Minor character

I whisper among the plastic chairs that house the AD’s and the scriptwriters. My cries of loneliness echo the walls of the caravans that house the actors.

I know of the struggles that plague the film industry. Any industry, irrespective of language. Therefore, it is no surprise that I would find few takers. But then, I’m no fresh talent looking to make a splash.

Various versions of me have pervaded every industry, not just the entertainment industry, for centuries. Although I should admit I haven’t had as much of a presence as I rightfully should.

One particular field I find most challenging is the Telugu Film Industry. I was once celebrated there, put on a pedestal, the glory days. Although I was never strictly the protagonist, the viewers enjoyed frequent glimpses of me that gladdened their souls.

For decades, I had a standing of my own. Much like the hallowed hero, the hapless heroine and the pretentious director. In the past few decades, however, I have been thrown out like an unnecessary extra.

I whisper among the plastic chairs that house the AD’s and the scriptwriters. My cries of loneliness echo the walls of the caravans that house the actors. My wails of isolation are drowned out in the layers of the foundation laid onto the dancers.

“Take me, please, just for a bit”.

“Okka chance, oke okka chance”.

I’m common sense.

Once the backbone of every bound Telugu script, I have now been disgracefully clobbered down. Mercilessly squashed between Balakrishna’s thighs, left gasping for air every time TATA Sumos kiss in mid-air.

I’m a necessary ingredient of a meaningful movie. I’m no main character, no protagonist, but I demand to be made a part, though small, of every movie. It will make a world of difference, I promise you.

Write Club Hyderabad – The Others Within – 1- 30th September 2017.

What Just Happened – Part 4.

And so, they went off, with a new passenger in their already congested ancient vehicle. As the vehicle went away spewing dust, we looked at each other, What Just Happened?

Hemanth had been with us the whole time. We had earlier asked the others, albeit not with as much venom as the CI did if they knew anything about the whole incident before we call the police. None replied in the affirmative, so we went ahead with the call to the law enforcers.

I had previously come up with a theory to explain the whole episode. Only in my head. I had not ventured to share it with anyone. Some guy who thought he had one too many balls had gone up to the terrace overlooking the cemetery and must have been sleeping, drinking, whatever. Fuelled by my imagination, this thought led onto the sensational one that he had seen/encountered something out of the ordinary which freaked out the poor guy. In his obviously frantic attempt to run away from the apparition(?), he had been clumsy and must have either fallen or hurt himself after having struck something on the way, which explains all the blood. True, the theory had its gaping holes.

Supernatural stuff, I knew, humans, even the police, could do nothing about. We didn’t know what to expect from the police when they trudged towards us in the Jeep, but certainly, his clear pin-pointed accusation was totally unprecedented.

All of us looked at him in shock. The guy seemed genuinely shocked too, but he could have been acting the part of his life. He was pleading with the police that he didn’t know a thing. The CI looked at him for a second and impulsively looked at the rest and asked, “Take me to the terrace!”

So, the entire bandwagon started up again. A friend of mine who was very awed by the CI went over to him offering to take pics of all the blood-strewn places on our way. The inspector didn’t pay him much attention. My friend, however, went clicking all the way, all the while beaming like the morning sun that was due in about a couple of hours. Anyway, we tried to explain all that had happened to the police as we went up slowly, showing the blood and illustrating the episode. The CI didn’t say much but did not take his eyes off Hemanth and our hapless watchman. As we neared our flat, my enthusiastic friend offered to demonstrate what he thought had happened outside our door. He duly went up the flight of stairs leading to the terrace, made an excellent job of acting scared and flew down the stairs. While turning around to take the next flight of stairs right beside our door, he made a shoddy job of falling on our door while doing so. That, he declared was why we heard the thud on our door. I had a couple of doubts about it all but didn’t want to spoil his portrayal of the scared sprinter.

Once on the terrace and after having shown everything, the CI summoned Hemanth and asked him if he knew a couple of guys giving him their names. The way he asked questions, even such simple ones really made us think again of the incompetence of the police. Surely, this man, notwithstanding all the foul-mouthed language, knew how to deal with crime.

Hemanth replied that he knew them and as the conversation went on, we could make out that these two guys had once stayed at the apartment and still frequently came to our building. They had come that very evening according to Hemanth and he had had a rendezvous with them. This puzzled us, what did they have to do with all of this? We wanted to ask the CI but couldn’t muster up enough courage.

As it was nearing 3 AM, the defining moment of the entire night came upon us. The CI after having taken our names and numbers went back to the watchman and asked him, again a very simple question. “When did this actually happen?”

The moron replied, “Why sir, just about 10-15 minutes ago”.

We sang out in unison, “Sir, it’s been almost two hours, sir…”.

The Circle Inspector looked at him and seemed to be searching for words to say. After about a minute of staring, even the loudmouthed CI had to give up. Such was the foolishness of our watchman. Legendary.

He instructed a constable him to take Hemanth and follow him. We could see the investigation seemed to have come to an end. The constable shouted into the night, “Ramesh, take him into custody” with the last word spelled with much emphasis. Hearing the orders being barked, Hemanth was close to tears. We felt for him.

Once back on the road, the CI said that their work was done and he was about to go back into the Jeep. In the background, the other policemen were standing around giving poses to my overawed mobile camera happy friend. The scene looked so out of tune. To the CI’s query as to what they were doing, they replied, “Sir, we have just been to an investigation. We need to take pictures with us right!?”

And so, they went off, with a new passenger in their already congested ancient vehicle. As the vehicle went away spewing dust, we looked at each other, What Just Happened?

The epilogue was delivered the next evening by Hemanth himself.

Coming back from work, I saw him head to his flat with some “curry packets” in his hand. I called out to him and asked him what he was doing back home already.

He then told me what happened.

The two guys he was asked about the previous night had had an argument resulting in one guy stabbing the other. A drunken brawl on the street next to ours. The wounded guy in his bloody ordeal came looking for Hemanth but forgot the flat he stayed in. Apparently, he came all the way to the terrace, realized that there were no more floors above, panicked and ran away the same way he had come.

He luckily came across the police station and went in to lodge a complaint. In that complaint, he named Hemanth too. The exciting part was that that was exactly the time the police team came to us. The call to the CI was the key to all of this.

An inexplicable episode explained rather simply in the end.

I had mixed emotions on hearing it. Relieved to know that it was a mere non-fatal stabbing and nothing more, but at the same time disappointed that there was nothing otherworldly like in the X Files! No apparitions, no ghostly tinge to the incident. A very human and normal episode in fact. Anyway, I consoled myself, at least it was an exciting encounter if nothing else.

After this episode:

We Roommates: We try to open our door at the first knock.

Eager friend: Uploaded bloody pics on Facebook.

Hemanth: Wary of every guy who comes to meet him and terrified of khaki-wearing people, Auto drivers included.

Bloody guy: Underwent treatment worth a lakh of rupees.

Our opinion of the IPS: Slightly bettered.

Watchman: Being tortured every night by the nightly patrol team. (They visit every night and shout out his name, shaking him awake). Sadly, it hasn’t helped with the foolishness though.

 

What Just Happened – Part 3.

A monster of a man emerged from the Jeep, smartly dressed even at the late hour, wielding the most ferocious looking piece of wood I had ever set my eyes on.

It runs in all of us, yet many swoons at the sight of it. The British swear by it and the color red is best known for it. Blood.

Fresh drops of blood lying on the floor and on the stairs above us. Glistening in the yellow light of the cheap Edison hanging above us. We had to endure yet another minute of stunned silence, something that had become a repeated exercise that night. No one offered an opinion. Our watchman, a 40 something guy who possessed none of the traits that a watchman should have, had a stricken look on his face. Thankfully, one of the others said that we’d better go up and have a look. I didn’t like it at all though I knew that that was the right thing to do. So, we traipsed up the bloody stairs wondering what lay above us.

There was no light on the terrace and we had to contend with the eerie flashlights of our mobiles. We slowly went around the whole place looking for any wounded people left behind or more blood. People, there weren’t any, but blood, yes. At numerous places throughout the terrace, there were drops of blood and the scene looked ghastlier, through the light from our cell phones.

We were clueless and looked to the others for advice. One man suggested we call the police. A call was made promptly and a member of the police fraternity picked up the call. He seemed drunk but listened attentively. And promised he would send a couple of people right away. We came down and looked around the cellar. More blood. The guy, whoever he was, seemed to have been battered around quite a bit. We went out of the apartment and stood near the gate on the road outside. I looked at the time on my mobile. It was close to half past one. I sighed, remembering that I had to rush off to work tomorrow.

Everyone had tons of questions but hardly any answers. We tossed the whole thing around this way and that, to no avail. After a debate that led nowhere, we were joined by the Indian Police Service.

The first thing we heard was the rumble of the erstwhile Indian Police vehicle-the Mahindra Jeep. As I saw the vehicle plough its way towards us, smoke seeming to come out of every corner of the vehicle, I was wondering as to what the much criticised and notoriously incompetent IPS would do to offer any semblance of meaning to the apparently senseless and mysterious incident. How wrong I was to even doubt it!

As the vehicle halted to a clumsy stop, we almost gaped at the sight before us. There seemed to be at least close to a dozen khaki law enforcers in that ancient vehicle. All we did was report a mysterious incident! What on earth were so many policemen doing at our place? Yes, of course! Only that day the Ayodhya verdict had come out. Not surprisingly, they were jumpy and didn’t want to take any chances.

Out came the guys, some too conspicuously drunk, almost staggering while the rest seemed sleepy. But the best was saved for the last.

A monster of a man emerged from the Jeep, smartly dressed even at the late hour, wielding the most ferocious looking piece of wood I had ever set my eyes on. A bit of history here. About a couple of years back, while jumping around with half of the city on Dec 31st at our good old beach road at Vizag, my innocent shins among many others were caned mercilessly by a lathi. So, I had an inkling of what a lathi was capable of and why even after Kalashnikov’s and AK 47’s were deemed modern deadly armory, the police still arm themselves with this simple, uncomplicated yet beastly weapon. This man though had the meanest looking lathi. That piece of wood looked like it could beat your bones to a pulp with a single strike. However, it was only an accessory to the mean, mean policeman.

The Circle Inspector of the Crime Department and looking every bit the part. Over six feet in height, a hefty build coupled with muscle at all the right places and a severed head, yes, not a single strand of hair on his scalp. He was dark and looked like he came from the dark. I was instantly reminded of the police villains of yesteryear Telugu cinema. Boy, I thought, let the games begin!

It was crystal clear that he was the guy in charge. He gave his lathi to a constable and almost charged at us. He went straight for our watchman. I had never seen a grown man cower so timidly before a younger person. For our watchman, that incompetent man I had talked about previously, was almost shaking with fright. The CI towered over him and asked a simple question, “What happened here?”

True to his nature, our watchman blabbered incoherently much to the anger of the CI. He nevertheless listened for a while, made out that there was an intruder and asked him in that thunderous voice of his, “Did you see anyone go up after you had bolted the gates”?

The stupid guy promptly replied, “I saw someone run out of the apartment building”.

The CI was patient enough, asked again, “Did you see anyone go up”?

We were aghast at the audacity of the imbecile, “I saw someone run out of the apartment building”.

The seething CI raised his arm and the trajectory was about to complete its deadly course and crash on the watchman when he shouted pleading, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I was asleep!” The CI did not finish what he had started to do, physically. But he started on a barrage of expletives that was most remarkable, permutations and combinations of all the foul language, correct in grammar, awful in meaning. It made us choke in fright and disgust. The watchman looked ready to fall to his knees.

This was when the mobile phone saved him. The CI’s cell rang with a screeching tone and he went to attend to it. Having got a reprieve, we looked at each other while the watchman looked at his feet.

After a conversation which mostly involved the CI listening and replying with just a frequent “Yes”, he finally came back to us. Armed with a glint in his eye in place of the lathi, he asked a definitive question, “Who is Hemanth here”?

A guy from one of the other bachelor rooms replied almost trembling, “It’s me, Sir”.

The Circle Inspector barked, “Band ekku ra!”*

* Get in the bloody jeep!

 

What Just Happened – Part 2.

In a couple of seconds, the others sensed something was afoot and looked at what we were staring at. The eight of us looked, hooked completely. My heart wasn’t mine any more.

Now that you know what a nervous wreck I’m, let me introduce you to the startling transformation my friends underwent in the aforesaid two minutes of high pitched activity. The regular snoring had ceased and the source of it was standing next to us with a face enveloped in curiosity but with an unmistakable tinge of fear in it and not a trace of drowsiness. He had been well and truly woken up.

The three guys with me, each sturdily built, normally excitable and enthusiastic, were now breathing a trifle too heavily with furtive glances towards yes, the cemetery. The two minutes had reduced the lot of us to a puddle of panic.

In a minute or two, we managed to bring ourselves out of the trance we were in and I was the first to speak, “What just happened?”

Obviously, no one had an answer. One of my mates went over to the window overlooking the burial place three storeys down, looked out for a brief second and closed the window whispering ominously, “The air is sinister.”

For once, no one argued with him. He had been saying that for some time but considering the twin screams we had just been subjected to, we weren’t exactly looking to convince him otherwise.

A friend suggested, “I felt like it came from somewhere above, not below.” We duly nodded our solemn heads. He was right. That was how it had seemed. I asked, “What shall we do”?

“What the hell will you do. Are you crazy? Just sit on your butt and and….” he trailed off. He was nervous too. I complied without comment or complaint. The guy had a point.

The third scream was much closer to us and in accompaniment to it, followed very closely, a deafening thud on our front door. The scream, more urgent this time and the thud, almost like a demanding knock for us to open the door, (to the other side)? We weren’t going to oblige.

I started to freak out, “What the hell man!”

A friend, a wise guy retorted, “Ghosts do not knock on doors and windows. They come right in.”

I was too aghast at his sagely remark to offer one of my own. I just stared open mouthed at the rest.

This was unprecedented. A few minutes past midnight on a cool winter night, we had lived through triple deadening screams and a singular deafening (knock?) on our door with our backs to the (resting?) dead. Freaked out as I was, I couldn’t resist the thought that finally something exciting was happening after a long time. True, I just wanted something slightly out of the ordinary, not paranormal in nature. But certainly, the adrenaline production which had taken a sabbatical, was now back in action and it was pulsating stuff.

Now, the five of us were in a dilemma. Two of us wanted to open the door. The rest, you guessed it, yours truly included, would have none of it.

Gingerly, I got up and proceeded to the balcony overlooking the entrance to our building. The rest followed. We looked down past the branches of the neem tree that hugs our building and saw two figures walking around. Being already on tender hooks, I jumped and tugged at my friend’s sleeve, “Look, look!!”

“You ass, that’s the watchman and his wife!”

Ok I thought, but what were they doing making rounds at the dead of night? I called out, “What are you doing there?”

Both of then looked up, then looked at each other mysteriously for a second but didn’t reply.

“I’m talking to you, what are you doing there?”

This time he replied, “I heard a noise and saw someone running just now. Woke me up”.

“We heard it too, it looked like someone knocked on our door.”

Within moments, the doorbell rang and the watchman with a couple of other residents was at the door. A friend of mine was trying to retell the incident from our perspective. Triple screams peppered with a demanding knock/thud.

I pulled the same guy’s sleeve a second time. He looked at me annoyed and said sharply, “What is it now?”

This time however, he did not call me names, he didn’t say anything in fact. He just looked at what I was pointing to, not offering anything except stunned silence. In a couple of seconds, the others sensed something was afoot and looked at what we were staring at. The eight of us looked, hooked completely. My heart wasn’t mine any more.

 

What Just Happened – Part 1.

As we looked at each other, a gust of wind blew in over the tombs as if to remind us that we live right next to the resting place of the dead, an old run down cemetery, and that such instances should be dealt with nonchalance and a sense of familiarity.

The verdict of Ayodhya was out and contrary to popular belief, the city of Pearls was relatively quiet and the entire day was uneventful. Well, almost.

Over the last few years or so, we had been lucky enough to have been part of something or the exciting at least every other night. Alas, it was not the same now. Nightly ventures, harmless run-ins with the law and those wonderful nocturnal escapades, they were history now. We passed most of our time reliving those dramatic events of yesteryear. Times had changed. Life, simply, was not that exciting any more.

We were playing cards, four of us. Weren’t playing for money, nor for fun. Just for want of a better thing to do. The others were playing to win, while I was looking to end it and hit the sack. My boss at work did not appreciate a dreary face in the morning. A fifth was snoring away in the next room and provided the only regular yet irritating sound in the house which otherwise hung in a bored silence. The hand on the clock was nearing midnight.

Just as I was about to pick a card from the deck, I sensed something move in the room next door. Something white in color for a moment, causing a flutter of excitement in my tummy. Though soundless, it had triggered my ever-jumpy instincts. I said to the guys, “Something’s there…”. As expected, they didn’t react to it with any interest and we went on with our game. A couple of highly eventful moments later, all our cards were down, our antennae were up and we were looking at each with stricken faces full of fear and bearing expressions that would have made Hitchcock proud. For that was when we heard the scream. Only the first, mind you.

My relation with paranormal activity started with Mulder and Scully. It graduated to Stephen King and his “The Shining” which prompted a spate of sleepless nights that fortunately ended in school and a very vivid imagination of unearthly beings that continues to haunt me to this day. And there was “The Exorcist”. For days, I would closely examine every pair of female legs for any that were turned away, all the while dreading the green fluid that might emanate any moment from their mouths. I have encountered quite a bit of unpleasantness come forth from a female mouth, but luckily not the famous bile.

However, having grown up and away from the childish apparitions and dreadful imaginary beasts, I was now content in the world I lived in and was not exactly looking for a date with the other world.

Now, the scream. All 340 m/s of the Speed of Sound brought with it only the scream. Shattering my otherwise humble existence of playing cards with my mates into a frenzy that I still remember. The shudder it caused me and my cholesterol heart was spine chilling to say the least. My hands grew numb and I thought, Yes, I might die this very night, and a virgin at that.

I know thinking of dying on hearing a solitary scream is baseless, but my thinking basically is baseless. I thrive on momentous decisions and a terrible foresight borne out of severe pessimism. As we looked at each other, a gust of wind blew in over the tombs as if to remind us that we live right next to the resting place of the dead, an old run down cemetery, and that such instances should be dealt with nonchalance and a sense of familiarity.

My heart was breaking all records, running at full hilt and then, almost stopped when we heard the scream again. A male voice, yet high-pitched like a girl’s, not exactly earth shattering by way of decibel but clearly in its own way wreaking havoc and bringing our routine of jaded silence to a literally “screech”ing halt.

My glass half-empty

I instinctively stopped and looked up. Inches away from my unmanned left eyeball, the sharp end of a “boring pump” was staring at me.

At the turn of the last century, my eyes grew moist and my vision skimmed and dimmed. Soon, I fell to my knees. No, I was not overwhelmed at the prospect of having witnessed Y2K, but it was because, after years of gaping at moving images and turning printed pages one after the other, my eyes had given up and had rendered themselves useless. Enhancements were required.

I got my first pair of appendages at the age of 14 and the result? I looked even uglier if that was possible. But importantly, though I didn’t look any better, I could look much better.

For a month or so, whenever my Dad returned home from work, he would look at me sternly through a pair of his own and cluck his tongue a little too loudly with disappointment echoing around the middle-class room. I would, of course, ignore him and go back to watching Winnie on the Wonder Years.

My wonder years continued through High School and my “sight” or rather the lack of it increased at a quick pace. Each year along with new books, I got new spectacles as well. My Dad had long given up clucking his tongue and glasses had become a part of my already “infested with extras” existence. A friend even used to joke that I kept them on while sleeping to view my dreams better.

For a long time, my “sight” was steady and I was doing fine on the glasses front. About two weeks back, I woke up and reached out for my carbon friends. Alas, their date was up. They were broken. I must have trod on them while battling a rowdy knight in one of my dreamy trips to fantasyland the previous night. And to top things off, I didn’t have a spare. And it being the fag end of the month, I realized as dawn broke outside my window, that I along with my glasses was broke too.

For two whole days, I tripped and felt my way through the muddy paths of ever-raining Hyderabad with my severely deteriorated “aankhen”. As I somehow managed to enter one optical shop after the other, I was severely reprimanded by each optical guy in the shop for having the balls to go around the place with my naked eyeballs.

I knew it was dangerous. People who can see are themselves prone to untimely deaths. So, I took whatever was left of the frame and kept it on. The right lens was intact while the left side of the frame was conspicuous by a gaping hole. With the finance problem tugging away at my mind and the headache arising out of this One-Eyed-Joe routine, I decided I should not see from my left. So, I ventured outside with my left eye shut and my right wide open.

While on the road, a girl looked twice at me (probably for the first time in history). She probably thought I was winking at her. But probably the most eye-opening experience of it all was when I was walking on this pavement in Secunderabad thereby avoiding the vehicle strewn road. I was looking down in the dark so as not to plunge my legs into human or other shit. I instinctively stopped and looked up. Inches away from my unmanned left eyeball, the sharp end of a “boring pump” was staring at me. If I had taken a step further, I would not have needed glasses at all thereafter.

After much economic deliberation with the optical guy, I ordered a new pair and waited the whole next day indoors for fear of my life.

At last, I got ’em. Confidently put ’em on. I looked about at the greenery, the blue sky and the “figures” of the twin cities. Finally, my glass was full now.