped in giant lumps, there were so many craters and mountains of dirt and broken masonry and concrete platforms with great rusty cables poking up to the hot blue sky surrounding excavations for new towers of apartments and offices that it seemed the whole city was one massive construction site.

Wherever one walked there were unimaginable smells, rotting garbage, dog shit, human shit, goat shit, the filthy stench of the rivers that flowed through the city torpid and black gave off a sulphurous odour that spoke of the wastes that spewed into it. Then there was the rubbish, the plastics the broken pots, the boxes, containers, kitchen waste, pieces of clothing or broken sandals, wrappers and bottles in plastic all in more mounds that wandered from the pavements into the vacant land like the vomit of a madwoman. All places needed the utmost vigilance to walk through and the young man, Isaac, was in fact only walking normally now by dint of a miracle.

A few weeks before, the young man had been riding his motorbike, a Royal Enfield, in the thick of the traffic in Pune which was at most times like the coiling of several snakes in their death throes. There was no respect for the laws of the road and cars trucks motorbikes and rickshaws went where they could fit or where they could get away with not fitting. Going home after work on FC Road near Hardikar’s New Shorthand and Typewriting Institute three trucks were jostling and hooting their horns all vying to get ahead of each other, in between was a rickshaw trying to evade all three by ignoring their blasts and sticking to his trajectory. It wasn’t working.

As the young man, Isaac Joshi, approached and went on the outer side of the trucks near the gravel edge that approximated a footpath, the rickshaw driver accepted his fate and braked hard. Following this impetuous action the three trucks gave a burst of speed that meant the last truck pulled alongside the Royal Enfield thus forcing him up onto the broken pavement where the front wheel hit a lump of something hard and propelled Isaac, into the air, the Royal Enfield slewed sideways and rammed into the base of a banyan tree immediately splitting the petrol tank and bisecting the seat and tank. He hurtled over a fence loosely bound with wire, some of it barbed, into an open area where he rolled fiercely and came to rest halfway up a pile of gravel. In none of his journeys had he ever worn a helmet apart from this day when two nights ago his father had given him one saying, “This might be the best investment of your life. Wear it every time you go on the bike.” When Isaac lay there looking up at the calm impersonal blue of the sky which covered all of humanity with or without hats or helmets, he suddenly felt for the first time, very grateful for his life.

“Dada. Look out!” A short length of star picket jutting out of the ground for reasons known to no-one, was directly in the path of Ravi’s foot in its old leather chapli. It connected and Ravi yelled out in pain as a large red welt appeared on the side just under the ankle and began immediately pouring with blood. He let go of his eye and put his hand down to his foot lifting it in his hands in pain.

“Watch out!” Ravi lost his balance and half hopped and staggered falling backwards against the remains of one of the little corrugated iron street stalls that had all been mowed down by the local government in a blitz against unlicensed shops, billboards and street stalls. This was an effort to force these merchants to pay the octroi and reduce the ghastly vistas that characterized the roads of Pune. Ravi fell heavily and shouted as he hit his hip on some of an eruption of concrete that marked a corner of the broken stall.

For a moment he half lay there stunned not knowing which part of his body he should hold or pay most attention to. He felt a bubbling up inside him of rage and hysteria, was gripped by it, silenced by it until a vast roiling wave of noise hurtled forth from his mouth and if he could it would burst out in high pitched screams like one of his goats giving birth. But he clamped down his jaw and compressed his lips. Again the young man came to him.

“Oh my god, what have you done…dada dada I will help you, get up, try to get up. Come on! Look here is a rickshaw, come come…”

The rickshaw driver, like almost all rickshaw drivers of his generation, had stained teeth, reddened eyes, bare feet and sloping shoulders. He craned his head out of the cabin. Isaac waved at him to stop but as he saw the sprawling goatherd he spat his red betel juice and saliva in a jet onto the road and accelerated away. Young Isaac ran after him gesticulating with his long skinny arms.

“Come back! Come back! Bastard!” He was at a loss and turned around to look at his choices; Ravi half lying on the ground  with a hand on his badly bruised hip, his freely bleeding foot and bloodied eye confronted him, a kilometer ahead lay the house of his own family, where his brothers, father, mother grandfather and uncle were and where he could get help and maybe a good dahl, chappatis and ghosht masala for lunch. He felt a sudden bottoming out, inside him, like a floor giving way and all his power and certainty collapsed. He looked over his shoulder once at Ravi calling to him to stay put, that he would be back with help and then turned and ran forward to his own house looking back at the goatherd and repeating his call to stay and wait.

Ravi shifted himself further into the shade and peered at his torn foot with his less damaged eye squinting and turning his head. A large triangular flap of flesh had lifted up on the cuboid bone which was on the outside of his foot below the ankle. The ankle itself was okay but the foot was swelling in the area that had hit the star picket and the cut was huge and bleeding a lot from his skinny foot. His hip hurt like hell but he didn’t think it was broken and he thanked Ganesh for this but it throbbed painfully with a deep ache. When Ravi thought about the events of the morning, he was overwhelmed with feelings too difficult to understand but he knew he must get help now before the heat of the afternoon hit and laid his energy to waste. He reached out for his lathi and pulled it in close to him, then leaning on it like it was an old friend, by degrees got himself upright. He looked ahead where the young man had run off. He didn’t blame him nor feel anything but a sense of sadness that the young man was no longer there with his strong hands and soothing words. He was almost certain he knew him from somewhere, perhaps somewhere near the old houses, the sandals looked familiar somehow. He tore a piece from the bottom of his dhoti and wound it around his foot. He took another strip and made a bandage for his eye putting it across the top of his head around the back and over of his face gently tucking a little pad of material under it to lie softly over the eye itself. Hobbling forward now, each step was an effort beyond words and he concentrated on putting one foot down firmly and gingerly placing the other down, heel only, he made his way a short distance down the road. He heard the puttering of a rickshaw and moved towards the road lifting up his lathi and waving it, almost overbalancing as he did, calling out. This time the rickshaw driver pulled over and a warm voice called out.  “Ohh uncle you need a lift? What a mess! You want to go home?”

Ravi almost sobbed the words.

“I want to go to the hospital, take me to Jehangir!”

“Jehangir dada? You can afford…?”

“Take me there. Jehangir!”

The rickshaw driver,Cristianand, was a tall rangy middle aged man with glasses and a clean khaki . He hopped out of his cab and putting out his arm took Ravi into the black and yellow rickshaw saying softly. “Tell me uncle, what happened to you?”

Ravi’s mind was in a tumult of images words feelings and thoughts like the traffic in MG Road and he had to cross and make sense of it somehow.

“Many things today. Many many bad things. Today I am losing everything, everything is gone. My life is gone brother. My goats ran away my good eye is now blind I fell on my hip and cut my foot and  my goats…where could they be?”

Christianand tisked and gave a low moan of understanding.

“Ohhh no. How many goats uncle?”

“By the help of Laxmi, two hundred and seven. All gone now, now nothing not one.”

Christianand sucked in his breath.

“That is many. They could not just disappear. We will find them. Don’t worry. We can look nearby quickly before I take you to Jehangir. I think we will find them nearby they can’t have run too far.”

They drove together bumping down the road with Ravi moaning at every jolt to his body, past one of  the few clean finished well maintained buildings in Pune, the Methodist Church, and on to where a large perfectly square pool of water was situated to their right. The water was at first glance a green lawn or a gigantic pool table so closely did the weed grow over its surface. It was at this point Christianand saw three men standing in the middle of the road which curved and deviated to the right. The man in the middle was carrying something on his shoulders and as they came closer he saw clearly, it was a dead goat and as Christianand looked over the men’s shoulders, he saw a large number of goats nervously milling about in the adjacent paddock, jostling each other and setting up a huge din screaming like girls.

Christianand quickly pulled up beside the men and telling Ravi to be quiet, he stuck his head out under the awning of the cabin, and spoke to the man with the goat.

“Good morning brother. I see you have a goat…more over there.”

The man with the goat turned his head and spat a small red jet of betel leaf spittle before addressing the speaker. “What’s it to you?”

Christianand eyed him carefully, taking in his features which were broad and slightly fattened as though he had had his nose punched at least by his father, his moustache was a typical Zapata style of the badmash type but his eyes were most unusual, they tilted slightly upwards and gave him an odd serpentine look and were hazel. He forced a smile and this made the effect worse as his teeth were totally ruined by betel juice and tobacco. He also wore a huge gold signet ring on his index finger, it was the size of a small corm of garlic with a black stone set into it.

“Well we are having a wedding in a few days and my wife would be a happy woman if I came home with a fine goat like that!”

“No no..this one, no it isn’t for sale, I already sold it.”

“Oh…shame. Well, do you have any more that might be for sale? I could come back later. Maybe one of those over there?”

The man smirked. “OK I have plenty more. Come back here about eight tonight. How many do you want? If you bring your friends I can do a good price.”

It was so obvious. Christianand knew immediately where this crook had got the goats.

“OK! Great! Give me your phone number and I will call you later and tell you how many.”

The man shook his head and said, “Just come at eight, we can arrange everything easily.”

He walked on, the goat’s tongue lolling sideways out of its lips in a smile of relief to be released from the material world.

Christianand got out of the rickshaw to take a leak beside a banyan, while surreptitiously watching the man with the goat on his shoulders and his companions walk on. The companion kept turning around to see if Christianand was still there and seeing him watching, adjusted his pants upwards from his skinny arse and swaggered on.

Christianand got into his seat where in the back Ravi sat almost unaware of what was happening.

“Do your goats have a mark uncle?”

Ravi stirred and winced as his moved his head upright. “Yes, why?”

“This fellow here with the dead goat… I think we should check if it is your goat, he had some others too. What is the mark on your goats?”

“It is the mark of Laxmi. Every goat…the same, near the tail.” His voice was soft and breathy and as Christianand peered into the rear he saw Ravi in a bad way, slumping sideways on the back seat. The swelling around his eye had grown enormously so that now the eye was hidden inside its puffball of angry flesh.

Ai… Jehangir first, he thought to himself, I can come back later.

*

 

[1] God help me! Help me!(Marathi)

[2] Brother your eye…

[3] I can’t see from my eye, I can’t see I’m blind

[4] God help my eye!”

 

Kinglake Fire Series

These paintings were done in 2009/10 after the great conflagration in Victoria in Feb 2009. They are important to me especially since we had built our lives there with the kids for their formative years from 1988-2001, built a house ourselves, the garden of 5 acres and had friends and neighbours directly affected by the fires, houses destroyed and lives lost. It was horrific.

At the time I was living in Madrid and only heard of the events strangely because the only person in the town of St Augustin de Guadalix where I lived then,who spoke English was a Romanian girl at the greengrocer’s. She asked.

“Have you heard of the fires in Australia?”

“Ahhh there’s always fires in Australia…whereabouts?”

“A small place, King’s Lake?”

“Are you sure? Kinglake?”

“Yes, that’s it, Melbourne, Kinglake.”

I tried calling friends there but of course there was no answer and looked up the news which to my horror showed the worse possible scenario and one that during those years had always haunted me every summer.

That morning Victor and I went to the Prado to see a Francis Bacon exhibition and to see his eviscerated tortured images made me suddenly sit on a bench and cry. I m certain the curators felt very smug…look at the effect of Bacon on this woman!

Anyway. I began these works on paper shortly after. They were deliberately done on this medium because of the connection between the flammable medium and the subject. Two of them are large, 2m x 1m but the others are all around 110 x 80 except for the lightbox which is 40 x 70.

 

Dog Tags

iran-iraq-war
Iranian soldier mourning his comrade at Khorramshahr early in the war with Iraq.

Reza Barhaghani’s English was totally fluent with that little sibilant whisper the Iranians have when pronouncing  an ‘s’  which is quite distinctive. He sat at the desk a little crumpled as if he was a piece of origami left on a schoolroom window ledge and with a measure of weariness about him that years of living in this desert prison had caused. His skin had dried to fine tanned parchment  with the hot air and sun as he and other men played soccer in the yard or exercised in the gym without air conditioning but with a tin roof.

“At first we worked well away from Tehran then later in a place a few hundred kilometres north west of the city. Not too far away were a few buildings enclosed by a security fence and cars would come and go from there, sometimes trucks. We could see it from the hill.”

“What was your work?”

“I was a gravedigger with my cousin. We exhumed bodies.”

Normally this was the opposite of what one would expect from a gravedigger who would inter bodies.

“ You dug them up?”

“Yes. This is the implausible story. This is what your government told me was implausible.”

He sat forward in his chair mashing his hands together squeezing the top of one fist then the other.

“You know about Evin prison?”

I knew about Evin prison from the statements of others and by my research to verify their claims of torture. This together with researching the torture methods of the Chinese and Americans left images flickering at the edge of my view of the real world which I still have trouble rewinding onto a spool and putting away into the archives. I was particularly haunted by a secret film of a prisoner having his eyes scooped out by a mullah holding a sharpened spoon and will never forget the piercing animal screams that came from him as the mullah loudly intoned the verses of the Koran that permitted him to do such a bestial act.

Women were raped by their torturers in groups of three or four men or singly, often filmed to show their relatives in order to pressure them to reveal information clearly often just sadistically because they could. The women would disappear from the room in their chadors accompanied by the men, struggling and crying trying to drop to the floor and being dragged out like some giant black salamander  over the banks of a stony river bed. Some would go quietly not wanting the extra violence or not knowing what was about to happen to them. One particularly nasty video showed a woman vomiting into a basin surrounded by the men raping her while she leant on all fours, oh no, I forgot, that’s right that was the Americans, it was on the net for a few short hours then disappeared but no doubt they showed great manners in allowing her a basin to vomit in, most considerate. Then these poor souls would return to the interrogation room weeping and moving like tortured willows in a gale, some would be thrown to the floor and stay there like rag dolls tossed by some hateful and indifferent child.

They used teased electric cables to thrash the soles of the feet even of children and electrodes to burn the genitals, anuses and nipples of men and women and on and on it went, the human imagination perverse and wicked beyond comprehension dreaming up ways to inflict every type of pain possible.

There were the hangings from cranes, the hangings by chains, ropes, cables, over the lampposts over a girder over a doorway (suicide apparently). There were the blackened  pools and smears of blood, semen and other body liquids and it was sickening, all of it so when Reza asked me if I knew Evin prison, I nodded and said, “A bit. Just a bit of reading.” I got ready to take notes. “Tell me your implausible story.”

He looked nervous and tired, his hands continued their roundabout wringing and squeezing, like some Lady Macbeth caught in a loop. I waited.

“I had qualified with a PhD in metallurgy but couldn’t get work. Everyone in Iran is qualified in something impossible to get a job in and I was desperate to get something, anything. Anyway, my cousin Mehdi, called me and told me about this job he had just started, they were looking for another guy to work with him finding and reclaiming the bodies of martyrs from the war to send them back to the families for burial. It happens periodically that they find a few dozen bodies in a group and ship them back so the families can mourn and celebrate the martyrhood of their son or husband. There are places where they bury unidentified martyrs and people go and weep over them just as if they were family. The martyrs are revered in Islam, people go to extremes in Iran about them especially back then. Did you hear of the Fountain of Blood?”

I nodded. I had heard of the Behesht-e-Zahra the huge cemetery in Tehran where the martyrs of the war were interred. The Fountains were a symbolic reference to the blood of the martyrs and were simply fountains with water coloured red to inspire faith and a spirit of sacrifice. They fell out of fashion eventually and the colouring of the waters was halted much to the chagrin of the faithful few.

He went on. “At first I wasn’t interested when he called me. I trained to dig up minerals not human remains but in the end, what are we but minerals and water? So I asked about the pay, it was good. I said yes.

We had to go out into known battlezones and begin looking for bodies. There were over a million people killed in the war so there was plenty to look for, no shortage of bones. We’d dig them up and try to find ID but not everyone had it, soldiers would have dog tags but plenty of volunteers had nothing.”

This sounded normal post conflict procedure and nothing to get excited about and I had dozens of clients booked that day during the taskforce into Baxter Detention Centre and was keen to move through quickly, assessing which claims were suspect and which held enough veracity for a Ministerial appeal. Not all were truthful of course as I was to find some time down the track which was both disheartening and hurtful but at that time I gave everything to these men abandoned for years in the desert of South Australia, the longest being seven years in detention, no charges, no criminal behavior, just for coming across the sea to claim a new life on the basis of the shit of the old.

“We did this job for a few months, digging up skeletons and bodies, some in a pretty good way, I guess the sand preserved them, sometimes you could still see the person in the face sometimes there was no face. “ He abruptly leaned back and grimly laughed, “Sometimes no head! Anyway, then something changed maybe about ten months or more after we started.”

“We used to see if we could find ID as I said before but often there was none. Then as I said, things changed. We started to get ID sent to us.”
I looked up. “What do you mean?”

He smiled grimly. “Just that. They gave us the ID of the person before we dug them up.” He leaned back and pushed his hands firmly between his crossed legs, as if he was posting a large envelope.

He frowned at me as though I was some cretinous thing lumped in front of him. I said nothing.

“The bodies were sent back to the families of the martyrs!”

This didn’t make any impression on me at all. One million bodies, one million families; the genome project asserts we all go back to a pair, an Adam and Eve so what did it matter if one femur belonged to Ali and one to Hussein, a soupcon of homogeneity, who cares? It was no wonder his case was rejected.

“You got anything else?” I said starting to pack up the folder.

“Yes! That’s not all!” He looked at the doorway to the little glass window above the push plate. “The guards, they are there,  looking and listening!”

I turned around to see  the face of one of the guards quickly move away from the window then got up apruptly and opened the door. I called out to the retreating guard who had a head like a smacked melon. ”Hey!” He kept moving down the corridor, pretending he hadn’t heard me. I went back in a bit rattled by this blatant breach of protocol.

“What else?”

“Usually, before the changes, we would bag up the remains and write where we had found the body, if there was any ID on him and so forth, now we had to put the dog tags on the body and write the serial numbers and details on the label of the cloth we put the remains in. Then after a month of this we were given simple coffins to put the remains in.”

I was truly unimpressed and again made movements to pack up, there were no claims of persecution to be made here. He put his hand out onto the desk to halt my movement.

“Please, miss. Then we were re-located to another area near the buildings I first told you about. I think now they call it The Zoo but we didn’t know what it was called back then. We were also told that another team had joined us and they would be the ones exhuming the bodies, we just had to tag them, box them up and ship them off to the address provided. Then one late afternoon I got a call from my cousin asking me to meet him on the hill overlooking the Zoo at about ten at night. I didn’t like it but, family, what do you do?

A car arrived, some prisoners were pulled out of the car and taken inside one of the buildings. We waited a while in the dark and I wanted to go, it was really cold up there and I was scared. Then the screaming started and I panicked, I really didn’t want to stay there listening to those terrible screams but it stopped pretty quickly and some people came out of the building without the prisoners, got in the cars and drove away.

I asked. “What did you do then?”

“We went home. I was frightened and a few days later we were told some new martyrs had been found and we were to get some coffins ready with the tags.

My cousin was a very pious man but not too smart. He believed in the holiness of the martyrs, so he was personally upset and offended at this swindle of the families. He told me he was going to his supervisor  after the shift to tell him what was going on. I didn’t think this was such a great idea and warned him not to say anything but he yelled some hadiths at me which I ignored, because  I am not interested in religion at all. He called me later and was very pleased with himself saying his boss congratulated him for his cleverness and courage and that he was going to get some kind of honour. He was about to take his wife and kids out for dinner and would call me later that night. He never called me and when I rang and rang there was no answer. I tried many times for the next few hours and then I knew in my guts I should run. I took only my phone passport and my wallet, nothing else, no goodbyes, no-one seeing me leave and I went into hiding for a while in Tehran at the house of a friend,  he arranged for me to get out stowed in a truck full of tyres that was going to Quetta and then it was pretty easy to get in touch with a people smuggler to Indonesia.  My cousin’s family searched and searched for him for months since he had never shown up at the restaurant that night but finally one day they got a special delivery which they sent to me Quetta with a short letter. I have it here. I gave Immigration a copy.”

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper with Persian writing on it and underneath an object clinked.

“What does it say?”

He trembled as he spoke, “The paper says. ‘Don’t come back.’ ”

I held the dog tags in my hand. “These?”

“Reza. Reza Bahraghani martyred Khorramshahr December 12, 1987. Implausible, they said.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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