The Untouchables

Through the hazy sky, I see the mountains, layered like an
onion, a tiny town sparkling at a place where the hills slope
down to meet a river rushing in great hurry to reach the plains
of India. My grandfather, through that deep jungle,
travelled with a large retinue of merchants and porters to fetch
kerosene, match sticks and salt. With a bamboo basket on
their back and a flat rope across their sweaty forehead, the
porters lurch forward, forcing noisy breaths through their
mouth. Their head is drooped forward to restrain the pull of
the load on their back. Holding a stick to steady their knees,
they clamber through the steep slopes, fearful of the river
rushing below.

I am a child; they carry me on their bare back. I feel the
strength of their muscles; I smell the muskiness of their sweat,
sometimes a man, sometimes a woman. She looks scary
because her left eye is white, poked by a twig in the forest.
She carries me, a Brahmin child, on her back. A katha, she
calls me, but for strength she is known all over. The first
porter of choice for the Brahmins, she can walk the 12 miles
from the town with a 50 kilo load on her back as if it were
child’s play.

I am the child riding the back of people. My experience of the
village is mixed with the sweat of the low caste porters until I
begin to walk by myself, first to the town with tin roofs
reflecting the hot summer sun, and then, to a valley far
away. Between the two places, the road with molten tar
stretches like a snake in the desert,
eager to find shade.

The memory is chiseled in my brain like the stone image of
Shiva my grandfather has planted near a pandhera. Its sleepy
eyes follow me as I tag along with my mother to fetch
drinking water. I play with tiny fishes in a small pool beneath
the spout that pours spring water on a copper pitcher my
mother has placed over a shiny stone. A wedding echoes
through the hills. A rush of air brushes against the skin of
women who are bathing in the spring sun. A pipal tree that
canopies the pandhera scatters ripening seeds and yellowing
leaves all over the place, already filled with droppings of oxen,
buffaloes and goats. Excitement surges among the women.
The fishes, which look like tadpoles, slip through my fingers,
tickling me. They talk of an old Damai, who, dissatisfied with
his three wives, is looking for a fresh cunt: a 13-year-old girl
from a village above. The women, unabashed, joke about
body-parts and funny things big people do. I like the
invisibility. I try to hide from my discomfited mother that I am
faintly amused by the women’s tittle-tattle, their bulging chests,
and their exposed belly-buttons.

When the Damais stop by the fountain, pull out their narsingas
from under their arms, and stack them atop each other, the
long procession comes to a halt. There’s a circle at the front,
where the kids dance to the tunes of a wailing sehnai, the beats
of a damaha and the boisterous wail of the narsingas. The doli
carrying the bride sways precariously. She is too preoccupied
with dour thoughts to notice the world outside. I run my hand
over a slippery log. The bloodshot eyes of the trumpeters
bulge fiercely with alcohol; their cheeks outstretch their tiny
heads as they blow hard into the narsinga, trying to outlast each
other. They announce to everyone in the mountains that one
more girl, oblivious to her future, is leaving a trail of tears
behind, hoping to trace her way back to what was once
her home.

“Look at the groom,” Dhabey says, dangling her fake
earrings, which her cheating husband bought after she gave
birth to a girl. “Look,” she says, “Only his money could have
made him marry a beautiful young girl and not even 12.”
He is an old man. I spot him trudging along, half drunk, half
proud. He looks as if he might drop dead any moment.
She is just a child. I try to figure her out through her
veil. I see two eyes staring down on the ground. I gasp.
Something lurks beneath the layers of my mind. When she
opens her veil briefly to look at me, I catch a faint trace of two
bodies writhing in agony. My head reels, I feel a jolt of
lightening, and I black out.


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One response to “The Untouchables”

  1. ditee says :

    i dont know if it is a poem, or if it fits our theme. Anyways, it was a good read !!!

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