Sashanka Sekhar Sarma
He was a short guy, short by any standards, five feet two perhaps. He was well built though, stout and strong with little triceps bulging from his forever tight t-shirts. Jainal, real name Jaideb Nath, was a born lover. At least that’s what he told everyone. I believe it with a pinch of salt though.
His name has a story too! It’s rumoured he got named Jainal after he seduced the village thief’s wife—– the thief’s name was Jainal. The thief, out most nights on his crooked errands, remained oblivious of his wife’s infidelity. One night as ‘our Jainal’ sneaked out into the darkness, a neighbor hailed him, as Jainal of course. Being questioned on sneaking out from his ‘own’ house, our wife seducer stopped dead in his tracks, then ran past bamboo troves and banana plantations on that pitch black night. Behind him, a lot of commotion erupted but he did not slow down. No one could catch him that moonless night. But fate played a cruel game – it made him leave behind one of his Bata sandals in the commotion – his trademark soft leather Bata sandal. The next day the entire village knew whose sandal that was. Nobody could prove it directly though. A few days later someone called him Jainal after some minor argument and the name soon caught on: now everybody calls him Jainal.
Jainal has a very physical concept of love and will talk on those terms only. If you come to know him, you will notice that through talks of village weather and other matter, he would slowly bring in the topic of making love. First he would talk in general and then would slowly drag you into his explicitly narrative exploits. Often he would start bragging; most often about the half century of girls and married women he conquered in his insignificant life. In fact, it was his only recourse to fame. He did the same to me.
“Girls like being the flowers to us bees. They are there all the time, you just have to hover around them correctly, sting them at the right places. Make sure you bloom them to the fullest’, he advised as we both sat under the village oak tree, all the while making small white clouds with his tobacco leaf bidi.
Seeing me flinch, he started again, “Ha! Don’t save yourself too much. You seem to be the kind that has not tasted blood yet. Go on and have some fun. You will not die from too much of it.”
“Have at least some shame, Jainal,” I said feigning disgust, but secretly enjoying the conversation.
The fellow knew I was enjoying. Such shameless talk entices us even though we may act nonchalant. Jainal went on encouraged.
“What shame in fulfilling our needs; in hunger I eat, when in need of love I find someone with the same need and we fulfill each other,” he said with a wicked wink.
Some other villagers tried to overhear our talk. I felt uneasy at being overheard. I still maintained some self-respect and felt proud of it. Already one of them was smiling ‘I know what you are listening type’ smile. I must try to stop Jainal. Perhaps it would be good to divert the topic to less arousing things. I tried the trick of flanking.
“Oi! I heard that you were dragged to court some time back, what happened? Heard that some middle aged girl wanted to marry you. Ha! See what comes from these misadventures. You must be careful in these matters, you know”, I said, trying to divert his mind from giving me raunchy advice.
“Yes! Well you have seen her, arrre… the one I was talking to yesterday evening. She is actually younger than she looks and is my front door neighbor. She was a safe bet, never thought that she may go to the courts. It’s her younger sister that’s the problem, always instigating her to file the case. She filed a case that I cheated on my promise to marry her. Ha ha…. I only made love, not promises ——- Cost me two thousand rupees to get out of that crap. But that’s settled now, so no worries,” he said. He said those final words in dismissive tone.
“I think her sister is more interested in you. You don’t have to drive that old truck—–go for the new car instead,” said a sleepy eyed villager sitting besides us.
I knew that those villagers were overhearing us! He was trying to be cheeky, that villager. Not knowing him, I kept quiet. It doesn’t pay to open oneself in-front of a stranger. Who knows whom he will speak to next? Perhaps he will quote Jainal’s words as mine. I kept a blank face and acted aloof.
“Yeah, just as I think your sister is,” retorted Jainal mockingly, “Wipe my dirty behind with your flowery head scarf whenever such doubt boils in your stomach.”
The guy taken aback by the crass rebuke wanted to retort back. Nevertheless, he restrained himself in the knowledge, perhaps of the utter uselessness of it. Also I think he still needed to be on good terms with Jainal to put up his name in the next government scheme beneficiary list. Jainal was the favourite right hand man of the block secretary. He had to be tolerated.
My trick flopped miserably, Jainal kept on his blabber like an ancient monogram. Jainal spoke non-stop about his exploits with that very same girl. Slowly I began to lose interest.
I looked at the people around. It was the village haat (market) day.
The village wholesaler-plus-retailer-cum-everything built a concrete base around the oak tree so people could enjoy the shade of the great oak tree. An engraved cemented plaque mentioned his dead mother’s name and also his. More than love, he built it to keep people sitting out there for better business—— his shop was situated right next to it. After the pre-evening lull, the people started to trickle in along the roadside. Traders, after having their lunch and a little doze, were back for a final shot at finishing of their wares before heading off to the towns. The fish monger haggled with a burqa clad woman and the dry spices dealer kept shouting out his wares. There were watermelons, cut open to show its juicy red nature; a small boy was cutting broiler chicken pieces while a few extra skinned carcasses hung by coir rope in front.
An impatient crowd bickered all over the place. The prices seemed high, needs great, but their purses seemed tiny. Jainal was bickering too; something which sounded far off. I was lost in the sound and the din of the market babble, price hankering, the bleating of goats, lost in each and every sound there.
At five in the evening, the village Vaishnavaite temple sounded its large bell metal bells and drummed its huge drums as usual. Its sound reverberated and brought me back. The villagers stopped in their tracks, doing a quick hand gesture, paying obeisance to the Gods—- next moment resuming their chores and blabber.
Jainal too murmured his prayers with his eyes closed. He opened them, looked at me and smiled. “Well what do you say, want to have some fun tonight? A little drink or two,” he asked me. “Let’s go to Robin’s pharmacy. The patient room behind has a table and some benches. We can wet our throats there.”
“Well….my uncle is not home yet, and Mainu and her family have called me for dinner you know,” I answered a little startled, “I can’t Jainal, sorry.”
I arrived at the village a few days back from Guwahati to attend my maternal uncle’s daughter Mainu’s marriage. The groom was from the same village, a useless fellow. How girls keep on falling for these useless fellows always remained a mystery to me. It was a big affair though; my uncle was the village headman and also a ruling party contractor. The whole village gorged on the feast. It was during the marriage that I got to know Jainal better. Assamese village weddings always are a great place to make acquaintances.
My cousin and her new groom invited me for dinner that night as I was leaving for Guwahati the very next day. Such niceties are a norm there.
Jainal sat with his stupid grin. It’s hard to ignore him.
“Well I really can’t, what will Mainu say. Uncle would also feel bad,” I stated with grit and resolve.
Jainal was a very persistent fellow, shameless too. I was none. In words of life and its matter he kept dazing me— soon two hours passed, talking of this stuff and that. One thing led to another, one after the other. The market was now empty except for some hagglers trying for some last minute discounts. The moon looked bright and the breeze fine. I forgot my determination and slowly my companion seemed nicer, more misunderstood rather than a perceived pervert.
It’s mostly in the dusk that one loses one’s resolve. The patient room of Robin’s pharmacy gave a soft glow. Two hours of spirited revelry followed.
“Jainal finish your drink fast. I have to go. Uncle will be home any moment and I don’t want to embarrass myself on the very last night. Already Mainu has called me a rotten vulture’s son for canceling dinner at her home tonight. She made local chicken curry, you know. All this because of your stupid blah…blah”, I spoke agitatedly, finishing my last in a single gulp.
I was having a fit of guilt, one I always have after two or three pegs. My drunken retrospective nature always made me feel post drink guilty.
“Huh! Boy, speaking to me as if I have made you sit and drink. Sorry if I hurt your majesty’s son. Anyways your uncle is not Gandhi; probably drinking local rice wine with his stupid friends. Worst headman I have ever seen —more interested in his government contracts and engineers. Forget him. Hey! at least we are having it city style in a nice place.… I am too druuuunk now. Take me home na….. This stupid brand never goes down well with me. Perhaps it is duplicate stuff,” he blurted out and flung the empty bottle out of the window into the pond besides.
There was a soft splash. I looked into the dark pond. Wish I could sleep here instead of listening to this duffer.
Neglect your intuition and soon find yourself stuck with a drunk pervert on mud roads, making him stagger along. Jainal started to act bizarre soon. Sometimes he would stop and take a moan of deep pain, pain only switched on by three four pegs of cheap branded liquor. He would slip into the mud sometimes, sit down, cry, then stumble up and start again.
I was tired, angry and in no mood to tolerate such drunken melodrama. As he sat down again, I left him in the mud and walked away.
He sort of murmured to my back in a soft way, “A man has come to see her for marriage. Perhaps they are having dinner right now. She always came secretly to meet me besides our bamboo trove. I would kiss her lips and her free flowing hair together. It always smelled nice…shampoo scent type. She won’t be doing that anymore…na?”
I stopped in my tracks and turned around. Something nagged me. Pity for this so called pervert and his love engulfed me. I took Jainal up by his arms to slowly walk him home. The girl, his so called lover and front door neighbor, was perhaps all dressed up to impress her suitor. It sort of filled me with a sad kind of feeling. While I took him in I noticed a white Tata Indica car parked between the two sentinel coconut trees in her compound. The lights were on and I could hear some nice laughter. I smelled the aroma of fried spices.
“Perhaps she realised I am a bad guy and so decided to move on, to better her life…she may ….may she,” Jainal spoke, his voice trailing off in dazed sleepy notes.
As I looked, alternating between Jainal’s soft sleepy face and the glowing parking lights from the car of the prospective groom, I realized perhaps Jainal may too have something good in him, love that he had lost through his own antics. Love, that he most desperately needed.
I left for Uncle’s home. The tar paved roads were white from the moonlight, silhouetted on both sides by dark trees sprinkled with the moonshine. Staggering alone all I could think of the thing that was love and its varied implications—– of a pervert, his love, and my compassion.
Next morning, I went back home to Guwahati. No time to say anybody any goodbyes.
It was after two months that I came to know of the date of her marriage from my uncle’s son. It upset me. That night Jainal seemed weak, so much in love. A pervert who perhaps had lost love. I decided to call Jainal, to comfort him, even through my inadequate words. On the day of her marriage I called up his mobile phone number. It ringed incessantly. He was not picking it up. With concern I called up another guy I befriended in the village, asked him if Jainal had coped up well— or if there was something wrong.
“What? Jainal…. of course he is all right. Issues don’t bear too long on that shameless fellow. That stupid is right now serving wedding guests’ mutton curry..….ha ha…says mutton is his department. Last night he even joked with the bride on her new muga silk saree,” his voice crackled over the phone.
I threw away my phone in disgust.