The Stubborn Corpse By Ramarao Vadapalli
“Bastards! They must have phoned up even after eating the green backs and getting their palms greased!” the truck driver burst out spewing mouthfuls of the choicest and most powerful abuses against the double-crossing police constables. The road was almost blocked by a crowd.
“No, Guru! They do not look like the red caps, but just like you and me, ordinary folks. Stop the vehicle,” said the truck cleaner reassuring his pal. He often referred to the police constables as red caps because of the red band in their caps.
Driver Apparao brought the vehicle to a stop, thrusting his head out of the window and asked a man in the crowd, “Whatever is the matter?”
“There is no way! You cannot go further. There is a big truck up ahead. If you go any further, you are in trouble–A hundred vehicles ahead. There is a jam.”
“An accident? Are there any khakis?”
“No police yet! A corpse is in the middle of the road and in the both directions vehicles have stopped.”
The driver got off asking the truck cleaner, to reverse a little and park the truck to the left of the road and walked quickly ahead to see what was wrong.
“A dead woman! Without a shred of clothing on her. Terrible–terrible it is!”
Driver Apparao forgot his worry. Everyone was clucking saying that law and order had disappeared in the corrupt set up.
A fruit vendor from the clock-tower area returning after having looked at the corpse was almost in tears.
“No safety for a woman, especially when she is young and alone!”
By then, fruit sellers with wicker trays of fruit began making their appearance. There were selling bananas, cheekus and oranges too.
“Guru, Guru! Did you see the face? The mark of vermilion is all spread over it. Whoever could the woman be?”
“Not a college student?”
“Difficult to say with not a piece of clothing–”
“Looks like one washed in a flash flood like a bramble covered with flotsam–”
“Looks to be twenty-two at the most.”
“Must have suckled at least two–” A voice on the crowd said.
“Ring up the police!” came a suggestion from someone.
“Look here, Bhadram!” he said addressing the one who suggested calling the police.
“Oh! It’s you, sir; we must call up the police immediately.”
Mukundam had once been Bhadram’s Sanskrit teacher. Now Bhadram himself was a teacher in the college.
“This is not a class room, young man!” said Mukundam.
“What is not a classroom, sir? It is two months since–”
“Stop! Stop this very moment! I can hear more of noise than naada in your voice. Look at that!” said Mukundam, talking like a teacher.
The crowd had thickened. Even school children left the school to look at the corpse.
An old fellow brought a small machine in which he showed little children scenes of Kasi and other big towns, singing a song in a grating voice while changing the scenes he showed. They called such machines, Kashipatnam machines.
Young students from the boys’ college, who used to keep a beat at the gate of the women’s college (in what was once the Maharajah’s palace in the fort), also wandered to the highway to have a look.
Bhadram was about to say something more but was interrupted.
“You speak just like an idealist, Bhadram, an idealist teacher. The moment you contact them, they would ask you for your name, age, address and then shoot questions first. ‘Who’s the woman? How long have you known her? Who killed her and how?’ Until you give all these details, you rot in the lock-up. And so would the woman’s corpse here!” said Mukundam angrily.
Mukundam dragged Bhadram aside to a place of safety beyond the earshot of possibly lurking plain clothed police.
Mukundam took in a pinch of snuff with great relish and explained, “In this there is a good deal of naadam and this varies from individual to individual and from mood to mood. This is indicative of the mental state of the snuff-taker also.”
“Mahanubhava! Please let me go,” implored Bhadram. “Houses around are ablaze and you expatiate on the different timbres and tones of naada here!”
He tried to free himself but the old man’s grip was surprisingly firm.
“Whose houses?” asked Mukundam. “Don’t speak figuratively with me. There is no house burning. Do not panic. The one dead is dead and then a corpse is a corpse. You have the feeling that there are men, young and old, who wish to see beauty in it. Young man, that shape there is a shell, which transcended, hunger, intoxication and desire– Judging from the tightness of the flesh and the quality of the skin, you can easily estimate its age, occupation, the class it belonged to etcetera. Each has his own system of calculation to apply. Now the police would arrive and there would not be much to see, analyse or mull over.”
“Isn’t she the woman in the Shaven Head’s oil-mill?” A voice in the crowd queried addressing the question generally to the crowd.
“Looks like the sister of the school teacher,” wondered another.
“Two nights ago in that brothel, Rangamma’s establishment–”
“This lass along with a young man got into my vehicle– But now–! Here!” Someone whispered.
There were police and the onlookers in the crowd. There is no way to know who was saying what.
The jeep of the tehsildar drew up with a screech. The police officers came to attention.
“Clear the way first! Shift the body now.”
The Sub-inspector called four three-digit numbers. That is how the officers addressed the constables, with their badge numbers. It was unprofessional to use the names. There was loud blowing of whistles. The jeep left.
However, the corpse could not be shifted. It refused to budge from its location.
“Do you want to know all about this corpse–no–all about this woman? Do you want to see it?” asked Mukundam.
“How is it possible?”
“Do you want to see a special Kashipatnam machine I have?”
Bhadram wore a puzzled, sheepish look on his normally intelligent face.
“If you feel it delicate to see my machine in front of all these college girls and in the presence of those young men, you come home with me–” Mukundam suggested.
“But the college? I have a class to teach!”
“When the corpse on the road is stubborn, why go to college? The need of the hour is a shamshan ghat, a crematorium. Do not be squeamish. Come along!
That was all Bhadram could bring himself to say as they started to walk towards Mukundam’s home.
“There is nothing absurd in history, if you look back. It is from the absurd that the actual emerges. From chaos to order. From absurd to actual,” Mukumdam said in tone of an experienced teacher.
Bhadram couldn’t free his hand from the professor’s grip. Who would think the old man had such vice-like grip!
“Doesn’t this corpse go to the shamshan ghat, the crematorium?”
“A silly question! It cannot and it would not. That is the reason why it manifested before everyone around here. Science tells us that Time has no backward motion. But the mind’s eye has motion both ways.
“Like the poet’s eye, it can roll in a fine frenzy. The corpse you thought you saw was a consonant–a symbol–a curry dish, a moustache–it is not of today. It was there in Emperor Kanishka’s time, in Alexander’s time, in the age when the Gupta dynasty ruled and in the Kingdom of the Nawabs of Hyderabad. It could be from anywhere. It had always been in all ages, even in the days of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Only we could not dig it up.
“Just to alleviate the trouble and the bother of the walk to my home, run my earlier discourse in your mind. Rather recite it to yourself – ‘In this world of ours there is noise and naadam. Noise has no meaning, normally that is. It may communicate something but mostly it has no meaning. Articulated sound is naadam. In naadam, there are both swara and vyanjana. Male principle is swara, the female vyanjana. If you call women just vyanjana that would put their backs up. Then the violent feminists may be provoked to cut off–and then it is not altogether, literally true either. The basic difference of the two is discernible in both only if you have the talent to perceive it. Swara has more carrying power and then vyanjana is important too, for without it the articulation can never be complete. If word and meaning are inseparable like Parvati and Parameswara, swara and vyanjana are inseparable like light and shadow.”
“What are you driving at? There is some parallel between this and the corpse? Is the corpse a swara or vyanjana?”
“I see your impatience. For the one in the gush and urgency of libidinous thirst, goes our adage, there is neither fear nor shame. For one in that heat, the very clothes are burdensome, says another.”
By then they reached Mukundam’s place.
“Come along–I will show you the machine in my room,” said the host.
“Where is that instrument?” asked Bhadram looking around.
“Instrument? What instrument? Oh! Kashipatnam machine–That’s it!” said he pointed to the window.
“You call this window a machine? This is an instrument?”
“Look, young man! For everything one needs training,” said Mukundam. “College lecturers,” he said with a biting sarcasm, “and the grooms in the bridal bower for the consummation of knots exempted, of course. Like a slap on the cheek, you take your degree in the hand and appear in the lecture hall to teach!”
Mukundam then led him to the open window.
“What do you see? Tell me.”
“A garbage dump!”
Mukundam came forward and ran his palm on the young man’s head. Something happened and then Bhadram did not have anything more to say when suddenly the view from the window changed.
With a heated branding iron, a person was tinkering close the small lids on the oil tins.
Lifting one arm into the air for balance the woman was lifting the full tins one after another and brining them into the open for final loading into a truck.
A young man was looking at the same scene from another window with the mind’s eye.
“Come here, lassie!”
In the din of the mill, the call was not heard. The young man raised his voice to a hoarse pitch. There was urgency in the wail like call.
The lass, curious, went in to see what the voice wanted.
But she came out soon. Her blouse was in tatters. No, it was torn. The sari came undone–no it was torn open. None ever heard her wails of agony and shame, possibly in the hum of the accelerated engines.
Darkness fell. The lust of the lad was quenched. A star fell down.
“Only darkness all round.”
“Then look through again! Are you able to see the city of Kashi?”
“The black magic banyan tree in the thick gloom.”
“Try again! My way.”
“Your way?” The young man asked absent-mindedly. There was a pause. “It is the mill again. I’m able to hear some words of a drunken man. The truck driver is coming, his legs tottering, with eyes shining like burning charcoal. There is a verbal tussle between the owner of the merchandise and the truck driver.”
“Don’t tell me anything more. Just keep looking!”
The woman was mum. Fazed. Flabbergasted. Famished. She had a cup of tea some ages ago. Severe head ache. A hundred more to carry. Darkness was settling. The baby was on her mind.
“Special Tea!” ordered the Sub Inspector. After having his grub and his fill, he left on his motor bike. The driver stuck a bargain. The red cap got off and walked into the light.
“Are you able to see the girl?”
“Fine! Her family is also searching for her.”
At the bend of the road, Narayadu, the young woman’s husband, waited.
“Whore, slut-daughter! Whatever should she be at? What is there to be done at the mill in this midnight gloom? Serve me my food!” he waited until it was beyond midnight and returned home.
“Do you wish to see how the corpse came to be on the highway?” Mukundam asked Bhadram.
“Where’s the Sub Inspector?”
“On the veranda of his senior, the Circle Inspector’s house. Do you want to see him?”
“And the girl?”
“There on the road, dead.”
“Hasn’t the corpse removed yet?
“The effort is still afoot.”
Bhadram didn’t stir from his vantage point. He kept looking.
The Sub Inspector went called the Commissioner of the Municipality. The Commissioner called the District Headquarters Hospital. The corpse couldn’t be shifted even by the municipal hands. It was all eerie.
The truckers appeared on the scene. They were in a great hurry for their own reasons. The merchandise had to be delivered at the destination. They too could not find a way to move the corpse.
Officers of all relevant departments sent messages to their higher ups braving displeasure.
“What’s this stupidity, how can a corpse be stubborn?”
Hyderabad was roaring. With downcast wandering eyes and almost husky, choked voices, officers were trying to explain to their bosses who scarcely heard any thing called an explanation.
“I want results!” was all that the Chief Minister had time to utter.
It was midnight. Past midnight too. Hours were rolling by. Nothing happened.
Traffic on both sides came to a stand still. The news was on the media–all vehicles to pass have turned back: buses were cancelled. It took a lot of time to get back for the vehicles in both directions.
The corpse lay undisturbed, untouched, and as stubborn as ever.
“Where am I? Did that corpse go away? I mean was it removed?” Bhadram asked badly agitated.
“Where would the story be if it were removed?”
“Did I really see all that I think I saw? When was it? Is it still there?”
“It could be nineteen eighty-four or seventeen ninety nine. May be two thousand-twelve. Salivhana Saka or some other age.
Again, Bhadram stood up and slowly made his way to the Kashipatnam window. He was almost fed up with Mukundam as though he were the culprit responsible for the corpse on the road.
“It couldn’t be my corpse: I mean the one I had seen. In your instrument Kashi is all hazy. Why are you deceiving me, Naadamuni?”
“It was my name three hundred and forty eight births earlier. How did you come to know it?” asked Mukundam, almost murmuring and slightly disconcerted.
“By sitting in that chair,” Bhadram could have said in answer but bit his tongue and restrained himself.
If he were to have said it, Mukundam would have just exploded to realize that someone else also has a big vision..
“Get up from the chair–go to the window again!” It sounded like thunder.
“How did a temple manifest here?” Asked Bhadram, looking once again, standing erect at the window and looking out.
The temple stood between two roads, both paved with cement. Both ways vehicles were whizzing past at break neck speed. Vehicles appeared to be gaining speed just a little before the temple.
“Poor fellow! Shall I show you the history of the roads?”
Bhadram was like one in a trance. For a sane man the events are befuddling. He looked.
“Sir! We seek a donation from you! We are building a temple for Balaperantalu, a girl-child goddess.
The young man from the oil mill was staring into the eyes of the woman.
“Here’s the pen and here’s your check book–I wrote out a check for the balance standing in your account. Here are your wife’s ornaments. Here is the money you have been hoarding. The one at the rear is an officer of the taxation department. If you put all these in the beggar’s bag, none will touch you. Why is that scowl on your face? Put all these in that bag this very moment!” The thunder rolled on.
The young man obeyed. There was not a shred of clothing on her except the bag slung on her shoulder. He recognized the young woman working in his mill, now transformed. Into a spirit? He face kept reminding her of others. He could not make out.
The officer took the check, looked at the signature and put it in his pocket.
The young man, the owner of the mill, failed to understand whether the naked woman was the woman or his sister, even mother or just a spirit.
“Sir! Forgive me, sir-I have four children, sir! It’s that four-naught-one that dragged me into this,” pleaded the constable who had made the deal to ignore the crime.
The police constable removed his cap and began blabbering again, “I wouldn’t do such things while on duty, sir! You can ask the Circle Inspector, sir. I wasn’t drunk, sir!”
“You eunuch! You kill yourself with a rifle in the station–that would make at least your wife happy than to see your discraced face!”
The naked girl pulled out the Sub Inspector’s service revolver from its holster and shot the constable in the groin.
“Mother! You first get into some clothes!” pleaded the officer to the lady now.
“Weren’t you the one who ordered to pluck me out with the earth under me? Sir, there is a better and easier thing to do. See that two-lane roads are laid on either side and between the roads build a temple for me. People would begin worshipping you too. In the bargain, contractors, clerks and you all get richer. It would ensure your salvation too.”
Mukundam brought Bhadram back from his trance.
“No. She dissolved into the thick fog,” replied Bhadram.
“WHY?” asked Mukundam.
“She became a spirit, no, a goddess.”
“Young fellow, see now again and tell me,” ordered Mukundam.
sarva mangala mangalye sive sarvardha sadhake saranyam triumbake devi narayani namosthute
Naked virgins were making pradakshnas round the statue in the sanctum. It has been the belief down the ages that that kind of worship would save any virgin from the atrocities of the lustful men.
Bhadram was in no condition to be able to pay any attention to the call.
“This corpse wouldn’t get moved to the burning ghat!” said the old man with a sigh again.
Cover pic by joiseyshowaa