Short Stories >> AAG (The Fire)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Translated by Arun Babani
The sky is ready to pour.
A small factory… A laborer lying on the floor.
A peg - Some have consumed less, some more.
"If I embrace you there will be fire. "Janardhan's voice unconsciously describes the condition of the sky.
Digambar is sleeping on his stomach, eyes shut, like a cat - says with a frown, "Arey why did you stop. Go on...sing...what a voice you have."
Janardhan gets up and sits by the door, his arms around his knees, his eyes on the sky. He starts singing with a greater rhythm.
"If I embrace you, there will be fire. If there is fire, it cannot be extinguished."
"Wow. Wow," saying this, Chander comes and sits by his side, "What an idiot you are. You went to the cinema world, all in vain…then here.. your whole life.."
Digambar shouts, "Arey don't stop him in the middle." And now, the soft cries that could be heard from the corner have turned into full fledged sobbing.
"What happened to you, Rama? What happened?"
Ramu was crying loudly. Digambar shakes him and asks, "why did you turn our song into poison?"
Ramu wakes up a bit, his eyes red. His black and white beard is thorny. Otherwise there is a pride on his face but at this moment, inspite of his red eyes his face is soft and sad.
"Arey, are you remembering your mother?"
Ramu smiles a little. Everyone laughs. Chander is totally drunk. He tickles Ramu playfully and asks, "You are remembering that fisherwoman isn’t it? Swear by my moustache and say."
Ramu laughs and pulling up his banian he wipes his eyes.
Digambar comes to the door near Janardhan and with folded hands says, “Sing again please that song.. If I embrace you..oh ho.. There will be fire..."
"Why did you leave working in films? I swear all these Rafis Dafis (Mohammad) would run away from films! Oh what a voice you have! It pierces our hearts with a knife"
Janardhan sits by the door smiling by himself. He has realized that in the movie world too, the powerful rule. The poor are in the same condition there, as here in this factory. But he is not ready to share all this with these Boozers. He doesn't consider himself as a boozer. This a special term that he uses for illiterate people and those in dirty clothes. Compared to all others working with him in this factory, he is better educated and remains clean. Amongst the three workers who sleep with him here in the factory, he drinks the least.
Now the big bodied Digambar is pacing up and down in the factory, wearing only an underwear and banian. Taking a drag from his Beedi he says, "I swear by God, I'm remembering my wife’s sister a lot today."
From a distance Ramu angrily says, "Then why don't you get married, why are you telling us this?"
"What is it to do with you, you fellow? You are only crying yourself. You don’t tolerate even our laughing."
Digambar is pacing faster and smoking faster too.
"Wow, you fellow. We have not married even once, and you have killed one and getting married the second time. Wow!" raising his hand in anger, Ramu says, "Get married and show us. Who has stopped you?"
"Why should I get married? She has four children. I have four children and four more may be born. Will you look after a dozen of my little ones?"
Ramu had already known this and now, winking, he began laughing.
"Arey wah! I should look after your children! And that sister-in-law of yours..."
"Keep your mouth shut, you see these bricks. I'll hit on your head with them and finish you."
"Arey Arey Bhai, why are you fighting?" Chander staggers and gets up. He has a small bottle in his hand. Rubbing Ramu's hair with left hand, he says, "Marriage is not in everyone's fortune. Look at my destiny. I have been collecting money for my marriage since I was seventeen years old. I would spend a very small amount for my drinks" tapping his stomach, "and the rest amount I would gamble away. One day I even won two thousand rupees.. Don't laugh, it's true. I even betted one thousand in the races but the horse ate away the entire grass.."
Sitting at the door Janardhan is listening attentively to Chander's story. Emphasizing each word, he said, "You call this destiny? If you won two thousand rupees, why didn't you get married?"
Hearing this dialogue from Janardhan, Chander sits down with a thud and watches Janardhan from head to toe, like a fool, with an open mouth, and says, "Didn't I save money for my marriage? But that villager of mine cheated me of five hundred rupees. He consoled me every day..' Now the rates of the girls will come down.. within one month.." his voice now has turned into a cry, "now all the months have passed off. I'm already growing old. This bottle of mine is my wife and my child too.." he takes the last gulp from the bottle. A little tipsy now, he says, "I have started liking that girl who secretly brings the liquor bottles.."
"Stop talking this rubbish. "Janardhan goes to hit him. "That poor woman is looking after her five children from this business."
"Five children! Ha ha ha.." Chander gets up and goes towards Ramu.
Janardhan, taking a deep breath, is thinking something. It is obvious from his face that he doesn’t like this atmosphere. Here too life is submerged in alcohol. He feels suffocated. He has even caught a cough now. He rubs his chest and spits out. He sees blood shining in the spit in the semi lit room.
This blood makes Janardhan feel like a loser. Even today the same feeling is burning in his heart .His heart burns at the last words of the song - the fire cannot be extinguished. A spark that had begun in his stomach has become a big fire, and the signs of that fire can be seen clearly through his eyes.
Ramu shouts from far, "today your eyes look like those of a cat. Either switch on the light or don’t look this side." Ramu covers his face with his hands. Janardhan laughs and turns his face away.
The wind is little crazy today. There is a fragrance of fresh soil. Janardhan suddenly remembers something. Avoiding Ramu's gaze, he asks Chander, "Arey the wedding of boss’s brother is the day after tomorrow, isn't it?"
Digambar gives a big laugh. Crushing a mosquito on his thigh, pacing about, he gives a lecture, "What would you do with the wedding? You go to the movies.."
"Scoundrel, the boss's wife had invited me to sing at the wedding." Janardhan tells Digambar intimately in order to share a secret with him, but Digambar laughs at that to.. "Arey don't dream of singing in the palace of the boss. There will be strange looking European and Christian ladies coming to sing there. The ones he had invited for his own wedding, isn't it? Were they singing or shouting? Actual singing is - If I embrace you.. "Digambar is singing with his hands on his chest, and swaying too. "How strange it is.
He's getting married at eighteen. You have not been able to at twenty-eight. And me.. ha ha.. I am forty-eight or forty-nine.."
Ramu comes near Janardhan and asks a serious question, "The boy is having a colorful life at eighteen years of age?"
"Whose fault is it? We all are working so hard, day and night, giving our blood and sweat only feeding the boss's family. As if, it is a beloved land...we go on giving him stacks of rupees and then how can it not have colorful flowers?"
Looking at the door Digambar says, "Shut up Janardhan. Somebody may hear you."
But Chander gets up on his lean legs. Spreading his hands he says, "Let anybody hear. How many thousands did the boss start with? And how many thousands does he have now? Who has earned all this? Yeah, who has earned it? Me. me" He hits his chest and tries to stand but being under the influence of alcohol, he sits down.
Digambar kicks him and says, "So he should give all the money to us? Is that what you mean, you stupid?"
"You father of a stupid!” says Chander again, getting up and staggering. "Just calculate. How much did the boss spend on the new house, there was alcohol flowing freely at his sister's wedding. From where did all this money come? Did money give birth to more money? "Chander says these last words with so much intoxication and passion that the other three roll in laughter.
To make things a little lighter, Janardhan asks, "But Chander, Where did you get to see all this money?"
"How did I see? How did you see? Boss cheated us. He is very clever."
"And you are a drunkard."
"The boss is a drunkard. His father is a drunkard.."
"You are a dacoit, you ungrateful fellow."
"The boss is a dacoit. His brother is gambling all day, he is roaming around, taking girls for movies, and even then, he’s getting him married at eighteen. And me.. I'm not his brother. I‘m earning for him and for me it is just the bottle.. "Chander now began crying.
Janardhan knows that both Digambar and Ramu will tell all these intoxicating tales of Chander to the boss and the boss will kick Chander, will threaten to throw him out too but at that time Chander would be like an airless balloon. He would simply lick the feet of the boss, like a dog.
Janardhan is wise. He never speaks in between them. But such stories raise a storm within him. He considers his body as a clay oven from where the flames appear in his eyes and are visible to others. At that time he stands at the door of the factory and sings, "if there is fire, it cannot be extinguished."