The journey back home was tedious and disappointing than the last one, six months ago. I slept more than usual in the twelve-hour flight in spite of the bustle by twenty first-time flyers. The taxi to the apartment reached at midnight, and I slept instantly once inside. Amma has been stubborn, refusing to leave our home, her familiar city and come with me. I can’t live there too, but other than this something kept bothering me. The tepid evening, made me realize the long dreaded truth waiting for my acceptance: the home I had, was lost forever in reality.
It was far better in the younger days; a twenty-four hour train journey wouldn’t daunt my spirits. The smell of the moist grass of this coastal city would make me shiver with excitement. Bouts of melancholic bliss would start occurring, a week before the actual journey to home. The maddening crowd of a Bombay local would become more tolerable; sometimes pleasant too, in this period.
Once the train reaches the station with the speed of a pregnant woman, I would walk a mile to board a bus and take a deep breath as the bus moves ahead. I would notice the changes the city had in this few months: a newly constructed bus-stand, an old dilapidated house erased to rubble, few dead men and some exiles from distant cities. The city had grown without me, a bit hurtful to acknowledge one’s uselessness. The rains have made the grass grow taller than a giant man. The long walk, after the bus comes to a final halt crosses a corner, where I had met Anju two years ago. As I remember now, other than long sessions of drinking and talking with few remaining friends in my city, it was Anju who kept me attached to home. Each house is separated by grass and wild trees grown in haphazard way; this tiny place far away from the city was inhabited by two hundred people, including an old woman on her deathbed and a newborn children, at that time.
After few hours in home, imbibing the affection of Amma and grunts of a stoic father, I became desperate to meet Anju. Even after long calls filled with amorous talk, fights fuelled with anger on mobile; the physical presence of Anju would send waves of joy in me. I had designed unique ways to display my arrival. I would park my bike away from her home under the shade of a tree and horn twice before squeaking like dog. Anju would see me from her room, excusing herself for an errand to her friend Manjula’s home or other reason, she would walk out of her two floor house. Her shy happiness would be visible on her face and gait.
Warmth would spread through my being and guiltily I would watch her grown breasts held tightly behind her salwar, covered with a pallu. Anju would walk away without any eye contact. A moment later, which seemed longer than it was, I would kick start my bike and pick my girl at the end of the cross road, escaping towards the beach or any park or one of the two Malls the city had. Today it was the Mall near Bejai. I preferred beaches, after the horrid attack on lovers by the goons of a right wing activist group on Valentines Day. The hoodlums included my once friend Suhas, now feared in the locality. We went to watch a new Shahrukh movie, it had fewer people than the number of characters the movie had. As the multiplex darkened, we held hands and whispered inanities in a cryptic language understood just by each other. Few rapid kisses on the cheek, knowing about her orthodox mindset and convent schooling, I never dared to venture beyond. My repressed desires would need to find other ends to pour out. I kept glancing at the fair outline of her face reflected by the changing shades of the screen light. What made me to fall in love with her? Is it her beautiful face and figure? Or is it her moral uprightness, which provided the clear judging capacity? Is it just chance? Destiny? We tightly held hands until the end of this mindless movie. Life would be dull if we found answers to all our questions. And I am grateful that I have found none until now.
Riding back home, Anju sat on the backseat like a long married woman, with her hand on my shoulder and aloofness at the edge of carelessness. Maybe after the warmth in the multiplex, it was a natural reaction. I left her near Manjula’s home and hastily talked about our next escapade to the beach for tomorrow. Such intimacy would fire my hidden fears about the unknowable future, about being vulnerable before others. However, I enjoyed the chaos of love and dreaded the emptiness of a lonely life, both these cities – Bombay and Mangalore – had made me capable of living by myself. If Bombay represented the hastiness of human spirit waiting to be stretched to extremes never seen before; Mangalore still struggled with the dilemma between accepting the call of capitalistic affluence or living a secured traditional life.
Anju, born and lived in this city, symbolized the epitome of everything that was Mangalorean. She loved the long rains, which would last for days, as the monotonous tatter of raindrops on the roof became a part of her existence. She was in ease with multiple linguistic culture of this city – Tulu, Konkani, Kannada, and Byari – having friends belonging to other ways of living. But she had never forgotten who she is, a clarity about herself showed in the way she dressed, the food she loved and in loving me. I remember the long walk we had on a rainy afternoon, after finishing our degree classes – mine on engineering and her in Kannada literature. In between quit moments of hesitation, I expressed my love to her and waited for her reply. Anju pointed to a tall coconut tree to her right and asked about my climbing skills. I was hurt that she had ignored my modest love proposal, but managed to give a weak ‘No’.
‘Are you thinking to climb this tree or anything for me, in the future?’
‘No, why would I?’
It took me a night and half a day to connect this ‘yes’ to my proposal. I have never understood the reason behind her strange question after this many years. Some mysteries remain such.
The ocean was a majestic part of everyone’s daily life in this city, even if some chose to ignore it. The delightful memory of childhood still remains the day I was in the presence of this endless water. Borges was right when he said ‘Reading Dostoevsky, is like seeing the ocean for the first time’. It’s scary and peaceful. The waves – some furious, some calm – lapping against the shore, together created the longest musical the earth is hearing for millenniums. My body still remembers the touch of ocean and the sound of it, remained with me wherever I went.
To have Anju with me at the beachside was the most I could ask for. Anju could never comprehend my attachment to the ocean. She would brush it as my hangover child fantasy. We would walk for a long time and find a secluded shade in the forest of scant tall trees. Anju always talked about the inappropriateness of our behavior and fear about safety. She had reasons after the daily incidents of attack all over the city. To make her comfortable, I began to have my close friend Sanath, sitting far away from us watching for any trouble. The keepers of past glory were burning with hatred towards harmless lovers. Anju cancelled the trip to the beach. Reason: ‘My cousin’s have arrived and I can’t be gone away for hours, until they go’. Sometimes hell comes through heaven. To forget my sadness, I kept bothering Amma as she attended the trees in the garden or was cleaning Bangude (a type of fish) for dinner. I would watch my father in amazement, as he read the newspaper again and again for hours.
Anju didn’t call for three days nor did I. And then it was Wednesday, the day of going back to the stinky, overly populated, cosmopolitan city. I would be in a nostalgic mood for a week after tonight. I was my siesta when the mobile rang a chime: ‘Meet me at 4 my love’. The long ritual to get Anju out of the house went smoothly. My anger didn’t withhold her from giving a soft kiss, as we reached the beach. We walked in the near evening sun, with our hands entwined. Little did I know, that this would be the last walk together. In my haste, I forgot to call Sanath.
A Pair of eyes were watching us as we walked inside the forest to our usual shade. Anju curled near me. After few kisses on my cheek, I remembered the injustice from three days. Gathering my courage, I kissed Anju on the lips. Expecting a tight slap, I was surprised when she responded back with her tongue inside my mouth. Behind our back, the pair of eyes had assembled other bunch of pairs. I heard or felt a large hand on my head. It took me moment to realize, that it was a man’s hand not Anju’s, bidding to stop my boyishness. They were six of them in their twenty’s, lean with varying height. I recognized two of them: the man with thick beard and mustache, their leader, and Suhas standing on his left. Suhas was wearing dark glasses.
‘Who are you?’
‘ Where do you come from?’
I remained silent. I got a tight slap on my left cheek. Anju clutching my arm, tightened her grip in fear.
‘Where do you come…from?’
‘You can speak, bevarsi.’
‘Is she your wife?’
‘No, my girlfriend’
All of them hooted in laughter, thumping their thighs, as if I had mouthed a dirty joke. Suhas just smiled and remained quite.
‘What were you two doing in the shade?’
‘Do I look like a moron or is “talking” a new lingo for fucking?’
The leader spitted his saliva and expressed true anger like a violated goat.
‘Don’t you know this is against our culture and religion?’
I smirked at his stupidity, a bad reflex.
‘You are amused. Well, let me teach a lesson, which you would never forget.’
The leader twisted my arm and held it behind my back. He was stronger than he looked. Anju began to plead in merciful tone to let us go and we would never commit this mistake again. The hoodlums had learned their mistake from the previous attacks: never touch a girl. Anju’s pleading was ignored. I was dragged backwards towards the open space. Anju held her tears and kept gesturing that everything would be fine, as tears wet her cheeks. A tiny crowd had entered the beach to enjoy the sunset.
Two lanky men from the gang deftly removed my jeans and white T-shirt, before I could muster a meek protest. They were an experienced pair in this business. I was now in my V-shaped underwear, wet with sweat and clinging to my private parts. I was tied to the nearest tree with my hands tied behind and my back rubbing against the rough trunk. I saw Anju staring at me or, through me? Suddenly it hit me, that I was never this naked before her or anyone after my childhood. The cruelest humiliation is to be naked against one’s will. My nakedness, which would eventually be a part of Anju, making us more intimate, was bared to the whole world. My skin, which would have warmed beside her, was pierced by the vicarious eyes of the world. I knew then, that I could never be naked before Anju again. Our love will vanish after this incident. The loss of privacy was complete. The desire to be naked before my beloved, was forcefully violated. I understood then what rape is.
A crowd had gathered at a safe distance. My bulged belly and fat thighs looked grossly odd along with my wiry arms. The crowd went mute, as the leader began to whip me with a rope. Anju had lost her voice to protest and was on the ground. The whipping was video graphed by Suhas in his I-phone. It was tragic and comic, that my mind was remembering the price of this I-phone, while I lost my consciousness.
The muffled voice of Amma woke me up. My eyes slowly grasped the surrounding to reveal it was a hospital. It took a lot of cajoling and kind words by father to stop her crying followed by rage towards the perpetrators of this cruelty. I was too weak to console her. Anju came the next day, after a police sub-inspector took my statement. She was pale and her eyes echoed the broken soul inside her. She sat beside me and mumbled words that everyone would forget this in few months. The video had gone viral and the police had been searching the leader and his gang in vain. I had become instantly an infamous man, pursued by none. Anju kept coming back to the hospital despite my visible disgust towards her, until one day I lost my patience and yelled ‘don’t come back. You’re killing me’. I keep wishing that I had never said that.
After fifteen days, I went back to Bombay; its anonymous world provided the perfect setting to vanish in the crowd. I changed companies and got a job to work in Singapore. For nine years, I lived an exiles life, avoided Amma’s advice to come back and get married. Six months ago, father died in his sleep, after living a full life of eighty-one years; he remained a kind stranger to me till the end. I never expected anything more from my father. The last rituals were finished within thirteen days. I felt nothing as I lighted his pyre.
I roamed my once beloved city; the landscape has changed dramatically, the traffic had increased and I had forgotten many routes. A large Telugu family from Andhra now occupied Anju’s home. I asked around, Anju had married and left for the states, seven years ago. It’s a sad postscript that I am beginning to forget how Anju looked, her features are getting vague as days pass-by, but I still closely know the faces of the leader and Suhas, etched in my memory. This portrait of my life is to remember – Anju, Mangalore and the sound of ocean – as it was then, before my mind plays a trick and erases everything away.
Shashank Chimbalkar, born in Belagavi and lived in Bangalore, Mangalore and Bombay; a nomadic life. Studied engineering and currently working as coder to make a living. Writing is a passion, dearer to me from a long time. Admire the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Marquez, Pamuk and numerous authors from Kannada. Other than writing, I love to travel. Everything else about me is unrequired for others.