Fiction by Damodar Mauzo: Love helps Vipin find an separate identity from his cold, unloving family

Ma’s health took a turn for the better over the next few months since I imposed a strict dietary regimen and made sure she took her medication on time. Dr Costabir said, “It’s a miracle that you’re well again. But you have Babu to thank for this.”

But Ma was a bad patient who resented my strictures. From the moment she woke up she would begin complaining. “Someone’s having nice sweet tea and serving me this bitter brew.”

Since I had taken over the housework, she did not help at all. This meant even less movement and so I had to insist on her getting up and walking about. Even this she saw as an imposition. If she had earlier blamed Daddy for not making her happy, now she blamed me for making her unhappy.

Looking after Ma and doing the housework meant I had to miss college. But I didn’t want to stop studying. It was not possible to study Konkani literature on the Net so I tried not to miss those classes. It was not because I cared about whether I passed or I got good marks; I just wanted to learn about Konkani.

Then came Fun Week. The college set up a committee.

Amrut took the lead. He tried to get me involved too. I managed to stay out of it. Since the college would not spend any money, the cultural committee had to raise sponsorships on its own. I donated a thousand rupees.

Amrut brought in sponsorship from a beer company: fifty thousand rupees. That made him a hero.

“Tomorrow there’s a dance competition. I’m going to give a solo performance. But you have to come and see it,” Fatima said.

“Sorry, not interested.”

“Please. Just because I’m asking…”

“But I haven’t seen even one other…”

“All the more reason.” I refused to budge.

“If you don’t come, I won’t dance.”

“You must do as you choose.”

“Okay. Then I’m going announce in front of everyone that since you’re not here, I’m withdrawing. And you should know I keep my word.”

Fatima was stubborn and a bit off the wall. I didn’t want her to be announcing these things and she knew it. Hence this blackmail. I said nothing.

“If I don’t see you in the audience, I won’t dance. Be warned.”

And so I was forced to go. The last entry was Fatima’s. She danced as if we were alone in the auditorium. The students gave her a standing ovation. They clapped and whistled and stamped their feet. Fatima danced as if she had been born with paizonaa tied to her ankles, as if she were a trained dancer.

Balam pichkari jo tune mujhe maari
Toh seedhi saadhi chhori sharabi ho gayi

When she finished there was a roar of applause and the usual comments: “Once more…Ultimate…!”

There was no doubt who was the winner. Then she was back on stage and took the mic to say: “I dedicate this performance to the man who saved my life.” Another storm of clapping. I was not sure who had understood Fatima’s reference but then one or two voices shouted, “Phantom, Phantom!”

Fatima was standing in the spotlight. I was among the audience. For a moment I wanted total darkness, a spotlight that could darken me, black me out. Then I would become invisible. Unfortunately, the lights were on and everyone could see me.

Generally, government programmes find few takers. But the Art and Culture Department’s DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas generally drew crowds, or so I had heard. I had never gone myself. And it is likely that I would not have gone if Martin Sir had not told me that I should go. “The speakers are very good. I suggest you go today. Professor Anil Kumar Gupta is going to speak on grassroots innovation. It may motivate you.”

If Martin Sir had taken the trouble to call me, I figured I should go. Perhaps he was a regular at these lectures. And then he might wonder where I was. I thought I might go with Fatima but then it occurred to me that Martin Sir might see us and ask, “Who’s this?’ and then what would I say?”

At around three o’clock, Martin Sir called again.

“Are you going for the lecture?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How are you planning to go?”

“I thought I’d take the bike.”

“If your pillion is free, can I hitch a lift?” he asked hesitantly.

“I shall be honoured, sir,” I said and meant it too. “It’s likely to be a full house. We should get there early.”

“My life has been a journey of discovery,” Professor Gupta said at the very beginning. He used no fancy flourishes but spoke simply and from the heart. His audience was spellbound. He spoke of the many small innovations he had witnessed and the responses he got from the youth, which were fascinating. He emphasized that each innovation arises at some sensitive juncture and can rarely be attributed to a single person. Instead, he talked about the idea of the hivemind where nameless, faceless people come together to make change. Everyone has a creative mind which can give rise to new ideas but if these are not given encouragement, the mind settles into routine thinking. One has to keep one’s heart open and one’s mind receptive and only then will new concepts come alive. He offered the example of very young children who can often have startlingly original ideas but if they’re made to feel that they will be laughed at, they do not express themselves. And in this silence, we lose any number of original ideas…

Professor Gupta spoke for forty minutes. The hall was packed but the crowd listened in silence. He spoke now about teachers. He said there were four kinds of teachers. The first is the teacher within, the second is nature, the third is one’s social environment and the fourth is one’s peers, the knowledgeable people around one. “These four teachers take us forward,” he said.

And he was right. The hall was almost full of people eager to hear the professor’s ideas. Many of them were young. I found it odd to be sitting next to Martin Sir. But the excitement was contagious.

I resisted the impulse to look at Martin Sir. Professor Gupta offered the youth an open challenge: “When you have an idea, new idea, however strange, however extraordinary, bring it to us. We will consider it seriously.” He even gave his email ID. The lecture ended with thunderous applause. Then there was a question-and-answer session. Martin Sir looked at me encouragingly as if to say, “Go on and ask your questions.”

I thought back to the time I had been sitting in another audience when Fatima had dedicated her dance to me and I had wanted a spotlight (a spotdark?) to hide me. Could that be at all possible? Could one construct a device that would block light, erase it from a space and so create a patch of darkness? Of course, there were opaque objects but what we needed was something that would erase all light, prevent light pollution, create real darkness? But I could not get myself to say anything

Outside it was dark already. I dropped sir home. When he got off the bike, he thanked me and asked, “What did you think of the lecture?”

“Awesome, sir. It was because of you that I could…”

“I thought you’d have had something to ask him.”

I was silent.

“Be open. Be frank. Didn’t you have an idea to share with him?”

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while, sir. It’s a thought that keeps coming back. When it is dark one turns on the torch and it becomes light. But what if one wants to do the opposite? What if one wants to cast darkness into a lighted area? Say, for instance, I want to erase light pollution so that I can study the stars. This is all very tenuous right now. I don’t even know if it’s feasible.”

Martin Sir took a while to process that then he said, “You should have asked. Who knows what might have come out of that? Did you note his email ID?”

I hadn’t. Sir handed me a slip on which he had written the ID.

“Drop him a line, quick.”

Excerpted with permission from in Boy, Unloved, Damodar Mauzo, translated from the Konkani by Jerry Pinto, Speaking Tiger Books.

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