The Monsoon

The Monsoon- Roopa CulasChapter 1The Wind

I am Ramu, the son of the Ocean. I love the smell of the salt and the spray of the water. We live in the seaside; in fact our whole village is in the seaside. Ours is the land of monsoons. Everyone here loves the monsoon. We wait like thirsty hornbills for the first drops of rain.

In the days before the monsoon, my brother and I would lie in the grainy sand begging our grandmother for a story. In the soft twilight when Grandmother starts her stories, mother will bring her basket of beans to clean and sit with our heads on her lap. My father, who is always sleeping if he is not working, will place himself a couple feet from us, mending his nets and his ears tuned toward us. Thus we used to sit underneath the big mango tree, each one wrapped in their imagination, unconsciously waiting for that one moment that will define our existence.

My mother tells us that we are poor, which I doubt because we have a water well which never dries and a big tree with lot of ripe mangoes, which Asif, who lives next door doesn’t have. Every morning Asif and his mother walk to the river to wash clothes & bring back water in big pots. Sometimes he comes over to my house with a pot to fill drinking water and both of us will take turns in drawing water from the well. The well was our playground; many lazy mornings were spent peering down into the dark waters below and shivering in delicious horror imagining about the creatures of the dark lying beneath. The water with its dark blue depths and its swaying reflections was our mental canvas. Like any little boy’s, our mind’s eye would work overtime and Asif and I would be defenders of the well, preventing the monsters from jumping out.

Asif and I both go to the local government school, which I did not particularly care for; I do not like sitting in a confined space when my heart yearned to be out in the ocean, slicing the waves. I was occasionally interrupted from these pleasant day dreams by my teacher, Mr. Hassan. Mr. Hassan was young pedantic scholar with dreamy eyes, which occasionally sparked fire, while teaching Indian history in our social studies class. Young as we were, the sudden fire in our teacher’s eyes caused a general interest in some of us.

My bench mate Salud, whose Father is a personal assistant for a minister, said that Mr. Hassan went for night classes in secret. The thought of our teacher going for classes and that too in the night, intrigued all of us.

I like school only because we play football during recess and I enjoy it. I don’t like the grammar lessons, it’s boring. Mr. Hassan has caught many of us, nodding off to sleep during the grammar lessons, numerous times. Asif likes grammar; he says its mathematics with words. Asif is a good student, but I am better in football.

The bigger boys made fun of me when I first tried football, but I found out that being small helped me maneuver the ball between the long legs of the tall boys and reach the goalpost faster. Old man Abdu, around the corner makes our football with coconut leaves and coir fiber. He doesn’t have children of his own, so he makes us balls when he is not out in the seas like my Father and many others in our village.

One day, Asif and I were walking back from school; we saw green and white streamers decorating the village square; he told me that a great Muslim leader, Azeez Ali, was coming to speak at the square today. We squinted at the green podium and saw an old man with a long white beard. We saw that some of the elders in our village, along with Mr. Hassan, were talking to him.

Later while making paper kites on his roof, Asif and I heard cheers coming from the village square and from the loud speakers we heard the soothing Islamic chants. We took our kites to the seashore. My kite flew high, till it was purple splotch in the sky and his was green, orange and white, our flag colors, he explained. Asif wants to be an Army officer when he grows up, like his uncle Rahim.

I want to be a fisherman like Father. I am waiting for the day when he will take me on the boat with him. There is nothing more than I want to do than swimming in the ocean, floating in the smooth silk of the night sea on a warm summer night and see its colors change; silver blue in the morning, molten gold during sunset and inky black in the night. Father says that the Ccean is a Woman, temperamental, changing colors with Her moods. He says that the Ocean should be treated with respect, “Ask of Mother Ocean what you want humbly and she will give you without hesitation, but fight with her and she will show no mercy.”

Asif also hangs onto to his father’s words, like I to my father’s. Asif’’s father is a farmer and a strong one at that. Ibrahim-ikka tills and sows on his 2 acres with Naushad and Ali, his two elder sons and two sets of oxen from morning till sunset. He sometimes sends us rice and beans. Asif told me once that his father prays every morning before he starts work. Ibrahim-ikka goes to the nearby town once every two weeks to sell his produce in his bullock cart with Naushad. Sometimes Asif and I accompany him. He will buy us lemon candies and we will put them in our mouth and bounce in the back of the cart laughing.

One such return journey, Asif and I slept on the hay bales underneath us which was bouncing rhythmically. There was a sharp jerk and my eyes flew open. Beside me Asif was snoring, Ibrahim-ikka and Naushad were talking urgently is low tones; “Father” I heard Naushad speaking in his quiet firm way, “I do namaaz five times a day and so does my brothers, it doesn’t make us fanatics, why is Azeez-Saab so particular about us mingling with Hindus?” There was a silence and then Ibrahim-ikka sighed and spoke even softly “I guess we will have to stop bringing Ramu along with us now onwards”. Being very sleepy and with the wind howling in my ear, I couldn’t be sure whether I imagined it or not, yet the possibility of it, nagged my eleven year old brain.
Later that evening, I was lying on my back on the soft sand waiting for the shooting stars to appear, Father came and sat next to me,
“Looking at the stars?”
“Hmmm…”
“Was the market crowded today?”
“Hmm…Yeah…”
“Well, don’t be going around jumping on Ibrahim’s cart again.”
The starry sky froze for an instant; I turned to look at my father’s eyes
“Why?”
“You remember Azeez-Saab who came to talk in the village square; well… he doesn’t like Hindu boys riding with their Muslim folk.”
“So?”
“Well it makes things easier for Ibrahim and me, if you don’t do that again.”
I looked up and him and nodded, not quite understanding why, but knowing it will make Father look less worried.

Chapter 2Rain

Today I woke up and the sky was dark.

“Monsoon season has arrived”, Father was saying cheerfully, for a fisherman has his biggest catch during monsoon. Mother sent a worried look his way, for fishermen’s wives, monsoon means an unrelenting ocean.

I rubbed my eyes and walked out to wash at the well. The water was cool on my hands and face. I saw Ibrahim-ikka and his sons leave for the fields with their oxen. Ali saw me and waved. I waved back.
Later that day, we were having grammar class in the afternoon and Salud sitting next to me was making paper boats. I looked out of the window knew why. The sky was dark and the coconut trees were swaying. It boded a pleasurable afternoon of playing in the rain. The cool breeze was making me sleepy. I tried to follow Mr. Hassan, who was writing on the board, when shadows falling in the doorway made me look up. There were five men, wearing orange shawls. I recognized a couple of them; they were a part of the group of young men who sit near the temple grounds talking intently on most evenings. Some of the village elders say they are Hindu terrorists, but to me they had looked like normal people.

“Hinduism is a peaceful religion.” My Father says all the time. But right now the men were looking at Mr. Hassan and they looked anything but peaceful. There was a terrible silence, Mr. Hassan stopped writing and turned around to look at us and then he saw them.

The wind stopped howling and everything was quiet. I saw a glint of metal flashing in the sunlight. Beside me Salud froze, I looked at him the same time I heard a muffled gasp and a “Ya Allaahh!” from our teacher. Something warm and wet fell on my face, neck and chest. Salud and Ali were staring at each other in silent horror, their faces and neck dripped blood. Mr. Hassan was bent forward kneeling, his head almost severed from his neck resting on his table legs. At the same I realized that it was his blood on my face, someone screamed.
Nobody moved. The sound of our teacher’s gurgling blood, shining like fresh tar in the streaming sunlight and his last raspy breath broke the silence. The last thing I remembered before the blackness closed upon me was that the rain had started.

When I opened my eyes everything had changed. Riots has broken out all over, I heard Father telling Mother. The Muslims fueled by Azeez Ali’s fiery speeches, were slaughtering the Hindus left and right. The Hindus donned in yellow and orange in turn were burning Muslims alive. It was said our teacher’s writings about Hindu extremism and his anti-Hindu propaganda had got him killed. I tried to close my eyes and go to sleep, but the image of Mr. Hassan’s half-severed bowed head came rushing to my mind, gagging, I would wake up trembling all over.

I remember the blood; I think the metallic smell of the warm blood will never leave me as long as I live.

Chapter 3The Storm

The rain poured for days without end. Father could not take his boat out, for it was not safe, not from nature but from humans. They said the killings and the burnings spread on to nearby villages and towns. I stared at the walls most of the time; try hard not to think about my class and my dead teacher. I tried to find patterns in the moss that accumulated in the walls in a desperate attempt to divert my mind. In the end, I went out.

It was stilling raining hard when I climbed over Asif’s wall. As I was shaking myself dry in his veranda I saw his mother come out. She looked at me and went inside without a word. I have seen her since the day I was born; Asif’s mother always treated me like another son. She would beckon me to the kitchen and would always have a sweet treat to fill my palm. I knew something had changed and it had to do with Mr. Hassan’s death.
Presently Asif came out, he looked pale, but his eyes were red and stormy. I remember that I hadn’t seen him since our teacher’s death. He stood there a, a few feet away and looked at me with an expression I have never seen on him before.
“What are you doing here?” His voice shook a little bit and sounded harsher than the thunder in the background.
“I came looking for you.”
“Well don’t… anymore.”
This time I didn’t have to ask why.

I was flinging my pebble collection out of the window, one by one, when I heard the scream. At first I thought it was a wounded dog, then I heard it again, it was more of a moan, with the raw helplessness that transcends the realm of human communication to animal. It made my blood freeze. I realized that it was for this instant that my instincts were priming me for the past dark days. From zigzag of the lighting I saw Father dropping his net and rushing out. I heard Appu whimpering and clinging to my mother.
I did not want to go to Asif’s house, but I had to, it was his scream that I heard. I stepped inside the cold dark house, at first my eyes could not make out anything. I shivered, but not from the cold. I could make out a mound of cloth and the hollow eyes of the people looking at it. I went nearer and to my horror, saw cropped black hair peeking out from the cloth. I looked around and did a quick inventory; all five of them were there. I looked at Asif who was supporting his mother who had fallen back on him.
It was then I saw the military cap with the tiny tricolor flag on it.

Chapter 4The Quiet

When the dawn rose the rain had stopped.

Everything was quiet. The deathly silence pervaded into the village like dark smoke after a big fire. The killings and the rioting came to an abrupt end. The agitators came to offer their condolences and services for the funeral. Asif and I sat underneath the mango tree and watched as people streamed in and got to work quietly. We saw the saw the Hindus and Muslims and the rest of the village quietly working, not together but in tandem, for the funeral preparations.

Asif told me that his uncle, Lt. Rahim was returning home from the front, where he was stopped at one of the rioting villages. When asked which religion he belonged to, he is said to have replied,
“My religion is humanity.”
The reply angered the man who asked the question, he lashed out with his knife. Later, on-lookers said that he had a look of surprise as he fell. His body was respectfully carried into the village by Hindu youths from our village who were passing through. The news had spread like wildfire and our village was shocked into silence.

The funeral went smoothly. The Maulavi recited the verses and people dutifully repeated them. The funeral procession was interspersed with green and orange clad mourners, for Rahim was loved and respected by all. He was the son of the village, who was proud of its lone military man.
I sat by the beach, Mother Ocean was deadly calm; I think she grieved along with our village.
Asif never talked much after that, but the haunted look never left his eyes. We went to school together for Mr. Hassan’s memorial. For our little village came to its senses and agreed that a memorial service was in order for the slain teacher. All of us, his students, were there and so were his wife and their baby. The headmaster an aging elder took the microphone and talked about Mr. Hassan as s father, teacher, leader and writer and his significant contributions to the betterment of our village and how sorely he would be missed. Then his widow, whom we never saw before was asked to say a few words, she took the microphone, looked at each one of us with wise sad eyes and said;
“Your teacher taught you well"

THE END

The Monsoon

roocu

Joined March 2008

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