It was as if we too had been transplanted into his helplessness. May be we had forgotten that he was the only one stranded alone.
“Then came an earth shaking sound. It was coming closer. Not at a quick pace. But each footstep had a terrifying resonance. Friends, please believe me. That sound passed quite close to me, (or was it over me…?).” Then he tried to simulate that movement as loud as possible. The closed eyelids trembled in the force he exerted.
Sekharan remained silent for a few minutes. Everyone seemed to be caught in a web of terror.
“I’ve never gone to festivals thereafter. When this friend here referred to elephant, I heard that rumbling sound. For me, elephant is that gigantic movement, pal. It is a series of episodes. None of them have an existence of its own, in isolation. The percussion instruments that suddenly fell silent, my fall, people running helter-skelter, those noises floating above the eerie silence…the whirl of the world, that passed me by as I lay forlorn.”
Sekharan did not speak after that. Was he recollecting the whole incident once again?
“Mine is not a singular experience as that of Sekharan,” Reghuraman, the music teacher broke the silence that was prevailing in the room. “I experience it frequently.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I frequently dream of elephants.”
“Yes, once or twice, even a herd of elephants.”
“How do you see dreams?” My curiosity increased. Let alone an elephant, how can a blind man have dreams! Suddenly I was afraid whether my question had upset him.
“I can’t explain certain things,” he turned to me and continued. “But what I said is true. I have certainly seen a herd of elephants in a dream. But they have not terrified me like Sekharan’s narration.”
“How do you see?” I asked. He looked at me as if he did not comprehend my question.
“Without light…how can you see without light?”
“Why should there be light in a dream?” Reghuraman asked after a short pause, “or, what is light?”
“Light…what I mean is…” Instead of spelling it out in words, I thought of pointing to the burning bulb in the room, but gave it up realizing the futility of it. Then I slowly said:
“There is light in this room”
“Yes, yes…” one of the other two mumbled.
“That’s why one sees,” I explained.
“But, what is sight? The curiosity on his countenance baffled me.
“But still you see dreams?” I asked.
“I’m certain about it. But you won’t understand that”.
“Elephants have never appeared in my dreams,” I felt I was standing still, at the very same point where I’d begun.
“But you have seen elephants, no? Please don’t misunderstand me,” he said bending low in humility. “What was the elephant you saw like?”
The interview was leading to a crisis, I felt. How could I describe an elephant to this poor man? I became aware of my language losing its lusture and also obtaining a dark pallor; I was as helpless as a carpenter who has many tools, but doesn’t know to use them.
The blind men were waiting with keen attention to hear me speak.
“You know that the colour of the elephant is black? Only its tusks are white.” I continued, desperately searching for an object with similarity, familiar to them. “Like a bus, as huge as a bus”.
“Is the elephant like a bus?” Reghuraman asked.
“Not exactly, but in size…”
“Elephant is a whirl, a tumble” Sekharan ruminated. “Reghu, haven’t you heard a bus growling?”
“Okay, pal” Reghuraman said as if extending an affectionate invitation. “If you could enter the space where I have my dreams, you would also see the herd of elephants,” he continued laughing loudly. “This is all I can say. As it is, I’m not good in story telling.”
I merely smiled; rather naively.
“Ganapathy is my favourite god,” Reghuraman announced. Then he started playing the harmonium and sang a composition of Deekshitar in praise of Lord Ganesha.
“I too love elephants,” Chandran, the guide said, shuffling his glasses. “I know all the elephant sculptures in the temple, with all their details and nuances. Some of the elephants in the front row do not have tusks and some have broken tusks.”
“May be Ganapathy,” Chandran tried to guess.
“No, the tusks were broken during an invasion in the past. Now the government takes care of them.” He said correcting us.
“I have this craze for elephants from childhood. No, it was not developed from going for festivals. Somehow elephants were always around. The ones brought to the river for giving them a bath… mahouts coming to our house demanding palm-leaves for feeding them… I had a ring made of the hair from the elephant’s tail. The trumpeting of elephants still reverberates in my mind and I also remember the commands given to the elephants for moving about. I’ve even touched an elephant once.”
“Really!” Sekharan, who had experienced elephant through earth shaking tremors, was stupefied.
“But I was not thrilled. I knew that this was not my elephant. I wanted an elephant that I could hold in my fists, touch all over and know.”
“Like the stone elephants,” I mumbled.
“Not even that, another which would always be mine,” he paused for a moment. “Everyone in my village, used to get themselves tattooed. It was done on the skin with a needle. They were pictures etched with the help of a chemical. It would leave an impression in, they say, green. It will never fade away, a figure on the skin. Most of them were pictures of gods and goddesses; Hanuman, Vishnu, Devi…”
He took off his dark glasses. Pale in colour, the eyelids had a kind of nakedness around them.
“I have seen tattoos of conch shells” I said.
“Yes, they do all such figures. But I wanted only an elephant. But the tattoo-artist would not hear of it. Will not gods suffice, he asked. It is going to be an elephant and if not, nothing, I told him. I wanted one that would always remain with me. I was firm.” Chandran said with pride. “He finally agreed.”
“Where is it?” all three of us asked in unison.
Chandran hesitated for a moment. Then he shyly rolled up his lungi and exposed his hairless thigh just above the knee.
I was shocked by the distorted figure on the fair skin. That figure, which could be taken for an elephant, was standing there seamlessly, absolutely unaware of its shape. A mark which could be imagined to be the trunk, stood out like an erect phallus. A fierce trumpeting pierced my ears.
Chandran softly touched the tattoo. The other two hesitated for a few moments as if afraid of my presence. Then they too spread their fingers on the green lines and knew the elephant. I thought that Chandran was feeling awfully tickled when those fingers touched the tattoo. And also that the dimensionless, seamless elephant was throwing a challenge at me.
He rolled down the lungi and smiled mysteriously, but content. Then he put on his dark glasses and glanced at me without any emotion.
Every one was silent for quite some time.
The old clock chimed once. It was half past nine.
I stood up and thanked them. The three blind men accompanied me to the door. As I stepped out of the room, I heard Sekharan say: “the clock said half past nine? It is fast by at least five minutes. Friend, go fast, power goes off at half past nine.”
I did not hurry. As soon as I opened the door of my room, the power went off, drowning everything around in pitch darkness.
I was wondering if an elephant carrying an idol of darkness was waiting for me in the room.
Translated from original Malayalam by P.N. Venugopal
(original title: Moonnu Andhanmaar Aanaye Vivarikkunnu)
E. Santhosh Kumar is one of the leading contemporary Malayalam writers. He has won numerous awards, including that of Kerala Sahitya Academy. Andhakaranazhi, published in 2012 and recipient of 2012 Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Novel, is considered as one of his best.