Is there paucity of stories in India?
When I was buying fruit juice at a roadside shop, I happened on a lad stretching out arms. Handing the juice over to him, I was just watching what he was doing.
He crossed the road and sat on a parapet, after spreading a newspaper on it. Watching the sights and sounds around with an expression of derision writ large on the face, he was drinking the juice, legs crossed across each other.
Just keep track of the lad. Behind him there is certainly a story. That is a film.
Unlike in any other country, in Iran there are several hard-and-fast censorship rules. However, Iranian cinema glitters with quality. What is the reason? Children. “They are our real souls. Create films out of them’’. That is what Makhmalbaf, a famous Iranian film director, has said in an interview given to a Tamil journal.
While in Chennai in connection with his film project work, he spoke at length about India, about Tamil cinema and about the antics or grotesque nature of the South Indian films made on mega budgets.
Iranian films have subtle aesthetic scenes depicting the inner world o children and the politics binding their lives. Just because they have spoken about the inner and outer world of the citizens of future generation, they have got prominence in the global arena.
Such a child I too have followed in my life.
In my home place, there is a pond. I used to stroll along the banks in the twilight after sunset. It was pleasant to sit in the shadow under the trees which were called in my mother tongue ‘kudai vaelaa’. I would sit and enjoy the tweets (literally, of course) of the sparrows and their brisk body movements shining as they were hopping from branch to branch.
The waterbody opposite me would vibrate with ripples reflecting the images of ‘oomatham’ flowers. I would enjoy the hide-and-seek game of rural hens (‘kaanaangkozhi’ in Tamil) diving into the water, disappearing and in an instant, and rearing its head again at some other point. I would follow the game with my eyes.
When a square-sized small stone dropped into the water, it touched the water and rebounded and again touched the surface of the water only to bounce back…..the sight of ripples looking like rings and circles in the water was aesthetically rare.
Only then I noticed the boy. A few feet away from my right, he was gazing at the pond. The sunset’s fading golden rays were trickling down his face. The bag of school books hanging from his shoulders identified him as a government school student. He was keenly watching the pond. What was he looking at, standing frozen and still for long?
With curiosity driving me, I got up gently and went close to him as if spying on him. He was not yet conscious of my presence.
He was shaking his geometry box up and down so that its image got reflected on the water. His face lit up with waves of feelings made me guess that the geometry box’s reflection in the pond must have identified some wonder within him.
Slowly opening the box, he took out a small scale and kept on changing the position of the scale. Then, all of a sudden, he threw it into the pond. The scale that pierced through the wind was shaking and hopping in the water and assuming the charm of a fish, it finally plunged into the pond. The boy was watching the sight till the scale was slowly sinking as if swimming to the depths of the pond.
After some time, he took out a protractor from the box. After keeping it in hand and shaking it, he threw it deftly. Like a wheel, it pierced through the air and fell into the water. He enjoyed the scene to the hilt. The protractor, creating cascading ripples, was swimming with the current.
After that, he threw the triangles one by one. As they were also sinking into water with blithe movements, he enjoyed that sight too happily.
Next, he threw the compass which also conjured up an aesthetic scene of charmingly swimming with the subtle beauty of a butterfly.
The boy was finally looking at the box that he kept moving upside down. I perceived desire and desperation in his eyes.
Suddenly closing the box, he threw it also into the water. A minor tension mounted there. As if watching a denouement, he was standing there in keeping with the tension.
The box was floating and swimming and finally sank into the water.
I was enjoying the scene very deeply.
When he was diverting from the diversion and about to make an about-turn, he happened on me standing behind him. The thought that I was watching all of his activities standing nearby sparked in him a sense of shame and a little bit of tension. He was blinking.
I too became self-conscious. Putting my hand on his shoulder, I took him to the shade of the tree. Leaning on trunk, I started conversing with him.
The boy was my co-inhabitant of the place. I told him, “The scene of your throwing the box into the water was very good. Looking at me in wonder, he clammed up, head bent.
Avoiding any more talk about the subject, I was just beating about the bush. I, though, brought him to the same subject again.
The boy was Thangasamy studying in 7th Standard in our government school.
A special test was scheduled for a later date in his school to select the best students in mathematics in higher classes. The students had got their names registered with the maths teacher who told them all to get ready geometry boxes for the test.
But the boy Thangasamy did not have any geometry box. He was in fact managing maths classes, borrowing the box from his classmate. But the teacher did not agree to this. So, to please him, the boy told him that he would arrange the box before the date of the special test.
However, back home, there was an acute poverty. His parents said that they would get him the geometry box in a week. As days passed by, he did not know what to do for the box.
At this juncture, his friend suggested that he could fish in the pond and sell it and from that income, geometry box could be bought.
The friend also lent him a fishing rod.
Next day, the boy did not go to school. In the morning, he went to Naicker’s plantain field and collected some worms ferreted out of the sand. As big fish would cut the angle, small fish only should be caught and for that, the eastern side of the pond would be ideal.
This is what his friend had suggested.
As per his friend’s suggestion, the boy went to the pond and was fishing. Everytime fish got caught in his bait, he would feel happy. But seeing the fish gasping for air, it would seem pitiable.
Somehow or other, he caught fish and sold them at the Gownthapadi market and made money out of which he bought a geometry box.
At night he was dreaming of the test scheduled for next day.
Next morning he went to school only to be told that the test was over the previous day itself.
Upset and vexed, he was left at his wits’ end. He could not focus on the classes. There was a lump in his mind. The moment school hours were over, he skipped going back home and instead, went straight to the pond.
He threw the instruments and finally the box into the pond.
The scene of all of them swimming in the water had sunk into his mind like a meaningful ceremony. He enjoyed the aesthetics of grief transforming into joy. Now he felt totally relieved of the burden that had been pinning him down.
As he was narrating all these scenes, his face shone with the ecstasy of fish.
There is Iranian cinema even in our country; but no directors, unfortunately to depict it.
(Translated by Maharathi)
Gouthama Siddarthan is a noted short-story writer, essayist and a micro-political critic in Tamil, who is a reputed name in the Tamil neo-literary circle. He has published thirteen books including five short story collections and eight non fictions in Tamil. He is also the editor of Alephi.com.